Category Archives: students

The Gashora Clinic Water Project

By Ocek Eke, Director of Local and Global Service Learning Programs at Penn Engineering

Clean drinking water is a luxury that many people around the globe can not afford.  This fact is more pronounced in developing countries where water-borne diseases are widespread because water sources tend to be local streams and lakes that are often contaminated with pollution.

In 2012, the General Electric Foundation generously donated ten state-of-the-art water filtration systems to the government and people of Rwanda. One of these filters was installed in the village of  Gashora.

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Water filtration system donated to Gashora Health Clinic by GE Foundation

Penn Engineering in Gashora

Gashora is also the location of the Gashora Girls Academy for Science and Technology (GGAST).  This elite all-girl secondary school was established to encourage young Rwandan women to pursue careers in STEM subjects.

GGAST is a partner of Penn Engineering and through our Service Learning course.  We collaborate with the Academy on a several projects. This summer, we offered information communication technology training for students and faculty, and installed solar lights and solar powered water pumps to improve the quality of life of students, faculty, and staff.

At Penn Engineering, we approach our service learning programs with an emphasis on long and sustained relationships with our overseas partners. We believe that the communities in which we work should positively benefit by our presence.  To this end, we paid a visit to the Gashora Clinic medical team after being informed that they were in desperate need of water. The Director and staff lamented the challenges they face daily in curing illness, especially in children.

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The Gashora Health Clinic

Then the director took us to the back of the clinic and showed us the water filtration system that GE Foundation donated and installed four years ago. We learned that many of the patients in his clinic are being treated for water-related illnesses contracted by using contaminated water from the nearby Lake Rumira.

The Challenge

The unfortunate irony is that there is an abundance of equipment (i.e., filters and water tanks) yet a shortage of clean water. The filtration system was designed to rely on rain catchment and the local utility for water. However, rainfall in Gashora is sporadic at best and the local water utility service is unreliable.  When asked if a bore-hole or local well could supply water to the clinic, the director explained that the underground water is highly contaminated with lead and manganese, making it both unusable and cost-prohibitive to filter.

Next, we walked with the director to Lake Rumira, about 1.5 kilometers away from the clinic. There we saw children and women swimming and fetching water with yellow jerry-cans. The director explained that while there is water in the lake year-round, it is contaminated, too. The end result is a high rate of people afflicted with water-borne diseases due to a severe shortage of clean water at the Gashora Health Clinic.

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Lake Rumira, main source of drinking water for people in Gashora

I asked him a simple but complicated question, “What if Penn Engineering could bring the water from the lake to the clinic’s filtration system?” He smiled, and said that he would accept our offer if we were extending one. “Can you really do it?” he asked.  As engineers, we design and build solutions to real-world problems all the time. I was confident we could bring clean water to the Gashora Clinic.

Complications…

In order to move forward, we learned that we had to get the permission of the district’s village elders before we could carry out a project of this magnitude. In essence we would have to dig a trench from Lake Rumira to the clinic. There were a series of steps that were necessary that required time and patience:

  • The Deputy Mayor instructed us to put our proposal in writing and bring back to him. While he supported the idea, he cautioned that we might run into problems getting permission from land owners whose lands would be impacted by the trench for the water pipes.
  • We wrote and submitted the proposal to the Deputy Mayor, and he promised to take it to the District Mayor.
  • The Deputy Mayor informed us that the District Mayor was excited about the project and would talk to the elders of Gashora village to give the permission to dig the trench.
  • The elders deliberated with the the District Mayor and Clinic Director.

Ultimately, Penn Engineering was granted the permission to dig the 1½ km trench, and to proceed with the project.

Next Steps

Our goal is to pump water from Lake Rumira using a solar powered water pump installed at a secure location on the lakeshore.  A solar powered pump frees the community from reliance on the local power grid and contributes to long-term sustainability. The water will be rock-filtered to remove silt and debris before it is pumped into a waiting tank where gravity will draw small particles to the tank bottom. At this point, the water will be pumped through the GE filtration system that will remove chemical contaminants and purify the water.  The clean water will then be transferred to the clinic’s tank and the kiosk tank for villagers’ use.

One of the most appealing aspects of this project is that together, we are building capacity with our local partners for long-term sustainability. Gashorans will learn to maintain the equipment, and operate the pump. Penn faculty and students will assist in education and implementation. We have also partnered with Health Builders International, a nonprofit organization based in Kigali to assist us in monitoring the quality of the lake water over time.

