RESEARCH FROM THE Michigan Journal of
Community Service Learning indicates that
project-based learning deepens students’
understanding of difficult concepts and better
prepares them to assess business challenges
and design solutions. Additionally,
studies show that students in project-based
classrooms are more likely to view learning
as a way to acquire valuable skills—not
simply as a means to pass a test.
At the Georgia Institute of Technology’s
Scheller College of Business in Atlanta, we
have made experiential learning a priority
for teaching sustainability, an area in which
companies face especially complex business
challenges. Our Ray C. Anderson Center for
Sustainable Business, founded in 2013, acts
as an experiential learning hub, coordinating
projects and programs that enable students
to apply their knowledge of sustainable
business practices to real-world issues in
The center has created a strategic sustainability
concentration, as well as an educational
track that encourages students to
develop deep expertise in emerging areas
of sustainability. The Innovating for Sustainability
track includes the Sustainable
Business Consulting Practicum, co-taught by
the center’s managing director and professor
of sustainable business and a managing
director of information and technology
services at global consulting firm Accenture.
In it, students form teams and work with a
volunteer coach to solve sustainability problems
submitted by companies.
For example, one team of MBA students
worked with software company
Autodesk on the design and implementation
of an internal carbon pricing
scheme. Another provided recommendations
to Coca-Cola on its World Without
Waste initiative. A team of undergraduate
students helped a local startup market
its pet food protein that it manufactures
from grubs instead of fish.
The center’s Sustainability Fellows
program, launched in 2015, offers MBAs
opportunities to learn about sustainable
business outside their coursework. Our
Sustainability Fellows complete self-directed
projects that are designed to benefit
a community or business partner.
Each fellow is assigned an advisor
and provided stipends when permissible.
The center provides fellows with
opportunities to network, work with
nonprofits, and attend career development
events. At the end of each semester,
fellows present their projects in a
forum open to peers, professors, and
For his project, Mark Jacobson, a
2016–17 Sustainability Fellow, developed
a model to help executives at
Walmart forecast the economic viability
of solar energy projects. Blais Hickey, a
2018–19 Sustainability Fellow, helped
organizers of the AJC Peachtree Road
Race, the world’s largest 10K race, improve
the sustainability footprint of the
event while maintaining low costs.
Another 2016–17 fellow, Eric May,
collaborated with an undergraduate engineering
student, Ben Ibach, on a project
for the Mattress Recycling Council
(MRC), which promotes mattress
recycling efforts throughout the U.S.
May and Ibach provided the MRC with
recommendations for diverting mattress
components away from landfills by identifying
viable uses for their components.
The MRC’s president, Ryan Trainer, noted
that the students’ insights would help
guide the organization’s future market
The Sustainability Fellows program
has proved so popular among MBAs that
we created the Sustainability Ambassadors
program for undergraduates. The
2019–20 academic year marks the second
in which undergraduates have access
to co-curricular experiences that mirror
those of our Sustainability Fellows.
AN INTERNSHIP CHALLENGE
The center extends its experiential
learning offerings to non-MBA students
via an immersive learning initiative
pioneered in collaboration with Georgia
Tech’s Global Change Program. Known
as the Carbon Reduction Challenge
(CRC), this competition places students
in summer internships, where they identify
areas where their employers could
reduce carbon emissions and save costs.
They then present their recommendations
to executives for approval.
In 2017, students on the first-place
team came from the Scheller College
and the H. Milton Stewart School of
Industrial and Systems Engineering. Together,
these students incorporated the
CRC into their internships at SunTrust,
a financial institution located in Atlanta.
The students discovered that the
company could encourage employees
to rent compact cars instead of midsize
cars while on business trips. SunTrust
executives implemented the team’s proposed changes, which are projected to
reduce the company’s carbon emissions
by 100,000 pounds and save US$40,000
each year. Four of the six students on
the team were subsequently offered fulltime
positions with SunTrust and are
now working to scale up the program.
In 2018, the first-place team recommended
that the restaurant chain Chickfil-
A install new dishwashers in 500
restaurants and LED lights in 12 parking
lots. In another project, students helped
Delta Airlines reduce the weight of its
planes by decreasing the number of inflight
Sky magazines on board each flight.
Since its inception, the Carbon Reduction
Challenge has placed more than 75
students as interns at 23 organizations.
Their application of sustainable business
practices has helped companies reduce
carbon emissions by 20 million pounds.
The CRC has inspired similar programs
at the University of Buffalo in New York
and Emory University in Atlanta.
To teach students to become sustainability
champions, we must provide
them with multiple opportunities to
gain exposure to sustainable business
strategies and solve the environmental
and social problems that companies
face. Through its experiential learning
portfolio, the Ray C. Anderson Center
for Sustainable Business fulfills
its important mission: empowering
tomorrow’s leaders to create sustainable
businesses and communities.
Learn more about Georgia Tech’s CRC.
L. Beril Toktay is a professor of operations management and Brady Family Chair, ADVANCE professor, and faculty director of the Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business at the Scheller College of Business at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. Michael Oxman is a professor of practice in sustainable business and the center’s managing director.