Sunday, January 31, 2021

Students engaging for change - team projects for the climate classroom

Carbon Reduction Challenge Assignment

            Climate change is one of the most pressing problems facing society today, yet reducing our dependence on fossil fuel-based energy requires new policies at the city, state, federal, and international levels, technological innovation, as well as the change of decades-old habits. The main assignment for this course will be a “Carbon Reduction Challenge”, which will be carried out by teams of ~4-5 students. The project involves designing and implementing creative strategies to reduce each team’s CO2 footprint. All of the winning teams have chosen to partner with a large organization that is eager to reap energy cost savings while reducing CO2 emissions. Typically, they are able to identify a very large energy "knob", and tweak it lower. Think fleets of cars, parking lot lights, industrial hot water consumption, HVAC controls, etc.


To ensure the success of the student-chosen strategies, students will be required to perform the following three tasks:  


1) Identify an approach for reducing CO2 emissions that can be accomplished over the course of 8 weeks (implementation period spans March 1 – April 30) 

2) Quantify the total CO2 emissions averted (and money invested vs. saved, when relevant) using their approach by researching primary literature (books, journal articles, government and/or industry reports, etc); and 

3) Present evidence at the end of the 8-week-long implementation phase that their strategy worked. 


At the end of the semester, the team that executed the most compelling/largest carbon reduction strategy will be invited to Washington, DC, to present their research results to legislative aides and/or lawmakers on Capitol Hill. The projects will be scored on the basis of innovation, creativity, total CO2 reduced, implementation of original plan, and degree of teamwork exhibited.


There are five main academic tasks associated with the project:

1)    Rough Draft of Plan (due Feb 10):  a 3-page maximum (double-spaced) proposal that identifies a strategy for reducing CO2 emissions, explains the timeline for its implementation, and discusses the types of evidence that will be presented at the end of the semester to measure the strategy’s success. [See “Plan Requirements” on next page.]

2)    Final Plan (due Mar 1)

3)    Progress Update – 3-5min in-class presentation (due Mar 30)

4)    Student Presentations (Apr 21, Apr 26):  7-9minute presentations with 3 minutes for questions and discussions, per team

5)    Poster Presentations (May 5, 2:40pm):  one poster per team; rough drafts encouraged by Apr 30 if you would like preliminary feedback from instructors.

Carbon Reduction Challenge:  Plan Requirements

Your plans must contain explicit statements and plans about the following requirements:

1)  Magnitude of minimum reduction:  10,000 lbs CO2

2) Additionality:  You must prove that the carbon reductions you will take credit for would not have happened without your actions. This is easy to prove for a building heating/cooling modification, but harder to do for personal choice-type projects.

3) Scaleability:  Clearly state how your plan will scale up to the large carbon reduction numbers to be competitive in this challenge. Again, this is not so much an issue for campus infrastructure projects, but is a big issue for personal choice initiatives.

4) Financing (if appropriate):  You are allowed to seek donations to support spending in the carbon reduction challenge to cover small expenses, but you must show that the money was a donation.

5)  Quantification:  You must provide a “back-of-the-envelope” estimate of CO2 reductions your initiative will achieve, citing peer-reviewed journal articles and government reports and web-sites only. Where relevant, provide estimates of costs needed to implement your approach as well as estimates of cost savings through time. 

6)  Documentation:  What kinds of documents/evidence will you collect over the course of the semester to prove that you achieved your stated CO2 reductions?

7)  Division of labor:  Please indicate what activities the various members of your team will focus on over the course of the semester’s challenge.

8)  Team name:  Please devise a team name!

Please see many Carbon Reduction Challenge student projects featured here.


Engage for Change Assignment - Engineering our Climate Future                                      

Schedule of deliverables

Oct 5 – preliminary plan due

Oct 7 – instructor feedback delivered to inform revised project plan

Oct 14 – revised plan due

Oct 14-Oct 28 – project plan implementation

Oct 28 – project team presentations


Project goal

Students will design and implement a strategy to engage their communities in climate solutions, via one of two avenues:  


1) putting carbon in the bank

Design a strategy to reduce/avoid carbon emissions across your combined networks. There are no rules, only that you have a clear, executable plan with clear roles for each team member, and that you can document and quantify your team’s total carbon savings by the date of the presentation. If you go this route, please benchmark your achievements relative to the average American’s carbon footprint of 40,000 lbs/yr.


2) building climate change awareness/literacy

Design a strategy to increase climate change literacy and/or engagement across your network, along your metric of choice. This need not be targeting thousands of people – it might be better to have a few targeted conversations at greater length. As above, there are no rules, but you must quantify progress towards your stated goal through a quantitative and/or qualitative assessment. 


Required project elements


1) Project plan (40% of project grade; average of preliminary and revised plans) – 1 page maximum

a. statement of project goal

b. proposed method to achieve goal

c. method for quantifying impact (How will you measure your impact?)

d. project timeline 

e. distribution of tasks across team


2) team presentation on Oct 21 (60% of project grade) – 5-7min presentation (recommend that this is pre-recorded to avoid technical glitches)

            - introduction including background and explanation of project goals

            - delivery of results including discussion of uncertainties, challenges, limitations

- discuss any changes to design that you would make to improve it for next time

- list of main learning outcomes by team members; What did your project teach you about encouraging climate engagement?

2016 Winners of the Carbon Reduction Challenge pose in front of the US Capitol, where they shared their project with members of Congress and their staff.