Keystone Project

Keystone projects play an integral role in the Graduate Certificate Program in Environmental Management. Projects span the Autumn and Winter quarters and are conducted as the Keystone Projects Course Series (ENVIR 511, ENVIR 512).

The projects are proposed by community partners to address their specific interests and needs. Community partners are active participants on the projects, enabling students to make professional connections and contribute directly toward developing solutions to the region’s environmental issues.

Team Organization

Keystone projects are team-based, interdisciplinary group projects that are constructed to embody the four critical elements of the restorative economy: business, research, government, and advocacy.

Real progress toward a sustainable and restorative economy cannot be successful without commitment and participation from each of these critical sectors. Therefore, project teams consist of:

  • 3 to 6 Environmental Management graduate students.
  • A UW Faculty Mentor who provides guidance and expertise and contributes substantively to the projects.
  • Community partners from business, government, and private sector, who provide problem statement, collaboration, and other project support.

All students are expected to contribute proportionally to the project, in line with project roles and expectations developed collaboratively among the team members and the faculty mentor.

Descriptions of current and past Keystone Projects follow.

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Confirmed Keystone Projects 2015-2016

Pollution Prevention for Specialty Paints

Keystone Partner: Pacific Northwest Pollution Prevention Resource Center
Project Summary: The goal of this project is to analyze and recommend pollution prevention solutions for supply chain inefficiencies surrounding the production, use and disposal of specialty paints.

Specialty paints are a sub-set of commercial paints made for performance properties like impact resistance, heat cold resistance and corrosion resistance. Industry feedback suggests that painting businesses find they have to purchase these paints in minimum quantity batches that exceed the amount of paint needed. Businesses report that the ratio of used to unused paint can be as much at 1 to 12, and that the excess product is stored and disposed of as a hazardous waste. The negative impacts of the current supply chain model include disposal costs, expense of the products to consumers, GHG emissions associated with extraction, production and transport, liabilities associated with manufacture and storage of hazardous substances, and human health/environmental risks associated with disposal.

The deliverable for the project is a report that describes current practices and the magnitude of the problem in the Puget Sound Region, in terms of volumes of waste, associated risks, costs to industry and the public. The Final Report will:

  1. characterize the problem in terms of volumes, toxicities and how much economic and environmental waste is involved;
  2. identify barriers to small batch production faced by paint manufacturers and trade associations;
  3. identify several potential solutions, such as improved supply management (use of a middle expeditor broker), opportunities for multi-functional formulations, take back policies, incentives programs, etc.;
  4. identify and recommend alternative supply chain options that reward efficient practices and protect the environment.

Carbon Footprint: University of Washington Air Travel

Keystone Partner: UW Office of Sustainability
Project Summary: The goal of this project is to analyze existing data related to air travel at UW and identify, develop, and recommend actions for UW that will result in measurable GHG reductions.

The UW has committed to reducing carbon to 15% below 2005 levels by 2020, and reducing to 36% below 2005 levels by 2035. Air transportation comprises a significant amount of the UW’s carbon footprint, and the impact of professional and athletic travel on the total footprint is not well understood. Possible professional air travel reduction initiatives will need to take into account the UW’s mission as a collaborative research institution, as well as behavioral resistance to reducing travel.

The deliverable for the project is a report that evaluates available data regarding the University of Washington’s greenhouse (GHG) emissions related to professional travel; explores what peer institutions have implemented; identifies behavior change techniques most likely to succeed within higher education and possible actions that UW can take; and outlines a change management/communication plan.​

Third Project: TBD

Past Projects

Keystone Projects for 2014-2015 >

Coping With a Changing Coast: Adaptation Strategies to Protect the Coastal Culture and Environment of the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe

