State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Students Address Real-World Sustainability Challenges in Capstone Workshop Briefings

On December 6, the Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development hosted the Fall 2019 Capstone Workshop Briefings, where seniors presented the deliverables that they spent the semester working on with their clients.

The workshop offers students an opportunity to apply the skills and techniques they have gained through their studies to solve real-world problems for a client. It was also a chance to hone collaboration and teamwork skills that they can carry into their professional lives. This semester, the clients included Archive Global, Westchester County Climate Crisis Initiative and Task Force, the Watershed Agricultural Council’s Forestry Program, and the Columbia University Office for Environmental Stewardship. You can watch full videos of the presentations here.

Project: Strategic Assistance for Archive Global

Client: Archive Global

The first team worked with Archive Global, an international non-governmental organization committed to solving health challenges through architecture. The team focused on two of Archive’s projects — a microcredit initiative in Bangladesh and a community-led sanitation project in Cameroon. The sub-group on the Bangladesh project conducted a feasibility study to assess the potential value of a microcredit initiative in rural Bangladesh and developed concrete recommendations as well as a framework for strategic implementation. The sub-group on the Cameroon project conducted a literature review and strategic analysis to determine how to lay the groundwork for a sanitation service chain intervention within a small municipality called Idenau.

Project: Climate Resilience Hub Development in Westchester County

Client: Westchester County Climate Crisis Initiative and Task Force

The second team looked into developing a resilience hub in Westchester county. Using vulnerability data (a combination of social, health, and physical risk factors) and interviews with local leaders, they identified a highly vulnerable site. In addition, the students provided guidelines on how to build and manage resilience hubs so that the project could be replicated in areas with different vulnerabilities, exposures, and risks. Finally, they identified the most vulnerable populations within the area, developed programs to refine future development of resilience hubs, and made a publicly accessible geospatial database that community members can expand upon.

Project: — Protecting Water Quality and Promoting Sustainable Forest Management in the New York City Watershed

Client: Watershed Agricultural Council’s Forestry Program

The third team worked with Watershed Agricultural Council (WAC), which is a grassroots not-for-profit organization that works in the New York City watershed to protect water quality and promote the economic viability of the region’s working lands. The project aims to improve WAC’s website (, which provides forest landowners with activities and information on what they can do to care for and enjoy their forest land. The team identified particular values, concerns and needs of the Croton Watershed landowner population in order to develop and market content that is tailored to them. The team shared the results of their interviews with Croton Watershed landowners and with these insights, made recommendations on website content, design, and marketing strategies that are uniquely designed to engage forest landowners.

Project: Water Exploratory to Inform Next University Sustainability Plan

Client: Environmental Stewardship Office, Columbia University

The final team worked with Columbia University’s Office of Environmental Stewardship on the next sustainability plan regarding water conservation. The aim of the project is to help inform key decision-making around water on campus on a programmatic and strategic level. First, the team researched best practices in water conservation at urban universities that could be considered for the sustainability plan, and conducted an audit in one undergraduate residence hall and one academic building to identify opportunities to conserve water. Next, the team provided guidelines on how to inform schools and departments on the impact of their choices to navigate away from bottled water.

Following the final briefings, the students of Qualitative Research Methods, a 4000-level sustainable development course taught by Professor Lisa Dale, participated in a poster session to share their final projects with the program.


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