Through the S-Lab class, students apply knowledge from the classroom to solve real-world problems and see firsthand how businesses are tackling the massive challenges of sustainability. In the process they develop and refine decision making tools that advance the sustainability field.
The 2015 Spring Semester projects investigated a range of sustainability issues from developing methodologies to measure business impacts on the environment for a global fast food chain, to aligning business strategies with social and environmental goals at an organic yogurt company, to measuring the return on investment from environmental and social initiatives at a multinational consumer products company.
The analyses of the S-Lab teams help host organizations take action to improve social, environmental, and economic outcomes in the long-term. For a closer look at the 2015 S-Lab projects and their results, please check out this sampling.
The host: Elevance Renewable Sciences, the Woodridge, IL-based company that creates specialty chemicals from natural oils
The challenge: As sustainability issues take on greater importance for businesses at the local, national, and global level, our host wished to create a strategy on social and environmental responsibility issues. Elevance also sought advice on how to publicly communicate that strategy to various stakeholders.
Our task: Identify which sustainability issues are most relevant and pressing to the company’s key stakeholders; assist in the development of Elevance’s strategy on social and environmental responsibility; provide actionable recommendations on how Elevance should translate its vision and strategy into a business opportunity within the next 12-18 months.
Building a matrix to identify the key social and environmental concerns of a company’s stakeholders is a critical first step in creating a sustainability strategy. Managing and weighing the importance of those issues for stakeholders is a further step that can be beneficial in developing that strategy. We recommend Elevance:
The host: Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defense contracting company that employs over 112,000 people around the globe
The challenge: At a time when governments all over the world are attempting to address the sustainability challenges facing their countries, our host wished to collaborate with those administrations and contribute services that could make a positive impact. In particular, Lockheed sought to explore offsets, which are economic development arrangements required by foreign governments as a condition for the purchase of goods and services from non-domestic suppliers.
Our task: Identify a methodology that will assist companies within the aerospace and defense (A&D) industry to recognize offset opportunities that address sustainability needs of countries where they do business; match country needs with pre-existing company capabilities; evaluate the potential for mutually beneficial scenarios for all stakeholders involved.
As aerospace and defense companies seek to fulfill increasing offset obligations, there are more and more opportunities for these companies to leverage their capabilities to address environmental and social challenges. We recommend Lockheed:
The host: The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the largest environmental nonprofit in the Americas
The challenge: The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) recently certified six local fishery cooperatives in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo due to their strong commitment to sustainable fishing practices. In conjunction with TNC—which works to improve sustainable fisheries management and marine conservation—these cooperatives wished to explore new market opportunities in search of customers who value sustainable harvesting of Caribbean lobster.
Our task: Assess the US market demand for Caribbean eco-harvested lobster; explore ways for the fishing cooperatives to increase their customer base and improve their negotiating power; develop marketing strategies to leverage value-added compensation for sustainably harvested lobsters with MSC Certification.
The US lobster market is crowded, with both Caribbean importers and domestic New England lobster; yet, there is still opportunity in differentiation. We recommend TNC:
The host: A multinational utility company serving over 3 million clients in the northeastern US
The challenge: In an effort to reduce its vulnerability to extreme weather events and better prepare for shocks to the supply chain, our host wished to assess the risk levels of its different suppliers. Adding to the challenge, our host lacked sufficient information on the susceptibility of its supply chain to climate change and other risks that leave it exposed to disruptions in its service.
Our task: Develop a framework for identifying aggregate supply chain risk associated with sustainability and additional geopolitical, regulatory, and market threats; explore resiliency strategies that can respond to those risks.
In the era of globalization, supply chains have evolved as increasingly complex and diverse systems. While this has brought advantages in the form of cheap labor, direct access to raw material, and tax incentives, a global supply chain is susceptible to disruptions and other risks that can have serious consequences for the company. We recommend our client:
The host: Stonyfield Farm, the organic yogurt company that is a subsidiary of France's Groupe Danone
The challenge: Since 1997 Stonyfield Farm has counteracted its energy use through the purchase of carbon offsets. In its ongoing effort to be a responsible corporate citizen and reduce the impact of greenhouse gases on the planet, the company wished to explore starting an internal carbon fee program to drive emission reductions.
Our task: Explore the implementation of a carbon fee program that would place a price on carbon emissions and charge a toll to business units responsible for those emissions; develop a business strategy that incentivizes company managers to pursue investments/make decisions that reduce emissions.
To create buy-in among internal stakeholders, Stonyfield should work both with internal stakeholders and potential program champions in the parent company, Danone. We also recommend that companies like Stonyfield:
The host: McDonald’s, the world’s largest fast food chain with 36,000 locations around the globe
The challenge: In 2013, McDonald’s launched its “five pillars” of sustainability strategy, which involved developing and operating environmentally efficient restaurants among other commitments. As the availability of freshwater becomes more volatile, McDonald’s wished to further sharpen its focus on water stewardship— with regard to McDonald’s restaurants and supply chain.
Our task: Evaluate the extent to which McDonald’s existing sustainability strategies tackle the challenges of water scarcity; offer suggestions to mitigate potential disruptions in water quantity and quality that could limit the company’s business operations; provide ideas to address water-related concerns that pose a reputational risk to the McDonald’s brand.
