State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Sustainability Students Present Recommendations for Meeting Challenges

On Tuesday, December 6, students in the Master of Science in Sustainability Management presented their final Capstone Workshop briefings for fellow students, program faculty, and colleagues at Columbia University’s Faculty House. The Workshop serves as the culminating educational experience for students enrolled in the program, enabling them to apply the practical skills and analytical knowledge learned through the Sustainability Management curriculum into an applied project, giving students hands-on managerial experience. The workshop program was designed by the Earth Institute and the School of Continuing Education to integrate the distinct fields introduced in the program as students and faculty work to address critical sustainability management issues.

The final briefings are an opportunity to present the results of their semester-long sustainability consultancies. “The purpose of the final briefing was to provide our team with experience in developing and delivering a professional and persuasive presentation on an important, real-world sustainability management issue,” says Vreni Hommes, who delivered the final briefing on behalf of her project team. Vreni says, “Although it was challenging to summarize a semester’s worth of research on sustainability metrics and targets for the City of Albany’s sustainability plan, it was invaluable to learn how to present our findings and recommendations in a concise and compelling way that would interest and motivate an audience that was unfamiliar with the topic.” The final briefings are followed by each workshop group’s briefings to their consultancy’s client. Will Johnson, whose group delivered their briefings to client, GreenBlue, on December 7th says, “The final briefings bring the whole project together. We get to meet our client face to face and learn from them as we present our findings.”

The Capstone Workshop is one of two required courses in the Sustainability Management program’s curriculum. The workshop serves the purpose of sharpening the students’ analytical and communication skills by allowing them to apply their previous experience and knowledge gained from the program to real-world problems. As the faculty advisor for one of the workshop projects, George Sarrinikolaou witnessed first-hand his team’s professional growth and development over the course of the semester. Sarrinikolaou says, “Working on behalf of the City of Philadelphia, students studied climate change adaptation at the urban scale, and they laid out a planning process that the city will look to, as it boosts its resilience to risks, such as heat waves, drought and flooding. By the end of the project, the students had experienced first-hand the complexity that urban sustainability managers face in preparing their cities for climate change.”

Workshop projects from Spring 2011 are available on the Sustainability Management Website . Brief descriptions of the Fall 2012 projects can be found below:

Client: Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, City of Philadelphia
Advisor: George Sarrinikolaou, Associate Director, Office of Academic and Research Programs, The Earth Institute, Columbia University
Project Overview: Philadelphia, like cities across the United States, is seeking to better manage the risks associated with climate change. Specifically, Philadelphia is interested in understanding effective approaches to adaptation planning at the urban scale; the appropriate criteria for scoping adaptation plans; and the resources that could be available to Philadelphia in this effort. The student team, in consultation with Philadelphia’s sustainability director, would identify best practices in using climate risk assessment information and using it to develop a comprehensive adaptation plan. In addition, the student team would seek to understand Philadelphia’s unique planning context so that it could recommend how the city could best apply these best practices.

Client: Regional Plan Association New York & Connecticut Sustainable Communities
Advisor: Susanne DesRoches, Sustainable Design Manager, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
Project Overview: For the first time, a consortium of cities and counties and regional organizations in New York and Connecticut are forging a regional partnership to pursue a sustainable communities strategy, which simultaneously promises to increase economic competitiveness, to enhance environmental quality, and to improve social equity. The strategy involves the creation of sustainable communities by pursuing transit-oriented development (TOD) in select areas along the MTA Metro-North Railroad and MTA Long Island Rail Road. The effort will require the integration of environmental planning, housing, economic development, and transportation. The student team would identify the best practices in minimizing the environmental impacts associated with the design, construction and maintenance of transit-oriented development (TOD) projects. The team would identify best practices in building energy efficiency, sustainable infrastructure and distributed energy generation as they have been applied to TOD or similar district level development projects. The study would encompass both best practices for new districts as well as the retrofitting of existing mixed use centers.

Client: City of Albany
Advisor: Kizzy Charles-Guzman, Director, Climate Change and Public Health Program, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH)
Project Overview: The City of Albany is seeking help from the student team in as it sets targets and measures performance related to its sustainable development goals, which are outlined in “Albany 2030: Your City, Your Future” – the city’s first comprehensive plan in its 400-year history. The plan, with its 20-year planning horizon, is intended to set Albany on a path toward a more sustainable and prosperous future. The student team in consultation with the Director of Planning, City of Albany, would identify a set of sustainability goals in the plan and undertake a benchmarking study to determine appropriate targets and performance measures.

Client: GreenBlue
Advisor: Amy Hill, Director, Academic Initiatives, Office of Academic and Research Programs, The Earth Institute, Columbia University
Project Overview: GreenBlue is a nonprofit that equips business with the science and resources to make products more sustainable. The organization is building a world where businesses are leaders for environmental stewardship and products are designed from the start with sustainability in mind. GreenBlue is interested in gaining a better understanding of the current landscape of corporate sustainability initiatives that relate to sustainable forest management. More specifically, GreenBlue would like the student team to evaluate the corporate strategies for addressing sustainable forest management by the largest consumers (or buyers) of forest products in the United States.

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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