Yale: In Service of Singapore


Yale and NUS: Growing Together in Environment & Sustainability

The confluence of Yale and Singapore in the area of environment and sustainability came about with the meeting of Mr Michael Toffel (FES/SOM ’96), then Director of Environment, Health & Safety at Jebsen & Jessen (Southeast Asia) (JJSEA), and Assoc Prof Lye Lin Heng, Deputy Director of the National University of Singapore (NUS) Law Faculty’s Asia-Pacific Centre for Environmental Law, at a Ministry of Environment workshop in 1999. 

At that meeting, Lye shared that NUS had considerable expertise in different disciplines relating to the environment, but had no program to bring all this expertise together; and that she was chairing a Steering Committee to explore such a multi-disciplinary graduate program.  Toffel mentioned the excellent work being done at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies (FES) and   facilitated an introduction to his former teacher at Yale, A/Prof. Marian Chertow, a leading expert in Industrial Ecology [PhD (FES); MPPM (SOM)].  Prof Lye then followed up with a personal visit to Yale, while she was on sabbatical at Harvard in 2000, to seek Yale’s collaboration on the proposed NUS Master of Science in Environmental Management (MEM) program.  The timing was just right as FES under its then Dean, Prof Gus Speth, was keen on broadening its international linkages and welcomed this new collaboration.

The NUS-MEM program was launched in July 2001.  This multi-disciplinary program, the first of its kind in Asia, involves the collaboration of seven faculties and schools in NUS including the Faculties of Arts and Social Sciences, Engineering, Law, Science; the NUS Business School, the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine and the School of Design and Environment (SDE) as host.  At its launch, Chertow, on behalf of the Dean of Yale FES, signed an MOU with the NUS Dean of SDE, The MOU calls for collaboration in teaching and research between the two universities, and continues today. 

The Yale-NUS MOU sees an exchange of lecturers from both schools as visiting faculty on a regular basis, particularly Lye and Chertow.  Lye teaches a course on Comparative Environmental Law at Yale FES each year, while Chertow teaches the ‘core’ course, Business and the Environment to the MEM students at NUS. Prof Chou Loke Ming of the NUS Science faculty, and an authority on coral reefs, has also taught at Yale. Meanwhile, Toffel obtained his PhD from the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley and also helped co- teach the course at NUS one semester.  Toffel is now an Asst Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School. This year, Dr Weslynne Ashton, Program Director for Industrial Ecology in Developing Countries at the Yale Center for Industrial Ecology will be co-teaching the NUS-MEM course on Business and the Environment with Prof Chertow and Dr Kua Harn Wei of NUS.  

One could describe this Yale-NUS cooperation as one of the cornerstones, through which Yale and its graduates have played a role in environmental education in Singapore and the region.  Dean Speth was invited to Singapore in January 2005, as Lee Kuan Yew Distinguished Visitor.  Prof Dan Esty, Hillhouse Professor of Environmental Law and Policy, Director of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy, as well as the Director of the Center for Business and the Environment gave a talk in NUS in March 2009, on his recent prizewinning book, Green to Gold: How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value, and Build Competitive Advantage.

Since then, the Yale-NUS cooperation has grown to include other initiatives.  The NUS Department of Biological Sciences now plays host to the Environmental Leadership and Training Initiative (ELTI) for its Asia programs.  The ELTI is a joint program of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, founded in April 2006 with a grant from the Arcadia Fund, aimed at developing and implementing a variety of capacity-building and training programs for policy makers and other stakeholders who have a direct impact on tropical forest biodiversity.  The Program Coordination for ELTI-Asia is Senior Visiting Research Fellow David Neidel at NUS, and also a Yalie.  In 2009, the NUS-Yale collaboration was extended further when Yale researchers namely Chertow, Ashton and Professor Thomas E Graedel from FES were invited as international collaborators on a Singapore government-funded research project on Urban Metabolism at the Centre for Sustainable Asian Cities, School of Design and Environment, NUS. The Director of Centre, Dr Malone-Lee Lai Choo, was the first director of the MEM Program and has been actively involved in building up the Yale-NUS collaboration in that capacity.

Institutional cooperation aside, Yale graduates have also made their green mark in their professional careers.  Mr Liu Thai Ker, School of Architecture alum and the Yale Club of Singapore’s first President, has contributed to Singapore’s reputation as a clean, green and efficient city in his earlier capacity as CEO of both the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Singapore and Housing and Development Board.  Mr Liu continues to contribute today as Chairman of Singapore’s Centre for Liveable Cities which aims to distil and develop Singapore's experience in good governance, integrated urban planning, effective resource management, affordable quality housing, efficient transport management and environmental sustainability; and to facilitate best practices and learning with other regional and global cities.  Mr Heinrich Jessen, FES (’95) alum and Chairman of JJSEA,  who hired Toffel at the time, implemented a comprehensive environment, health & safety programme in JJSEA nearly fifteen years ago which culminated in ISO14001 and OHSAS 18001 certification for all of JJSEA’s more than 40 subsidiaries across the ASEAN region. More recently, JJSEA embarked on a Carbon Neutrality programme, aiming to reduce to the minimum its own carbon footprint and using an offset mechanism to remove the remainder. Various projects aligned to this objective are currently underway.