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Bren School Students Head to China

Team Developed Software that Calculates a City’s Best Way to Go Green


New software from USCB’s Bren School of Science and Management might facilitate a more environmentally responsible California — granted, it ain’t easy going green.

Five UCSB master’s students-cum-alumnae programmed software that is designed to calculate a given city’s best gameplan to go green. It tailors to the specific needs of a community to calculate the most cost-effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The software is called SAFEGUARD, and it, along with its makers, is en route to China.

The master’s program at UCSB’s Bren School of Environmental Science and Management has garnered some renown since its founding in 1996, partly due to one relatively unique aspect: To graduate you must complete a group project, beginning the spring quarter of your first year and culminating in a final presentation at the end of your second year. A group is made up of four to five students and a faculty advisor, grouped by their shared interest in a given proposal chosen from among those submitted by various agencies and companies.

Last year, one of these proposals was submitted by AECOM, the large engineering and architectural firm headquartered in L.A. AECOM proposed a project that would “address climate-change mitigation at the community scale by providing recommendations for effective strategies to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions,” according to the project’s final report.

AECOM’s proposal was picked up by five students—Michael Conrardy, Gavin Feiger, Allison King, Aaron Sobel, and Justin Whitett—none of who are entrepreneurs or programmers, but who, this spring, presented software with high commercial appeal.

With AB32, California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, pending legal enforcement in or around 2011, communities must figure out how to satisfy the act’s stipulations. But for a city, knowing where to start and how to optimally achieve these goals is not immediately self-evident.

Therein lies the commercial appeal of SAFEGUARD, which customizes the most cost-effective strategy according to the city’s specific variables and particularities. Tailoring to a city requires meticulous research—the city’s sun exposure, the bike infrastructure, the types of cars being driven, the source of electricity, etc. “We probably had maybe 40 to 50 inputs specific to the city,” recalled Feiger.

As a case study, the students tested the software with the city of Ventura. The software offers about 20 different strategies to achieve the greenhouse gas emissions goal. It took months of research and collaboration with the city to find Ventura’s best strategy.

The five students, joined by Lingxuan Liu, are headed to China to collaborate with students from Nianjing University to see if the software can be adapted to Nianjing’s conditions—a population of eight million and a radically different climate and economy.

How applicable it will be across the board and what will happen with the software next is still undetermined, but it seems to offer a step in the right direction.

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