Students Achieve Record-Breaking Reductions in Carbon Emissions

Reducing carbon emissions is a topic of conversation around the nation and world, including on Tech’s campus. Last semester, students taking an earth and atmospheric sciences class titled “Energy, the Environment and Society” teamed up to see which group could reduce greatest amount of emissions over an eight-week period. The winning team in the Carbon Reduction Challenge succeeded in keeping 94,000 pounds of CO2 out of the air for a cost savings of $10,000.

Students Meet with Congressional Representatives about Carbon Reductions
Click image to enlarge

Mary Shoemaker, Tyler Folse, James Barazesh, Mitchell Blenden, Congressman Hank Johnson and Professor Kim Cobb discuss the students' ideas for reducing carbon emissions in the representative's office in Washington, D.C. The students won this year's Carbon Reduction Challenge in Cobb's earth and atmospheric sciences course.

The winning team, comprised of James Barazesh, Mitchell Blenden, Tyler Folse and Mary Shoemaker, used contacts at British Petroleum (BP) in Houston to have the company alter its building’s lighting schedule by just 30 minutes, accounting for two-thirds of the team’s total CO2 reductions. The other third came from personal asks of friends and family to either not drive to work or telework one day per week.

While this year’s winning team gained much of its savings from its work with BP, most teams found ways to reduce emissions here on campus; the 2008 Carbon Reduction Challenge did so with alterations to the lighting schedule in Bobby Dodd Stadium.

“The cool thing about this challenge is that many of the changes implemented will be permanently changed at Georgia Tech, targeting efficiencies for campus,” said Kim Cobb, associate professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences who taught the course. “The remarkable thing is the size of the reductions achieved.” An average car in the U.S. emits 11,500 pounds of CO2 per year; the challenge cumulatively saved 200,000 pounds in just over eight weeks — the equivalent of taking 17 cars off the road for one year.

Teams were required to document their savings and provide evidence that the reductions would not have happened without their intervention. The winning team traveled to Washington, D.C., last week to meet with state policymakers and present their findings from the semester.

“Each representative responded differently … but each made a point of addressing the aspects of our interests that converged with theirs,” said Shoemaker, a public policy student.

“This is the first time I can say that I have ever presented the results of a project to congressional officials and legislative aides,” said Folse, a nuclear and radiological engineering major whose experience in the course this semester has him considering a minor in energy systems.

Students taking the course were members of the Georgia Tech Honors Program and came from departments and colleges across campus outside of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. Cobb holds the challenge each time she teaches this course, and has seen an expansion from one class to the next in terms of size of reductions; this year’s winning team achieved more reductions than the entire last class combined.