Case Studies on Sustainable Communities

In this section, you’ll find SLS-created case studies, as well as annotated lists of case studies specific to various disciplines. This section of the SLS teaching toolkit is always growing, and we want you to be involved! Let us know of a case study pertinent to your discipline, or click here to create your own.

Technology and Social Context

This tool helps students understand how social context can influence the success or failure of projects; as a result, students will learn to design their own projects, both local and abroad, with attention to the context and the communities in which they’re working. The tool explores three different situations as models for what to do, and what not to do. These include: 1) situations where entities use technology to exploit the population; 2) situations where projects fail by not accounting for the social context of a community, and 3) situations where projects succeed by accounting for the social context of a community.

This tool was contributed by Katie Martin, Bethany Jacobs, Kevin Lanza, Molly Slavin, and Jennifer Hirsch.

SLS Case Study: The Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design

The Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design at Georgia Tech promises to be a flexible, multi-use academic space as well as the most environmentally advanced educational and research building in the Southeast. In this case study, learn about what it means for the Kendeda Building to receive certification as a “living building.” Serve-Learn-Sustain interprets sustainable communities as integrated systems, wherein environment, economy, and society all inform each other. As you read this case study, consider these terms as discrete factors, but also as connected. 

SLS Case Study: Edwards Aquifer

The Edwards Aquifer is an artesian aquifer that supplies nearly all of the water in San Antonio, Texas.  In this case study, read about the persistent conflict over limited water resources from the Edwards Aquifer. Learn about the process by which this entrenched water conflict was sustainably resolved, for both human users and the ecosystem as a whole.

This tool was contributed by Kate Pride Brown.

SLS Case Study: Proctor Creek

Proctor Creek runs through northwest Atlanta, extending from I-20 in southwest Atlanta to the Chattahoochee River. An important piece of Atlanta’s natural environment, it also has a long history of neglect and pollution, which has negatively affected its surrounding communities. In this case study, read about this history, as well as new and ongoing development projects in West Atlanta that demand close attention to the Proctor Creek Watershed. Additionally, concepts like Environmental Justice and Citizen Science will provide a lens for thinking about issues related to the creek and how to protect its surrounding communities. 

SLS Case Study: The 1995 Chicago Heat Wave

Are heat waves simply natural disasters over which we have no control? With heat waves set to increase over the coming decades, how can we fight this invisible killer? In this case study, head back to 1995 Chicago, when one of the deadliest heat waves in US history struck the city, killing hundreds. Learn about the demographics that were particularly vulnerable to the heat wave, and how those vulnerabilities made this heat wave (and others like it) not just a natural disaster, but a social one. After reading this case study and an interview transcript with one of the experts on the 1995 Chicago heat wave, turn to the Discussion Questions to think about how social networks and the built environment can protect us during heat waves now and in the future.

London Olympic Park Stadium

Multi-Criteria Decision Matrix Exercise

In preparation for the 2012 Olympic Games in London, the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) faced an unprecedented design challenge: create an 80,000 capacity stadium with the flexibility to be converted to a 25,000 capacity venue after the Games, and do this while achieving the ODA’s sustainability objectives. In the case study below, you’ll discover how they achieved the brief through innovative design and engineering. Furthermore, you’ll use this tool to learn more about how you, too, can make difficult design choices without compromising sustainability. To that end, this tool introduces you to the Multi-Criteria Decision Matrix, or, Values-based Decision Making.

SLS Case Study: Maker Culture and Sustainable Transportation (GT Mechanical Engineering)

While recycling is a time-honored tradition of the environmentally-conscious, an equally powerful way to build sustainable communities is by learning to reuse and repair damaged materials. Maker culture, a version of DIY culture that delights in creation and repair, offers a model for sustainability. In this case study, follow the adventures of GT student Buzz as he sets out to repair his bike using two Georgia Tech Maker Spaces: The Starter Bikes bike repair cooperative, and the Invention Studio. By learning how to restore his bike, Buzz empowers himself to live a sustainable life in another important way: as a bike commuter. Read on to consider the intersections of maker culture and sustainable transportation.

This tool was contributed by Arkadeep Kumar, Bob Myers, and Bethany Jacobs.

ReGenesis Case Study: Chemical Safety & Ethics in Relation to Communities

This tool explores the principle that environmental health impacts are a function of the inherent risk multiplied by exposure. In chemical processes we have become better at managing inherent risk, but we also have a significant legacy of mismanagement. One such example occurred in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where local politician Harold Mitchell and community organization ReGenesis tackled the problem of their community's long-term exposure to hazardous waste.

The tool below uses a video of Rep. Mitchell to explain the events in Spartanburg. It explores how local chemical plants mismanaged and deliberately covered up risks, nearly leading to a chemical disaster that they were not equipped to contain. Through this activity, you will explore and discuss how chemical engineering professionals should respond to similar situations, and what responsibilities such professionals have to the communities around them.

The Smart, Sustainable Neighborhood: A Case Study (GT Business)

In this case study, gas and electric utility holding company Southern Company has embarked on an ambitious experiment to learn more about energy usage at a household level, as well as community-scale microgrids. Every minute, sixty-two homes in Reynolds Landing upload appliance level data to Southern Company. How can Southern Company use this vast amount of data to promote energy efficiency? Are microgrids a key to creating a more sustainable and resilient energy future? How can microgrids impact or change traditional power generation business models like those used by Southern Company? Read on to learn more and consider what kinds of experiments you would run if this was your project.

This tool was developed by Bob Myers. 

SLS Case Study: The Flint Water Crisis

The Flint Water Crisis is one of the most significant instances of environmental injustice in the 21st century.  In this case study, read about the impact of the crisis on the natural world, as well as the residents of Flint, Michigan, and learn about how we can use technology to create a safe, sustainable water system. Serve-Learn-Sustain interprets sustainable communities as integrated systems, wherein nature, technology and society all inform each other. As you read this case study, consider these terms as discrete factors, but also as connected.

This tool was contributed by Bethany Jacobs. 

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