April 21, 2014

Corporate greening starts with trained students

students for their final presentations
Robert Barker/University Photography
Students Lawrence Ntim (from left), Karthy Chandra, Hassan Kamal, Annalise Schoonmaker, Diego Guerrero and Brandon Lane prepare for their final corporate presentations in the Green Business Lab April 16 in Hollister Hall.

Cornell students are learning how to arrive at the “triple bottom line” – fusing profits, people and the planet – to run a smart, green business.

The Green Business Simulation Lab, an evening course run by Cornell Outdoor Education’s Team and Leadership Center, is helping classrooms catch up to boardrooms by teaching corporate social responsibility in an interactive, team-based setting.

“When manufacturing products, companies take people and ecosystems into consideration,” said student Kenyatta Smith, ILR ’14. “It’s imperative for today’s businesses to consider future generations in how their products are made. Through other classes I’ve learned business theory, but Green Business Lab puts theory into practice.”

Considering that a corporate “triple bottom line” entails social and environmental concerns, the course features fast-paced, dynamic and competitive lessons in total business immersion.

Dividing into “corporate teams,” student executives shape strategies, implement plans, answer to corporate boards, procure parts from suppliers, interact with other company divisions, soothe unhappy customers and face the political realities of a world increasingly concerned with environmental sustainability.

The groups fabricate prototype toy vehicles to simulate manufacturing processes, sample the daunting landscape of federal regulations and learn team cohesion. While there are no exams, teams are judged on their ideas, approaches and their ability to work together.

Unlike a standard academic structure, the Green Business Lab runs in partnership between the Cornell Team and Leadership Center (CTLC) and the Realia Group, which itself runs a similar lab for Fortune 500 companies; and Cornell’s Engineering Leadership Program. The class is funded in part by Boeing.

Course instructors include Jim Volckhausen, manager of the CTLC; Deborah Mann, on-site facilitator for the Green Business Simulation Lab and CTLC senior trainer; and Susan Svoboda, chief operating officer at Realia Group. Amy Kohut, director, Cornell Team and Leadership Center, as well as instructors Annie Socci, Anna Kelles and Dan Roth serve as corporate team coaches. With so many instructors and only about 30 students, the student to instructor ratio is just over 3:1.

Volckhausen, Mann and Svoboda explained that the course helps engineering students understand and communicate in a business setting, while the business students absorb data from the engineers.

Hassan Kamal, MILR ’15, worked for many years for Saudi Aramco’s human resources division. The course, he said, helped him make connections among financial components, company administration, research and development and manufacturing – and to make products that won’t harm the environment.

For Hassan’s group, “We had losses; I was surprised,” he said. “But each decision we made as a company and as a team unit affected the profit of the company. In manufacturing and running the business, each component was related to another. The challenging experience for me was how to make a profit, remain green and balance between everyone’s priority.”

Smith learned the big picture of business. “As students, we’re learning to comprehend the financial data to make an accurate assessment,” she said. “As business people and engineers, we’re understanding how to make durable goods, make them green and cost efficient – and to make the marriage of the two work.”