As a team full of people who enjoy beer and are passionate about sustainability, Elysian project members were ready for the SUMA Net Impact project challenge. Our client, Elysian Brewery, is a Seattle based brewery that is owned by Anheuser-Busch. Elysian wanted to update certain company practices to meet Anheuser-Busch’s new sustainability goals, therefore Elysian asked SUMA Net Impact for input. The scope of our work consisted of 1) providing a solar feasibility study to Elysian, 2) developing a renewable energy target and implementation plan, 3) defining sustainability metric guidelines, and 4) devising recommendations for a sustainability-focused marketing framework.
Team Elysian consists of members from diverse backgrounds where each member was assigned a specific part of the project based on backgrounds and interest. Jenna Molloy, our team leader, is a SUMA student with a background in literature, and worked on the sustainability metrics with fellow SUMA student Evan Carfagno, who brings ecology expertise. Majo Gutierrez and Dominic Bell, also SUMA students, bring their technology consulting and environmental science backgrounds to the team. Majo and Dominic are working on assessing the Solar Feasibility portion of the deliverables. The marketing and communications members made up of SUMA and Climate and Society students Casey Plasker and Anastasia Almerini, both have a background in marketing.
Casey, Dominic, Evan and Ana had different motivations for joining the team. As a first semester student, Casey was looking for an opportunity to get to know her classmates and gain consulting experience from a sustainability position. Dominic was excited to gain experience producing financial models for a real client and enhance his skills from modelling courses. Evan was interested in being more involved in opportunities at school and the ability to gain real client work experience. As a Climate and Society student, Ana’s studies were very science heavy and her background in marketing was drawing her to more business-friendly projects. She was interested in learning from the SUMA students and gaining skills that a sustainability manager can offer.
Elysian project team had a successful semester with many positive outcomes. After our initial project scope meeting, we immediately got to work on our respective missions. Majo and Dominic began to research government incentives that could apply to Elysian. These incentives can be considered when making the financial model to provide an estimated cost of solar installation and payback estimates. Their goal is to map out where solar panels can be installed at Elysian and will create a design of the solar panel system and the financial model. Additionally, the team researched construction costs for solar panels to more accurately create the financial model. Due to time constraints, only the most important construction considerations were included in the report which was 1) obtaining an electrical permit and 2) conducting a structural feasibility test.
The sustainability metrics and operations members’ were tasked with helping Elysian develop a plan to reach their sustainability performance goals and to effectively report them through sustainability metrics. This process was initiated by researching industry best practices with regards to sustainability that can be tailored to Elysian. An interesting find was the waste reduction strategies utilized by other breweries such as Alaskan Brewery; Alaskan Brewery has not had to buy CO2, which is used to carbonate beer, for twenty years because of a CO2 recycler on their property.
The marketing team assessed how Elysian can use their unique brand to showcase new sustainability initiatives. The goal is to combine sustainability messaging seamlessly into already existing marketing strategies. Casey and Ana created an outline of “must-haves” for Elysian such as creating a Sustainability Mission Statement and to enhance internal and external communications. The largest challenge is that to present suggestions to Elysian, information from the solar feasibility and the sustainability metrics teams must be complete. Upon receiving this information, a suggested timeline and marketing methods were provided to Elysian to utilize in their shift to sustainability and beyond.
Overall there were a few key takeaways from this project. Project members developed a fundamental understanding of how to develop modelling and how to handle data constraints and enhanced client relationship skills important to the workforce. Project members can apply their new project management skills in interviewing clients to develop a well-organized project scope. Of course, we now all know that we like Elysian beer for taste and positive impacts!
With rapid urbanization highlighting the rise of sustainable cities, discussions pertaining to sustainable practices often skip smaller towns that are at the grassroots of this transformation. Today, these smaller communities strive to make their impacts as historic, cultural or social centers that are economically and environmentally responsible. They provide a rich cultural fabric to build upon by amalgamating sustainable development efforts.
