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BasC Project: 1 year on, we take stock

Published on

28 Jun 2024

Mathis Talalkhokh, Justin Bedouet, Corentin Tran, Bathylle de la Grandière, Eloïse Ducreux, Sébastien Romero and Auguste Basset embarked on the BasC Project after becoming aware of the carbon footprint of student campaigns. They wanted to engage everyone in a discussion to rethink these behaviors and propose a simple tool: a carbon footprint calculator specific to student campaigns. They explain:

What was the aim of the project?

The project’s stated aim is simple: to decarbonize student events by raising awareness among ISAE-SUPAERO students, and then to ensure that their commitment and actions spread to other engineering schools.

What prompted you to launch this project?

Mathis Talalkhokh

Our starting point was an equally simple observation: student campaigns – the purpose of which is to elect the various offices in charge of student life within a school or university (Student Office, Sports Office and Arts Office) – the way they are run and the way they are experienced often bring into play behaviors that are unsustainable, or even contrary to current social and environmental issues. Plane journeys to visit gap year students on the other side of the world, frequent long-distance car journeys, the production of often useless goodies in the colors of candidate lists…

The campaigns generally last several weeks and are an opportunity for all students to meet previous classes, have fun and share festive moments. We didn’t want to play the spoilsport by simply doing away with these events, but rather to engage in a discussion with everyone to rethink them.

As engineering students who experienced these campaigns when we arrived in our first year, we decided to look into the subject during our gap year in 2021. Together, our ideas led to the launch of the Bascule des Campagnes étudiantes (BasC) project, the aim of which is to generate reflection among all students at our school, prompting them to question the way they experience the countryside and their way of life. These reflections should lead to a concrete reduction in the carbon impact of campaigns. Since they are a rich student tradition, the aim is not to do away with them. It’s more a question of guiding students towards less carbon-intensive but equally fun campaigns.

What does the BasC project involve?

We have developed a carbon footprint calculator specifically for student campaigns. However, we also realized that “classic” carbon footprint calculators, such as those readily available on the Internet, don’t necessarily imply awareness and responsibility on the part of the people using them. More often than not, it’s a statement of fact, usually made after the emissions have been generated. In short, calculating a carbon footprint can be useful if you know how to read it and draw the right conclusions, but it never visits the field of possibilities. It does not create new ways of living, new ideas for limiting greenhouse gas emissions. It is, however, an excellent tool for guiding our actions, analyzing our emissions and, indeed, predicting which efforts will have the greatest impact. Our energy and time are not infinite, so we need to know where to put it and what to dedicate it to. We’d be wrong not to.

This is why we have chosen to adopt a slightly different approach, known as “reduction potential”, in the use of the tool we have developed. Based on a calculation of the effects that a given action would have, it focuses on the effectiveness of the various levers we can activate to reduce the carbon footprint of campaigns. Limiting or even eliminating air travel, increasing the proportion of vegetarian dishes in meals served, etc.

What is the impact of such measures?

It’s this minimum level of information that we wanted to give every first-year student, so that their choices could be made with a clear conscience. So it wasn’t a question of proposing a calculation of the carbon footprint of a list at the end of campaigns to assess who had the lowest, but rather a calculation of the reduction in emissions that an action or decision would generate. The aim was to propose and encourage new ideas for actions to be taken to limit emissions, before they have already been generated. It was also an opportunity to issue a challenge to the various lists: which one will be able to reinvent the countryside to lead it towards a more sustainable model?

How far along are you in developing the project?

Since February 2023, we’ve been working on the development of a web version of the tool, alongside its initial Excel version. This choice is motivated by the need to share the tool more easily and on a larger scale, in response to the many requests we have received from students and event organizers. With this in mind, we have set up a specific working group, made up of 4 team members.

For the development of the website, we opted for a “no-code” solution, enabling us to build a site from A to Z without any technical skills in web development. Thanks to funding from the Foundation, we have access to two paid online services needed to create this web version: the no-code website creation software, and a Google Sheets API manager called Sheety.

