"You can literally walk into any laboratory or any office at MIT – any part of MIT – and ask, 'What are you guys doing?' ”
Leading Sustainable Systems Lab
Organizational change for a sustainable future
The Leading Sustainable Systems (L-Lab) tackles critical issues of organizational change in global business sustainability. The L-Lab course combines an all-encompassing approach to systemic change, an on-site field project experience with leading-edge sustainability initiatives, and numerous opportunities to develop personal leadership skills.
L-Lab teams are typically composed of four to six graduate students, primarily from the MIT Sloan School of Management's MBA and Sloan Fellows programs. However, due to its stellar reputation, the L-Lab attracts students from across MIT every year.
How the L-Lab Works
The L-Lab uses experiential workshops to instruct students on how leaders can drive innovations that generate both social responsibility and business-sector success. Student teams meet one another and host companies during an initial kick-off session at the beginning of the course, organize their teams, select a project, and begin working with their host company.
Beginning in the fall semester, the L-Lab provides students with an opportunity to influence global sustainability efforts by partnering with business leaders who assist in assessing complex situations and in finding new ways of collaborating across traditional corporate and cultural boundaries. In January, student teams will spend three weeks on-site working closely with organizational leaders. Throughout their project work with the host companies, student teams work with MIT faculty mentors who help the students integrate classroom learning as well as provide coaching to support their work with organizational leaders.
Student teams partner with organizations at the forefront of today’s thinking on systemic change and sustainable systems, in locations that may be local, national, or international. Previous L-Lab projects have included organizations such as Nike, Starbucks, BP India, PepsiCo, Oxfam, WWF, and the Cambridge Energy Alliance.
“It was really rewarding that they wanted to know what we thought. We left there being fairly certain that they will do some of the things that we suggested.”
“At MIT Sloan you have a lot of opportunities to explore entrepreneurship. Especially in a place like Kampala where you have a lot of development, entrepreneurship can be very exciting.”
“One of the reasons I came to Sloan was because I wanted to be at a top MBA institution worldwide. But I also wanted access to working with the latest innovations and the highest technology that was coming out of the MIT labs.”
“We’re very interdisciplinary. Among the faculty in the group are an economist, a political scientist, a sociologist, and an industrial relations specialist. We’ve always made a big effort to be open to a variety of perspectives, but also to go beyond being open to them, to want to bring them in, because it makes for a richer environment.”
"After we gave our recommendations, the great part was that the very next day the CEO was in the boardroom implementing them with his top vice presidents."
“We are very much an action-learning environment. The way to learn leadership is not only through reading cases, not only through learning theory — in fact we don’t want people to regurgitate the theory. We want people to take theory and to live it, use it.”
“I knew about American business, but not enough about what’s really become a global economy. … You can read about it all you want, but there’s no substitute for being there and seeing the context and seeing how completely different these [other countries] are.”
“Because of the diversity of our backgrounds, when we hit the ground in Tanzania it almost was a natural play where different people assume different roles.”
“The conditions in the neighborhoods we were visiting were different than what we realized before getting there. Beyond that, what was surprising was that there weren’t surprises!”
“The concept behind enterprise architecture is that you have all these machines, you have all these business processes, you have all these people doing things, how do you make sure they all come together and achieve business objectives that make you more competitive.”
“I love being in a place that is such a nexus of people and ideas — people coming to learn something new and to define themselves. Being a part of that process is a real honor and a real gift.”
“You could talk about watershed management and conservation of energy all you want. But until you put numbers to it and financial analysis to it, you’re not going to get much done. I came to business school to speak that language, speak with people in terms of numbers, financial numbers so that I can get projects done.”
“The assistant to the CEO was like our host mom while we were there. She arranged our housing for us, she took us out to her friend’s game farm, and we got driven around in 4x4s. She was just wonderful to meet, and we developed a personal as well as professional relationship with her.”
“These companies are really excited to work with MIT students.They reach out to the community to set up these projects and are great to work with. They give us access to all their resources and are very open to us.”
“I find the students to be very interested, engaged, and valuable in terms of what they bring to the classroom. Because of their diversity and their own work experiences, they bring a unique perspective to the class work.”