University Students Propose Solutions for Implementing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals locally

For the third year, a group of Emory students coordinated the Emory Sustainability Case Competition in February of this year. Hosted by the Goizueta Energy and Environment Group and the Office of Sustainability Initiatives at Emory University, the multi-disciplinary case competition asked student teams to come up with an innovative and practical solution to a real-world energy issue for the United Nations Regional Centre of Expertise (UN RCE) Greater Atlanta on Education for Sustainable Development and the City of Atlanta.

The RCE Greater Atlanta is a network of diverse stakeholders dedicated to implementing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at a local scale. The focus of this year’s case was SDG 7 – “Affordable and Clean Energy: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all.”

SDG 7 aligns with the City of Atlanta’s recent resolution of 100% clean energy by 2035. Burning of fossil fuels for residential, commercial, industrial, and transportation uses represents 95% of Atlanta’s greenhouse gas emissions. In April 2017, the City of Atlanta joined many cities across the nation and globe to pursue a clean energy future.

The case question involved implementing SDG 7 at a municipal scale and asked what initiatives Atlanta should prioritize when implementing their 100% Clean Energy Plan. Teams were also tasked with finding a city against which Atlanta could benchmark itself with regards to city demographics, constraints, and resources.

After one week of preparation, 21 student teams came together to present their solutions to an esteemed panel of judges on February 24, 2018. Judges included Suzanne Haerther (US Green Building Council), Sahana Kuthyar (RCE Greater Atlanta), Ashley Blackwell (Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance), Jennifer Kessling (Emory University), Paul Snyder (InterContinental Hotels Group), John R. Seydel (City of Atlanta), Xiaojing Sun (Greenlink Group), Cosco Jones (Jones Sustainable Solutions Group), and Amy Hou (Urjanet). A total of 105 undergraduate and graduate students participated in the competition, representing Oglethorpe University, University of North Georgia, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Georgia, and Emory University.

The winning team was an Emory University team comprised of Margaret Stewart, Samarth Medakkar, Angela Jiang, Daniel Uribe, and Dillon Wu. “I think we all knew that the plan was ambitious, but . . . we realized how urgent it was for us to propose useful solutions and to keep working beyond the competition to hold the City and ourselves accountable for that goal,” says Angela Jiang.

Second place went to an Emory University team, and third place went to a team from University of Georgia. Cash prizes were given to all three placings. All participants also had a chance to network with judges and each other following the competition.

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