Inaugural Yale Sustainability Leadership Forum Held in September

Professor Dan Esty ’86, the director of the Yale Sustainability Leadership Forum, opened the event on September 21 with remarks on “Sustainability as a Megatrend in the 21st Century.”

The inaugural Forum (September 21–23, 2016) brought a diverse cohort of sustainability professionals to campus to explore sustainability as an overarching framework for life in the 21st century. An integrated policy concept, sustainability diverges from approaches to environmental protection and economic development that were pursued in the 20th century.

The Forum, directed by Professor Esty, focused specifically on the mega-trends distinguishing sustainability from its 20th-century precursors. Drawing on the diversity of expertise at Yale, the Forum was organized around modules taught by faculty from the Law School, the School of Management, the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, the Divinity School, the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, and the College. Richard Kauffman, the Chairman of Energy & Finance for New York and Nancy Pfund, venture capitalist, rounded out the teaching team. Each module provided an in-depth exploration of a specific piece of the sustainability framework, ranging from innovation in alternative energy and industrial ecology to financing sustainability and new frontiers in conservation.  Professor Esty’s closing session explored climate change as a case study, highlighting the ways in which sustainability is emerging as a 21st-century framework for governance, business, civil society, and a way of life.

The Forum brought together a diverse set of sustainability leaders, including professionals from industry and finance, policy experts, state lawmakers, sustainability scholars, and advocates advancing sustainability in their home communities. More than 40 professionals from across the country and around the world traveled to Yale to attend the Forum. International perspectives were shared by participants from Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, South Africa, Mexico, Nigeria, Columbia, France, Canada, India, Brazil, and the United Kingdom. The rich diversity of experience shared by both the faculty and the participants provided for a high-level conversation about the conceptual and practical sustainability challenges of today, and provided direction on how to incentivize and galvanize solutions to some of our world’s most pressing sustainability challenges.

“Our speakers provided an overview of many of the most pressing sustainability challenges and a range of potential solutions,” Professor Esty said. “It is our hope that our attendees will use what they learned in the classroom to guide their thinking and planning as they address these issues in their own careers and lives.”

The Yale Sustainability Leadership Forum is part of a larger effort to position sustainability leadership as a core aspect of a Yale education. One participant’s reflections suggest this program succeeded in its goal: “Beyond the intensive curriculum delivered by world-class scholars, I developed a number of strong professional connections and friendships at the Forum that will support my organization's sustainability work for years to come.”