UNC Kenan-Flagler Sustainability Blog

Experiential Learning: Putting the Ability in Sustainability

November 2, 2010 By Jessica Thomas

by Kelly Boone, Director of Business Engagement at the Center for Sustainable Enterprise and a Lecturer in Strategy and Entrepreneurship

from the Fall 2010 Issue of CSE’s Sustainable Enterprise Quarterlyboone

How do I scale my social enterprise in Ghana without having to rely on grant funding and donations? How might pending CO2 legislation impact the operations and purchasing decisions for my manufacturing company in the short- and long-term?

These are just two examples of sustainability questions that UNC Kenan-Flagler students address through a range of experiential learning programs. Sustainable Enterprise touches many functional areas of business as well as a variety of advanced disciplines in the applied and social sciences. UNC Kenan-Flagler’s Center for Sustainable Enterprise (CSE) has one of the largest and longest tenured Sustainable Enterprise programs in the country as well as access to the UNC network of advanced programs in environmental science, public policy, social work, entrepreneurship, engineering, and law.

For example, CSE worked with Bank of America and UNC’s Institute for the Environment in 2006-07 to generate Measuring Environmental Footprint: A Financial Services Industry Case Study. The study presented an example of how a firm can assess and measure the environmental impacts of its operations and apply business decision-making tools to identifying initiatives that meet environmental, financial, and corporate strategy considerations.

UNC Kenan-Flagler’s experiential learning classes and programs in sustainability have evolved over the last decade to meet the needs of external stakeholders (companies and organizations) as well as internal stakeholders (our world class BSBA and MBA students) who want the opportunity to put into practice some of the theory and skills they are acquiring at UNC Kenan-Flagler. The classes and programs include the Sustainability Learning Lab, Sustainability Immersion, Launching the Venture (LTV), Student Teams Achieving Results (STAR), Business Accelerator for Sustainable Entrepreneurship (BASE), and CSE Consulting. During this time, CSE has undertaken a wide spectrum of sustainable enterprise engagements that provides the best general management educational experience for the greatest number of our students. This approach also meets the resounding and divergent need voiced by both the private and public sector – to help them figure out what they should do differently and why given their operating context.

While the programmatic efforts like CSE Consulting and STAR offer a detailed and comprehensive analysis and evaluation of specific company issues, single classes provide less involved interaction with student teams and are more topical. The Launching the Venture and BASE programs are comprehensive, covering critical material for startup success by providing access to significant resources over the course of the entire year. Programs and classes are often combined to meet the changing needs of organizations over time.

For example, in 2007 NC Choices, a local, pasture-based animal production, processing and marketing organization, joined the Business Accelerator for Sustainable Entrepreneurship (BASE) program to access key business development resources and training. In the summer of 2008, NC Choices participated in the CSE Consulting program when a MBA student team uncovered the key drivers for success to create a local sustainable food system. The company then participated in Launching the Venture in 2008/09 to solidify detailed business planning for its long-term success. Tina Prevatte (MBA ’09), one of the students who worked on the CSE Consulting project, joined the organization upon graduation and is now director of business development.

UNC Kenan-Flagler continues to innovate creating new experiential learning opportunities through courses like the Sustainability Learning Lab and Sustainability Immersion. These classes and programs provide a range of opportunities for engagement with experts here at UNC and an in-depth opportunity to interact with our world class BSBA and MBA students. The result is that UNC Kenan-Flagler students are better prepared to hit the ground running, to immediately put into practice what they’ve learned and experience both inside and outside the classroom.

According to Sumeth Suwanpusaporn (MBA ’10), a CSE Consultant, “real-world business projects provided a platform to apply the business knowledge I gained in the classroom and helped me to understand more about the business tools that can be used to address sustainability challenges. I don’t think I could have found such experiences at any other program.”