Set in Berkshire County, the Town of Lenox is a vibrant community in Western Massachusetts that is ensconced between the Berkshire Mountains to the west and the Housatonic River to the east. The town’s beautiful natural endowment, and rich historic and cultural values are the foundation of its heritage. As the Town of Lenox looks towards the future, it is clear that the town would need to preserve its legacy while embracing the burgeoning economic and development needs, both for its current and future residents. Towards that end, a team of eight SUMA Net Impact students (Megan Ross, Abbigael Foster, Shruti Deshpande, Rodrigo Castro Ayca, Shiyi Zheng, Fernando Ortiz, Claudene Petricca, Karl Knotoff)— from a diverse array of backgrounds such as climate change, sustainable design, urban planning, project management, CSR reporting, and strategic communications — worked pro bono with the representatives from the Town of Lenox to help them effectively incorporate sustainability perspectives into their Master Plan in 2018. With the guidance of faculty advisor Celine Solsken Ruben-Salama.
Lenox has enduring appeal, but its population is aging, and many residents are seasonal or otherwise impermanent. Strategic planning with sustainability in mind would serve to improve Lenox’s ability to remain competitive with other communities in the region and to attract residents that will contribute to the economy and stability of the town. Adopting sustainable practices that contribute to cleaner air, more access to open spaces, and a more integrated community will improve Lenox’s ability to provide its residents with a stronger quality of life. Thus, the first step was to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the town as well as the risks and opportunities it is likely to face in the context of planning. Then, in consonance with their Master Plan, delineate a methodology that focuses the community on the long-term impacts of environmental quality and health of the region, the equity of its citizens, and the economic development and opportunities of the town.
The SUMA Net Impact team prepared a package of tools and documents, as part of an Environmental Management System (EMS), that would provide the town with a high-level view of their sustainability planning practices. The EMS identifies key areas of long-term planning assessed from a viewpoint of sustainability: 1) providing an overview of targets and metrics to measure the progress made in the key areas, 2) a detailed technical report offering recommendations and best practices, 3) a metrics dashboard for recording and tracking data, 4) and a simplified template for calculating greenhouse gas emissions.
The process of visioning and goal-setting began with the SUMA Net Impact team’s visit to the Town of Lenox where they interacted with the various representatives of the Town Planner’s office, the Planning Board, the Department of Public Works, and the Environmental Committee. This site visit was also useful in orienting the SUMA Net Impact team with Lenox’s stakeholders, the town’s key attractions and public services. This opportunity was further leveraged by engaging the representatives in an interactive workshop with the objective of identifying the town’s specific values pertaining to environmental sustainability and then identifying three key areas that are especially important to the town’s current circumstances. The SUMA Net Impact team then worked to provide two aspects of sustainability opportunities within each of these three key areas: Climate Change focusing on Mitigation and Resilience, Utilities Management prioritizing Wastewater Treatment and Water Supply Management, and Land Management emphasizing Housing Development and Trail Networks.
The EMS document serves as a framework by which the Town of Lenox can envision town planning through the lens of sustainability, considering its growth strategies and town management practices with the long-term in mind. The EMS is intended to be a living document that is both scalable and replicable and can be used as a tool when interpreting a variety of different situations that the town may face in the future, including extending the town’s sustainable practices to any issue or planning category.
The team examined each key area by defining clear objectives of what the town intended to achieve. These objectives were further refined by prescribing boundaries to each, which describe the extents and limitations of the EMS and the methodologies of assessment, which describe which data or practices were used to create the assessment in this EMS. The assessments were extrapolated to identify overarching approaches to achieving the defined objectives and specific targets are aligned with each objective to measure actual results. The targets were typically quantitative and determined by timelines: Short-term targets are recommended to achieve by 2020: initial assessments, developing baseline data, and creating systems. Medium-term targets are recommended to achieve by 2030: program development and implementation. Long-term targets are recommended to achieve by 2040: higher-intensity goals or ideas to consider depending on new growth. Further, metrics were identified and used to track progress toward the target(s). Monitored at regular intervals, metrics will indicate the pace and direction of how the town is trending in relation to its goals and can quantify overall change in comparison with an initial baseline. Each metric recommended was chosen based on its actionability, relevance and meaningfulness to the objective.
Long-term sustainability planning will enable Lenox to act to mitigate its contributions to global warming and to adapt to the regional effects of climate change. By doing so, Lenox can establish its commitment to grow responsibly and conscientiously with respect to the environment and the residents of the town. By prioritizing resilience in its growth initiatives, the town can respond to changing conditions without compromising its services or quality of life, and the economy of the region can retain stability.