Client: Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe

Final Report

There is a tribal saying that "Every River Has Its People". For the Jamestown S'Klallams, the Dungeness River is that ancestral watershed.
The Dungeness River delta shoreline is experiencing the impacts of climate change. Specifically, the flooding and erosion hazards profile is changing due to sea level rise projections for this area.
The objective of this project is to develop an outreach and communications strategy targeting Dungeness River delta shoreline homeowners who are in a unique geographic area that makes them particularly vulnerable to the effects of sea level rise. In response, there is a range of possible adaptation strategies these homeowners could take, and these strategies in turn come with a range of associated consequences.
This work will support efforts by the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe and others to prevent continued armoring of this low bank shoreline, promote the removal or re-engineering of existing shoreline armor, and to encourage the consideration of structure removal or re-location as an alternative to armoring.
Associated materials for the outreach and communications strategy may include ecological or regulatory frameworks, approaches/strategies for communicating with or reaching parcel-owners, creating visualizations, and/or data communications tools that can be used with homeowners or regulatory agencies (i.e. Clallam County). Additionally, the students may explore incentive strategies that could be utilized to maintain intact shorelines and shoreline processes.

Citizen Science and Emergency Response

Client: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Final Report

After large spills and other disasters there is often an outpouring of volunteer interest, generally focused on directly helping with cleanup and recovery, and more recently, with conducting citizen science. This interest is expected to grow as technologies advance and as social media continues to expand and change the way that agencies engage with the public. This project will explore how citizen science can improve emergency response efforts and management.
Recent trends suggest an opportunity exists to leverage citizen science to improve OR&R's emergency response. However, this growing interest also has the potential to conflict with the response and create coordination challenges. While citizen science may improve the information available to the response, the outpouring of effort and interest may distract the response and sour public expectations unless the responders are prepared to receive and meaningfully incorporate the data and information. The potential of citizen science merits further investigation to ensure its potential is fully realized.
The overarching goals of this project are to identify and prioritize activities of NOAA's Office of Response and Restoration that could benefit from citizen science and provide recommendations on effective citizen science management. These goals can be broken up into two key objectives:

  1. To provide the most current and relevant information on citizen science from the perspective of all involved parties; and
  2. To compare and contrast different models of citizen science, including but not limited to observations, data collection, and interpretation.

Geoduck Aquaculture in South Puget Sound

Client: Washington State Department of Ecology

Final Report

Geoducks are a saltwater clam native to the west coast of North America. They live in the mud of the lower intertidal and subtidal zones. Geoduck aquaculture is the practice of farming on tidelands to cultivate large geoduck clams. In Puget Sound, geoduck clams have been cultured commercially since 1996, and there is potential for considerable expansion on privately owned tracts and on public lands managed by the Washington Dept. of Natural Resources (DNR).
The issue is complicated by a complex permitting process, limited scientific information to guide decision making, and vocal public opposition to certain aspects of geoduck farming. Specific concerns initially centered on aspects of culture operations that may disturb ecological communities, habitats, and ecosystem processes. In response, the Washington State Legislature passed a law that tasked Washington Sea Grant (WSG) to commission a series of scientific studies, collectively termed the Geoduck Aquaculture Research (GAR) Program to measure and assess possible effects, and created a Shellfish Aquaculture Regulatory Committee (SARC) to address regulatory concerns.
This project will explore geoduck aquaculture in South Puget Sound. The objectives are:

  1. Situation Assessment: Identify and describe the interests of organizations and individuals related to geoduck aquaculture.
  2. Policy Analysis: Aquaculture permitting process
  3. Deliver findings in a format that can be easily incorporated into management and decision making for all stakeholders, including via website, group presentation, and document form in order to increase accessibility.

Emerging Risks Workgroup

Client: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Final Report

The Emerging Risks Workgroup (ERW) analyzed the emerging risks associated with increased production and transport of petroleum products, including changes in transportation patterns in U.S. ports and waterways and their environmental implications. ERW aims to provide topical, useful and thorough research, analysis and recommendations (as appropriate) to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Office of Response and Restoration so they can effectively mitigate and respond to them in order to protect the nation's coastal environments and communities. The following questions framed our investigation into transportation of crude oil and petroleum products in US waters:

  • How might oil transportation patterns in U.S. ports and waterways change?
  • What are the environmental risks of new transportation patterns?
  • What does this mean for existing spill prevention and response plans?
  • Will the federal and state funding be adequate for spill response?
  • Are the lessons learned from previous spills still valid?

