Ohio State Students Work with the City of Columbus to Implement Sustainability Initiative

July 3, 2013

This summer several Ohio State students are interning with the city of Columbus in the Environmental Steward’s Office, a division of the Mayor’s Office, to help the city improve sustainability in Ohio’s capital. 

The students are tasked with helping the city to implement the STAR (Sustainable Tools for Assessing and Rating) Communities system. The system will enable the Environmental Steward’s Office to track citywide progress in regards to sustainability. The system includes monitoring indicators for a wide variety of sectors, such as water, waste management, greenhouse gas emissions, green space, and jobs and the economy.

The students are examining the STAR system with the goal of recommending which benchmarks the Environmental Steward’s Office should monitor to most effectively measure sustainability progress in the city. Additionally, the students are conducting research on sustainability initiatives implemented in other cities across the U.S. with the goal of offering the Environmental Steward’s Office advice on the initial steps that the city should undertake to most efficiently implement the STAR system in Columbus.

Two of the interns, Harrison Morgenstern and Alexandra Kueller, are students enrolled in Ohio State’s Environment, Economy, Development and Sustainability (EEDS) undergraduate program. The EEDS major is a multi-disciplinary degree program that focuses on the human, environmental and economic dimensions of sustainability – often referred to as people, planet and profit. EEDS is offered as a joint undergraduate degree by AEDE and Ohio State’s School of Environment and Natural Resources (SENR).

All EEDS students take an integrated set of courses in environmental economics, business management, environmental sociology, community and international development, ecological engineering and environmental science. Students build on this foundation by choosing to specialize in one of four areas: sustainability and business, environmental economics and policy analysis, community development or international development.

Morgenstern and Kueller recently sat down with us to discuss their internship with the city:

What have you enjoyed the most about this internship experience?

Morgenstern: I really like the fact that the work I am doing now is paving the way for a more sustainable Columbus of the future.

Kueller: I love going to the internship every day because the work I do for the city is mirroring the basic fundamentals of what I’ve learned in my classes. It’s reassuring to know that everything I am taught in the EEDS curriculum is current and is preparing me for a career in sustainability.

What have you learned thus far from this internship?

Morgenstern: As I read reports of what other cities have done, are doing, and plan to do in regards to sustainability, some of the efforts are truly remarkable.  There have been many creative, strong, and ambitious initiatives, proposed laws and mandates.  It has been a very eye-opening experience for me.

Kueller: This internship has taught me that sustainability is a group effort – no single person or department can change things singlehandedly; group work is required in order to make a difference. If you don’t have the cooperation of everyone, no true impact can be made.

How has the EEDS program and your time at Ohio State prepared you for this internship?

Morgenstern: Many EEDS classes have prepared me for this internship.  However, AED Economics 4330, taught by Dr. Elena Irwin, has been the most helpful class to me thus far.  The culminating project of the class is a full sustainability report on a region or country of our choice. To complete the project the class spent a lot of time gathering data, looking at indicators, monitoring how these indicators change over time, and examining the economic gains or losses of these changes.  The research and data collection that I am currently doing for the city of Columbus and the research that I did for my sustainability project share many similarities; the project in Dr. Irwin’s course was great practice for the work that I am currently participating in.  

Kueller: A lot of the topics covered in the EEDS curriculum have been discussed in my internship. It’s encouraging to know that what I’m learning in my classes will directly help me in my future career. It’s also very helpful that Ohio State is such a green and sustainable university. Living and going to school in a community where sustainability is such a focus allows me to be familiar with hot trends, topics, and terminology from the sustainability world. Since I am exposed to this culture through my classes, major and events on campus, it allows me to easily recognize what is key when it comes to sustainability.

What kind of impact do you hope to make through this internship?

Morgenstern: I hope I can help to establish the foundation for a sustainable Columbus. Many of the goals and indicators in the STAR system are ambitious, to say the least.  However, once initial data gathering begins and gains momentum, it will be easier for the city to move towards achieving sustainability.

Kueller: By implementing the STAR system Columbus can strive to be one of the most sustainable cities in the U.S. It’s rewarding to know that the project that we are working on will have a direct impact on making Columbus a more sustainable city. To potentially have such a large impact on the city is more than I could of ever have hoped for from an internship. The work that we do every day, whether it’s a small task or a larger one, is used ultimately in helping to make Columbus a better place to live.

July 3, 2013