State of the Planet

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Sustainable Development Spring 2019 Workshop Briefings

By Grégoire Mazars

On May 7, students enrolled in the Sustainable Development Capstone Workshop made their final presentations to the university community before providing their recommendations to their clients. The Capstone Workshop offers sustainable development majors and special concentrators the chance to utilize the knowledge and skills they have gained in their studies with a real-world client-based project.

Read more about the projects from the Spring 2019 semester below.

Return to Nanga Jela / Pemulai ke Nanga Jela

Earth Institute adjunct Christine Padoch tasked the students with building a centralized source of knowledge for the former community of Nanga Jela, located in southwestern Sarawak, Malaysia. After the flooding of the community’s Iban longhouse by the Batang Ai Hydroelectric Dam project in the 1980’s, Nanga Jela inhabitants scattered around the world; their descendants form a diaspora of about 25,000 members, but many have lost touch with their extended family and have little information about their ancestors. The students created a website — — as a central source of knowledge, which contains historical resources, as well as time-dynamic topographic maps of the Nanga Jela area and architectural renditions of the longhouse and the region. The team also built a “kinship and genealogy tool,” which allows residents and descendants to trace their relatives after the fragmentation that unfolded in the 1980’s.

Planning for Sustainable Agriculture in Westchester County

The Hudson River Watershed offers incredibly important natural services to nearby cities, and farms play a key role in protecting the quality of its water. The Watershed Agricultural Council asked students to survey watershed towns in northern Westchester County to establish the supports available for agriculture — or the threats facing it, such as land development and low profitability of farms. The students created a tool for towns in the county, namely Bedford, North Salem, Somers, South Salem and Yorktown, to assess farm-friendliness on a range of metrics from quality of soil to history of land development.

Emissions Impact of Waste Generation at Columbia

Columbia’s Office of Environmental Stewardship is committed to reducing the university’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. The first task that Environmental Stewardship gave to the students was to calculate Columbia’s GHG emissions from solid waste. To do so, the project team members used available information (emissions from waste from non-residential buildings reported on campus, information on waste per capita in NYC’s District 9 and seasonal variations in the number of on-campus residents) to estimate emissions from waste in residential buildings. With this scope in mind, they studied the composition of waste sent by undergraduate students and the school’s faculty to landfills or recycling. The methodology they used may be used by Columbia to abate emissions from wastes in the future.

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 Cari Shimkus at

Grégoire Mazars is an intern for the Office of Academic and Research Programs at the Earth Institute. He is a graduate student in Sustainability Management.

Columbia campus skyline with text Columbia Climate School Class Day 2024 - Congratulations Graduates

Congratulations to our Columbia Climate School MA in Climate & Society Class of 2024! Learn about our May 10 Class Day celebration. #ColumbiaClimate2024

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