Regional Open Space Strategy

Client: The Regional Open Space Strategy of Central Puget Sound

Final Report

As the Puget Sound region continues to experience rapid growth and development, policy makers, developers, advocacy groups and others need a regional strategy to address and balance their disparate set of interests. Central to this strategy is how the region will value, use, and interact with open space, including parks, trails, farmlands, forests, recreation areas, waterways, and green storm water infrastructure, all of which provide essential and valuable benefits and services to all inhabitants of the region.

This project provided the Regional Open Space Strategy with a method for evaluating and communicating ecosystem services in order to prioritize conservation activities in the Puget Sound region. The role of the project team is to use existing methodologies of ecosystem services valuation with data from the Puyallup-White watershed. We then developed a framework for valuating ecosystem services in the Puget Sound region and recommended metrics to address ecosystem service benefits, health and equity outcomes, jobs and economic development, and special considerations, such as linking isolated natural lands and parks or providing a key wildlife corridor need.

Offshore Wind Energy

Client: Washington State Department of Commerce

Final Report

Washington law calls for the Washington State Department of Commerce to provide guidance in achieving a unified state position on the siting and operation of renewable energy facilities in Washington's coastal and marine waters. The team focused on developing efficient coordination between state agencies on the development of future Offshore Wind Energy (OWE) projects. The goal of agency coordination is to make the permitting and siting process more efficient for applicants while protecting Washington's natural resources.

  • Conducted background research on OWE and state agencies that have responsibilities associate with OWE
  • Interviewed representatives from relevant agencies to determine roles and responsibilities related to OWE
  • Identified additional groups involved in the process including federal, local, and tribal governments.

The final report provides a Preliminary Guidance Notebook including:

  • An overview of each state agency role and responsibility associated with OWE and the relationships between agencies and federal government, tribes and other stakeholder groups.
  • A regulatory matrix listing statutes and ordinances relevant to OWE permitting and the corresponding state agency.
  • Recommendations for further research on policies and procedures for Washington State and identification of gaps based on experiences in other locations.

University of Washington Residence Hall Energy Conservation Study

Client: University of Washington Facilities Services

Final Report

The University of Washington Residence Hall Energy Conservation Study is a subsidiary of the Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project. The project's overarching goals are to integrate renewable energy, increase reliability, and promote energy savings in the Pacific Northwest. The team's study focused on addressing these goals specifically at the University of Washington (UW), where smart grid integration has already taken effect.

The project is designed to study the effects of small-scale technological and educational energy interventions on students living in UW residence halls. The research focuses on the degree of change in energy consumption and behavior as result of ten-week interventions. The interventions are implemented in two selected residence halls on UW's Seattle campus.

Emerging Environmental Risks from Tar Sands

Petroleum laden tar sands from Alberta, Canada are being extracted and exported to the US and other counties.  Canada's tar sands and associated pipelines are politically and environmentally controversial for several reasons, including climate change, first nation cultural concerns, foreign policy implications, economic and employment issues, extraction methods, aquifer protection, and transportation risks.  Much of the controversy over transportation involves the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline which would run from Alberta, Canada, to refineries and ports on the U.S. Gulf coast.   Other routes for exporting tar sands include an existing (proposed for expansion) TransMountain pipeline to Vancouver, BC, and a proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Project route to Kitimat, BC. These other “all Canada” routes have received less visibility in the U.S., but both the Northern Gateway and TransMountain routes have implications for the U.S. as these pipelines would terminate at marine terminals and the oil would be transported via tanker through or adjacent to U.S. waters.

Graduate students from the Environmental Management Certificate Program at the University of Washington will work with the Seattle-based Office of Restoration and Response at NOAA to investigate the implications of the transport and possible spills of this material.  This information will be applicable to Washington and other coastal states.

Key questions include understanding the risks behind the Keystone XL pipeline and other routes for shipping the oil. What are the environmental and economic trade-offs between the routes? How much is currently shipped out of BC ports and what is the expected future traffic? What is the market and use for the material?  What is the behavior of the material when spilled?  What response and assessment issues may arise? What R&D gaps exist for spill responders?

