A look into the origins of the Yale Environmental Sustainability Summit happening on Nov 3–4, 2017
We interviewed Tim Allred, a YESS Co-Chair.
It seems like an eternity since Tim Allred and others began planning the first summit. That’s because it sort of was. The origins of YESS go back to the Yale campus in the late ‘90s. When Bill Clinton was re-elected over Bob Dole, the electric car was first available to the public, and the largest oil spill on US soil was still fresh in people’s minds. It was around that time that the seeds for the summit began to take root.
“It was an exciting time to receive an MBA and a Master in Environmental Management, particularly for those interested in the emerging renewable energy sector,” said Allred.
A cohort of about a dozen students overlapped during the three years they were all in the program. And when they graduated, they wanted to continue the important conversations that were occurring amongst themselves.
They held two “gatherings” after graduation. The first at Stinson Beach, and the second in the Hudson Valley. Both times the explicit idea was to reconnect, both personally and professionally. For example, at one morning session they gave each other time to share a professional challenge and benefit from the collective wisdom of their network’s feedback.
YESS is the outgrowth of these early gatherings and was the vision of their colleague Carlos Pineda. It was Carlos’ vision to expand these gatherings into a full-blown event at Yale. Carlos, with the help of others, created YESS in 2015 as an alumni-led conference and networking event. YESS 2015, “Scaling up Solutions: Food, Energy, Water,” was an unbridled success.
The now annual event is fueled by a team of enthusiastic Yale alumni. Here is a glimpse into Tim Allred’s path to YESS.
Tell us about your own interest and involvement in sustainability. Where and how was it born and how did your path lead to YESS?
Early in my career I worked in Latin America (Colombia) with farmers, fishermen, and urban entrepreneurs who struggled day to day to feed their families. They were environmentalists, but the immediacy of their situation put extreme pressure on decisions that impacted their natural environment. I learned to see sustainability through a holistic, “social ecology” lens that places human need squarely in the conversation of natural resource management and defines sustainability in broad terms.
As an original member of the Carlos Pineda crew, my involvement with YESS was natural. My involvement as co-director this year is in tribute to Carlos, who passed away earlier this year from cancer.
What led you to choose the theme for this year’s conference?
“Changemakers: Catalyze, Cultivate, Connect” is the vision of our Leadership Team and is a collective response to how to tackle the challenges of “global unsustainability” in this moment in time in our world. We wanted to look to and learn from those individuals and organizations driving meaningful change across a broad definition of sustainability. We wanted to offer high-caliber, engaging content. We wanted a diversity of perspectives, and we strove for diversity in the representation of panelists.
With such a broad theme, we focused the content along three sub-themes — catalyze, cultivate and connect — that reflected our view of key elements of change-making. Catalyze represents innovative ideas, policies, and business models; cultivate represents culture, leadership, and “making it happen”; connect refers to the importance of story-telling and networking.
Is the argument for the importance of sustainability growing easier or harder?
I think the answer — which is “both” — is a reflection of our times. For many, the evidence that our “unsustainable” way of life is a problem is clear, whether that evidence is racial injustice, ever-increasing inequality, or an increase in climate-related disasters. This makes it easier to argue for the importance of sustainability. Yet, for others, the narrative is completely different, and held just as strongly. This battle over the narrative, and our failure to find common ground, makes effective change quite challenging. A further complication is that the term “sustainability” means different things to different people.
One goal of the conference is to create a “living ecosystem” to sustain your work. Please expand on that idea and describe what you envision.
Changemakers is the second iteration of YESS. One of our goals has been to ensure that YESS lives on at Yale as a venue for alumni, faculty, students, and guests to push the envelope on issues of sustainability and to make meaningful connections that help solve pressing societal challenges. Our vision is that alumni, faculty, and students will deepen networks and connect with each other after YESS. We want to foster this YESS “living ecosystem” so that the dialogue and connections live on after the summit right through to the next YESS.
What major messages would you like conference attendees to walk away with?
I would hope attendees leave with an appreciation that issues of sustainability do not fit neatly into “silos” and that issues of climate and racial justice are intrinsically connected to issues of climate change, biodiversity protection, and energy policy. I would hope that attendees understand how critical it is to listen and learn from others, especially those with different perspectives.
The Yale Environmental Sustainability Summit is only in its second year, but it has gathered a lot of momentum. With over 500+ alumni and 100+ students, not to mention faculty and experts, all gathering to discuss innovative solutions to tackle problems with food, energy, and water.
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