Over the summer of 2017, our chapter board decided to change our mission to be more impact focused.
In the past, we had been hosting events like panel discussions and workshops, and those provided valuable insight and connections for the students and for the featured guests of the events, but there was a desire to go deeper, for students to get more hands-on experience. In Fall 2017, the board solicited 3 sustainability projects in the greater NYC area for our student teams to work on as pro consultants.
The three projects
- Renewable energy feasibility report for a craft brewery in Long Island,
- Triple impact assessment for a recycling center in Brooklyn, and
- Recycling improvement report for our own Columbia University.
In the first 3 weeks of the semester, we recruited 18 students and welcomed 3 new board members to SUMA Net Impact, and the work began.
The craft brewery was planning an expansion, and they wanted to understand the feasibility of using renewable energy to power their new manufacturing facility. In a nutshell, they were keen on using less dirty energy to produce more beer (and who wouldn’t want them to succeed?). This project called for understanding system design, projected energy demand, and financial analysis, and therefore demanded 8 of the 18 recruits to work on this project. The team decided to deliver a comprehensive report on the most sustainable options for energy conservation and clean energy consumption.
Deliverable: They presented a diverse portfolio of options that included the use of Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) to substantiate renewable electricity use and biogas power generation using on-site organic materials. What they finally delivered also included a competitor analysis and marketing strategies for the brewery’s sustainable ambitions.
The recycling center project was an attempt to demonstrate the value the value that the non-profit center was bringing to its neighborhood’. It is mainly a site for “canners” (those who collect cans across the city to be redeemed for the redemption value) to claim their cash, but it has developed a diverse, close-knit community that sets it apart from what one might think of a recycling center. 6 students set out to collect quantitative information to provide data for the center to include in grant proposals and funding reports to benefactors.
Deliverable: The team created a dashboard to monitor things like how much cash the canners were collecting, the diversity of the canners, and what impact the recycling had on landfill diversion. They created a visual report to help communicate this data with various stakeholders.
The campus recycling project turned out to be the most challenging. It required the smallest group of 4 students to understand inefficiencies in recycling operations, including site collection, transfer, separating and sorting, and storage for collection by the Department of Sanitation (DSNY); the only way to do understand was to observe.
Deliverable: With observations and best practices gathered from other universities, the team made recommendations to gather more data and set goals using those metrics and to increase awareness of recycling and waste across all Columbia campuses. Furthermore, we are bringing this project forward to the Spring ‘18 semester because the client requested to expand our scope of the engagement.
By early December, these teams had completed their projects and delivered to their clients. When asked for feedback, the students’ most popular praise for the effort was in getting experience working as a team on a real project, while the most popular recommendation for improvement the next semester was to assure face-to-face meetings between the client and the project teams.
The board was excited at how our first attempt at the new model turned out, but are eager to start anew, and better, in 2018. SUMA Net Impact will be announcing their 2018 projects by week 2 of the semester, and recruiting will began immediately after. If you are a student in Sustainability Management (SUMA) or the Environmental Science and Policy (ESP) Masters programs and are interested joining a team, don’t hesitate to send us email telling us about your interest firstname.lastname@example.org.
Debasmita Sarkar and Clayton Colaw