Students Cut Carbon and Costs during Classroom Carbon Reduction Challenge

By Selena Langner

Five Georgia Tech students are helping the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Georgia save over 73,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions and  $18,000 each year. The team of undergraduate students included Annie Gillani (third year, School of International Affairs), Catherine Moore (fourth year, School of Public Policy), Marcus Morris (second year, School of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering), and Sinet Adous (fourth year, School of International Affairs), who developed their carbon-and-cost-cutting proposal as a semester-long class project.

The class, EAS 3110: Energy, Environment and Society is taught by Dr. Kim Cobb (Georgia Power Chair, ADVANCE Professor, and Director of the GT Global Change Program), and incorporates the Carbon Reduction Challenge as an opportunity for students to propose energy-saving solutions to a diverse set of organizational partners, reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions while saving money.

“For over 100 years, the American Civil Liberties Union has committed to fighting for social justice and the rights of all individuals,” Annie Gillani  says when explaining the motivation behind their project. “Partnering with an organization that has a longstanding commitment to social justice but has not yet implemented many carbon-reducing initiatives is a great way to bridge the gap between climate justice and sustainable business practices.”

“For over 100 years, the American Civil Liberties Union has committed to fighting for social justice and the rights of all individuals. Partnering with an organization that has a longstanding commitment to social justice but has not yet implemented many carbon-reducing initiatives is a great way to bridge the gap between climate justice and sustainable business practices.”

Annie Gillani (third year student, School of International Affairs) and Carbon Reduction Challenge participant

The team developed two related plans, which will both be implemented beginning on Labor Day. Drawing from lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, the team proposed that ACLU staff work from home each Friday. This simple switch will save a projected 58,920 lbs CO2 and $16,752 annually, related to reduced HVAC and lighting demand as well as fuel savings. . Looking to further optimize the workspace HVAC operations, the team proposed to change temperature setpoints bytwo degrees on weekdays, and five degrees  on Friday and the weekends. With these changes, the team projects that ACLU can cut an additional 14,860 lbs CO2 and $1,486 annually.

“We had an incredible group of proposals during this semester’s Carbon Reduction Challenge” Dr. Kim Cobb says “The projects are incredibly diverse, and I’m very proud of each team for maturing their projects while in a fully online environment”. Student proposals ranged from electric garbage trucks for the City of Atlanta to a new industrial-scale composter for the Georgia Tech campus. 

“We had an incredible group of proposals during this semester’s Carbon Reduction Challenge. The projects are incredibly diverse, and I’m very proud of each team for maturing their projects while in a fully online environment”.

Dr. Kim Cobb (Georgia Power Chair, ADVANCE Professor, and Director of the GT Global Change Program)

Now in its tenth year, the Carbon Reduction Challenge emphasizes that individuals can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions reductions by making relatively modest changes to large-scale energy uses in their schools, places of work, or homes. “The biggest takeaways from this experience is simply that no one is too small, unqualified, or unprepared to make a difference” says Isabelle-Yara Nassar, a member of the second-place winning team.

The biggest takeaways from this experience is simply that no one is too small, unqualified, or unprepared to make a difference”

Isabelle-Yara Nassar, Georgia Tech student and Carbon Reduction Challenge participant

The summer Carbon Reduction Challenge kicks off in early June, and will feature dozens of students from a wide variety of higher education institutions, including Georgia Tech. The summer Challenge is conducted in partnership with the Ray C Anderson Center for Sustainable Business. Information about previous winners can be found here

First Place:

Energy and Cost Savings at ACLU

Annie Gillani, Catherine Moore, Marcus Morris, and Sinet Adous Adjusting work-from-home policy for carbon and cost savings, optimizing HVAC system with small changes in temperature setpoints.

  • Potential Savings: 73,780 lbs of CO2 saved annually, $18,238 saved annually

Second Place: 

Installing Motion Sensor Lights

Andrew Arrington, Hongyu Ma, Adrian Medina, Isabelle-Yara Nassar, & Tyler Sheridan

  • Installation of light sensors in common areas of data center facilities.
  • Potential savings: 35,000 lbs of CO2 saved annually

Third Place: 

Decreasing Fleet Idling with Imperial-Dade

Amna Amir, Christopher Ausburn, Jack Dellapenna, Jackie Donaldson, Levi Malinoff, Shanty Papakosta

  • Reductions in the amount of time trucks spend idling by implementing a local anti-idling initiative. 
  • Potential savings: 2,160,000 lbs of CO2 saved annually, $314,000 saved annually

Honorable Mention: 

Creating an Ecological Blueprint with Food4Lives

Will Branham, Anna Redanz, Iris Kim, Riley Grinnell, Sarah Chidiac & Rachel Titshaw

  • Constructing an ecological blueprint for newly purchased land to maximize initial budget through carbon sequestration and produce sales.
  • Potential savings: 19,238 lbs of Co2 sequestered annually, $59,890 annual profit, 410 trees planted 

Honorable Mention: 

Georgia Tech Campus Sustainability: In-House Composter

Sarang Pujari, Grace Fletcher, Sravanthi Kumar, Mackenzie Ponsell, & Emily Crawford

  • Transition to an in-house composting system instead of outsourcing compost; compost can be used rather than purchasing other natural fertilizers.
  • Potential savings: 20,644,000 lbs of CO2 saved annually, $50,000 saved annually