State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Tackling Real-World Sustainability Challenges in the Senior Capstone Workshop Briefings

On December 7, upperclassmen in the Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development presented their final briefings for their capstone workshop. This semester-long course is a client-based seminar directed by professors Stuart Gaffin and Radley Horton. It centers around the “deliverables,” or reports, findings, and marketing materials, that student groups generate for their clients. The workshop offers students an opportunity to apply the skills and techniques they have gained through their studies in a professional setting. This semester, the clients included the Watershed Agricultural Council’s (WAC) Forestry Program, Columbia University Office for Environmental Stewardship, the Javits Center, and the Friends of the High Line.

Read more about the four projects from the Fall 2018 term below. Protecting Water Quality and Promoting Sustainable Forest Management in the New York City Watershed

Client: Watershed Agricultural Council’s Forestry Program

The Watershed Agricultural Council (WAC) team. Photo: Cari Shimkus

The first team of Columbia students partnered with the Watershed Agricultural Council with the goal of promoting better management of the New York City Watershed among landowners that live on their (watershed) properties only part-time. The team conducted interviews with these “absentee landowners,” and analyzed the interviews in order to be able to communicate to WAC this demographic’s wishes and concerns from the organization. Through the process, they were able to provide tailored marketing strategies and suggest improvements to the WAC’s online platform,

Campaign to Reduce Columbia-related Travel

Client: Columbia University Office for Environmental Stewardship

The Office for Environmental Stewardship team. Photo: Cari Shimkus

The second team of students worked with the Columbia Office of Environmental Stewardship on a broad behavioral change campaign. The goal: to reduce the environmental impact of student and faculty air flight through informational and publicity materials highlighting the cumulative consequences of air travel as well as the availability and accessibility of video conferencing tools on campus. The group produced pamphlets and video advertisements for their client, and suggested changes to the layout of the office’s website.

Get to Know Your Friendly Neighborhood Rooftop: The Javits Center Green Roof

Client: Javits Center

The Javits Center team. Photo: Cari Shimkus.

The third team partnered with the Javits Center in lower Manhattan, home of the largest green roof in New York City. As a deliverable, the group produced a functional, universal map of the green roof for the Javits Center management, incorporating layers from the multiple current maps in use, including maps used by contractors as well as researchers. The ultimate goal was to enable improved communication among the parties that use the roof. The team also created a brochure for the Javits Center to distribute on green roof tours, tracked seagull nests over time, and assessed the impact of green and white roofs on mitigating the urban heat island effect in New York City through GIS analysis of NASA LANDSAT thermal imagery.

Sustain and SpreadImpact Assessment at The High Line

Client: Friends of the High Line

The Highline team. Photo: Cari Shimkus.

The final team of students carried out a sustainability impact analysis for the Friends of the Highline, the nonprofit organization that founded, funds, and maintains the High Line in New York City. This team was tasked with expanding the visibility of the High Line’s environmental benefits, and they carried out their task through several avenues, including an analysis of the Highline’s infrastructure as well as a survey of nearby green organizations.

Following the final briefings, there was a poster session in which the students of Qualitative Research Methods, a 4000-level Sustainable Development Course taught by Professor Lisa Dale, highlighted the work they completed for their final projects.

Columbia’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. It 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 Cari Shimkus at

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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