At present, most of the trench for the water pipes has been dug and we are poised to complete the project when our service-learning course returns to Gashora in May 2017.

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The Trench from Lake Rumira to Gashora Health Clinic, Rwanda

Help Us Bring Clean Water to Gashora

There is one critical piece missing to the project: The pipes.  Penn Engineering student leader, Erica Higa, has set up a GoFundMe site to help raise $40,000 to cover the cost of the pipes.

The people of Gashora desperately need this project completed. Penn students have benefited intellectually and culturally from the enriched experience of performing service in a foreign country. Penn Engineering is committed to finishing this project and we invite you to join us in bringing clean water to the people of Gashora. Please go to our gofundme site, any financial assistance you can give to us is greatly appreciated: https://www.gofundme.com/WaterForGashora

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Introducing the Young Environmental Professionals Network of Philadelphia

By Bert Barnes, IGEL Graduate Coordinator & second-year MES student

The Philadelphia area is characterized by a wide variety of industries, including medicine, education, financial services, telecommunications, and manufacturing. Over time, numerous institutions have sprung up to aid the development of the professionals working in these industries. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for environmental services, an integral but often-overlooked part of the area’s economic and social fabric.

As an environmental professional who has worked for years in the Philadelphia area, I’m familiar with numerous professional organizations, from the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce to the smaller, specialized organizations. Only one cultivates relationships across functions within the environmental services industry and related fields: Society for Women Environmental Professionals, which is restricted to women. As the environmental dimension of law, insurance, and other disciplines continues to grow in importance (and as Philadelphia emerges as a leader in sustainability), one must wonder why the professional landscape lacks an organization that unites young professionals within these roles.

We are launching the Young Environmental Professionals Network of Philadelphia (YEPN) in response to this void. YEPN will be a place for young professionals working in environmental fields to connect, learn, and develop. Professionals from all of Philadelphia’s industries will be represented within the organization. Already, we have received interest from people in consulting, law, energy, insurance, and engineering. If you’re interesting in learning more, check out our LinkedIn and Facebook groups. Feel free to contact me with questions, as well.

The first YEPN happy hour is taking place from 6 to 8pm on Tuesday, September 27 at Crow and The Pitcher, just south of Rittenhouse Square on 19th Street. Chris Crockett, Chief Environmental Officer of Aqua America, will be speaking at the event. If you have found yourself pondering the questions mentioned above, or if you’re just interested in learning more about your fellow environmental professional and the opportunities in the Philadelphia area, I would encourage you to attend!

MIT OpenAg Lab – Building a Food Computer

By Neelam Ferrari
Moravian Academy Student

Hi, my name is Neelam Ferrari. I am a rising high school senior at Moravian Academy and I have been working as a summer intern at the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  My work is focused on a project which is part of the Open Agriculture Initiative at the Laboratory.  The OpenAg Lab is focusing on building a ‘Food Computer’ which involves an open source approach to the global food production and distribution system, through a combination of collaborative genetics, computer science and robotics, and web based public outreach. With an increasing global population over the next 30-50 years, and more anticipated weather driven food shortages as a result of climate change, the lab is hoping to develop technologies that can help feed the world in the future.

My contribution to the project involves working with laboratory instrumentation, independent research, and public outreach.  I am using a hand-held spectrometer to take readings from different varieties of test plants in the lab, analyzing data, and identifying which characteristics are most important in understanding the plant’s phenotype. The spectrometer measures the color characteristics, which can be related to physical appearance and flavor and this data goes into the ‘open phenotype’ library for other researchers to use. In addition, I am researching in more detail about the pigment characteristics related to anthocyanin, brix and carotenoids. These pigments recorded by the spectrometer are related to characteristics such as color, ripeness, flavor and sugar content. This information here can be used to guide future experiments in the lab.  Finally, I have created a thread on the OpenAg’s public forum “OpenAg for High Schoolers”, where I keep high school students informed about the events occurring at the lab and discuss any new discoveries that are made.  It is also a place for students to communicate with me and start projects, like those at OpenAg, in their own schools.

