Students are driving an increased focus on sustainability at Wake Forest University’s Charlotte campus
“It’s a hot topic so they want to know what is sustainability and what is this going to mean for me and my future in the workplace,” said Dan Fogel, Associate Director of the Center for Energy, Environment and Sustainability (CEES) and Executive Professor of Strategy at the Wake Forest Schools of Business.
Sustainability has become an integral part of the professional MBA program through a series of programming and site visits, and a tight relationship with various businesses and non-governmental organizations within Charlotte and the surrounding community.
“The more that I get involved with CEES, the more interested I get. I know that I’d like to shift my career more into sustainability. I wanted to have a good foundation and be involved as much as possible,” said Christina Carper, who will graduate this August. Carper is a Vice President for Risk Reporting and Governance at Bank of America.
The students run the Environmental Sustainability in Organizations program which is affiliated with CEES. A student team from the program is now participating in a consulting project for Envision Charlotte, an organization that brings together employers, city leaders and building owners to create environmental sustainability throughout the city. Wake is sending student teams to cities around the country to collect data on how other urban areas are incorporating sustainability into the local economy. They’ll take those ideas and determine what can be done in Charlotte.
“[Envision Charlotte’s] ultimate goal is to create economic development and growth in Charlotte. Does that link between sustainability and economic growth exist? Can we link jobs back to the program? Have other cities been doing this and if so how?” said Student Chris McMillan, who also works as a mechanical engineer with Pratt & Miller Engineering. “Are there things Charlotte is doing that other cities can learn from? “
Students are in the data gathering process now and plan to present their findings to Envision Charlotte in the next month. Not only is the sustainability program teaming up with Charlotte leaders, students have met with environmental leaders in Washington, DC, and made several site visits abroad, including Spain and Germany.
Carper says seeing the progress in Europe is beneficial for students. She joined Wake Forest’s trip last spring to Germany. “I really saw how far Europe is ahead of us in that area. It is difficult to appreciate the differences until you see it. It is discouraging and inspiring at the same time,” she said. “There’s a way to prove that even with costs, there’s a profit to be made with adding sustainability to a business model or strategy. “
Students also participate in on-going events concerning sustainability issues, including a book club. They read Pietra Rivoli’s Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy prior to her talk at Wake Forest in January. The program will also hold two panels this spring. One on the Apple Fuel Cell project in North Carolina takes place April 25th. The other on North Carolina’s Renewable Energy Resource Standards and other legislative matters will be held on May 2nd. The North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association is also sponsoring May’s panel.
Fogel says it is helpful to look at sustainability through the lenses of a variety of industries.
“We’re looking at it from all different aspects – air, water, waste, transportation, environment and energy,” he said. “With our working professional students, a lot of them come from different educational backgrounds, liberal arts, banking — so for them, they’re asking how can I tie this concept into the work that I do and with the knowledge that I have?”
For these students, it is essential that the education they’re receiving be practical. To them, sustainability is more than a buzz word. It is a necessity to be successful in business.
“I think it is going to be on everyone’s radar in terms of corporate executives or strategy executives. To come out of business school and not have exposure to sustainability would have been a huge miss. For me, it has made the program so much more rewarding,” said Carper. “They’re not only going to be important for business. They are important for survival.
McMillan agrees. Sustainability will be key to his future in business, beyond his time at Wake Forest.
“It is really great to hear that side of the story, to hear the business aspect and the economic impact of sustainability. That’s something that’s not talked about,” he said. “We’re here for the knowledge and the sustainability piece is a big part.”