One of the key learnings has been the complex nature of addressing sustainability issues: First, identifying synergies between the disparate environmental, economic and social systems is an important part of identifying risks and opportunities. For example, addressing emissions reductions from town-owned vehicles may improve air quality and save money for the town in the long-term due to reduced fuel costs. Next, the team has provided the town with an understanding of considering which impacts are the most serious to address and which initiatives are likely to have the greatest mitigation influence against those impacts. Then, the team has also ensured that the actions that Lenox takes comply with or exceed the regulatory requirements of governing bodies to which the town is subject. Finally, the team also stressed the importance of utilizing human capital as a linchpin for institutionalizing sustainability planning.
CHALLENGES AND THE WAY FORWARD
Sustainability planning should become integrated into every town department and office, but for this to become standard, leadership is critical. The importance and integrative nature of sustainability should be understood and valued by those at the management level and should be accessible to those at all levels. Going forward, including a Sustainability Officer within the town workforce would be a simple way to ensure that sustainability concepts are prioritized during day-to-day operations and are extended through medium- and long-term programming. Some towns or municipalities have found it useful to establish this position in a department that is ratepayer-supported rather than taxpayer-supported because it protects the position from fluctuating impacts of budget cuts. Many local utilities are ratepayer-supported through local government departments, which offers an excellent platform from which to address energy-related sustainability initiatives, which typically have a significant impact on climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts.
Establishing sustainable practices in organizational decision-making is not a one-size-fits-all model, and it is not a one-and-done process. Sustainability involves a continuous reshaping and refinement of practices to reflect the best technologies and methodologies we can espouse for each situation. Done right, sustainability can be a competitive economic development strategy — one that promotes social inclusion and community revitalization. Now that the Town of Lenox has the tools and resources to develop sustainable approaches to their town planning, they can implement new and innovative ideas that work best for their community and their needs while supporting the needs of generations to come.
While the world at large grapples with the enormity of dealing with sustainability challenges, what the perspective of towns such as Lenox shows is that even at the very local level we can act to create real and measurable change.
In January of 2018, SUMA Net Impact signed on CoClear as a client to assist with the product data analysis that forms part of CDP’s Supply Chain Program. CoClear is a New York consultancy firm with proprietary technology that specializes in fast life cycle analysis (LCAs). Their unique interactive application uses company supply chain and cost metrics to help brands optimize their product and supply-chain. They are recognized as industry leaders and have partnered with CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project) to identify trends in product LCA reporting. Throughout the semester, a team of graduate students closely worked with the company’s CEO, Sally Paridis, towards completing a defined scope of work which involved taking the first deep dive into the data.
Our team members consisted of real estate finance, project management, marketing, and climate science professionals from various international backgrounds. They were Marielena Alcarez, Ashley Bae, Dolores Alicia De La Cruz, Charlotte Gueye, Laura Korhonen, and Tanmai Mahesh.
Through CDP, companies annually self-report on Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions as well as the recent introduction in 2012 of reporting on product lifecycle emissions. CoClear’s first report on the 2012-2015 product data can be found here: http://www.coclear.co/latest-report.
The team worked on the most recent collection of product data from 2016-17. The data included Scope 3 and LCA stages on more than 500 goods and services belonging to companies in 43 different GICS industry sectors. Using this data, the team’s mission was to identify data gaps, where weights were not included, research and identify product weights, calculate the carbon intensities of each product, and look for trends across various sectors.
We developed weekly meetings with the client and monthly deliverables: first we organized the data into categories that reflected the completeness of the data, then we looked up the weights of the products and found out their carbon intensity. We then mapped the wide range of industry sectors into 8 CoClear sectors, identified where emissions changes had occurred from year to year, identified whether the change was due to a product change or change in the supply chain and finally built a dataset that reflected our findings and other important factors such as the percent change in CO2.
One of the main challenges the team faced was working with certain data points that were incomplete and incoherent, since some were self-reported. If the team members could not figure out what the information meant after extensive research, they unfortunately had to leave that product out of the analysis, rather than make educated assumptions. We suggested that it may be helpful for CDP to implement simple add-ons to the data collection process, such as providing a set of defined answers to choose from instead of free-form response.
