Small Change, Big Impact

“There’s no saving the world,” said Lexi Neary, a senior studying environmental science. “It’s about damage control and doing what we can to change our habits.”

That’s the premise for RE, a sustainability app that helps people change their sustainability habits, resulting in a big impact on the environment. The idea was conceived by screenwriting alumna, Kerri Mandelbaum ’17, who witnessed firsthand how her industry discarded paper on a massive scale.

“Even though I tried to offset my carbon footprint, I found it more complicated and more confusing than it needed to be,” Mandelbaum said. “That’s when I came up with the idea of this app, a user-friendly way for people to measure their carbon footprint and offset it. The app will be impactful and educational, giving people tips on how to live a more sustainable lifestyle.”

An interdisciplinary team of students in the Frank. R. Seaver College of Science and Engineering studying environmental science and computer science lead the project that provides small tasks, or habits that the user can incorporate into their lifestyles.

“We don’t want to ignore the people willing to make small changes to their daily habits,” said Marco Berardini, a senior studying computer science. “When one person makes a small change, it may seem insignificant, but let’s say 2 million people made that same change, it would make a significant impact. We’ve seen this effect with coronavirus. With fewer cars on the road, the air quality has greatly improved in a short time.”

Added Neary, “we turn habits into fun facts, like turning off the water when you brush your teeth saves 4.5 bathtubs of water over the year.”

Often, securing funding for interdisciplinary projects can be difficult since federal grants tend to support specific academic disciplines as opposed to hybrid projects. Mandelbaum’s family were prompted to fund the project because of Kerri’s passion for her idea as well as the enthusiastic support it received from LMU faculty and students.

“Private funding allows for the flexibility and creativity in moving these types of projects forward,” said Jim Landry, acting chair of mechanical engineering and professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and one of four professors involved in the project. “It also allows the donor to get involved in the project and the university.”

“Part of the funding was to get these two departments talking and collaborating, and hopefully the project can inspire other great things as well,” said Mandelbaum. “None of this would be possible without the incredibly talented, receptive and collaborative team at LMU. This app could not become a reality without the students.”

The shared nature of the project appealed to the students as well. “It’s so important to have these interdisciplinary projects,” said Emilee Smith, a senior in environmental science. “Ideally, I want everything I do to involve people from different fields. You learn so much more. It’s made for very interesting discussions.”

The gift provided the students with a stipend for their work over the summer, which has been especially important at a time when internships have become more difficult to secure.

“In addition to being a student, I work in the entertainment industry,” said Berardini. “I knew I wouldn’t be working and there were no internships available. This project was perfect timing.”