Washington’s Working Coast: An Analysis of Resource-based Industries

The counties of Washington’s outer coast have much in common. They are distant from urban centers of wealth and commerce, more heavily dependent on natural resource extraction and tourism, and have more limited infrastructure to support economic development.  The counties of the north and south coast also differ in important ways. Public and tribal lands dominate the rugged rocky north coast, while the south coast shoreline is characterized by estuaries and beaches held in private ownership.

The DNR seeks an up‐to‐date empirically‐grounded assessment and portrayal of the marine‐based economy of the outer coastal region and challenges to its sustainability. DNR also seeks an assessment of strategies for improving the sustainability of the marine-dependent sector of the coastal economy. This portrait will be useful in conveying to political leaders, managers, and the general public, the importance of these businesses. It will also lay the foundation for developing strategies to address the major challenges to the continued viability of the marine-based economy.

The PoE Keystone team will organize and conduct a thorough assessment of the current status of the coastal marine based economy including identification of all categories of the marine-resource dependent sector, listing of all businesses and mapping of their locations, quantification of jobs and associated aggregated gross revenues, and analyses of the multiplier effects of these activities. Students will conduct an evaluation of the full spectrum of factors important to the sustainability of the coastal marine-based economy such as social, economic, legal and ecological conditions that support or undermine their vitality. The analysis will also identify strategies to promote sustainability, maintain existing uses, and promote job creation.

UW Smart Residence Halls

The UW is investing $10 million dollars over five years to improve the Seattle campus electrical system, thanks to a US Department of Energy match grant made possible by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  The UW Smart Campus Demonstration is one of eleven sub-projects within the $178 million regional Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project led by Battelle Memorial Institute with support from five technology partners, and the Bonneville Power Administration.  The goal of the project is to demonstrate the feasibility, cost and benefit of a regional smart grid; better integrate distributed and renewable generation assets; develop and validate the two communication pathways required to enable a smarter grid; and develop interoperability and cyber security standards necessary to reliably implement smart grid technologies. 

The UW Smart Campus Demonstration Project began in early 2010 and (as of August 2012) has installed some 240 smart meters that report real time electrical use in roughly 11 million gross square feet of space within 200 building served by the central electrical utility on the UW Seattle campus. This fall, a team of EM students will launch a two-year experimental demonstration phase of the project where data will be gathered and analyzed to determine the cost and benefits of deploying smart grid technology.

The UW project will conduct a series of energy efficiency, conservation and demand response experiments. 

The UW Smart Residence Halls, Energy Challenge is one of two student engagement experiments included in the project.   The Challenge is an energy consumer engagement experiment that will enlist student residents of Poplar and Elm Halls.  The challenge will involve high tech personal energy management dashboards, floor by floor energy use displays, smart plugs, web based education tools, social media, and conservation competitions with the goal to reduce energy waste on campus residence halls and determine the cost benefit of energy use behavior modification programs.  The objective of this experiment is to determine the cost and magnitude of energy use behavior change accomplished through various conservation techniques; to measure the persistence of behavior change over time and evaluate the effectiveness of various technologies and educational strategies.

Communicating Science During Environmental Disasters

NOAA scientists play a crucial role in developing information necessary for selecting among mitigation options during environmental disasters such as major oil spills. The public has a strong interest in understanding the rationale for, as well as the scientific basis of these decisions. The issue is made more difficult by the need to balance the complexity of the science with the public's expectation of instantaneous delivery via new media applications.

The keystone project team will develop a project plan and schedule for evaluating the issues, investigating new media techniques, and recommending approaches to improve science communication. The project deliverable will be a report that outlines findings and evaluates alternatives for specific approaches to improve risk communication. A component of the report should include examples of applications of new media tools to communicate information to the public.

