Yale Scholarship and the Sustainable Development Goals

Melissa Goodall and Lucas van Lierop

In 2015, the Yale Office of Sustainability started a project aimed at helping understand how Yale teaching and research aligns with the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

This project serves three purposes: 1. Start to identify pathways for collaboration between disciplines; 2. Provide a rationale for thinking of higher education sustainability beyond campus recycling and student campaigns; 3. Identify the expertise Yale might lend to the process of achieving the SDGs.


As a first step, student researchers created a matrix that includes all 4,410+ Yale faculty members, including tenured and tenure-track faculty as well as lecturers, and adjuncts. The students then proceeded department-by-department with an audit of faculty biographies available on Yale websites. Where possible, the audit is also including publications, personal or professional websites, and professional social media profiles. After reading all the required sources, the students estimate which of the SDGs the faculty member is connected to in a research or teaching capacity, and which SDGs they may be passionate about on a personal level.

It is important to note that this is not intended to be a perfect or finite project. Faculty members come and go each semester and department website and faculty information are updated with inconsistent frequency so the source of the information is not entirely accurate. In addition, reviewing biographies is a fairly subjective exercise. Since the students working on this project have been from a variety of degree programs – including political science, economics, environmental studies, and music – key terms and concepts have been subject to interpretation. This means that while this project is not directly yielding a directory of faculty by SDG, it is creating a set of aggregated conclusions by academic department and a lists of faculty members by SDGs.


Yale SDG project

Preliminary results show that every department at Yale has at least one faculty member whose scholarship relates to the SDGs, and the University has ample coverage for each SDG (see figure below). In aggregate, 97% of Yale faculty members are teaching and researching topics related to at least one SDG. This is to be expected in departments such as the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and the School of Engineering and Applied Science. Sustainability is an integral part of the identities of some other departments, such as the Yale’s School of Management and Divinity School, so it makes sense that these have strong showings in the charts. The more compelling findings lie in groups such as the School of Drama and the Classics Department. The School of Drama has at least one faculty member who qualifies for each of the SDGs, and inquiries have revealed that they have a robust set of internal initiatives related to wellness. Similarly, a ground-truthing exercise with a faculty member in the Classics Department revealed that not only does everyone who teaches in this department qualify for at least one SDG, most qualify for two or three and several are passionate and eager to collaborate.

Next steps

As we enter the fall semester, the student reviewers are completing the last of the audits. Even as we do so, we are using the data to engage and inform the deans and to create multidisciplinary lists of faculty with shared interests in key topics. These will be used to create workshops and working groups. Moving forward, the project will be connected with a parallel review that is being done on applied research and active learning happening throughout the University.

This process has been grueling and tedious. More than one student has started with enthusiasm and left in frustration.  However, as we approach the end of the data collection phase, the results are truly exciting. Our data demonstrates that Yale has extensive expertise related to the SDGs, and more importantly, there are robust and diverse pathways for interdisciplinary collaboration.