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Sustainable Development Fall 2014 Workshop Briefings

By Lin Ye

This fall, students in the Undergraduate ProgramSustainable Development Fall 2014 Workshop Briefings in Sustainable Development unveiled innovative solutions for sustainability issues as part of their Capstone Workshop. Under the guidance of professors Stuart Gaffin and Radley Horton, students worked as consultants for organizations such as the United States Military Academy at West Point, Sabin Center for Climate Change Law and New York City’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency. On December 5th, students gathered to present their final briefing to fellow Columbia University students, faculty and staff. Read more about the projects below.

Water Availability in the Nile River Basin
The purpose of this project was to establish, through literature review, a working definition of resilience in the context of Egyptian hydrology. The team considered the notion of vulnerability, relying largely on a set of 31 indicators put forth in a report from 2009 (Hamouda et al. 2009) that assessed water vulnerability in the Eastern Nile Basin, and which connected resiliency and vulnerability. The team’s work provided a framework through which to evaluate specific concepts related to water availability in Egypt, including resilience, agricultural sustainability and power generation. The team recommended that a composite resilience index be developed, which could be very powerful if rooted in statistical data and mathematical modeling. The evaluation of these indicators would allow all levels of government to determine their vulnerability to water shocks and other stressors that Egypt may face in the future.

Client: United States Military Academy at West Point
Team members: Andrew Kaelin, Maya Becker, Salma El Yamani

A Comprehensive Study on the Climate Resiliency of New York State’s Largest Gas & Electric Utility Companies
This capstone project focused on assessing the climate resiliency of the five largest utility providers (Central Hudson, National Grid, PSEG Long Island, New York State Electric and Gas, and Rochester Gas and Electric) in New York State. The project focused specifically on optimizing electric power transmission and distribution efficiency. The team’s results will help the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law (SCCCL) influence utility providers to undertake climate mitigation and adaption strategies such as planning and preparation for future climate change impacts. Their results may also help to persuade the Public Service Commission to make climate resiliency a requirement in future proceedings, as well as to increase funding for adaptation strategies and storm preparedness measures. Ultimately, their research will contribute to proactive planning and investment for climate change that will lead to a stronger, more reliable energy infrastructure nationwide.

Client: Sabin Center for Climate Change Law (SCCCL)
Team Members: Philip Chambers, Kim Nastro, Danielle Ng, Samuel Place, Emma Tuzinkiewicz, Michelle Vogt, Sarah Zimmerman

Tracking Cool Roofs Surface Temperatures
In 2009, the City of New York began a CoolRoofs project – collaborating with city government, volunteers, and private sponsors in an effort to cover a million square feet of roofs per year with high-albedo coating, which is meant to reduce the heat absorption of buildings.  Columbia’s Cool Roofs Workshop Team worked with the city’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency to collect data on the efficiency of coating and to make recommendations based on findings to further improve the program. The goal of this project was to help further the implementation of New York City’s CoolRoofs project. To achieve this, the team successfully debunked the myth of the “winter heat penalty” by illustrating that the same amount of energy is distributed over a larger area in the winter (rather than concentrated on roof) through the use of sun path illustrations. The team conducted a comprehensive cost benefit analysis to provide the city with an option of cost effective and easy to apply material – Solarflex White Roof Coating. The team also provided data on the added benefits of CoolRoofs’, such as extension of the roof’s life span, that may help the project to become even more attractive and promising solution for local residents.

Client: Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency
Team members: Theo Hilton, Anne Carey, Fabio Desousa, Ryan Elivo, Grant Gutierrez, Jeremy Mulliez, Érida Tosini-Corea

U.S. Military Academy Net-Zero Energy Initiative
IMG_8191Under the influence of the President’s Army Sustainability Campaign Plan, the United States Military Academy (USMA) has been tasked with becoming a Net Zero Energy facility by 2020. The objective of this project was to reduce energy consumption and costs at the USMA – Camp Buckner, a field training facility used by 1600 cadets each summer. The methodology for the project included an analysis of the camp’s current energy consumption, an assessment of alternative energy-efficient housing structures, and installation of renewable energy. The team recommended replacing SAGE barracks with current foundations; installing rigid wall shelter hygiene facilities and implementing a floating PV system on the lake adjacent to Buckner. Ultimately, the team’s analysis will allow USMA-Buckner to make the first step towards achieving its goal of Net Zero Energy and may influence future sustainability initiatives in the U.S. Army.

Client: United States Military Academy at West Point
Team members: Charlotte Cipolletti, Gabriela Gugelmin, Allie Bollman, Felix Schadeck, Roger Stone, Geoff Hahn, Wyatt Baker

IMG_8150Columbia’s Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development is an interdisciplinary program that addresses sustainable development through an understanding in the interaction between natural and social systems, offered through The Earth Institute in partnership with Columbia College and the School of General Studies. Participating departments and schools of the sustainable development major and special concentration include the Department of Earth and Environmental Biology; the Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering; the School of International and Public Affairs and the Mailman School of Public Health.

To learn more about the Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development, visit our website or contact Program Manager Jessica Sotomayor at

Lin Ye is an intern for the Office of Academic and Research Programs at the Earth Institute, Columbia University. He is a graduate student at Columbia University and will graduate in 2015 with a Master of Science degree in Sustainability Management.

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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