Archive for April, 2014

Soap, Biodiesel & Lawns: Partnering for Sustainability in Higher Education

Contributed by D. John Mascarenhas, MBA

Picture this. College students creating a way to use the sun’s energy to recapture and then reuse methanol from caustic water. That water is an unwanted byproduct of taking the waste grease from campus dining and making biodiesel, which is then sold to the campus shuttle bus operator. All part of a student-run sustainable enterprise — “intrapreneurship” in action.

Is this a snapshot of a more sustainable future? Yes, it is. And, it’s happening right now at Loyola University Chicago.

The story above comes from Nancy Tuchman, PhD, Founding Director of Loyola’s new Institute of Environmental Sustainability. During a Spheres of Influence Virtual Fireside Chat on April 2, 2014, she talked about the principles of sustainability that students learn, and how Loyola then empowers students to design and build innovative sustainable solutions that have value in the marketplace. In other words, students have a structured way to become sustainable entrepreneurs.

The primary goal of the Institute of Environmental Sustainability, says Dr. Tuchman, is to raise awareness through education and experiential learning about issues of environmental sustainability that threaten our planet. The Institute is focused in the areas of sustainability that line up well with Loyola’s environmental academic expertise, including the loss of biodiversity, the broken food system, and climate change.

In particular, the Institute considers problems caused by our current linear resource-to-product-to-waste system and looks to circular natural systems that thrive on a waste-eliminating loop. As it’s often said, “nothing is wasted in nature.”

Tuchman enthusiastically talks about how the students want to go further to close the product loop. Seeing that they had more biodiesel than they could sell to the campus bus system, Loyola did the heavy lifting to become the first school to be EPA certified in manufacturing and distributing biodiesel. (And, it published a manual on how to do that.)

To further close the loop, the students learned and applied chemistry to extract the methanol from wastewater and, after much trial and error, to make soap from lye — another biodiesel waste product.

The fireside chat also included a discussion about corporate-higher education partnerships. Loyola has a career development program with Baxter International. They are developing internships at Baxter’s Chicago-based labs as part of the corporation’s industry-leading sustainability initiatives.

The second guest featured in the Spheres Fireside chat was Marc Goodman, MBA, a consultant who has spent approximately two decades in corporations such as Alcatel-Lucent and Motorola promoting innovation and creating strategic partnerships between higher education and corporations.

Asked about how both parties benefit from partnerships, Goodman says that corporations receive good PR and a ‘halo’ effect across their brand. Colleges and universities learn what is happening today in the market, from experts who are seeing a changing world. And students’ experiences with corporations guide their thoughts on jobs and career opportunities.

Our host, Dr. Sarah Warren, asks Goodman to advise Loyola on a potential partnership. Nancy Tuchman introduces a case study: In Loyola’s community, there are hundreds of the small urban grass yards that are familiar to us all, but are in fact unsustainable. Solutions would include native landscaping and edible gardens, resulting in better biodiversity and less storm water runoff (the kind that leads to basement flooding).

Goodman suggests getting small teams of students to create sample plots of land on campus. Once there are a few different successful samples (size, types of plants, etc.), then they might partner with the City of Chicago to market the solutions in different communities. The City gets to forward it’s “green initiatives” through the partnership.

And now, the value of the fireside chat format comes into play, through an open discussion of challenges and opportunities. Out of this conversation emerges a potential collaborative approach among universities: Several Chicago-based universities could partner with each other and with the City to test and then implement sustainable yard solutions in each school’s hyper-local community. Best practices and learnings can be shared. Impact could be broader and more efficient.

Goodman sums the conversation up by remarking that today’s students are very interested in giving back and in being entrepreneurial. Students may even want to connect across universities, and longer-lived teams could solve the ‘semester timeline’ challenge. Students can make an impact, and gain experience that future employers will value.

This session resonates with me as the blogger. I have been working in sustainable management since 2007, and was on the founding teams of three start-up ventures before that. There are many names for what’s happening in Chicago, the US and around the globe: “Social entrepreneurship” and “sustainable ventures” among them. What matters is that by whatever name its called, there is a willingness to create a long-term sustainable vision, and to get to work: to take risks, to innovate by exploring new approaches, to learn in a real world setting, and to get solutions to scale. This is part of a movement that we need to lead us to a more equitable, sustainable prosperity.

About the Author

D. John Mascarenhas, MBA guides businesses, non-profits and entrepreneurs as a sustainability and business growth consultant. As a Partner with Sustainametrics, John works closely with clients to develop sustainable strategy, prioritize goals and initiatives, and develop clear measurement-based implementation plans. In working with clients, John actively listens, tailors and applies proven methodologies, adds insight and guidance, and supports them in setting and achieving ambitious goals.

Since 2007, John has worked in the evolving field of Sustainable Management. He specializes in project management; sustainability strategy, planning and implementation; analysis and prioritization of sustainability initiatives; stakeholder engagement; financial analysis, business cases and funding; and GHG quantification and emissions reduction strategy.

Previously, John had strategy, business development and operations roles on the founding teams of three start-up ventures. His entrepreneurial work included strategy, business development, financial model/projections, and marketing strategy with FullAudio (digital music service, later sold to AOL), Second Cycle (web-based process improvement software) and Digital Senseworks (design and integration of smart home systems).

John’s education includes an Executive Certificate in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School, an MBA from Cornell University’s Johnson School, a BA in Economics from Bucknell University.


April 14, 2014 at 9:36 pm Leave a comment

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