About Us: Students Offer Sustainability Solutions to Mayor Coleman’s Green Team

April 28, 2014

Students in “Assessing Sustainability: Project Experience” (ENR 4567) received hands-on training this semester on preparing and presenting research to policymakers. The class, which is co-taught by Elena Irwin and Gregory Hitzshusen, recently presented research findings to the City of Columbus’ Mayor’s Green Team. The work conducted by the students will contribute to the development of the Green Team’s “Green Memo III” which is the city’s next five-year plan for sustainability that the Mayor will unveil in 2015. 

The Mayor’s Green Team is comprised of an advisory group of city staff and community, business and environmental experts. The team is further supported by working groups that focus on topics such as transportation, growth and development, education and engagement, energy, business, as well as green spaces and green building. 

As their capstone project, the students spent the Spring 2014 semester working in teams to collect data, research best practices, and develop recommendations regarding strategies for the City of Columbus related to climate change adaptation, urban agriculture, alternative vehicles and green buildings.  Erin Miller, the environmental steward for the City of Columbus, worked closely with the students.

The teams’ final reports will be available online through the Ohio State University’s Knowledge Bank Campus as a Living Laboratory archive collection.  

Raylee McKinley and Ashley Weller from the urban agriculture team compiled data on where Columbus currently stands with regards to acres dedicated to urban agriculture and barriers to expansion. The students also researched urban agriculture best practices from a few key cities across the country.

In their findings, the students estimate that there are about 380 acres of urban agriculture in the City of Columbus currently, which includes a number of innovative community gardens. However, the team identified several barriers to expanding urban agriculture, including changes needed to the city code to include urban agriculture in the planning process as a component of land use zoning and food policy.

The team highlighted several innovative projects in other cities, including Green City Grower’s Co-op in Cleveland, which is the largest urban greenhouse in the U.S with a state-of-the-art 3.25 acre greenhouse that uses a floating hydroponic system to produce about three million heads of lettuce and three hundred thousand pounds of herbs every year.

Brett Baughman, Nathan Hardin and Alexandra Kueller focused on climate change adaptation and analyzed whether or not a climate action plan would benefit the City of Columbus. The city currently has an emergency preparedness plan, but has not yet developed a plan specifically for adapting to climate change impacts, such as increased droughts during the summer.

They first considered climate adaptation plans from leading cities and interviewed representatives from Boston and Philadelphia to gain a better understanding of what it takes to create a climate action plan. After researching past climate events and future climate change data, the group concluded that the city should become a climate change leader by implementing a climate adaptation plan. They noted that, based on a recent study completed by Yale University, 70 percent of Columbus residents believe that climate change is real and 57 percent want local government to take action to manage climate change impacts.

Alex Pore, Ross Igoe and Vincent Valentino from the green buildings team conducted a benchmarking study of Columbus against notable leaders in sustainable infrastructure, including the cities of Seattle, Chicago, and Philadelphia, to identify proven strategies to improve the city's green building policies. One of the most innovative policies that the team uncovered is a borrowing program that the City of Cincinnati has implemented that allows individuals to repay their building loans over time as additional cost savings are realized.

The City of Columbus’ Green Columbus Fund provides incentives for green building development and has supported the development of non-residential green buildings in the city. The team recommended that the city introduce additional measures to spur more green building, including additional incentives for green roofing, rain gardens, permeable pavements and a borrowing scheme similar to the City of Cincinnati’s that would also include loans for investments in energy efficiency.

Patrick Laser, Tyler Palmer and Ryan Wampler conducted research on the city’s energy supply for transportation with the goal of helping the city to transition its local energy supply for transportation toward the use of renewable, less carbon-intensive, and less toxic alternatives.  

They analyzed data that showed a steady increase in the number of alternative fuel vehicles in Franklin County from 1 sold in 1998 to 1,454 sold in 2012. Based on their research of best practices from other cities, they recommended specific strategies for the City of Columbus. For example, Indianapolis’ Project Plug-In is a one of a kind program that works with two regulated utility companies to give the region a head start in smart grid and Electric Vehicle Technology. Other recommendations included increasing traditional electric vehicle charging infrastructure, as well as solar-powered charging stations.

"The capstone course offered a tremendous real life experience that I can truly say I am proud to have had the opportunity to participate in," noted Alex Pore. 

ENR 4567 is offered through the Ohio State Environment, Economy, Development and Sustainability (EEDS) undergraduate major. The EEDS major is a multi-disciplinary degree program offered jointly by the School of Environment and Natural Resources (SENR) and the Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics (AEDE).

EEDS focuses on the human, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainability. The program provides the core knowledge and skills students need to launch a career in sustainability in the private, public or non-profit sectors. Students in the program can choose to specialize in one of four areas: sustainability and business, environmental economics and policy analysis, community development, or international development. 

April 28, 2014