[IQP] Ciudad del Saber: Carbon Footprinting

Sponsor: Ciudad del Saber
Student Team: Madelyn Milsark
Alexis Mittelman
James Van Tronk
Abstract: Increased awareness of climate change has prompted many large organizations to investigate their carbon footprint. The goal of this project was to establish a campus-wide carbon emissions baseline for Ciudad del Saber in Panama City, Panama. Through research, data collection, and collaboration with the staff of Ciudad del Saber, the team was able to gather information to establish a carbon emissions baseline. Using this information, the project team then provided several recommendations to reduce carbon emissions in the future.
Links: Final Report

Executive Summary

The ever-increasing evidence of the dangers of climate change as well as a growing demand for humanity to collectively take action to stop climate change has prompted many large organizations to begin to monitor their carbon footprint. Ciudad del Saber, or the City of Knowledge, in Panama City, Panama aims to join the ranks of these organizations by establishing a carbon emissions baseline for their campus. They hope this baseline will act as a starting point to reducing their carbon footprint, paving the way towards a more sustainable campus.

Ciudad del Saber is a sprawling community of 200 buildings spanning over almost 300 acres located minutes from the famous Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal. It was established in 1995 when the Republic of Panama was given control of the Panama Canal and the surrounding area by the United States. Its goal was to provide a space for businesses, students, teachers, and professionals to learn, exchange knowledge, and improve. To help foster this spread of knowledge, the campus offers numerous resources to its community, such as workshops, presentations from leaders in a variety of fields, expert business counseling, and more. The campus plays host to offices, schools, residential areas, and green spaces, making it truly a community for all.

As the home for such a vast array of knowledge, it is only natural that Ciudad del Saber itself is smart in its own right. Its Master Plan establishes that all changes to the campus must be met with careful consideration to members of the community as well as the environment. Furthermore, with multiple LEED certifications, facilities at Ciudad del Saber are designed and built with innovation and sustainability in mind. This puts Ciudad del Saber at the forefront of sustainability efforts in Panama. To continue to improve their sustainability efforts, Ciudad del Saber sought to establish a carbon emissions baseline for their facilities and campus, so that issues could be addressed and progress could be tracked in the future.

The primary goal of this project was to collect and analyze data from Ciudad del Saber to establish a carbon emissions baseline for the campus. The secondary goal of the project was to use the carbon emissions baseline as well as information collected while gathering data to provide recommendations to the campus to reduce future emissions and increase overall efficiency. The carbon emissions baseline should provide a starting point for the campus to learn its main points of emissions to improve on. It also provides a starting point to expanding the emissions baseline to the entire campus. This is because many records, such as electricity use, paper use, and water use, are incomplete for a variety of reasons. In the future, Ciudad del Saber hopes to collect more extensive information to further complete the baseline. However, this baseline provides a starting estimate. Recommendations for future improvements include ways the campus can change to improve sustainability, such as the use of renewable resources, improving their recycling system, and starting a carpool program for employees as well as surrounding community members.

This project completed its goals through a variety of methods. Primarily, the team used the “Sustainability Indicator Management and Analysis Platform” (SIMAP), which was developed by the University of New Hampshire (UNH). This online algorithm uses data collected from a variety of scopes to produce a yearly carbon emissions reading. Through the generosity of the Fundación Ciudad del Saber (FCDS), our team was able to purchase the Tier 1 package of the SIMAP algorithm. Our team then used the algorithm for the duration of the project to collect and analyze carbon emissions data. Our team also distributed a survey to employees of Ciudad del Saber to learn their commuting habits. Finally, our team conducted a field study of waste disposal methods on campus to learn how much waste was disposed of and recycled.

SIMAP breaks down its carbon emissions indicators into three fields. These fields encapsulate three general sources of emissions. The first field encapsulates fuels and chemicals used on campus. The second field shows how electricity used on campus is generated. Finally, the third field examines resource use from people on campus.Our team first needed to assess which aspects of SIMAP we could feasibly analyze in the seven week period of the project.

Starting with Scope 1, the campus does not have stationary fuels or any forms of cogeneration energy. Moreover, they do not use fertilizers on their grasses or raise animals. On the other hand, they did have records of transportation fuels used by their bus and service vehicle fleet as well as records of refrigerants used at their chiller plant.

For Scope 2, the campus is sent monthly electricity bills that break down electricity use. However, these records are limited to buildings and spaces managed by Ciudad del Saber, since companies that occupy subleased building space manage their own electricity. Ciudad del Saber does hope to collect electricity data in the future, so the team provided a starting point by recording electricity use in CdS-managed buildings. Ciudad del Saber did not currently have any sources of on-campus renewable energy, so that was left out of the analysis.

