UNC Kenan-Flagler Sustainability Blog

Focusing on Water at UNC Kenan-Flagler

March 13, 2013 By Jessica Thomas

As part of UNC-Chapel Hill’s two-year, pan-university theme “Water in our World,” UNC Kenan-Flagler has taken significant strides to incorporate a focus on water in its own right, integrating the theme into the education and experiences of students.

The Center for Sustainable Enterprise (CSE), along with partners across campus, hosted “Water and Energy in the Crosshairs,” a symposium in February that featured local and global experts in an exploration of the issues found at the nexus of water and energy. It highlighted UNC-Kenan Flagler’s commitment to addressing the problems and potential solutions surrounding the world’s finite water and energy resources, says Carol Seagle, CSE director of research and a strategy and entrepreneurship professor.

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Christian Parenti

“Most of the events were standing room only,” she said. “The cross-campus collaboration was special.” The symposium kicked off with a screening of the new documentary, “Switch,” which discusses the future of energy. Christian Parenti, author of “Tropics of Chaos: Climate Change and the Geography of Violence,” gave the keynote address. Panel discussions on water and energy and a closing keynote address “Beyond Sustainability” wrapped up the symposium.

“The questions we need to ask are how do we manage water and energy usage and efficiency, how do we build that into a business model, and finally how do we delve more deeply into water and energy as an opportunity for innovation?,” says Jessica Thomas, CSE managing director. Historically, UNC Kenan-Flagler has been a global leader in sustainability education, and today approximately 30 percent of all MBA students graduate with a concentration in sustainability. Recently, Bloomberg Businessweek ranked UNC Kenan-Flagler as having the No. 7 MBA program in sustainability internationally.

Andrea Gourdine (left) and Nora Petito in Rocky Mount, NC

2012 Sustainability Leadership Capstone students

“This is an area we’ve been leaders in driving since 1999, and it is core to the values of UNC Kenan-Flagler,” Thomas says. “We recognized early on the importance of thinking about the impact of business, not just on the bottom line but on a broad range of stakeholders, the environment and people who are impacted all along the supply chain.”

The school’s sustainability curriculum provides a number of opportunities to explore the connection between effective business management and environmentally friendly practices, including classroom and on-site learning. Students can participate in “Sustainability in Action” treks to understand how real business owners run sustainable companies and gain first-hand insight into industry best practices.

Lisa Jones Christensen, a strategy and entrepreneurship professor, teaches the Sustainability Leadership Capstone MBA course that takes students outside the classroom and challenges them to apply sustainable concepts in real companies and non-profit organizations. “My goal is to create change agents,” Christensen says. “We’re trying to give people the leadership capabilities to create a better and different world, and allow them to hit the ground running when they graduate.”

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Procter & Gamble PuR Users

Christensen and her students have partnered with doctors in Malawi on a clean drinking water project in the past. “Water cuts through so many of our classes and programs, and touches so many students,” Christensen says. “Our whole center is dedicated to promoting the issue and changing the way people do things related to water.”

Indeed, UNC Kenan-Flagler’s partnership with Procter and Gamble in the Children’s Safe Drinking Water Project represents just one of the ways that the school has maximized the opportunity to innovate in the arena of sustainable enterprise. “I think what we do really well that other schools don’t is that we don’t separate the ideas of business and sustainability,” Seagle says. “We focus on integration and use sustainability as a lens through which we can view business problems. It’s an extra tool in the toolbox.”