The projects at OpenAg are heavily involved with several components of sustainability: economic, ecological, and social.  Economic issues include providing new jobs, providing an adequate amount of food for the population, and trade between countries.  Some ecological issues include soil and water degradation. Finally some social issues include utilizing these technologies for low income families as well as creating a community based on the technologies.  These issues are closely related to the daily challenges faced by many of the companies involved with the Wharton Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL).  How these goals are achieved, in my opinion, will be one of the defining issues of the 21st century.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Following the Green Brick Road with MES and IGEL to Real-World Sustainability

By: Nathan Sell*

January to July 2014 were the quickest and perhaps busiest months of my life to date. As a Masters student in the Environmental Studies program at Penn I was finishing up my degree, joining the Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL) team, and job hunting. My time at IGEL was an invaluable experience in many ways. I joined in the thick of event planning just as the annual conference and a host of other events were all being planned.  This “trial by fire” had me leveraging my new knowledge as an MES student, as well as my educational background, and building a new set of communications and outreach skills.

I was in awe at the audience that IGEL has and the power that its events have to bring together leaders in sustainability and push the discussion on what companies can do for business and the environment. A lot of the skills I refined while at IGEL both caught the attention of my current employers and have served me well in my new role.

As a participant in the ORISE (Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education) program, I’m working with the EPA Office of Water at the headquarters in Washington, DC. As part of the Climate Change Team, I work on issues closely tied to sustainability.  Balanced between communications and research, a portion of my work is dedicated to facing EPA’s message to the public through social media and outreach. My research at the moment focuses on “Blue Carbon,” carbon sequestered within coastal marine ecosystems such as mangroves, sea grass beds, and salt marshes. Blue Carbon is getting a lot of attention, and for good reason. These ecosystems are shown to store carbon up to 100X faster than terrestrial ecosystems such as forests, and store this carbon for incredibly long periods of time. They’re part of the puzzle to building climate change resilience. Seeing how policy can be leveraged for additional protection and expansion of these threatened environments, and seeing where business can build blue carbon into international carbon markets are some of the drivers that will be increasingly important in the future.  It’s an exciting intersection of science, policy and business that I’m thrilled to be working on, and an amazing way to begin putting my MES degree and IGEL experience to use.

*Nathan is the former IGEL Coordinator and currently works with the EPA Office of Water on their Water Policy Staff.  @mister_sells

The Impact of Climate Change on Global Food Production

By: Anne Coglianese

Water scarcity is a growing global issue and one that is significantly exacerbated by climate change. Agricultural industries around the globe are facing drastic consequences due to limited access to freshwater. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC], the change in supply will “exacerbate competition for water among agriculture, ecosystems, settlements, industry and energy production, affecting regional water, energy and food security.”

Such scarcity may seem surprising because the world holds 332.5 million cubic miles of water, a seemingly infinite supply. However, very little of this is life-sustaining freshwater. In fact only 2.5% of water on earth is fresh, and much of this tiny amount is inaccessible for human use due to storage in either glaciers or the ground. According to the US Geological Survey, water sources, such as “rivers and lakes, only constitute about… 1/150th of one percent of total water.” However, these are the very water sources upon which humans rely most heavily.

The IPCC states in its 2014 report that climate change is projected to strain freshwater resources significantly. The report also states “each degree of warming is projected to decrease renewable water resources by at least 20% for an additional 7% of the global population.”

My interest in issues surrounding climate change and water grew as I attended a semester abroad last year with the International Honors Program, studying climate issues in four countries: the US, Vietnam, Morocco, and Bolivia. I, along with 25 other students, looked at ways to mitigate and adapt to issues that climate change will bring to food, water, and energy. Throughout the semester, I conducted independent research on the impacts that climate change and water scarcity have and will continue to have on agriculture around the world.

I learned quickly that the two are viciously linked: food production will be drastically affected by water shortages caused by climate change, but conversely agriculture plays a huge role in creating water shortages.

Technology is making great strides to help farms conserve water resources and adapt to an increasingly arid climate. Most farmers around the world use open-air irrigation systems, such as sprinklers or channels, which lose a large quantity of water to the air as vapor, long before reaching crop roots. This means that significantly more water is being used in irrigation than is being effectively used in crop production.

Drip irrigation systems have been developed to reduce water needed for irrigation. These systems dispense water directly to the crop roots through underground hoses that slowly release water. The implementation of drip irrigation can do an incredible job of reducing the strain agriculture puts on limited water resources.

