Abdo Al Mallah, Mira Bechara, and Amani Nasr, recent Civil and Environmental Engineering graduates from Notre Dame University-Louaize (NDU), have completed their senior project supported by the Climate Change Division of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Lebanon: modeling a carbon footprint calculator for Universities in Lebanon. Lea Kai Aboujaoude at the Climate Change Projects, UNDP, was the project manager and Dr. Sophia Ghanimeh, Associate Professor at the NDU Faculty of Engineering and co-chair of the NDU sustainability task force, served as the project advisor to the students.
The amount a person, product, or activity contributes to climate change through its release of greenhouse gases (GHG), either directly or indirectly, is known as its carbon footprint. The GHGs, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O), methane (CH4), chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), absorb and trap energy in the atmosphere causing the greenhouse effect.
A carbon footprint calculator, therefore, is meant to estimate the amount of GHG emissions of the aforementioned causes. Institutions or individuals using the calculator provide it with the relevant information like electricity usage and transportation. Through these calculations, the users are then able to estimate their contribution to climate change through the total GHG emissions calculated in carbon equivalent.
Al Mallah, Bechara, and Nasr developed their calculator to be as user-friendly as possible. They also included a mitigation action section where institutions are given points for the sustainable/environmental projects and activities they undertake. The aim of this added feature is to universities to compete to be more sustainable.
All three students were enthusiastic about their experience and the chance to make a difference with their senior project.
“I was thrilled when I found out my senior project will be about climate change since it is a global pressing issue,” said Mira Bechara. “I loved the spirit and curiosity of my team at NDU and the team at the UNDP. I had a great experience that was easy, because of the comfortable atmosphere, and challenging at the same time. I would like to thank my advisor at NDU and the Climate Change projects at the Ministry of Environment for this opportunity.”
Amani Nasr said, “Watching the effects of climate change around us is very sad, but this sadness fuels an urge to do something about it. This motivation drove us to succeed in developing this calculator. Furthermore, the team spirit made the working environment very interesting. It's very cool to work with a team that asks the craziest questions and responds with "We'll figure it out" rather than "No way". I think this spirit is what makes a project succeed.”
“Working with such a team in collaboration with the UNDP is a unique experience that allowed us to affect positive change to the environment on the whole country's level,” said Abdo Al Mallah. “Educational institutions along with public and private businesses are significant stakeholders in the fight to decrease emissions and ultimately mitigate more damage to the future of our planet.”
Reflecting on her work with NDU students, Lea Kai Aboujaoude said, “It was a very productive experience that generated a tool that will be used and further developed by the UNDP climate change team for future carbon footprint reporting. I was impressed by the high level of professionalism, commitment and the excellent technical skills that Abdo, Amani and Mira showed throughout the project, and it was a real pleasure working with them.”
The hope is that the project sees wide dissemination and adoption, and increases awareness that will reduce the impact of GHG emissions.
The calculator has now been handed over to the UNDP Climate Change Division who will finalize, disseminate it to Lebanese schools and universities, customize the tool for the private sector, and adopt it as the official tool for reporting. The division will also engage all three students, Al Mallah, Bechara, and Nasr, in any activity related to training and dissemination of the calculator. As for the team themselves, they will be presenting a paper on the Carbon Calculator at the 113th Annual Conference and Exhibition of the Air and Waste Management Association, June 30, 2020 (https://www.awma.org/ace2020).
“The cooperation between us, as NDU, and the UNDP team was very positive and fruitful,” said Bechara. “The outcome of the project exceeded our expectations being the result and the experience. This successful collaboration will open doors for further future projects between NDU and UNDP.”