Managing UW’s Sustainability Performance

UW was recently named America's "coolest" school by the Sierra Club's ranking of the greenest colleges in the US. Students will work with the UW's Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability office to evaluate a leading campus sustainability reporting framework and investigate best practices for collecting and sharing UW's sustainability-related
information. Project deliverables include:

• Management report of STARS (the reporting framework in question) • Successful audit of STARS using UW's existing sustainability data
• Successful GAP analysis report
• Documenting STARS reporting process for ESS staff and content owners

The Puget Sound Foodshed Study

The Puget Sound Foodshed Study will use proven methods to identify the food that is produced in the region, the food that is consumed in the region, and the pathways between local producers and consumers. The intent of the study is to inform policy discussions about the potential to redevelop a local food system by reconnecting local farmers to local consumers. The study will culminate in recommendations on how to rebuild these

The goals of the project are to:
• Understand the potential of Puget Sound farms to feed the region.
• Determine which foods in local diets could be locally produced, and which cannot.
• Identify the existing pathways that bring local food to local markets.
• Identify potential pathways between local producers and consumers.
• Distribute information, findings and recommendations broadly within the region.

Communications Plan for UW's Climate Strategies

UW is a leader in environmental stewardship and sustainability and completed its Climate Action Plan (CAP) and is developing supporting policies which should be ready for campus vetting and communication in late 2011.

The keystone team will create a communication plan for Climate Action Plan policies and encouraging reduction of carbon emissions attributable to UW operations, students, faculty and staff. Project deliverables include:

• Finalized CAP Communication Plan
• Project plan including prioritized activities and timeline
• Toolkits, electronic and print media/content, social networking sites/presence
• Summarized reports from surveys, feedback loops, final report, including
effectiveness of chosen communication strategies, and impacts (financial, health,
etc.) of carbon-reducing behavior change

UW Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability Office

Help the University of Washington meet its Climate Action Plan Goals.

Changing human behavior on campus in regards to reducing and conserving energy is a key component to the UW’s goal to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. The Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability Office in partnership with the Environmental Management Certificate Program is hosting a 2010-2011 Keystone Project to examine ways to influence the energy consumed by UW staff, students, and faculty. The goal of this project is to understand the UW’s carbon footprint – in terms of commuting, technology, travel, purchasing, etc – and what can be done about it.

The first quarter of this project will be reserved for researching and developing a proposal for training UW staff, students, and faculty on how to reduce carbon emissions. The second quarter will focus on rolling out the plan (which may include a variety of activities such as surveys, in person presentations, media campaigns, competitions, etc) and evaluating effectiveness. This is a high profile interdisciplinary project with the potential to greatly impact the UW’s energy consumption. Students interested in policy, psychology, business, environmental studies, organizational behavior, etc should be sure to take advantage of this opportunity!

Project Website

Island County MRC Phytoremediation Project

What if all stormwater had to pass through a natural filtration system before entering Puget Sound? The Island County Marine Resource Committee (MRC), a voluntary advisory board working to protect and restore Puget Sound, is attempting to answer this question with the help of a group of UW graduate students.

The UW Environmental Management Certificate Program will be hosting a Keystone Project during the 2010-2011 fall and winter quarters to evaluate how phytoremediation, the use of plants to remove pollutants from the environment, can be used to cleanup up contaminants entering Puget Sound. The team of students, under the guidance of Professor Sally Brown (Forest Resources), will assist the Island County MRC as they prepare to launch a $100,000 phytoremediation pilot project on Whidbey Island.

Project Website

Port of Seattle

Approximately two thirds of the freight that enters the Port of Seattle each day does so via truck. As trucks wait in line at gates and roadways they emit greenhouse gases and particulate matter which contributes to local air pollution. The University of Washington and the Port of Seattle are hosting a two-quarter long Keystone Project during the 2010-2011 Fall and Winter quarters to determine what steps can be taken to minimize the impact of these trucks and better understand the trucks’ travel patterns. Using GPS data captured from individual truck’s travel routings, as well other data sources including surveys, a team of students will evaluate the data to locate areas of inefficient operations, such as long waits in queues, quantify bottlenecks, and identify regional travel patterns. Under the guidance of Professor Ed McCormack (Civil and Environmental Engineering) this team of students will use GIS software, gain experience analyzing truck data, and learn about transportation planning at the local and regional levels.

Students in Public Policy, Engineering, Urban Planning, Geography, etc should be sure to take advantage of this incredible opportunity!