Another challenge faced was working with large datasets, and coordinating with team members who are collaborating with the same data due to datasets being exported to Microsoft Excel and grouped into separate tabs. To overcome calculation and classification errors, the team members methodologically cross checked each other’s work. We divided ourselves into 3 teams of 2, then cross checked all of the data rotationally.
The final deliverable was a comprehensive report of the original data and key performance indicators that determined the year-over-year change. Within the report, were dashboards that allowed visualization of Excel datasets. These deliverables would ultimately roll up to various CDP reports.
Through this project, team members were able to develop their data analysis methodology and learn the discipline and patience required with ‘cleaning’ data sets so that further analysis is possible. Simultaneously, through the challenges, we learned the importance of accurate and complete data reporting, especially in the field of sustainability. This experience was unique in that members were able see the source data that ultimately drove sustainability-related decisions.
The team members were exceptionally thankful for the opportunity to work for first hand with the client. We developed a weekly meeting schedule to address questions and comments. At the same time, CoClear provided fast and efficient responses that allowed the team to tackle each barrier quickly.
Did you ever notice something once and you can’t unsee it anymore? Like that wall hooks look like arms of an octopus, or a stain on your shirt. There was something the SUMA Net Impact board members couldn’t unsee at Columbia University; it was the waste we generated at each event. As part of a student group, events are customary to provide free enticing food and beverages. The reality is, after each event the board members are left with cleaning up and taking out the garbage. The waste from the free food would spill over recycling and trash bins.
While planning for the Spring 2018 semester Vibhuti, our president, requested we take a look at whether reusable utensils could be used at events instead of one-time-use. Immediately, we all realized it was the obvious initiative. As Sustainability Management master’s candidates, it would be ironic to produce so much waste for events meant to publicize sustainability.
The solution is to request all event attendees to bring their own containers and utensils. Initially, we slipped in a sentence to the bottom of one of our email blasts for attendees to bring their own utensils and cups, if they could. Eventually, in every invite and SUMA Net Impact event we would include the request to bring reusable utensils. The request would always immediately follow the promise of free food and beverage.
Another option was for SUMA Net Impact to buy our own reusable cutleries. However, as a student group, we had to book rooms wherever it is available. We couldn’t coordinate efficiently how to get dirty dishes cleaned or who would do it.
Another option was to not offer food or beverage. That was quickly turned down, as many student events are immediately after class and events would have cut through dinner time.
After three events of requesting attendees to bring reusable utensils and cups, we checked out the waste situation of the bins. Unfortunately, we did not have the proper weighing equipment. However, with our average attendee size of 35 people, 35 sandwiches, 5 liters of soda, 3 dozen cupcakes and a visual test it is clear that there’s ~50% reduction in waste. All the bins were at most half full! As a result, the team will continue this practice and continue to find new ways to reduce the remaining waste. 50% today, zero waste tomorrow!
On March 31, 2018 current SUMA student Lucas Piazza, conducted the “Data Visualization for the Everyday (Wo)Man” workshop in which he drew upon his experience turning data into visual stories to teach the easy-to-employ secrets of good data visualizations. This workshop emphasized practicality over theory to ensure every attendee walk away with the knowledge that can be immediately used.
As a communications professional for a NYC-based data startup, Lucas Piazza knows the power of data visualizations. Design, done correctly, is a universal language that has the power to make highly complex information relevant to an audience.
Spring 2018 Projects Mid-Term Review
Update 6/2/18: We’re so excited to announce that one of the teams from our Design Thinking Workshop won the Net Impact’s Drawdown INNOVATEchallenge! They were invited to the 2018 Net Impact Accelerator in Oakland, CA and competed with other finalists for a cash prize. Congratulations Jenna Lewein, Matt Akins, and Merlyn Mathew! Additionally, Merlyn has received an internship from a sponsor.
On March 21, 2018 we conducted a mid-term review of the four projects for Spring 2018. Each team presented their findings and next steps to complete their project.
