2008 Student Projects


Sustainability, as you will see, is a broad and multi-faceted issue. In the past, I have had groups of students work with a Fortune 100 company, with local organic farms and with small businesses on a variety of issues. This semester we worked with a wide range of “clients” on projects that support their efforts to move in a more sustainable direction.

Cogeneration Power Plant Fuel Survey for North Prairie Productions LLC

This project is to evaluate the feasibility of a potential joint venture between Mike Robinson, founder and president of North Prairie Productions ( www.npnrg.com) and Michael Furbish, founder and president of Furbish Company (www.furbishco.com). The venture aims to develop, finance, construct, and operate a 5- to 10-MWe cogeneration plant scaled to meet a local heat demand while selling electricity to the grid. We seek to identify locally available renewable resources to provide fuel for the cogeneration plant.

Most electricity consumed in the United States is produced at large power generation facilities located away from population centers. This method of power generation squanders up to 70{13cc73ace98a1a1c72459df4609391372da874048f40eb9ad7cb1a640123a483} of the energy content of the fuel as waste heat (a fundamental by-product of electric power generation) because there is not a local demand for the heat. Another 7.2{13cc73ace98a1a1c72459df4609391372da874048f40eb9ad7cb1a640123a483} of the energy dissipates as transmission loss before reaching the end user. We seek to reduce these losses by locating small-scale power plants within industrialized zones where there is a local demand for both electricity and heat. In addition, we desire to fuel these power plants with renewable resources. Potential fuels include municipal solid waste, urban timber waste or forest slash, crop residues, industrial by-products, agricultural by-products, construction waste such as used asphalt shingles, etc. Given a specific project-site, we ask students to find the most appropriate renewable fuel for that location. The evaluation should include: cost, technology available for processing, BTU value, homogeneity, moisture content, quantity and consistency of availability, materials handling, sustainability, emissions quality, and carbon output. Once a fuel is identified and recommended, students will be asked to provide recommendations for a term-sheet for the purchase of that fuel with the fuel supplier(s).

LEED Certification for Grainger — Existing Building

Grainger Hall is one of the newer buildings on campus. As such, I suspect it has many environmentally friendly aspects. We will use Johnson Controls Green Compass software to evaluate the building for possible LEED EB (existing building) certification.

The student team will be responsible for understanding the LEED process, understanding the software program that will be used, and for acquiring all necessary information to fully score the existing Grainger Hall. After scoring Grainger Hall, you will need to identify cost-effective changes that should be made, including costing those changes out, so that, once made, Grainger Hall can earn enough credits to be submitted for Silver certification. You will need to work with individuals from the Dept. of Administration’s Facilities, Planning and Management Division, the building manager, buildings and maintenance staff, and others.

The MoCo 100-Mile Market

MoCo Market (www.mocomarket.com) is a modern general store that carries a variety of convenience groceries in both organic and conventional. Our slogan is “modern convenience community connection,” and MoCo is the first Wisconsin food establishment to be Green Restaurant certified. We are not only a local Willy Street business, but we also try to source groceries and retail goods locally.

A 100-mile market is our own concept derived from the 100 mile diet where an individual consumes food that was grown within 100 miles… no bananas, coffee, chocolate or olive oil, for example. This diet not only supports the local economy, but vastly cuts down on fuel usage. We would like to source 90{13cc73ace98a1a1c72459df4609391372da874048f40eb9ad7cb1a640123a483} of our merchandise and food either grown or produced in states that are within 100 miles (WI, IA, IL, and arguably MN).


Sustainability Investment Group: Recommendations for Investment Methodology

A new sustainable investment advisory firm is founded on the principle that “our clients’ financial success is linked with (indeed dependent upon) a vision for a clean, fair and efficient world.” In fact, we believe that investing and financial success is directly connected to our clients’ social and environmental values, and investment decisions should reflect those values.

I am looking for a team to develop the core business plan for this type of investment firm, a firm seeking to combine the values of capitalism with the values of humanity. The ultimate goal is to determine the potential for success of such a business as well as to establish the foundation for such a venture to be built around. Specifically, the team should focus on the development of a two-tier system approach to investment selection. The primary selection criteria might be a set of sustainability requirements needed in order to be reviewed for financial indications of profitability. The secondary tier (traditional financial indicators of profitability) will be the examination of more fundamental investment analytics including management philosophy of publicly trading companies, future growth potential, earnings, cash flow ratios, etc. The project team will determine in both tiers what they feel are the most suitable indicators to use in the investment selection process.

SustainDane: Rain Reserve System & Spreadsheet 

Sustain Dane is a community-based organization committed to creating communities that deeply enjoy, care for and are sustained by their unique environment. Most recently, Sustain Dane has seen great success with our RainReserve(tm) Rain Barrel program. At the core our RainReserve program is a do-it-yourself “kit,” researched, designed and developed to be the “greenest” water harvesting system available on the market.

We would like to work with a group to provide recommendations on the feasibility of a leasing program for our RainReserve do-it-yourself kit that will enhance our profitability and support a system for end-of-life-cycle product take back. Rather than selling the product for a one-time cost of $65 – $140, we would like recommendations from the group on whether a leasing program could provide the homeowner a system at a more affordable annual fee. What other products have been turned into services? Have these been successful? What separates the successful ones from the failures? Is a leasing program for rain barrels more like the successful programs or the failures? If the group recommends pursuing a leasing program, what would the capital start-up costs be? What other requirements (and costs) would we need to account for (storage costs, take-back infrastructure, etc.)?

Union Cab Alternative Vehicle Options

Union Cab is an employee-owned cooperative operating in Madison. They are very interested in moving away from standard gasoline-fueled internal combustion engines. They run a fleet of 65 vehicles which are generally purchased second-hand at state auctions. The vehicles purchased were originally run as police cars or sheriff’s cars. They generally spend about $6000 between purchase and minor repair per vehicle. The vehicles already have 100,000 miles on them, and they generally get another three years of hard service out of every vehicle (which is about 210,000 additional miles).

They need help analyzing alternative vehicle options. They are interested in total costs (purchase and operation costs over the life of a vehicle) for flex-fuel vehicles, ethanol vehicles, hybrids, fuel cell vehicles, and any other options that would work for a taxi service.

United Way Co-op Housing Project

The United Way of Dane County is involved with poverty reduction and providing a safety net for individuals and families that slip through the support of our community, state and federal governments. The following project will have significant benefits to poor in Madison: Develop recommendations on how to better use co-op housing for poor families.

Housing payments are a major expense for all poor families. One option for families is co-op housing, where in exchange for work, rent is reduced and meals might even be provided. Provide recommendations for how a co-op housing approach might work for poor families. Investigate whether other cities have used this option and what success they have realized. In short, see if you can make co-op housing a viable alternative for poor families. What societal changes would need to be made to ensure that this would work?

Springs Window Fashions Website &

 Springs Window Fashions Sustainability Suggestions 

Springs is the largest provider of residential window coverings in this country. Last semester we did a number of projects with them that have helped them think very systematically about greening their business. This semester they are looking for students for a number of projects. The appeal of working with Springs is that they are right at the point where they are struggling to figure out what sustainability or greening means to them. You can help them shape their understanding.