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Carbon Reduction Challenge Empowers Sustainability Advocates

Summer 2023 marked the seventh year of the Carbon Reduction Challenge, organized by the Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business at the Scheller College of Business and the Georgia Tech College of Sciences.
From left to right: John Schmidt, Rohan Datta, Jason Juang, and Victory Ekpekurede

From left to right: John Schmidt, Rohan Datta, Jason Juang, and Victory Ekpekurede

Summer 2023 marked the seventh year of the Carbon Reduction Challenge, organized by the Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business at the Scheller College of Business and the Georgia Tech College of Sciences. Over a three-month period, the program challenged interns to propose real-world sustainability solutions that can help their employers reduce carbon emissions while saving money.

In this year’s Challenge, students from Georgia Tech, Clemson University, Indiana University, Penn State University, University of Delaware, University of Louisiana, University of North Carolina Greensboro, and University of Texas stepped up to serve as sustainability advocates on top of their regular internship duties. Partner organizations included Georgia Tech, Delta, Mortenson Construction, Sam’s Club, and Truist Bank. Students’ efforts were supported by the Challenge’s technical leads: Scott Duncan, research engineer in the Aerospace Systems Design Laboratory; Jairo Garcia, adjunct professor in the School of City and Regional Planning; Jacqueline Garner, senior lecturer in the Scheller College of Business; and Samantha Wilson, academic professional in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.

The Carbon Reduction Challenge Final Expo, held August 17, showcased a plethora of creative ideas from student teams.

Top Teams

For the second consecutive year, first prize was awarded to the team from Electrify GT, a student-led campus organization. The team included Georgia Tech undergraduates representing various major, including Rohan Datta (chemical and biomolecular engineering), Victory Ekpekurede (civil engineering), Jason Juang (business administration), and John Schmidt (computer science). They tackled the challenge of reducing carbon emissions and costs at the Holland Plant on the Georgia Tech campus. Their innovative solution centers around the installation of a heat recovery chiller. This chiller captures and reuses waste heat generated during the water chilling process, effectively producing heating without the need for natural gas combustion. This not only promises substantial cost savings but also has the potential to significantly reduce emissions, making it an environmentally responsible choice.

Second place was awarded to Nikhila Alavala (business administration), Chase Aucoin (electrical engineering, University of Louisiana), and Angela Landry (computer science, University of Texas). The team worked in partnership with Sam's Club and Walmart. Their project focused on implementing high-speed freezer doors in the employee-facing cooler and freezer areas inside Sam’s Clubs. This simple yet effective solution promises substantial energy savings and reduced carbon emissions.

“From my participation in the Carbon Reduction Challenge, I learned the most important component in being a catalyst of change is speaking up and simply asking what can be done differently. I was amazed to see how others are more than willing to help and pave a new way to a more sustainable future.”
- Nikhila Alavala

Two projects tied for third place. One project was created by Emily Schroeder (business administration) at Delta Airlines. She researched a transition to locally raised meat for in-flight meals, which can reduce the carbon footprint of catering operations. The other third-place project was by William Nguyen (electrical engineering) and Eduardo Ramirez (computer science). They demonstrated multiple carbon reduction strategies within the operations at a Mortenson Construction site. Mortenson’s project was also a special milestone for the program, as it was proposed and led by Casey Erb (EE ’20) who was the first-place winner in the 2018 Challenge. Casey noted, “As a former Carbon Reduction Champion competitor turned company sponsor, I was especially excited to see the initiatives the Mortenson team took on. Our students challenged the status quo with their ideas and enthusiasm – and inspired new possibilities for the future of utility-scale solar construction.”

“Drastic reductions in carbon emissions are inherently very challenging for airlines given the nature of the industry, so it was fascinating getting to explore and learn about the alternative, innovative ways that companies like Delta are reducing emissions.”
- Emily Schroeder

These project successes are a testament to the students’ dedication, ingenuity, and interdisciplinary collaboration. If implemented, the prize-winning projects have the potential to reduce a staggering 85,000,000 pounds of carbon emissions and save an estimated $3.8 million.

Program to Date 

The Carbon Reduction Challenge has become a cornerstone of sustainability initiatives at Georgia Tech, fostering collaboration between students, industry partners, and the broader community. The Challenge originally started as a class project created by Kim Cobb (former professor in the College of Sciences).  Under the guidance of Professor Beril Toktay and Samantha Wilson, the challenge has continued to thrive and inspire. To date, the program has worked with over 200 students and partnered with more than 50 industry stakeholders, including corporations, nonprofits, higher education facilities, and city governments.

The students have provided plans to stakeholders that could potentially save over $13 million dollars and reduce carbon emissions by a whopping 147,000,000 pounds. The Challenge continues to empower the leaders of tomorrow to take meaningful steps towards a sustainable future while reaping economic benefits. It's a win-win for all that promises to lead us toward a greener and more prosperous future.


Written by Kjersti Lukens, program manager for the Carbon Reduction Challenge.

Generous support from the Ray C. Anderson Foundation and the Sheth Foundation makes the Challenge possible.

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