UEP Sustainability Internship Profiles: Peter Federico and Chelsea Spaman

Peter Federico

University of New Hampshire (UNH) Sustainability Fellow – Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire

For my UNH Sustainability Fellowship, I was partnered with the Black Heritage Trail of NH, a regional non-profit, to assess the impact of stormwater and groundwater flooding on their historic office building, located in downtown Portsmouth, NH. I conducted research on coastal resiliency best practices, used climate models to determine the future impact of flooding on the site, and monitored flooding events on the property during the summer. 

My work culminated in a 60-page report, including floor plans and maps, that holistically assessed the existing hydrologic conditions of the property and the building. I proposed a series of flood mitigation approaches that also aim to preserve the historic character of the building. For instance, a reconfiguration of their existing gutter system would greatly improve their stormwater flooding issues and drastically reduce the amount of water that infiltrates the basement, which contributed to the degradation of the historic masonry foundation. 

Most importantly, my report and recommendations will be used by the organization, an architect, and engineers, to help guide their planning process as the Black Heritage Trail NH embarks on its capital improvement campaign where they seek to expand the office building footprint. Through this stepwise process, they will be able to successfully improve the resilience of their building to flood events while maintaining their organizational mission to preserve and celebrate Black history.  

As New England coastal communities must adapt to the changing climate, there is a need to strike a balance between historical preservation requirements and appropriate flood mitigation approaches. Through a community survey I conducted, it became clear that residents of historic buildings feel there is not a balance between these two goals and that they are required to uphold the preservation standards set by the city, at the expense of site-level flood protection. 

Portsmouth is seeing a boom in development, and many residents are aware of the need to build sustainably and with climate-resilient strategies. My work this summer will serve as a model for the City of Portsmouth to begin to address how to incorporate flood mitigation approaches into existing historical preservation guidelines and requirements. In this way, the city will be more prepared to plan and build a sustainable and resilient community. 

The MS Sustainability program prepared me for this fellowship by exposing me to thinking about environmental problems from a socio-economic and -ecological systems framework. This framework helped me properly assess a complex problem like flood mitigation. Through the range of courses, I’ve taken in the program, I was able to propose solutions for the Black Heritage Trail that ranged from urban planning recommendations to highly technical engineering solutions. I was also able to use my spatial-analysis skills, which I learned from the Intro to GIS course, to produce several maps for the organization which illustrate their vulnerability to coastal and groundwater flooding across several sites. Finally, my experience working with the Town of Weymouth for my Field Projects course in the spring of 2022 helped give me the knowledge to engage more meaningfully with the planners at the City of Portsmouth.

Chelsea Spaman 

Environment and Sustainability Intern- Denver International Airport 

I worked on two primary projects during my time at the Denver International Airport (DEN). Most of my time was spent developing the DEN greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory, specifically with scope 3 emissions. Scope 3 emissions are the result of activities from assets not owned or controlled by the reporting organization, but that the organization indirectly impacts in its value chain. It’s helpful to think of scope 3 emissions as the scope 1 and 2 emissions of a different organization in the value chain. For example, at DEN, a large portion of their scope 3 emissions come from landings, take-offs, and flight time. While these are scope 3 emissions for DEN, they are primarily scope 1 for the airline itself. As an airport, a large portion of the total emissions fall in scope 3 and the department had yet to make a real in-depth pass at that aspect of their inventory. 

Much of my work within the scope 3 inventory was in understanding how different scope 3 emissions are for an airport compared to most other organizations, as the operations tend to be very specific to aviation. From there, we were trying to find sources of data across the airport for the inventory and inputting the data into a tool we were using for a best estimate of scope 3 emissions. Due to the complex nature of scope 3 emissions, finishing the project in the 10 weeks I was there was not feasible, so my goal was to collect as much scope 3 data as I could and leave the department with a clear plan of action for the remaining data. The other main project I worked on at DEN was with their waste diversion strategy. Given that DEN is one of the busiest airports in the world, the amount of waste produced is very high, so having an effective waste diversion strategy is imperative. Due to COVID, composting at the airport was largely curbed, so during my time at DEN, I assisted in the re-introduction of back-of-house composting, coming up with new strategies to decrease compost contamination, and grant/research efforts aimed at revitalizing DEN waste diversion. 

The Denver International Airport recently set their sight on becoming the “greenest airport in the world.” It’s no secret that aviation is an extremely carbon intensive industry, so having airports and airlines that recognize and take responsibility for their role in creating a just and sustainable future is imperative. The projects I worked on during my time at DEN are reflective of the urgency in the sector to begin decarbonization. Decarbonization, and thus sustainable development in a historically unsustainable industry, starts with in-depth analysis of the sources of the emissions they are producing, from the aircraft taxiing across the airport, to the waste streams created, or construction projects at the airport. Decarbonization, as well an ease of the environmental burdens they place on surrounding communities, thus becomes possible, as you can’t manage what you don’t measure. 

The MS Sustainability program gave me not only the technical tools I needed to work on these projects with DEN, but a better understanding of effective communication, project management, and the importance of long-term systems thinking and change. In the sustainability program, I was able to build off prior experiences and deepen my understanding of greenhouse gas accounting, which made me an ideal candidate for the position and gained me confidence in my ability to do the work. In terms of communication and project management, the experiences I had and what I learned during Field Projects absolutely prepared me to work on a long-term project and manage tasks over time, communicate within such a large organization effectively, be comfortable with asking for help when I needed it, and making sure I was taking the space to continue to learn during my time there. Understanding the systems thinking/change mindset proved to be an essential tool for my time with DEN, as the airport itself is considered somewhat of a living organism. Given the complexities and many different elements to DEN, it became apparent that in order for changes such as emissions reductions to become truly successful, they needed to be integrated with the systems at DEN as a whole. Often sustainability issues and action are viewed as a responsibility of those departments alone, whereas true transformation of intricate systems such as airports relies on the integration of all the factors of its operations into pragmatic and holistic solutions.

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