State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Sustainable Development Students Address Real-World Sustainability Challenges in Workshop Briefings

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Workshop students, classmates, faculty, and staff gather for the presentations.

On May 4, the Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development hosted the spring 2023 Workshop Briefings, where upperclassmen presented the deliverables they spent the semester working on with their clients.

The Workshop in Sustainable Development allows undergraduate sustainable development majors and special concentrators to bridge the theoretical knowledge they have gained through their coursework in the natural and social sciences with a real-world, client-based project. 

Students shared their project results with the university community at this event before sharing their final presentations with their clients. This semester, nine teams presented. The clients included Energy Futures Initiative, Community and College Partners Program, Mississippi Citizens United for Prosperity, Enviroserve Rwanda, Action for Sustainable Transformation, New York State Council of Churches, Crauderueff Solar, and Columbia University Transportation. There were also presentations from students enrolled in the Rwanda and Bangladesh field-based capstone courses. 

Read more about the nine projects from the spring 2023 semester below.

The “Bolstering the ‘S’ in ESG Investing” team introducing their project.

Project: Bolstering the “S” in ESG Investing

Client: Energy Futures Initiative

Team members: Karina Alejos, Ana Cardenas, Lucas Chapman, Manon Confavreux, Pierre Grados, Christopher Lee, John Joseph Stankard, and Tobias Liebst Von Obelitz

The first team worked with Energy Futures Initiative, a Washington-based nonprofit organization accelerating the clean energy transition through technology and policy innovation. The students researched how the social implications within ESG can be better understood and how policy can be structured to ensure equal access to the clean energy transition. The team conducted an analysis of investor practices for measuring social impacts, reviewed current standards, frameworks, and rating schemes, learned the requirements of the Justice 40 initiative, and analyzed challenges to measuring impact. The team recommended including government-level regulations for ESG reporting, external metrics and community involvement, and transparency through data collection in the Justice 40 initiative.

Team members from the “Building Adaptive Capacity in Jackson Mississippi” team share background on their project.

Project: Building Adaptive Capacity in North Jackson, Mississippi

Client: The Community and College Partners Program and the Mississippi Citizens United for Prosperity

Team members: Annie Delgadillo, Daniel Delafield, Quiya Harris, Zoe Lerouge-Hemar, Saj McBurrows, Vanessa Mendoza, Inyul Rizwan, and David Yang

The second team worked with the Community and College Partners Program and the Mississippi Citizens United for Prosperity to better understand the regional causes of flooding and to develop an adaptation plan. The team researched the management of the upstream reservoir and river systems and the history and racial and environmental injustice in the community. The group traveled to Jackson, Mississippi where they got to meet their clients, local community members, and understand the context of the community to better determine the goal and project outcomes. They developed a communications plan for the Brookwood community as their final deliverable that can be used as a tool by community members to bolster engagement.

Both Rwanda teams gather for a picture after their presentations.

Project: E-Waste Recycling in Rwanda

Client: Enviroserve Rwanda

Team members: Pilar Arriaga, Zoe Chan, Ryan Kalugdan, Trevor Kodzis, and Taejeong Woo

The third team worked with Enviroserve Rwanda, an international e-waste recycling company, on the expansion of e-waste collection and recycling in the region. Enviroserve Rwanda is currently the only e-waste recycling company in East Africa, and they have a public-private partnership with the Rwandan government. The project’s aim was to build partnerships with Rwandan universities to recycle e-waste and increase recycling rates through communication strategies. The team included Columbia University and University of Rwanda students and they were able to meet each other in person when Columbia students traveled to Kigali during spring break. The team toured the Enviroserve facility and conducted interviews with local schools and organizations. 

The “E-Waste Recycling” team presents images from their trip to Kigali, Rwanda.

Project: Improved Cookstoves in Rural Rwanda

Client: Action for Sustainable Transformation

Team members: Matthew Capuano-Rizzo, Aliyah Elfar, Sophie Hanin, Elvis Maliza, and Shea Strippel

The fourth team also included both Columbia University and University of Rwanda students. They worked with the Action for Sustainable Transformation in support of the Abakorana Bushake Cooperative for clean cookware. The project goal was to understand how to create efficient and cleaner cookstoves in the region. The team researched market access and strategies to link the consumers to cookware products. While in Kigali, they had field site visits to markets and cookstove production sites. They developed recommendations about the design of cookstoves, quantification, and market access. 

