Georgia Tech Professors Take the Carbon Reduction Challenge from Class to Co-op

Reprinted from Scheller News

Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business is creating the next leaders to take on carbon reduction, thanks to an innovative new co-curricular initiative launched in partnership with the College of Sciences.

Earth and Atmospheric Science Professor Kim Cobb’s successful Carbon Reduction Challenge class will be expanded to enable students participating in an internship or co-op to plan and implement a carbon reduction project with their employers. This new program is a collaboration between Cobb, who also serves as a Brook Byers Institute for Sustainable Systems Fellow, and Scheller College Professor Beril Toktay, faculty director of the Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business. Of the hundreds of Georgia Tech undergraduates that will participate in internships and co-ops this year, about 30 will work to reduce carbon emissions and save money for their employers through this innovative program. The Challenge is funded by a grant from the Ray C. Anderson Foundation’s NextGen Committee and the Scheller College Dean’s Innovation Fund, and is an affiliated project of the Georgia Tech Center for Serve-Learn-Sustain.

Lauren McDow, undergraduate career advisor and corporate relations manager, notes that, “This is an opportunity for students to learn about carbon reduction across large organizations and to contribute value to their employers outside of their job descriptions. From the employer’s perspective, it’s an opportunity for them to partner with students and expert faculty in support of significant learning opportunities with projects that get implemented in a real business setting.”

Scheller College Dean Maryam Alavi adds, “Student projects performed in a real-life setting can be more meaningful than theory learned in the classroom. But one of the things that sets this program apart is the likelihood that students will interact with senior leaders on their projects, which provides a unique perspective to the students who participate.”

Following the student project development and implementation model developed by Cobb in her class, students will design and propose their plan for approval by their employer. Once approved, students will work with a small team of content experts to implement their plan. Students will then document the actual, and long-term estimated savings that result. Some of the organizations which have committed to participate are Delta Air Lines, Home Depot, and SunTrust, among others.

Toktay points out, “What’s most exciting about this program is that it teaches students they can be sustainable business champions no matter what their job function is. And even if students aren’t motivated to advance their careers towards a “sustainable business career,” they will still obtain tremendous benefits.”

Part of the program’s design is to develop students’ skillsets in building a business case for a project, “selling” a project to management, and demonstrating that taking initiative from within a company can have excellent results for all parties.

All of the projects will be presented by the students in a public event – the Carbon Reduction Challenge Expo – to be held at the close of the academic year in 2018. The top three competitors will be invited to visit the Georgia State Capitol and/or Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. with Cobb and Toktay to discuss the implications of their projects for regional and national energy and climate policy.

“The students always surprise me,” says Cobb. “They identify heaps of low hanging fruit when it comes to reducing our energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions, while delivering huge cost savings to stakeholders. A win-win-win strategy for the 21st century.”