Unfortunately, the average farmer in most countries cannot easily implement this technology. Whether in the US or in countries like Morocco, farmers already face narrow profit margins and struggle to become more sustainable without the financial support and education needed to implement new technologies.

Advances in technology are going to become key in preserving agricultural sectors around the world; however, technology will not be enough to sustain farming in many regions. It will become increasingly important for farmers to begin tailoring the food they produce to match the climate.

In the last fifty years, our export-oriented world has driven farmers to seek out the most profitable crops and grow them in the highest quantity possible. For example, Morocco has high fruit exports and high imports of grains; however, the arid farms of the Atlas mountains would be better suited to growing less water-demanding crops, like grains, rather than the more water-intensive crops, like fruits. Around the world, crops produced for export often lead farmers to strain the natural capacity of the land, requiring the use of fertilizers and extensive irrigation, which threaten water supplies.

The scope of the issue of water scarcity and food production is vast and growing due to climate change. No one individual or farmer has the power to reverse this scarcity, but with needed support from governments and corporations the agricultural sector can transition to widespread sustainable food production in order to avoid looming social and economic fallouts.

Investing in America’s Public Water Systems: Making Public-Private Partnerships Work

By Aubrey Sherretta

Water is taken for granted. As noted by Dr. Jim Hagan at the “Investing in America’s Public Water Systems: Making Public-Private Partnerships Work” conference co-sponsored by United Water and Wharton’s Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL) on May 6, 2014, people see water as a common good and a human right. Therefore, they are less willing to pay the true price of maintaining this essential resource.

Water systems in the United States are severely degraded, costing local governments millions in leaks and repairs, and replacing these long-outdated water systems would cost trillions of dollars, according to panelist Rich Anderson of the U.S. Conference of Mayors Urban Water Council. Facing diminished federal involvement and tight budgets, local governments must seek more creative ways to fulfill their communities’ operational and infrastructural water needs. Panelists at Tuesday’s event agreed that partnerships between municipalities and private enterprise, or public-private partnerships, may help manage the cost, increase the value, and improve the quality of water services—a win-win solution for all stakeholders.

According to panelists, each community is different and there is no cookie-cutter business model for the structure of public-private partnerships. How to implement and structure a public-private partnership depends on the nature of the community, their government, their water infrastructure, and on the investing party. But there are also many ways to coordinate all of the pieces. For example, panelist Patrick Cairo, Senior Vice President of United Water explained how the company collaborated with Bayonne, New Jersey to set up a forty-year leasing agreement in which the city government maintains ownership of the system and control over the rates; United Water operates and maintains the system; and KKR – a private equity firm – provides funding.

Financial institutions are willing and able to finance infrastructure projects when a professional water service provider and operator, like United Water, is at the helm to ensure that the system is well run. This concession structure, known as United Water’s SOLUTION, was designed to allay public fears around selling a community asset, and it can be structured in a way that puts a ceiling on rate increases.

What all successful public-private partnerships do have in common is the long-term committed support of businesses, local government, and environmental or other stakeholder organizations for sustainable water systems, panelists agreed. When the public sector respects the private sector’s need to earn a return on its investment; and the private sector recognizes the public sector’s need to be responsive and accountable to its constituents; a successful partnership will ensue. As such, these collaborations require both partners to operate with a high degree of transparency and communication with the community.

There is a pressing need to bring the issue of water sustainability and infrastructure to the public sphere, given what almost all knowledgeable observers agree is the extremely run-down state of most of the nation’s 50,000 plus water utilities.

More generally, public-private partnerships also could present increased opportunities for sustainable water solutions through cooperation across municipalities as well as within them. They could also allow communities, governments, and enterprises alike to “do good” while financially doing well, which was a bottom-line message from many of the conference speakers.

Big Data’s Influence on Sustainability

By Nathan Sell*

Our world is inundated with data collection, from location services to demographic information enormous volumes of data are generated with each passing moment, so much so that 90% of the existing data has been generated in only the past two years.  This data can provide enormous opportunities in marketing, allowing companies to target an ideal customer, resulting in eerily relevant ads on social media or in targeted emails.  “Big Data” doesn’t stop here, it has a multitude of uses and one of its most important may be the impact Big Data can have on Environmental Sustainability.