We are currently finalizing the site’s graphical interface (the frontend), thanks in particular to the active participation of the school’s final-year students, as part of their initiation to entrepreneurship project (PIE). We are now working on finalizing the backend, in particular the display of results, and improving the fluidity of operations on the site. Once online, the next step is to test the web version, and correct any bugs observed in the frontend and/or backend.

With regard to the deployment of this web version, we have had the opportunity to exchange views on several occasions with the Association pour la Transition Bas Carbone (ABC) and the student collective Pour Un Réveil Écologique. The two associations say they are ready to share and communicate on the web version of BasC once it has been finalized, and made reliable through robust and methodical testing. The Web tool’s target audiences are French-speaking students, and the French-speaking events sector more generally. Thanks to the Foundation’s funding, we’ll be able to host the site for around 3 years, which will enable us to roll out the tool to a wide audience, and give us time to consider other means of financing after wards (co-financing by BasC’s partners, user subscriptions, etc.).

As for the carbon footprint calculator, i.e. the data used and the algorithms that run it, we are fully committed to an ongoing process of improvement for this crucial tool. Our approach is based on several areas of intervention:

  • we focus on making existing algorithms more fluid and optimizing them, as well as proactively correcting any errors.
  • we pay particular attention to constantly updating our data sources and methodological approaches.

These improvements concern all four functional blocks that make up the calculator: the three main carbon footprint sectors, namely transport, food and goods, as well as the assessment of “reduction potentials”. This last aspect is essential for proposing concrete actions to users, by quantifying the impact of various behavioral changes. For example, how much CO2 could be saved at an event by opting for vegetarian meals or taking the train instead of the car? Recently, we have focused our efforts on two key issues identified in our roadmap: the overall restructuring of the calculator, involving a review of database management and optimization of algorithms, and the refinement of food consumption extrapolation models. Although the restructuring of the calculator is still in progress, due to its meticulous and complex nature, the improvements made to the food consumption projections have already been achieved and now require a few further checks before being definitively integrated.

Have you achieved the goals you set for yourself?

We’re on the verge of achieving an important goal we’ve set ourselves: to roll out the web version as version 1.0, which we’ll be able to modify and update over time. A first beta version of the site is already online, but still requires some testing and improvements before it can be released.

This objective, initially scheduled for February 2024, has been pushed back to May 2024, due to the lack of time we could invest in the project, alongside our respective jobs. Despite the difficulty of coordinating our schedules, we still manage to meet regularly (monthly or bi-monthly) to share the progress of our respective tasks and discuss the next steps in the project.

Looking back, what are the strengths and weaknesses of this project?

One of the project’s strong points is undoubtedly its innovative nature. In fact, such calculators did not exist or were not available to the student world at the time we were developing ours. This has enabled us to nurture numerous exchanges with leading carbon assessment organizations, such as ABC (Association pour la Transition Bas Carbone, guarantor of the Bilan Carbone methodology), or in the student world, such as the Pour un Réveil Écologique collective.

The fact that the project is also by and for students has facilitated its spin-off at ISAE-SUPAERO and other engineering schools. Today, it’s even used in business schools, student festivals and universities.

With hindsight, and in view of the project’s evolution, the main weakness is that it requires a constant operational workforce in order to be developed. Having all been taken on full-time after the end-of-study internship, we clearly lack the time and energy to keep the project going. We were able to benefit from a group of students from ISAE-SUPAERO who were motivated to work on the project within the framework of the PIE, but they have now come to the end of their assignment and we have our doubts about the follow-up we can hope to give to the project.

Any final word?

To date, the Foundation represents 100% of our financial support for this project.

We’re currently finishing the website, which should be ready in a few weeks/months. From there, we can share it more widely with schools to provide them with an awareness-raising tool. We’re also looking into the possibility of providing them with a few pedagogical keys to better talk about the subject.

Many thanks for your confidence and your contribution to the realization of such a project, which will enable students to learn about such an important subject!

I want to support projects like that of Mathis, Justin, Corentin, Bathylle, Eloïse, Sébastien and Auguste.