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The Next Generation of Sustainable Leaders - WSBC Conference Session Recap

Written by Erin Bauer, WSBC Conference Content Committee Member

The University of Wisconsin - Sustainable Management Master's Degree program alumni was pleased to present a showcase session at the 2023 Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council's in Green Bay, WI, highlighting insights and results from their graduate capstone projects. Featuring alumni Karleen Kordas, Laura Loucks, and Carter O'Brien, and facilitated by Erin Bauer, the capstone project session provided a variety of backgrounds, experience, and research topics that focus on applying sustainable practices to solve real-world challenges. In addition, the session began with a special overview of the online UW Sustainable Management program's offerings, presented by Dr. Amanda Goetsch. Her overview set the stage for the types of courses, degrees, and certificates available through the UW system, and how each provides unique options for students.

Karleen Kordas serves as the Senior Sustainability Analyst for Synergy Flavors and completed her capstone in 2021. Her topic focused on creating sustainable supply chains in the food and beverage industry, aimed at creating a business case for responsible sourcing in ingredient manufacturing. Her capstone acted as a case study for situational analysis and included a materiality assessment, competitive benchmarking, and further process analysis. The process analysis efforts encompassed internal supply chains, supplier partnerships, and strategic opportunities. As key outputs of her capstone, Karleen produced an implementation roadmap and ethical supplier policies.

Laura Loucks is a LEED Green Associate and TRUE Advisor, currently working at Edge Environment, and she completed her capstone in 2022. As she had changed roles within her program, she decided to transition her topic to understanding the holistic effort for her organization to become a Certified B Corporation. Knowing that she needed to provide options for her company to choose between, she created three main findings- a baseline effort, Scenario 1 (to continue as usual), and Scenario 2 (a stretch goal). Each of these findings had scores indicated, giving the company clear benchmarking, the scale of efforts, and goals to choose from to pursue certification. The first result was to show business results for Edge, providing a greater understanding of how the US team impacts their global B Corp score and engagement within the certification process. The second was for Laura to achieve personal results by building a connection with senior leadership and having experience in B Corp assessments for her career growth.

Carter O'Brien completed his capstone while he was the Sustainability Officer for the Field Museum of Natural History in 2022. His project's goal was to understand the energy consumption around the Chicago museum campus, including microgrid and carbon-neutral planning benchmarks. The Field Museum is a historic building, which poses specific challenges for heating, cooling, and carbon footprint reduction. He gathered both quantitative and qualitative data, including Scope 1 and 2 emissions, water use, and interviews with other museums' contacts. Overall, this translated into a recommendation for an on-site and off-site hybrid model for research and demonstration, and a better understanding of conservation methods. Through his capstone efforts, Carter obtained a new position with the City of Chicago as Assistant Commissioner, Department of Streets and Sanitation.

Erin Bauer provided further context by explaining more about how graduate students participate in the program, select their capstone topic, and finalize feedback from their professor in shaping their project's main goal. As a current master's degree student, she provided her own story about her capstone selection, and how she could apply it within her daily role as a product development leader for a global non-profit organization. Overall, each of the capstones projects the alumni featured focused on motivations and solutions, rooted in analysis and implementation for the organizations they serve. Their variety of backgrounds and experience show that sustainability reaches all industries and municipalities and that the program is scalable for the student to address the needs of their customers and partners, or to secure competitive advantage and provide future opportunities. On behalf of the UW Sustainable Management program alumni, thank you to the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council for hosting this session.

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