Ultimately, Big Data’s influence on sustainability comes down to the notion that you can’t manage what you don’t measure.  Through a plethora of metrics that have arisen by which we can now measure the environmental burden of a company’s operations or supply chain, we can also model how changes can have an enormous impact.  Early movers in the use of Big Data as a sustainability tool have seen enormous cost savings, and reduced impact, both to their operations, supply chain, as well as product use and disposal.  Big Data allows for modelling and scenarios that can alter mindsets, showing the possibilities in both monetary savings as well as reduced environmental impact.

By streamlining deliveries, UPS has saved millions of gallons of gas, and approximately $50million in fuel costs.  Ford has reduced the weight of their popular F-150 for their 2015 model by 700 lbs by using aluminum alloy technology.  This change could have a greater impact on overall fuel economy amongst Ford vehicles on the road than their electric vehicles due to the truck’s popularity.  Big Data alone will not solve our sustainability issues, but coupled with innovation, like Nike’s waterless dyeing technologies, or waste reducing manufacturing techniques, Big Data can fuel a more sustainable economy by allowing for the educated decisions that bring about more sustainable products, and redefine our notion of “premium.”

Big Data, has allowed for enormous benefits to be had by some of the largest companies out there.  We must, however be cautious with our use of Big Data.  Despite much of the anonymity associated with it, this data is frequently much less anonymous than one might think.  We also should consider what companies are doing with their own big data.  Exposing an unseen environmental burden could be bad PR, but withholding it from shareholders could end in scandal.  Educated consumers must demand transparency from companies we invest in and purchase from.  Corporate Responsibility Reporting (CSR) and the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) are driving this transparency which in turn has led to great changes in the behavior of business.  The advent of Big Data has only just begun.  As supply chains and product use become better documented, it is clear that sustainability is only just beginning to get the attention it deserves.  On March 26th and 27th, the Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL) will host “Sustainability in the Age of Big Data” where companies leading the sustainability movement will share insight into their use of Big Data, undoubtedly leading others to think about what Sustainability and Big Data can do for them.

*Nathan Sell is currently the Graduate Intern at Wharton IGEL and a second-year Masters of Environmental Studies Candidate at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Arts and Sciences. 

Penn Sustainability Review Looking for Submissions

About PSR:

Penn Sustainability Review (PSR) is the only sustainability-focused publication at Penn. We are completely student-run, with online and print platforms featuring sustainability-related opinion editorials, leadership interviews, and academic papers across a wide range of disciplines. Since our inception in Fall 2011, we have aimed to provide a platform to exchange knowledge, ideas, and perspectives on wide-ranging sustainability issues, with the generous support of the Penn Green Fund Grant and under the guidance of the Earth and Environmental Science Department. We are now also a proud member of the Student Sustainability Association at Penn. If you want to know more about us or learn how to become a part of PSR, please email us at join.psr@gmail.com.

Look out for our next publication at the end of November! Continue reading

PennSustains Competition Gives Over $7,000 in Prizes in its Inaugural Year

*By PennSustains

IMG_7963-001PennSustains participants

Philadelphia, PA – PennSustains, the University of Pennsylvania’s first sustainability solution competition, hosted its inaugural event on October 19, 2013. The contest came together in just six months through the efforts of members from the Society of Women Engineers, Engineers without Borders, SEAS Green, and Penn International Sustainability Association. Benefactor Andy Rachleff, an alumnus and chairman of the SEAS Board of Overseers, challenged Penn students to devise something that celebrated “the joy of building things” and the fun of engineering. Wharton’s Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (Wharton IGEL) and Conestoga Bank also generously sponsored the competition. Continue reading

World Water Week: Competitors Must Collaborate on Water Risk Management

Penn Student Sara Drexler wrote “World Water Week: Competitors Must Collaborate on Water Risk Management” for Triple Pundit. Read the full article here.

World Water Week is well underway, and as thousands of experts, decision-makers and professionals descend on Stockholm to collaborate on pressing global water issues, the private sector plays a larger role in the conversation than ever. More than 24 sessions dedicated to business show that the week’s theme of collaboration and partnerships can apply to profit-driven enterprises.

As Coca-Cola, Unilever, SABMiller, H&M and Borealis, among others, gathered on Monday afternoon to discuss Taking Collaboration to the Next Level with a packed audience, one message stood out: the business case has been made, it’s time to work with competitors to drive real change that has real positive impacts on the bottom line. Continue reading on Triple Pundit’s website