The “Analysis of Greening Phenomena” team highlights study areas in the Morrelganj region of Bangladesh.

Project: Analysis of Greening Phenomena in Polder 32 and Morrelganj Upazila, Bangladesh

Team members: Simon Caplan, Maanal Chowdhury, Mariclaire Joseph, and Camila Rodriguez

The fifth team worked with Dhaka University students and analyzed Bangladesh’s extreme climate events, including cyclones, flooding, storm surge, and droughts. Their project goal was to understand the factors that cause differences in vegetation patterns across different sites. They analyzed these patterns in Polder 32 and Morrelgani to understand if they were anthropogenic or naturally occurring causes. They developed a methodology that included interviews conducted during their trip to Bangladesh and qualitative analysis to understand factors that impact greening. They also studied other threats to greening, including saline intrusion of groundwater and past cyclones.

The Bangladesh teams smile for a photo wearing their Bangladesh trip t-shirts.

Project: Climate Extremes & Migration as Existential Threats to Coastal Areas in Bangladesh: Stories of Water Insecurity, Displacement, & Community Perspectives for Adaptation

Team members: Rebecca Holloway, Brendan Moore, and Emily Stone

The sixth team studied water insecurity and displacement across four study sites in Bangladesh (Noilcha Char, Jugiadaspara, Polder 32, and Polder 35/1). They worked with Dhaka University students during their trip and conducted over 30 interviews which they translated and analyzed. They asked about topics including experiences with climate change, flooding and access to water, and migration. Their results concluded that economic opposition, environmental displacement and religion were the main reasons for migration. They also analyzed aid and adaptation trends in the region and how there are challenges with uneven aid distribution in the region. 

The “Surface Water Mapping Algorithms” team shares factors used in their mapping analysis.

Project: Enhancing Accuracy of Surface Water Mapping Algorithms in Bangladesh

Team members: Nicolas Lopez, Zazoe van Lieshout, and Ana Torres

The final Bangladesh team used satellite imagery and remote sensing to map flooding events and impacts on local communities in the Sylhet region in Bangladesh. Their project aim was to measure the performance of water mapping algorithms to increase reliability. They researched flood index insurance to analyze the frequency and magnitude of hazards in the region and looked at damage indexes to understand payouts to the community. They created a methodology to measure water mapping algorithms and used hand labeling and comparative analysis to compare the algorithms.

The “Using Solar Energy to Advance LL97 Compliance” team shared information about Local Law 97.

Project: Using Solar Energy to Advance LL97 Compliance in Houses of Worship

Client: New York State Council of Churches and Crauderueff Solar

Team members: Timothy Bowen, Scout Burchfield, Nour Elgoweili, Marie Febrillet, Frederique Fyhr, Marine Gapihan, Maya Lameche, Bea Urofsky, and Maris Welch

The eighth team worked with The New York State Council of Churches and Cauderueff Solar to identify strategies for using solar energy to advance local law 97 and climate justice in buildings of worship. The group analyzed how different property types are impacted by local laws and solar potential suitability in buildings across the city. The team researched local law 97 compliance rules, used GIS technology, conducted an economic analysis, and created a survey assessment to better understand the property owners’ knowledge of solar energy to make recommendations of suitable buildings for solar installation. Their final deliverables included an economic analysis and educational materials their clients can use to understand compliance pathways for local laws.

The “Columbia Intercampus Shuttle” team gathered for a picture after presenting their findings.

Project: Efficiency Improvements for Columbia’s Intercampus Shuttle and Park-and-Ride Systems

Client: Columbia University Transportation 

Team members: Divya Agarwala, Zoe Dupuis, Heidi Lichtl, Matt Moran, Sarah Nabirye, Georgina Seal, Mona Suzuki, and Quan Tan

The final team worked with Columbia Transportation to understand shuttle transportation across campus and improve shuttle efficiency and accessibility and expand the Lamont Park-and-Ride service. The team conducted an analysis on current shuttle trends and used client data, surveys, and spot-checking at stops to identify locations where there could be reduced or soft stops. The team had recommendations to expand the Lamont Park-and-Ride service and a proposal for a Broadway/Crosstown line. The team researched alternative transportation options and strategies for increasing communication and amending shuttle maps and graphics to enhance informational access. 


The Workshop Briefings were a great success this semester and we look forward to the fall 2023 Workshop Briefings next semester!

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. 

To learn more about the Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development, visit our website.

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