MIT Sloan students engage with key sustainability issues in companies and nonprofits

The Sustainability Initiative Internship Program, now in its 6th year, brings students and organizations together in mutually beneficial partnerships: they provide students the opportunity to gain real experience leading organizational change, and enable companies and nonprofits to invest in sustainability in ways their R&D budgets typically do not allow.

The Sustainability Initiative and MIT Sloan’s Career Development Office award internship grants, made possible by a generous gift from Anna Gabriella C. Antici Carroll ‘92 and Joseph D. Carroll ‘91, to select MBA students to explore sustainability-related careers without undue financial distress. Here we feature our six 2016 sustainability interns.

 

Leonardo Barlach interned at Toyota in Washington, D.C., where he analyzed a life-cycle assessment tool that the company is considering investing in. “Leo’s individual performance was exceptional,” says William Chernicoff, Manager of Energy & Environmental Research at Toyota, BS '97. “He delivered a thorough, well-researched and well-presented report.”

Leonardo plans to work in sustainability in the future, but says his work at Toyota gave him a new perspective. "The internship helped me understand what kind of work a sustainability professional does in a large company - that there are roles beyond compliance,” he says.

I saw that there are people creating real change, not just submitting papers for a stamp from the government.

 

Stephanie Liu interned at Explain the Chain, which aims to educate kids about where things come from and where they go. The organization is in the process of working on their first product, and Stephanie worked with her fellow interns and Founder Lily Russell, MBA '11, to raise, test and answer questions about the strategic direction and future products of Explain the Chain.

In researching potential products, Stephanie interviewed parents and children about sustainability.

The biggest lesson was that many people aspire to be more sustainable but do not know where to start,

she says."Interviewing the parents made me realize the importance of education and the different perceptions of sustainability."

Stephanie enjoyed the opportunity to work in an entrepreneurial environment with interns from non-business backgrounds. “It made me realize that I definitely want to work on a mission that resonates with me personally,” she says.

For Lily and Explain the Chain, the interns’ work marked a strategic shift. “I can't thank Stephanie, the team overall and MIT Sloan enough for providing this opportunity,” she says.

 

Federico Flores Hinojosa interned at General Motors in Detroit. He worked on six key projects related to GM’s supply chain, with the goal of aligning the company's sustainability strategy with the supply chain and procurement department.

There are more than 15,000 suppliers in a regular auto company supply chain - it's very complex,” Federico says. “That's why having a joint strategy is important for making an improvement in sustainability.

Working as part of the sustainability team, he examined how GM’s supply chain department procures goods, engages with suppliers and builds relationships. Federico had worked for an auto industry supplier in the past and says his main takeaway from the internship is that “everyone's connected in this huge network of sustainability." Federico says he takes sustainability more seriously having worked on it directly, and will look to join sustainability efforts in the future.  

“Federico's perspective was invaluable and we benefitted significantly from his work,” says David Tulauskas, Sustainability Director at GM. “We are in the process of implementing his recommendations.”

 

David Newsome interned at Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU), New England Chapter, a small nonprofit with a mission to change practice and policy related to city design and planning. David created a more programmatic approach for planning a series of discussions related to sustainable urban development, specifically focusing on creating walkable areas.

He sees his work as focusing on both the social and the environmental sustainability aspects of urban planning. “We were trying to understand the decisions that real estate developers and urban planners can make to make areas more conducive to walking," David says.

How do you create a pedestrian experience that encourages people to get out and walk around - or just make the decision to walk to the store two blocks away instead of driving to the store twenty minutes away?

Robin Bergstrom, Executive Director of CNU New England, praised David’s wide-ranging contributions to the small “startup” nonprofit, saying he stabilized its operations.

“I am hugely grateful to the Sustainability Initiative at MIT for making people like David available to organizations with a social and environmental mission,” Robin says. “His influence is evidence of the transformative impact of entrepreneurial problem-solving and what an MBA skillset can do for nonprofit organizations.”

 

Juliana Kerrest interned at AeroFarms, a mission-driven global company based in Newark, NJ that operates responsible indoor vertical farms, making produce locally available using far less resources than traditional farming. Juliana worked on a number of projects, including an in-depth competitive assessment looking at technology and environmental considerations, distribution analysis of how to minimize food miles and footprint, and IP/patent review, says Marc Oshima, Chief Marketing Officer at AeroFarms.

Juliana says she already knew she wanted to work in sustainability, but this internship was her first experience in the food industry. She learned about distribution networks, and all the factors involved in getting food from farm to shelf.

The internship made me more aware of the fact that ‘sustainability’ goes far beyond some of the traditional things we think of, and that there are opportunities in all fields to enact massive changes through new technology,

Marc says that Juliana was a fantastic intern and that AeroFarms would welcome the opportunity to work with the Sloan Sustainability Internship Program again. “We have a simple litmus test - would we want to hire her full time? And, we would,” he says.

"As an emerging company with precious resources and budget, the MIT Sloan Sustainability Initiative allowed us to be able to hire a very high caliber, capable intern who was able to contribute immediately,” Marc says.

 

Jennifer Ballen interned at the National Hockey League (NHL) in New York, where she worked on NHL Green, the League’s sustainability initiative. There, she joined the effort to make the 2016 World Cup of Hockey a more sustainable event at various levels. In advance of the NHL’s 2017 centennial celebrations, Jennifer also worked on content for the League's 2017 Sustainability Report, aggregating emissions data from the Member Clubs.

“Jen was easily able to navigate between complex data analysis and strategic opportunities to advance NHL Green as one of the most robust sustainability programs in pro sports,” says Omar Mitchell, Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility at NHL, MBA '12.

Omar was himself a Sloan Sustainability Initiative Intern at the NHL five years ago, and welcomed the opportunity to recruit from “top talent” at MIT Sloan. “Given that issues affecting social impact and environmental sustainability are constantly evolving, it's great to gain the perspective from a current MBA who is exposed to those same concerns both in the classroom and in the real-world projects from lab courses,” he says.

Jennifer aspires to work in the "niche but extremely inspiring" sports/sustainability world and says the internship was a valuable experience in that it allowed her to see what it’s like to work toward sustainable practices in a large organization.

I learned that not everyone within an organization is going to share your passion or objectives in terms of implementing sustainability measures,” Jennifer says. “That’s going to be relevant to my full-time career.

With a background in finance, Jennifer says the internship shifted her career goals, and even inspired her to create and lead a “green sports” panel at the March 2017 Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, as well as apply a sustainability audit to the conference itself. “I was really passionate about what I was doing this summer, and it’s what I want to do for a living,” Jennifer says.