A Chippers land enhancement woodlands project. Chippers is proud to sponsor this page and believes in encouraging and promoting environmental stewardship and protecting our green spaces above all else. Kudos to these Dartmouth students and Vital Communities for collaborating and taking steps to create real-world solutions to climate change issues.

Every year, Dartmouth College offers a two-term capstone class called the Senior Design Challenge, that combines interdisciplinary education with human-centered design to solve challenges identified by partner organizations in the Upper Valley. This year, a trio of students is working with the Upper Valley Adaptation Workgroup (UVAW) to find grassroots solutions addressing the problem of climate change on an individual level. The team hopes to build a technical solution that will have a real impact on the local community and, in some form or another, similarly engaged communities around the world.

Seniors Abby Drach, Gabby Hunter, and Jade Bravo wanted to do something about climate change. Jade is an environmental studies major; Abby and Gabby, who are majoring in psychology and cultural anthropology respectively, are passionate about sustainability and interested in finding creative, bottom-to-top solutions to the problems people face daily. Despite their disparate majors, the human-centered approach the class inspires drew them together, and their interests fit with the challenge proposed by UVAW, a group of individuals and organizations that meets under the Vital Communities umbrella and seeks to build climate-resilient communities in the Upper Valley. The challenge, as given to the students, was to answer the question: “what else can I [as an individual in the Upper Valley] do to combat climate change, and where do I start?”

The challenge, “to catalyze community-wide activity to mitigate and adapt to climate change” as stated in UVAW’s proposal, inspired the trio, and they set about interviewing residents of the local community, with support from Earth Sciences Professor Erich Osterberg and Vital Communities Climate Projects Coordinator Ana Meija. Starting from various climate-conscious sources including UVAW’s Climate Change Leadership Academy and a Building A Local Economy meeting, the team interviewed twenty-eight residents of Norwich, Hanover, and Lebanon. The questions were fairly broad, says Abby: in terms of pro-environment actions, they asked people “what behaviors they do daily, what they wish they were doing, and what’s preventing them from doing that,” among other topics.

The students’ results may not sound surprising, but they are certainly informative and highly useful. Analyzing the results of their interviews, they distilled their findings into four insights: first, that people often rely on community-based actions and resource-sharing mechanisms for change; second, that the decisions people make are based on individual motivations and priorities; third, that though money can be a barrier, people with resources intentionally invest in and explore tools ranging from electric vehicles to solar panels and weatherization; and fourth and perhaps most importantly, that individuals want to be more resilient than they are, but they often lack sufficient information and can be overwhelmed by the information that is available. That may sound confusing, but in short, it means that people want to find more ways to address climate change locally, and they do when they have the opportunity and support, but they may not know what to do.

Dartmouth students Abby Drach, Gabrielle Hunter, and Jade Bravo

Dartmouth students Abby Drach, Gabrielle Hunter, and Jade Bravo

This is where their work will continue in the second term of their project, which Abby is excited to begin. Their task, she says, will be to build “a decision-making tool to help people to choose and undertake the actions that make most sense for them.” Though this is a project focused on the Upper Valley and different populations may require different solutions, the team is hopeful this is a project that can ultimately be applied to numerous communities in Vermont and beyond. They are grateful to the friendly and helpful community members they interviewed – “you definitely can’t find that everywhere,” Abby notes enthusiastically – and expect that, with slight modifications, this sort of activity could be applied in communities elsewhere and the results could have broad and meaningful impacts on our world.

Still, Abby knows there are challenges. In analyzing their data, the team developed personae to broadly define their target audience: a retired person with free time and a desire, perhaps partially realized, to get involved in her community; a young professional doing what he can with limited impact and time; parents with young children who are conscious of the climate crisis but lacking the discretionary income to be able to do much more than make it through the day; and of course the environmental experts who understand the issues but may not always know the best solutions for the wider community. “We may need to choose one persona to focus on, or we may need different solutions for each of them,” Abby says, but they still hope to find effective solutions for as many people as they can, and use the community, or other people, as bases of knowledge or resources for building those solutions. As someone with a keen passion for sustainability (she is particularly interested in clothing sustainability) Abby hopes her experience will be applicable to her future endeavors; in any case, her work in collaboration with the Upper Valley community has already made steps towards meaningful change.