Given McDonald’s aspiration to lead in sustainability and drive change within the food industry, it must raise awareness on water usage both internally and externally. We recommend the company:
The host: LiquiGlide, the Cambridge, MA-based startup that creates slippery surfaces for viscous liquids
The challenge: LiquiGlide sought to calculate the environmental benefits of its product in terms of how it decreases friction in production and manufacturing processes, which could cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Our task: Quantify the sustainability advantages of LiquiGlide to motivate potential customers to license the technology as a way to reduce costs; demonstrate environmental benefits of LiquiGlide that could be publicized to various stakeholders, including employees, consumers, and shareholders.
By prioritizing and quantifying its environmental benefits, LiquiGlide stands to maximize its profits and shareholder value through greater resource efficiency, business model resilience, innovative capacity, and brand strength. We recommend that LiquiGlide:
The host: The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), one of the world’s largest environmental organizations
The challenge: The fish populations around Belize’s Mesoamerican Reef—the largest barrier reef in the Atlantic Ocean—have suffered from overfishing due to open-access policies. EDF wished to attract private, international investment in Belizean fishing cooperatives (co-ops), to promote economic sustainability.
Our task: Analyze the criteria for attracting private, international investment in Belizean fishing co-ops; provide guidance on ways EDF could help the region become a magnet for such investment and propose potential revenue opportunities.
Belize, like many other countries, would benefit from conservation and business investments that support fishery sustainability and improve the livelihoods of local fisherman. To help Belize pursue these types of sustainable seafood investments, we recommend EDF:
The host: Colgate-Palmolive, the $17.2 billion multinational consumer products company that makes a range of soaps, detergents, and oral hygiene products
The challenge: Colgate-Palmolive, which has long operated a water management program, sought to launch a more holistic water stewardship strategy. In particular, the company wished to implement a variety of published goals including one that involved replenishing water withdrawn in highly stressed regions.
Our task: Evaluate the benefits and disadvantages of a “positive water balance program,” which aims to return to the community as much water as a company uses; provide suggestions on how Colgate-Palmolive might launch such a program as well as recommend potential alternatives.
To achieve positive water balance, companies must evaluate their entire supply chain to determine areas where they might be able to make contributions towards reducing and replenishing water. For our host to successfully launch such a policy, we recommend it:
The host: Innovation Center for US Dairy, which works with the dairy industry to address barriers to and opportunities for innovation and sales growth
The challenge: In 2011, the Innovation Center for US Dairy began an awards program to recognize farmers incorporating sustainability into their operations. The group sought to improve the structure of the award program to increase consumer engagement while retaining high quality participation from farmers and the dairy industry.
Our task: Determine how US Dairy can better market this non-monetary award to farmers in a way that encourages increased involvement; explore ways to raise awareness of dairy-related sustainability issues among consumers.
Through its Sustainability Awards Program, the Innovation Center for US Dairy has a prime opportunity to share best practices and to pave the way toward a more sustainable dairy future. To improve the award system and increase awareness for consumers and the industry, we recommend the organization:
The host: Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) whose mission is to preserve the natural systems on which all life depends
The challenge: EDF seeks to minimize exploitation of near shore tropical fish by small-scale fisherman. In particular, EDF sought opportunities to increase the value of seafood that may help reduce the pressure on overfished stocks while simultaneously providing economically viable business models for tropical fishermen and their communities.
Our task: Explore the current structure of Community Supported Fisheries (CSFs), a direct-to-consumer business model that connects fisherman to local consumers, and determine whether this model is feasible in the developing world; analyze how CSFs are created and measure the value they provide to customers; provide guidance on ways to incorporate sustainability considerations into the CSF development process and marketing efforts.
Maintaining economic support for fishermen is a critical aspect to the longevity of a CSF, and this is perhaps even more important in the developing world. To implement aspects of the CSF model in the tropics, we recommend EDF:
The host: Arabesque Asset Management, the London and Frankfurt-based investment firm that leverages sustainability data (ESG) with quantitative models
The challenge: Since 2013, Arabesque has operated as an independent firm focused on making sustainable investments more financially attractive. For this project, our host sought to assess the viability of integrating Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) reporting framework data into its investment processes.
Our task: Develop an understanding of the SASB mission and reporting process with a specific focus on the telecommunications industry; analyze data based on the SASB materiality framework for the sector; provide recommendations for Arabesque and the sustainable investment movement for implementing the SASB structure into the investment process
The SASB framework may be leveraged to create improved company and/or investment performance. But given the lack of data availability and disparity in data quality, there are significant challenges to integrating this information into investment portfolios. We recommend Arabesque:
The host: Toyota, the global motor vehicle company with a market capitalization of $239 billion
The challenge: Our host had plans to launch a new line of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (HFCV)—cars that provide faster fueling time with longer range than current electric battery vehicles and have the potential to decrease air pollution in cities. However, the lack of hydrogen fueling stations presented a problem for widespread adoption.
Our task: Evaluate the needs and challenges facing fuel distributors, e.g., convenience stores, in terms of their potential financial and operational investment in this industry; develop a business plan that reduces barriers to investment.
A strong carbon mitigation strategy in the automotive industry will involve collaboration from various stakeholders, including private investors, distributors, and the government. Currently there is a lack of financial incentive for investment in hydrogen infrastructure. To foster that, we recommend the company: