State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Sustainability Management Students Present Innovative Solutions to Clients’ Challenges

The "New Award Metrics for Sustainability" Workshop Group with their Faculty Advisor, Grant Goodrich

On Tuesday, April 24, students in the Master of Science in Sustainability Management presented their final Capstone Workshop presentations 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 of the program’s curriculum 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 to their colleagues.

“It was such an honor to represent my team members and present the immense efforts that all of us put forward this semester to achieve our project’s objective,” stated Pamela Quinlan, the presenter for the Workshop project “Development of a New Communications Strategy for Freshkills Park.” “We are incredibly proud of our work as well as the work of our classmates whose presentations highlighted our ability to use the skills that we have learned in the classroom to address contemporary sustainability challenges in the clearest possible way.”

The "Mashomack Preserve: Sustainability strategies for renovating in a sensitive ecosystem" Workshop Group with their Faculty Advisor, Susanne DesRoches

The Capstone Workshop is the final degree requirement of the Sustainability Management program. 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. You can read descriptions of the Spring 2012 Workshop projects below.

“I’m really impressed with the work the students have put into their projects this semester, and I think this comes across most clearly through the final briefings,” said Grant Goodrich, the Faculty Advisor for the Workshop project “New Award Metrics for Sustainability.” “All of the teams have made significant improvements to their presentations over the course of the semester, resulting in much more accessible and powerful presentations of the key points of their work.  I really enjoyed the presentations, and think that the Capstone Course benefits tremendously from this exercise in synthesizing complex sustainability issues into an easily digestible and accessible format.”

The MS in Sustainability Management, co-sponsored by the Earth Institute and Columbia’s School of Continuing Education, trains students to tackle complex and pressing environmental and managerial challenges. The Sustainability Management program requires the successful completion of 36 credit points. Those credit points are divided among five comprehensive content areas: integrative sustainability management, economics and quantitative analysis, the physical dimensions of sustainability, the public policy environment of sustainability management, and general and financial management. Please visit our website to learn more about the program.

Insurance, Climate Change and Flood Resilience in New York City

Faculty Advisor: George Sarrinikolaou

The NYC Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability (OLTPS) seeks to determine ways in which the City of New York and the insurance industry can collaborate in developing strategies to increase New York’s resilience to current and future flood risks. OLTPS is particularly interested in engaging the insurance industry to promote flood protection in areas that may be vulnerable to flooding based on climate forecasts that pertain to sea-level rise, storm surge, and storms. Flood insurance premiums offer a price signal to policyholders about the risk that they face, providing an incentive to undertake flood protection. Currently, there are more than 200,000 New Yorkers who live within the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)–designated 1-in-100 year flood zone, where flood insurance is required. An important starting point in New York’s effort will be to understand the extent of flood insurance coverage within both the 1-in-100 year and 1-in-500 year flood zones. To conduct this analysis, the student team will seek to determine the number of residential and commercial properties in these zones; the extent to which property owners comply with the flood insurance requirement in the 1-in-100 year flood zone; and the availability of flood insurance products and actual flood insurance coverage of properties in the 1-in-500 year flood zone.

Identification of Pervious Pavement Opportunities in NYC

Faculty Advisor: Kizzy Charles-Guzman

New York City is currently developing a pervious pavement program to design and construct pervious pavements in the urban environment.  The recent release of the New York City Green Infrastructure Plan has reignited the push to install pervious pavement in Combined Sewer Overflow areas in the City.  The goal is to reduce CSO volume by capturing rainfall from 10% of impervious surfaces in CSO areas.  NYC DOT is interested in installing pervious pavements to mitigate the impacts of stormwater runoff. We would like to identify the most appropriate locations for the application of pervious pavements (pervious asphalt and pervious concrete) to maximize both the operational and environmental benefits. Currently, there are relatively few applications of pervious pavement in highly urban conditions similar to those in NYC. The group will use Global Information Systems (GIS) data, site visits, traffic and classification counts, and adjacent property data to propose locations most suitable for the installation of pervious pavements.

Development of a New Communications Strategy for Freshkills Park

Faculty Advisor: Louise Rosen

Building on survey research already conducted and data collected, the goal of the MSSM capstone project will be to develop a communications strategy that is responsive and reassuring to public concerns about the transformation of the Fresh Kills Landfill into Freshkills Park. Freshkills Park is a highly engineered landscape. A variety of federal, state and local laws and regulations govern present and future use of the site and the overall goals of these regulations are to protect and preserve public health and the environment. Nevertheless, the public’s perception of the site as a place that is dirty, contaminated or toxic dominates the public discourse. The Freshkills Park team seeks a communications strategy that is understandable, informative, transparent, and responsive, and that advocates for public use.

Mashomack Preserve: Sustainability strategies for renovating in a sensitive ecosystem

Faculty Advisor: Susanne DesRoches

The Nature Conservancy’s Mashomack Preserve is located on Shelter Island, ninety miles from New York City on Long Island. The 2,100-acre preserve is a sensitive ecosystem that provides nesting grounds for migrating birds and includes interlacing tidal creeks, woodlands, fields, salt marshes and coastline that makes it a superb wildlife habitat. Also located on this preserve are seven building facilities (residential, administrative and maintenance), which are frequently used for meetings, fundraisers, and educational events, and to house visiting scientists and researchers. The buildings were built in the late-1800s and early 1900s and are in need of restoration. The team will research and provide best practices and recommendations for implementing sustainability strategies in an environmentally sensitive location. The strategies to be researched are energy efficiency including alternative energy systems and wastewater treatment strategies. The workshop’s final recommendations will be incorporated into a restoration plan this year, which will then be used by Nature Conservancy headquarters to determine priority and budgeting for the projects.

New Award Metrics for Sustainability

Faculty Advisor: Grant Goodrich

The King Abdullah II Center for Excellence (KACFE) was founded in January, 2006 to manage the King Abdullah II Award for Excellence. The Center aims at promoting a culture of excellence in Jordan and the Region through developing excellence frameworks and assessment criteria based on international best practices, assessing organizations’ performance, managing King Abdullah II awards for excellence and promoting excellence to public sector, private sector, not-for-profit and non-governmental organizations. KACFE is currently considering adding a new and separate award theme under “sustainability.”  In this endeavor, the Center is seeking the support of a student team to develop new award metrics or criteria for sustainability that will be adapted in the award cycle for 2014/2015.  The student team, in consultation with the Director, and with the liaison support of staff of Columbia University’s Middle East Research Center, would identify best practices in measuring tangible achievements in more sustainable operations.  The students will “test” the developed criteria through case studies of regional organizations who match the profile of likely award candidates.

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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