A United Nations Project Marks a Decade of Global Sustainability Research and Practice at Whitman

For 10 years, Syracuse University’s Sustainable Enterprise Partnership (SEP), a collaboration between the Martin J. Whitman School of ManagementCollege of Engineering and Computer ScienceSUNY Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) and the Syracuse Center of Excellence (CoE), has been committed to training students and facilitating leading research and discussion around the topic of business and sustainability. As part of that commitment, the SEP developed the Certificate of Advanced Study in Sustainable Enterprise (CASSE), an official certification program in New York state, which allows students to explore the intersections of business and sustainability through coursework and projects. This spring, students enrolled in the CASSE Program’s BUA 759 Sustainability-Driven Enterprise capstone course were invited to take part in an experiential learning project sponsored by the United Nation’s (UN) Global Compact, an initiative to implement universal sustainability principles from CEOs worldwide.

For the project, students from Whitman, the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, the College of Engineering and Computer Science, and from SUNY-ESF split into three groups to research the implications of supply chain automation in consumer products, information technology and energy, and manufacturing for more than 18 diverse companies that are part of the UN Global Compact. These companies included SAP Ariba Software Solutions, a leader in business applications; Toks, a restaurant chain of more than 190 locations across Mexico; and Volvo Cars, a major automotive manufacturer.

“These are large corporations that are trying to improve the social and environmental sustainability of suppliers throughout their supply chain—many of which are smaller, entrepreneurial ventures—in order to create additional value for their customers,” explained Todd Moss, assistant professor of entrepreneurship and faculty director of the SEP at Whitman School.

According to Moss, the project was a great opportunity for students to implement the skills and knowledge they learned in the program.

To Thuy Nguyen, a second-year MBA student who participated in the project, the program and the experience she gained have given her an in-depth look at supply chain from a global perspective.

“This is a very special program,” said Nguyen. “I had a chance to work in teams with students coming from different schools, backgrounds and countries. Therefore, I could see a topic through different lenses while gaining a lot of hands-on experience.”

According to Nguyen, being involved with the CASSE program has also given her access to information that she would not have had in her own country.

“Where I’m from in Vietnam, businesses still focus only on economic development, ignoring the environmental and social impact of their operation,” she added. “At Syracuse University, being a part of the CASSE program and working on this project has allowed me to learn a lot about new trends, practices and challenges related to sustainability.”

Giorgio Parlato, another Whitman MBA student enrolled in CASSE, has found that the most exciting part of the project was being able to present the team’s findings at SAP headquarters in New York City as part of a UN Global Compact roundtable.

“It was very interesting to understand how these kinds of meetings work, where corporate and organization leaders get together to talk about a big issue affecting society and collaborating to attempt to solve that issue,” explained Parlato. “Of course, presenting my research in front of that crowd and receiving several compliments was an unforgettable experience.”

To Moss, providing these types of experiences is what makes the SEP unique and helps students in the CASSE program gain essential skills and relationships.

“A number of companies that attended the Global Roundtable expressed interest in sponsoring their own follow-on projects based on the work of this year’s students,” said Moss. “Their interest speaks volumes about the quality of the students’ work.”

Moss hopes to provide even more experiences to students in the future by inviting other colleges at Syracuse University to become part of the SEP, and by finding additional global projects.

“This was our first experience reaching out beyond the New York area to global businesses seeking to become more sustainable,” Moss added. “We’re trying to expand the Whitman and Syracuse name, as well as our impact, through increasing the numbers of global projects.”

In addition to offering the CASSE and helping students become job-ready candidates, SEP provides funding for research projects and hosts seminars by world-renowned academics and business leaders in sustainable enterprise. To learn more, visit Whitman.syr.edu/sep.

Arielle Spears