How do you stop millions of pounds of heat-trapping CO2 from ever being emitted? In Georgia Tech’s Summer 2019 Carbon Reduction Challenge, student interns used their ingenuity to identify opportunities for scalable carbon reduction projects at a wide variety of partnering organizations. In doing so, they delivered large energy and cost savings to their employers. Over the ten-week challenge, the students benefited from frequent coaching sessions led by faculty co-directors Kim Cobb (Director of the Global Change Program and professor in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences) and Beril Toktay (Director of the Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business and professor in the Scheller College of Business).
Now in its third year, the internship-based Challenge has resulted in a total of over 30 million pounds of avoided CO2 emissions while delivering hundreds of thousands of dollars in avoided energy costs to partner organizations. In this year’s Challenge, 45 students from Georgia Tech, Agnes Scott College, Clemson University, Emory University, Georgia State University, and the University of Georgia competed for prizes provided by the Sheth Foundation.
On August 13, students presented their Summer 2019 projects to the general public and key industry leaders at the Challenge’s Summer Poster Expo at the Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business. Partnering organizations included Agnes Scott College, AT&T, Boeing, Emory University, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Jacobs Engineering, Michaud Cooley Erickson, and SunTrust Banks.
Georgia Tech student Nic Fite presents his poster to judges Michael Oxman, Akhil Chavan, and Ruthie Yow.
Georgia State University student Qi Xu presents a group project to Scheller College Dean Maryam Alavi.
SunTrust Banks had the largest presence in the Challenge, with 20 summer interns proposing four separate projects. Tori Kaplan, Head of Corporate Responsibility at SunTrust Banks, said, “Our interns showed amazing commitment to our organization and passion for the environment by volunteering to work on special sustainability projects this summer.” She noted that four Challenge alumni, now SunTrust employees, served as mentors for this year’s SunTrust teams.
The top prize of $5,000 was awarded to Georgia Tech College of Sciences students Rebecca Guth-Metzler, Brooke Mancinelli-Rothschild, and Priyam Raut, who worked to implement a number of energy-saving initiatives in the Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience Building. Working with Georgia Tech Facilities, they replaced fluorescent light bulbs with LED bulbs and created a system for bundling energy-intensive autoclave loads. When fully implemented, their proposed changes will result in over 250,000 pounds of CO2 reductions per year.
“Our scientific research requires that we work in labs that are energy-intensive,” the team said. “We saw the Carbon Reduction Challenge as an opportunity to advocate for updates to our lab building and to lead the way toward more environmentally friendly lab practices.”
The second prize went to a team that developed a proactive plan to recycle aluminum in SunTrust signage that will need to be replaced as the company rebrands following its merger with BB&T. This project will save 1.2 million pounds of CO2 and generate a revenue of $125,000.
The Carbon Reduction Challenge is a particularly innovative real-world learning opportunity. It equips students for success in an era of increasing interest in sustainable and climate-driven solutions.
— Andrea Pinabell, Southface Institute
Two projects tied for third place. One is a project to upgrade dozens of outdoor lighting fixtures to LEDs at Michaud Cooley Erickson in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which will save 62,000 pounds of CO2 and $5,500 per year. The other project was a proposal for a more efficient lighting schedule for sprawling buildings at the Boeing campus in Seattle, Washington, which will translate to a savings of 6 million pounds of CO2 and $700,000 per year. Honorable mentions were awarded to projects with Agnes Scott College, Jacobs Engineering, and SunTrust Banks.
Student interns’ innovative work at the Poster Expo illustrated that employees do not need to have “sustainability” in their job title in order to be successful climate champions at work. “The Carbon Reduction Challenge is a particularly innovative real-world learning opportunity,” said Andrea Pinabell, President of Southface Institute, who served as a judge. “It equips students for success in an era of increasing interest in sustainable and climate-driven solutions.”
Students are enrolled at Georgia Tech unless otherwise noted.
First Place ($5000)
Rebecca Guth-Metzler (Biochemistry, second-year PhD student)
Brooke Mancinelli-Rothschiled (Biochemistry, second-year PhD student)
Priyam Raut (Bioinformatics, MS ’20)
Second Place ($3000)
SunTrust Banks Project
Nicholas Loprinzo (Industrial and Systems Engineering, BS ’20)
Raina Parikh (double major: Business Administration, International Affairs and Modern Languages; BS ’21)
Sarah Poersch (Business Administration, BS ’19)
Hongyangyang Shi (Analytics, MS ’19)
Athara Vaidya (Georgia State University, Analytics, MS ’19)
Third Place (tie, $1000 each)
Kian Halim (Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, BS ’21)
Louis Hou (Business Administration, BS ’20)
Sam Shapiro (Computer Science, BS ’20)
Chris Wink (Business Administration, BS ’20)
Nic Fite (Electrical Engineering, BS ’22)
Honorable Mentions ($500 each)
Agnes Scott College Project
Lauren Church (Public Health, BS ’22)
Madeleine Hardt (Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, BS ’21)
Brittany Judson (Agnes Scott College, Economics, BS ’20)
Gwyn Rush (Agnes Scott College, International Relations, BS ’22)
Bethany Velarde (Agnes Scott College, International Relations, BS ’22)
Matt Falcone (Environmental Engineering, BS ’20)
Lori Steffel (Emory University; double major: Finance, French; BS/BA ’21)
Emma VinCola (Business Administration, BS ’20)
Emma White (Business Administration, BS ’20)
Qi "Caroline" Xu (Georgia State University; dual degree: Data Analytics, Quantitative Risk Analysis and Management; MS ’19)
Wenting “Grace” Yang (Georgia State University, Analytics, MS ’19)
The Carbon Reduction Challenge is co-directed by College of Sciences Professor and Georgia Tech Global Change Program Director Kim Cobb and Scheller College of Business Professor and Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business Faculty Director Beril Toktay. The program is supported by funding from the Ray C. Anderson Foundation’s NextGen Committee and the Scheller College of Business Dean’s Innovation Fund. Cash prizes for the winners are made possible by a gift from the Sheth Foundation. The Carbon Reduction Challenge is an affiliated project of the Georgia Tech Serve-Learn-Sustain initiative.
Kelsey Abernathy (Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, BS '21)
Selena Perrin (Georgia Tech Global Change Program, Communications Team Lead)