Green Solutions for a Modern World Attending the Princeton Environmental Ideathon was a natural progression for Julianna Keeling '19, who started a sustainable packaging company when she was still in high school.
“Without the support of Professor Robert Humston and the rest of the [Environmental Studies] Department, I would have never taken advantage of this unique and impactful event.”
— Julianna Keeling ’19
The Princeton Environmental Ideathon (PEID) is an annual competition at Princeton University that brings together academics and industry leaders to address challenges and propose solutions to developing greener, more sustainable modern cities. I was excited to attend this event this spring to connect with other like-minded people from a variety of backgrounds and discuss the most multi-faceted, pressing issue of our time: climate change.
Alongside my three other teammates from Harvard University and Rutgers University, we chose to address and prototype solutions for the catastrophic, unpredictable flooding that occurs in coastal cities like New Orleans. The objective of this design is to create a canal to alleviate flooding from storm surge in coastal regions. As greater numbers of the growing population move towards the coast, sea level is also rising. Sea level has been rising for the past 50 years, and the rate has increased over the past few decades. The global convergence of urbanization and climate change is becoming increasingly apparent. Climate change is occurring where most of humanity lives. Major cities such as New Orleans are subsiding by approximately one football field per day.
We selected this problem because there is a genuine need to alleviate flooding from storm surge. There is a genuine need for “smart” urban design to provide safety and stability for the millions of people around the world in the wake of worsening storms. We need implementable technology and planning that adapts to the inevitable crises associated with climate change. Preservation of ecosystem goods and services is critical to maintaining stability and growth of urban centers and the population at large.
The solution-idea is to build a mini canal that connects to the existing canal system of New Orleans. The purpose of enhancing the existing canal system is to alleviate pressure that builds up during flood events to reduce flooding. Water that breaches the existing levee will be diverted into a mini canal that snakes through parts of New Orleans. The canal will replace the streetcars that currently exist on the St. Charles Line to prevent the displacement of residents living in the area. The proposed canal will be able to absorb flood waters at greater rates than the existing streetcar system. The canal will have normal water levels lower than its walls, and during storm events it would be able to take on flood waters from the adjacent Mississippi River. One block length of this canal will be able to hold 240,000 gallons of storm water.
Another feature of the canal is a turbine that will collect energy when floodwaters flow in the canal. The power provided will power a warning system along the canal that will alert residents of the flood condition that the part of the city is now in. This turbine will help collect the energy that will be used to pump the water out.
The canal will feature rain gardens on both sides. The rain gardens will contain native and resilient plants that will thrive near the canal. The gardens serve dual purposes of beautifying the area surrounding the canal and absorbing excess and nutrients and storm water runoff. The green infrastructure of the rain garden is a sustainable method of storm water management. Rain gardens have been shown to reduce the amount of subsidence in the soil.
After a full day of pitching, our solution was voted third by the judges (composed of Princeton professors and industry leaders) out of everyone in the competition.
I am so grateful for the Environmental Studies Department at W&L and their generosity in letting me attend the PEID event free of charge. Not only did the department encourage me to participate in this unique competition, they also supported my attendance and paid for my transportation and food expenses. Without the support of Professor Robert Humston and the rest of the department, I would have never taken advantage of this unique and impactful event.
My time at PEID is not my first experience with developing sustainable business solutions. During high school, I started a company, Terravive, that is an ethically minded packaging company with a green soul. One hundred percent of our products reduce garbage that ends up in landfills and pollutes our oceans. We work closely with our customers across a swath of industries to produce high-quality, cost-effective, and plant-based packaging that reduces packaging waste.
Over the past five years I’ve spent researching and working in the biopolymer space, I have acquired a deep love of and appreciation for the creation of novel, sustainable materials. After studying various cradle-to-cradle analyses, I believe that the best way to make a positive impact is to solve the problem “upstream” by producing materials sustainably with the end in mind. This enthusiasm incentivized me to create Terravive, a vertically integrated company that assists organizations in their transition to sustainable solutions. One of Terravive’s core tenets is solely supplying products that degrade back to their original organic materials, carbon dioxide and water, in industrial facilities and the ocean. Albeit more expensive than traditional plastic containers, Terravive products yield appreciable increases in sales for the companies choosing to adopt sustainable packaging and repeat purchases for them. This can be attributed to the increase in brand loyalty generated by the pharmaceutical company’s physical demonstration of commitment to sustainability values via the transition to compostable packaging.
After my first year at W&L, I moved to San Francisco for the summer to better understand Terravive’s product market fit in a city that embodies the values of sustainability. We were garnering traction and growing. I was doing all I could to sell and deliver, and I didn’t want my efforts to diminish when I returned to W&L and faced challenging chemistry classes. I was and still am passionate about Terravive’s impact in broader society – the reduction of plastic packaging in our landfills and oceans – and wanted to stay in SF to catalyze even greater growth. I spoke with my advisors at W&L, and after explaining my situation, they granted me a leave of absence. My Johnson Scholarship was unaffected, and they permitted me to take the year off without having to incur any additional expenses from the school.
I’m very grateful that W&L enabled me the opportunity to focus on my passion and chase my dreams through this extremely impactful gap year.
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More about Juliana
Has anyone on campus inspired you?
Professor Robert Humston is one of the best professors at W&L. He is incredibly intelligent, yet approachable and passionate about his work in the biological and environmental sciences. I would highly recommend taking a class or two with him!
What’s your personal motto?
I have two:
“The finest steel goes through the hottest fire.” – Anonymous
“My willingness to fail is what gives me the ability to succeed.” – Vinod Khosla
Best place to eat in Lexington? What do you order?
Canton Chinese! I am a dim sum fanatic.
What film or book do you recommend to everyone?
I read “Cutting for Stone” by Abraham Verghese in 2009 and it changed my life. The book taught me about the importance of showing empathy, family, and the frailty of life and spiritual strength. The title refers to the Greek Hippocratic Oath warning physicians of physically cutting out stone (e.g. gall stone, kidney stone, etc.) due to danger to the patient.
Analytical Chemistry with Professor Matthew Tuchler
Favorite W&L event?
What’s something people wouldn’t guess about you?
I am a second-degree black belt in karate.