Scope 3 had many points that couldn’t be analyzed. Since schools on campus aren’t directly managed by Ciudad del Saber and there are so many students, it was deemed impractical to track student travel. Additionally, since there were so many restaurants on campus, particularly in the Plaza, it was deemed impossible to track all food consumption for the campus. On the other hand, commuting data could be found through surveying employees, waste could be found through a field study, and Ciudad del Saber had records of business travel and paper use.

From there, the team needed to undertake several methods of collecting information. Data collection was accomplished through analyzing Ciudad del Saber records, surveying employees, and conducting campus-wide field studies. Most information collected was through records provided by Ciudad del Saber. However, some information was not available, so our team had to use alternate methods of data collection. One interesting issue arose when the team was entering electricity data into SIMAP. Since SIMAP is primarily geared towards customers and campuses in the United States, information on how electricity was generated in Panama was unavailable. Moreover, electricity generation in the United States is tracked through the US EPA’s Emissions & Generation Resource Integrated Database (eGRID). This system does not exist in Panama, so obtaining exactly how electricity was generated was difficult. Our team contacted the Secretary of Energy of Panama to learn how electricity was generated. We were provided with a breakdown of electricity generation for the country. Our team then entered this data into SIMAP’s custom fuel mix section to achieve a reasonable method of electricity generation. From there, our team had to use alternative methods of data collection to learn about employee transportation habits as well as waste disposal on campus.

To collect commuter information, our team distributed a survey to 165 Ciudad del Saber employees. This survey enquired about their means of transportation, how far they drive to work every day, whether they carpool, and whether they use the campus bus system. Through the course of the project, we received 34 responses. We then extrapolated these responses to apply to all employees and entered commuting data into SIMAP. We also used other questions in the survey to provide points of improvement to Ciudad del Saber.

To learn about waste disposal habits, our team toured the campus to measure the dimensions of dumpsters and other waste disposal bins. Using these dimensions, we found volumes of the bins. From there, we researched previous waste audits to find typical densities for trash disposed across campus. We found out how often each waste container was emptied by the trash company. Using this information, along with some assumptions on how full each container was upon collection, our team could estimate the total waste disposed across campus. When analyzing, the team also omitted waste containers not belonging to Ciudad del Saber managed buildings to keep waste disposal comparable to electricity consumption.

After data collection, the team arrived at a final carbon emissions baseline for the campus. Our team then analyzed the SIMAP results as well as information gathered during the data collection process to provide recommendations to Ciudad del Saber. First, our team recommended that Ciudad del Saber continue its carbon emissions record-keeping using SIMAP. As the campus grows, it will undoubtedly change its methods, so progress must be accounted for. Additionally, the campus hopes to collect electricity data from subleased spaces in the future, so SIMAP records will only become more accurate and important in the future.

The team also recommended installing a network of sensors to better isolate and track electricity and water use. Electricity sensors could help monitor spikes and trends in electricity use to realize when and where the most electricity is being used. Water sensors can prove equally important because Ciudad del Saber’s water provider does not include how much water is used on monthly water bills, so tracking water efficiency is impossible. Should the campus install water meters, they will be able to better track water use.

To fulfill one of the campus’s main sustainability indicators, the team recommended researching and investing in renewable energy sources. Particularly, the team recommended using solar canopies, which are solar panels that are placed above parking lots. Solar energy is especially attractive for Ciudad del Saber for several reasons. First, sun intensity is strong, especially in the dry season. During the dry season, hydroelectric power, the main source of Panama’s electricity, becomes more difficult and expensive to generate. Also, solar canopies can provide protection from the sun and rain to anyone who parks their cars in parking lots below them.

Additionally, we recommended that they streamline the recycling process by providing a middle point between residents and the recycling center. Residents did not have a convenient method of recycling, and their only method of disposing waste was through “canastas” or cage-like bins that are collected directly by the trash company and sent to landfill. On the other hand, the recycling center did not make enough money to feasibly travel across campus to collect recyclable waste. Therefore, our team recommended that Ciudad del Saber provide and collect recycling bins from residential areas that previously did not have access to convenient recycling bins.

Finally, the team recommended that Ciudad del Saber use the transportation survey as a starting point for a carpool program. Carpooling was found to be rare among employees, but the potential to show its benefits is high. The campus already had a carpooling program planned for the upcoming years, so the team recommended they continue on this path.

Through data collected from a variety of sources, our team was able to complete a carbon emissions baseline for Ciudad del Saber. While there is still work to be done on the baseline, Ciudad del Saber will be able to use this baseline to further improve sustainability on campus. Recommendations provided by our team will also guide and assist CdS in improving in the future.