Project #1 Data analysis for life cycle assessment of products
Project # 2 Waste management strategy for Columbia University
Project #3 Sustainability strategy for Town of Lenox, MA
Project #4 Solar project development and communications strategy for craft brewery
Climate Drawdown Innovation Workshop
On March 3rd, 2018, we had an incredible workshop led by Of Course Global, where we learned about design thinking and how to apply it to climate change solutions for Net Impact‘s Drawdown INNOVATE challenge! A contest that gave winners an opportunity to further develop their concept through an accelerator program in San Francisco, internship, or cash prize.
“Thanks a bunch for putting on one of the best workshops I have attended here at Columbia.”
“Thanks to SUMA Net Impact for hosting events like the Design Thinking Workshop that allowed us to use our creativity and to learn methodologies to maximize it. This workshop is an excellent tool for sustainability professionals that aim to tackle the current world’s challenges. “
-Andrea Gomez Vesga
Waste Management Workshop
On February 27, 2018, SUMA Net Impact invited project teams to learn about current SUMA student’s, Aharon Kestenbaum, professional work with the NYC Department of Education’s zero waste initiatives.
It was allowed our Columbia Environmental Stewardship project team to discuss their current project findings and future deliverables.
Marina Dirks, the Principal at S&C North America, a corporate responsibility and sustainability consulting firm, spoke with SUMANI’s Aksheya Chandar about her experience getting to her esteemed position and her perspective on corporate sustainability at large.
Hi Marina, thanks so much for your time today. Why don’t we start off by you telling us a little about yourself and your background?
I grew up in Germany and at some point decided that I wanted to pursue an education in business and economics and quickly got interested in sustainability. I started in 2005, at a time when very limited standardized sustainability management education, like what you guys have, existed. For example, you could study environmental engineering, but it lacked the management perspective. I studied business and economics, and within that field, I tried to do things that have to do with sustainability. While trying to build my business background, I did internships in accounting and business development and worked with multi-national corporations (MNCs). I also tried to apply for scholarships and competitions in the field of sustainability and did an internship with the United Nations. I wrote my thesis on global governance – specifically, about public-private partnerships with the UN. I basically was forced to find creative ways to bring sustainability into my studies since there were no programs on sustainability management offered back then.
Was there a specific area of interest within the broad realm of sustainability?
I think in the end it’s all closely linked, but I was mostly interested in the management perspective of sustainability: How do you shape your business strategy and make your product portfolio to be more sustainable? Basically, general questions which one learns at the business school, from a sustainability angle. I think one of the first theories I learned about within sustainability was Porter’s value chain analysis (Strategy and Society:The Link Between Competitive Advantage and Corporate Social Responsibility, 2006) which talks about how to incorporate sustainability into the core business of a firm, instead of only adding corporate citizenship activities on the side. Another paper addressing the sustainability of a company’s business model that I worked with during my studies is Marketing Myopia by Theodore Levitt. It looks at long-term market trends and looks at how business models might get outdated over time. I find this very relevant for sustainability because I feel it encompasses the environmental, social, and governance aspects of a business and calls for ideas on how to make a business more sustainable. I am very passionate about looking at sustainability from a business perspective. Continue reading “SUMANI Trendster Blog: Interview with Marina Dirks of S&C North America”→
Since a particular day in early November, my classmates and I have wondered (or lamented) aloud how we will move forward with our sustainable efforts while the Federal Government tries to tear them down.
Just last week, budget proposals were abuzz and one, in particular, was decried as… misguided (a mild synonym for many other adjectives I heard). Earth Institute Director Steven Cohen stated it clearly in his Huffington Post spot from last Monday.
While cuts to the EPA and research programs housed at universities like Columbia would reduce funding to important studies, I am confident in the ability of my classmates and my own abilities to develop a free market that will drive sustainability.
What if, with every purchase you made, you got a receipt indicating not just the price you paid, but the energy that was used to get that product to you? Chirayu Belthur, senior analyst at Ugam Solutions, in conjunction with SUMANI’s own Aksheya Chandar, briefs us on an emerging concept in retail analytics.
On her way back from work at a consulting firm in New York City, Lisa decides to swing by the nearby Walmart in North Bergen to pick up groceries for the family as well as cup of yogurt on the go. She swipes her credit card for $48 and heads on home, happy that she was able to make the most of the everyday low price deals. But does $48 account for everything Lisa and her family have consumed?