Spring 2010 Workshop in Sustainable Development

Spring 2010 Workshop in Sustainable Development

Final presentations for the capstone Workshop in Sustainable Development this semester were on sustainable roofing options in New York City. The workshop is part of the special concentration in sustainable development, which is open to students from Columbia College and the School of General Studies. This program is jointly administered by the Earth Institute, Columbia College and the School of General Studies. Taught by Stuart Gaffin, students work in teams to address issues presented by an outside agency.

“The students benefitted from a unique opportunity to work with clients that are involved in urban sustainability efforts that will eventually change the face of New York,” said Gaffin, associate research scientist at the Center for Climate Systems Research (CCSR).

The briefing highlighted the work of two teams, called the “Green Team” and the “White Team.”  The “White Team” focused their research on cool roofs, which use an albedo technology that reflects sunlight more effectively than the standard black-topped roofs. The team used Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping tools to provide neighborhood-specific data on where this type of roofing would be both practical and affordable. The “Green Team” researched green roofs, which utilize mossy plant life and assist in counteracting carbon emissions. The team compared New York City’s efforts with those of its European counterparts, who are at the forefront of green roofing. The team displayed their commitment to the project by designing and planting a green roof on Randall’s Island. 

The workshop is required as part of the special concentration and provides a forum for students to apply the skills they learn from their coursework in sustainable development. Students gained practical knowledge in a workplace setting while experiencing firsthand how government agencies incorporate sustainability issues into their activities. Bethany Ritz, a Columbia University senior with a major in writing, reflected upon her experience: “Working on projects with city agencies was a long-awaited opportunity to apply knowledge gained in the classroom and impact the city where we live.”

The students conducted research and developed tools while gaining important business negotiation skills. Ritz described the teamwork in the workshop: “The course inspired in all of us the enthusiasm to work, learn and achieve well beyond the normal classroom demands. It was incredible to see such a strong drive in my classmates to accomplish goals and influence the real world.”

Following each presentation, an audience of 30 attendees had the opportunity to ask students questions about their respective projects. In addition to special concentrators, the workshop will eventually include students in the major in sustainable development, which is being launched this fall. Given the extraordinary work that has been done by students in the workshop over the last two years, it is expected that the client relationships will deepen and expand.