MIT Sloan Action Learning students have worked with EMC Corporation on sustainability-related initiatives that include reducing and reducing reusing the company’s outbound packaging. 

Kathrin Winkler, Chief Sustainability Officer at EMC Corporation, has partnered with MIT Sloan’s Action Learning program on several sustainability-related initiatives. In one of the most successful, students worked with the company to reduce and reuse the packaging used to ship its data centers.

A Corporate Commitment to Sustainability

Kathrin Winkler is Senior Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer at EMC Corporation, where her responsibilities include developing and implementing long-term sustainability programs across the $21 billion global IT company. MIT Sloan has partnered with EMC to support its sustainability efforts since 2008.


The intersection of financial, environmental, and social responsibility

EMC has engaged with MIT Sloan on a variety of sustainability-related projects through the school’s Action Learning courses, where students and faculty work with organizations to address specific business issues. One of these initiatives was a 2011 S-Lab (Sustainable Business Lab) project that analyzed potential methods for systemizing EMC’s sustainable packaging achievements.


Packaging is a great example of a classic sustainability problem,” says Winkler. “It’s something that as a company we need to constantly evaluate.

One area where EMC has made significant progress is in its outbound packaging. Shipping the company’s data center units, which can weigh up to 3,000 pounds each, traditionally required an enormous amount of cardboard, steel, plywood, and other materials. Because each $300 box cost $800 to return to EMC, take-back and reuse was financially unfeasible. To address this, EMC developed a container that could break down to one-fourth its original size. This new packaging could be shipped back to the company for $100 and used seven times before being sent for recycling.

MIT Sloan conducted a study on how EMC could expand this type of success into a larger scale sustainable packaging program. Through a tour of EMC’s Franklin facility and meetings with employees, a team of S-lab students focused on incorporating sustainability into EMC’s packaging policy. The lab resulted in a series of recommendations on how EMC’s commitment to sustainability can be leveraged and expanded into a long-term sustainable packaging initiative.   

An ongoing relationship

EMC and MIT Sloan have continued to work together on projects that address data center energy use and recycling of inbound packaging. To encourage further sustainability work by MIT Sloan students, EMC has agreed to make some of the projects’ findings available on the MIT Sloan Action Learning website.

I love working with the students at MIT Sloan. They are talented leaders, and their fresh perspectives bring huge value to the work we do together.


Winkler says that while the MIT Sloan/EMC partnership has created real, tangible benefits for the company, she also values the energy that MIT Sloan students bring to each project. “They are diverse, they are demanding, and they want real answers,” she says. “They both challenge and inspire me. We live in a world where we need to ask tough questions and fundamentally rethink our systems. The students at Sloan do that.”