Responding on the Fly

The Laboratory for Sustainable Business (S-Lab) challenges participants to explore how businesses can improve economic development, social equity, and environmental regeneration at all levels of society. Like the other 20 courses in MIT Sloan’s Action Learning portfolio, S-Lab accomplishes this by providing students with the chance to apply their classroom learning to real-world management issues while collaborating with industry partners.
Such a difficult task necessitates a great deal of thoughtful reflection and implementation, which is why Jason Jay, PhD ’10, (Senior Lecturer, Sustainability; Director, Sustainability Initiative at MIT Sloan) always begins his first mentorship meeting with S-Lab students by asking them to share their hopes and fears for their projects. “It offers everyone the chance to air their anxieties,” he says. Unsurprisingly, the spring 2020 S-Lab teams’ biggest concerns stemmed from the pandemic.

Such was the case for the two MBA and two Integrated Design and Management students who worked with first-time Action Learning participant gategroup, an in-flight catering, equipment solutions, and retail onboard provider headquartered in Switzerland, which was immediately impacted by flight cancellations, strict sanitation regimens, and border closings.

“I feared that the disruptions in their own lives would overwhelm students’ abilities to participate,” says Jay. “I also hoped that this would be an opportunity for the students to feel compassion for everyone’s situations and be resilient in the face of such a challenge."

This is precisely what happened to the gategroup team, as they had to completely transform their original project—reducing the airline service provider’s plastic waste—into something more compatible with the industry’s new focus on hygiene, which would require even more plastics. According to Joyce Wong, MBA ’21, they overcame their fears and provided gategroup’s deSter brand contact in Dubai with recommendations for implementing a broader recycling infrastructure—all while successfully navigating multiple time zones and other significant life changes.

“We were just trying to figure out how we could create something that we could be really proud of, something tangible and useful,” she says. “Thankfully, gategroup was with us from the get-go. Although they were pretty severely impacted by COVID-19, they rolled with it and with us.”

 The company was excited about the work that the team accomplished and plans on testing out the students' recommendations at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. As for Wong, the S-Lab veteran remains hopeful for what the remainder of her time at MIT Sloan holds.

“I feel really excited, honestly,” she says. “I’m still finding new ways to apply these concepts and themes to the new things I’m working on now.”

Spring 2020 at a Glance

  • 337


  • 101


  • 67

    Host organizations

  • 33

    Faculty and industry mentors