Project Website

Snohomish County

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has inspired many communities to consider how to best prepare for a similar event. The Snohomish County Marine Resource Committee (MRC) is working at the request of Snohomish County Council to investigate the risks of an oil spill in Snohomish County marine areas and to recommend proactive steps the county can take. The team of students will be led by Dr. Robert Pavia, a University of Washington Instructor in partnership with Kathleen Herrmann, Snohomish County Marine Resource Steward. Bob worked with the NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration and was the co-chair of the National Incident Command Joint Advisory Group established to monitor and evaluate subsurface oil from with the Deepwater Horizon spill. Students on this project will meet with and interview leaders from both the public and private sector to learn about best practices, conduct literature reviews of existing regulations and policies, and analyze scientific data regarding the effects of oil spills on marine organisms. The final deliverable for this project will be a report describing strategies for mitigating environmental impacts and a visual model showing the potential consequences of an oil spill on marine areas.

Project Website

Keystone Projects for 2009-2010

Penn Cove Marine Water Quality Status: Understanding interactions between the water quality in Penn Cove and human use of marine and nearshore environments.
Community Partner: Island County Marine Resources Committee, Coupeville, WA
Faculty Adviser: Terrie Klinger; Associate Professor, School of Marine Affairs; Adjunct Associate Professor, School of Aquatic and Fisheries Sciences

Penn Cove is known world-wide for its delicious mussels. The waters of the cove collect nutrients from the Skagit and Stillaguamish Rivers, to create an idyllic environment for the largest and oldest shellfish farm in the country. This Keystone Project will analyze current marine water quality status to determine the potential effects of septic, stormwater, and other surface water contaminants. 

Learn more about this project and read the final report.

Best Green Restaurant Practices: Developing metrics for sustainable energy practices in Washington foodservice operations.
Community Partner: Washington Restaurant Association (WRA)
Faculty Adviser: John Castle; Lecturer in Entrepreneurship; Undergraduate Faculty Advisor, Center for Technology Entrepreneurship

Energy usage in the foodservice industry is both costly to operators and has a high environmental impact. For this Keystone Project, students will work with local energy industry experts to develop energy standards for Washington restaurants. Students will examine the energy consumption of common kitchen equipment to determine steps restaurants can take to minimize their use of electricity.   The Washington Restaurant Association expects to use the results of this project to establish a step-by-step process for foodservice businesses to become certified as ‘sustainable energy’ users. 

To learn more about this project please visit the team's website at:

UW Green Power Program: Increasing awareness of energy/climate issues and the visibility of renewable energy projects and initiatives on campus. 
Community Partner: Seattle City Light
Faculty Adviser: Rob Pena; Associate Professor, Built Environment

Through support of Seattle City Light’s Green Up program, the UW has accumulated funding to develop a renewable energy project on campus. For the first phase of this Keystone Project, students will research green power market trends and identify options for how these funds might be used.  In the second portion of this project students will draft a comprehensive marketing plan to demonstrate UW leadership on renewable energy issues. Seattle City Light is currently re-evaluating its customer green programs and is looking forward to Keystone student support as they plan their new “umbrella” of green power products and programs.

To learn more about this project, read the final report.

Keystone Projects for 2008-2009

  • Developing Innovative Solutions for Short Haul Trucking in the Puget Sound Corridor
    Community Partners: Port of Tacoma, Port of Seattle and Washington State Department of Transportation
    Final Report
  • Bellevue Greenhouse Gas Emissions Community Action Plan
    Community Partner: City of Bellevue
    Final Report

Keystone Projects for 2007-2008

  • Zoo Footprints: Environmental Sustainability Analysis and Planning for Woodland Park Zoo
    Community Partner: Woodland Park Zoo Society, Mithun
    Final Report
  • Evaluating Approaches for Determining Compatible Uses that Foster Ecosystem-Based Management in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary
    Community Partner: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
    Final Report
  • Assessment of Alternative and Traditional Shoreline Designs for Lake Washington
    Community Partner: Port of Tacoma
    Final Report
  • Salmon Recovery Strategic Adaptive Management Plan:  Water Resource Inventory Area (WRIA) 6
    Community Partner: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Restoration Center
    Final Report

For a full description of the 2007-2008 projects, please see: 2007-2008 Project summaries.

Keystone Projects for 2006-2007