Courses, clubs and competitions give Kellogg students a fresh perspective on sustainabilityBy Rachel Farrell
8/28/2009 - Blake Durtsche '09 has always loved nature. As a child, he was active in the Boy Scouts. He used to go rock climbing, and he's also a big fan of camping. So when Durtsche came to Kellogg, he was easily drawn to the school's sustainability curriculum, and enrolled in classes such as Environmental Management and Sustainability, Business Design for Environmental Sustainability and Sustainability Lab.
Through these classes, Durtsche has learned how to apply his appreciation for nature to his business career. He credits Sustainability Lab in particular with helping to prepare him for his post-Kellogg role as a senior consultant for Blu Skye Sustainability Consulting in San Francisco. (The firm works closely with executives from companies such as Walmart, Microsoft and Sony Pictures to create transformative sustainability strategies.) In the lab, Durtsche worked with professionals from Baxter Healthcare to improve the sustainability of its global supply chain.
The experience was invaluable. "In Sustainability Lab, you have to take theory and make it practical and applicable to real-world business," says Durtsche. "There are a lot of constraints and different contexts that you have to navigate; you have to customize your response to the client. It's definitely a huge challenge, but also a great learning experience."
Durtsche found other learning opportunities in a number of sustainability-focused Kellogg organizations. He served as president of the Kellogg Net Impact Club (formerly the Social Impact Club), which encourages students to use their business acumen to better the world. He helped organize the Net Impact Community, a collaboration among Kellogg clubs with social missions; invited speakers from the nonprofit, public management and socially responsible business worlds to campus; and organized career-related programs for students interested in these sectors.
Durtsche didn't stop there. As co-chair of the Kellogg Greening Initiative, he led a drive to encourage students to recycle and worked to increase the number of recycling bins in the Donald P. Jacobs Center. For all these efforts, Durtsche was recognized with the Kellogg School's Leadership & Social Responsibility Award on June 5.
Durtsche believes every Kellogg student can benefit from joining a club or taking a course on sustainability. "Just like having a global perspective is essential to becoming a world-class leader, I think you'd be remiss not to have some knowledge and experience working with sustainability and social responsibility at a broader level," he says.
'A turning point'
Not every Kellogg student seeks out clubs or courses on sustainability. But many discover the value of sustainable business practices through campus competitions.
That was the case for Jamie Jones '09. When Jones came to Kellogg in 2007, she had a Ph.D. in chemistry and a plan to pursue marketing in the biotech sector. But that plan fell by the wayside after Jones participated in the CHEST Foundation Case Competition, an annual contest that challenges student teams to develop sustainable organizational models to alleviate public health problems.
Jones' team, comprised of Kellogg and Northwestern students, was charged with creating a sustainable business model to reduce the prevalence of asthma in underserved populations in Chicago. The team proposed a business called "Home Clean Home," which was designed to use profits generated by a green home-cleaning business to support a nonprofit home-repair company. The nonprofit business would fix housing problems on Chicago's South Side that were contributing to children's asthma. The plan won first prize at the CHEST Competition.
This experience, combined with Jones' participation in the Kellogg School's Global Health Initiative (a partnership that works to develop products that address health issues facing underserved populations worldwide), "was a turning point for me," Jones says. "I now feel that my business acumen could be better utilized on the social venture side. Kellogg has had a tremendous influence on my decision to pursue social responsibility."
Jones now serves as the assistant director of the Social Enterprise at Kellogg (SEEK) program, which supports the school's socially responsible business curriculum. She is also working with partners to launch Home Clean Home.
Before these experiences at Kellogg, Jones never thought much about the role of sustainability and social responsibility in business. Now, she sees them as crucial elements to success.
"There are ways to create socially beneficial but self-sustaining business practices," Jones says. "I think that's not an unrealistic mission. I believe more businesses should focus on achieving a triple bottom line."
A broader application
In 2008, students recognized the need to create a club that approached environmental and sustainability issues from a broader context than the Kellogg Greening Initiative. They founded the Environmental Sustainability Business Club with a dual mission: to increase the Kellogg community's awareness of sustainable careers in business, and to encourage, implement and improve environmentally sustainable practices at Kellogg. (The Part-Time program also launched The Environmental Leadership Club this year.)
Co-founder Jack Zausner '09, who was appointed president of the club, came to Kellogg after receiving a graduate degree from Georgia Tech in mechanical engineering and working as an engineer at GE Global Research. At GE, Zausner became interested in a business career in alternative energy. After graduation, he will serve as an associate for McKinsey & Company's Houston office, where he will focus on alternative energy projects.
Attracting Kellogg students to the Environmental Sustainability Business Club wasn't difficult, Zausner says. After one year, it had 11 officers and 205 members on CampusClubs, an online club management tool. "There are a lot of people interested in what's going on with climate legislation and alternative energy," Zausner explains.
Along with inviting speakers to campus for sustainability discussions, the club launched the Kellogg School's first "Green Week" in 2008. This year, Green Week featured three lectures on sustainability, encouraged students to make a "green pledge" on a white board, and offered giveaways and coupons from local, environmentally friendly businesses. Students also worked with Kafé Kellogg to swap plastic utensils with biodegradable ones and displayed a solar car outside the Donald P. Jacobs Center. Environmentally responsible food vendors, such as Whole Foods, provided refreshments at the TG event on Friday.
Zausner believes that, if the momentum behind these programs continues, the Kellogg School could become a leader in the sustainability arena. "I think it's feasible for Kellogg to be recognized as the school for sustainability in five years," Zausner said. "No school has claimed that leadership position yet. I think it's essential that we have a strong reputation in this area, because that's what people are looking for."