State of the Planet

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Sustainable Development Fall 2016 Workshop Briefings

By Chandler Precht

IMG_6323_v2On December 9, 2016, students in the Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development presented practical solutions to sustainability issues and challenges faced by real world clients. Under the guidance of Professor Stuart Gaffin and Professor Radley Horton, the Capstone Workshop offers students a chance to convey the knowledge and theories gained throughout their time in the Sustainable Development Program in a client based graduate-level workshop setting. Read more below about the four projects from the Fall 2016 semester.

The first client of the Capstone Workshop in Sustainable Development was the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. The team included Elana Sulakshana, Omri Klagsbald, Taylor Quinn, Saloni Jain, and Giovanna Crozier-Fitzgerald. This project surveyed recent Environmental Impact Statements (EISs).The main objective was to evaluate how federal agencies are complying with guidance released in August 2016 by the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) on how to account for climate change and greenhouse gas emissions in environmental reviews. In addition to a comprehensive, user-friendly database of the EISs, the project includes an analysis of themes across the EISs.

IMG_6295_v2Watershed Agricultural Council’s Forestry Program was the second client of the Capstone Workshop in Sustainable Development. The project was taken on by Alina Kharisova, Anneliese Mesa-Jonassen, Sophia Rhee, Kristina Tougas, and Barbara Hickam Pressman. The Watershed Agricultural Council (WAC) is a grassroots not-for-profit organization that works with farm and forest landowners in the New York City Watershed to protect water quality and promote the economic viability of the region’s working lands. The main objective for this project was to design one goal and three accompanying activities using demographic information about forest landowners and spatial information about the Watershed. These goals and activities will provide forest landowners with specific activities they can do to care for their land in a sustainable manner.

The Rockland County Water Task Force consulted with the Capstone Workshop in Sustainable Development for help informing Rockland County’s future decisions on the location, design, and management of permeable pavement, a Green Infrastructure (GI) practice that enhances aquifer recharge by capturing storm water runoff. Zoe Berg, David Bigio, Katie Homa, Emily Lau, Tara Mohtadi, and Jennifer Olson formed the group that provided long-term solutions for the Rockland County Water Task Force. The capstone team developed a site criteria checklist for evaluating optimal pervious pavement sites within the county that would minimize freshwater contamination risks and allow for best management practices of storm water runoff. The team also compiled a report on the permitting and regulation processes involved in installing permeable pavement and identified possible sources of funding for GI projects.

Seven team members came together to provide the Environmental Stewardship & Columbia Transportation departments at Columbia University with intercampus shuttle opportunities for efficiency and overall service improvements. The team included Lydia Nagelhouk, Brittin Boenning, Sam Purcell, Tim Wang, Gabriella Ginsberg-Fletcher and Sophia Hill. The Columbia intercampus shuttle system offers free intercampus travel and reduces the need for individuals to travel by taxi or personal vehicle between campuses, reducing the University’s negative impact to traffic congestion and emissions. The Columbia capstone team was tasked with investigating low-ridership trends and proposing alternative options to provide efficient, eco-friendly, and safe connections between University campuses.

To watch the presentation videos, please refer to the following links:

Columbia’s Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development is an interdisciplinary program that looks at sustainable development through the lens of the natural and social science systems. The program is 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

Chandler Precht is an intern for the Office of Academic and Research Programs at the Earth Institute. She is an undergraduate student at Barnard College.

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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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