Campus Serves as Case Study
by Michelle Simmons
April 1, 2010
INBM professor Michael Fratantuono (left, with Ken Shultes ’89 at right) notes an unexpected but important outcome to his course, Going Green—his students’ strong sense of contributing to the college’s strategic-planning process. “If you empower people in this way and ask for a genuine commentary, it changes things enormously in their minds,” he says. “They’ll work harder, take it more seriously. It has a reality to it.”
When Michael Fratantuono, associate professor of international business & management (INBM), began planning a course on sustainability in business, he looked to Harvard Business School. “I was thinking I would do some work on business strategy then perhaps look at examples of what different companies were doing in the U.S. and around the world,” he says.
But after participating in the Valley & Ridge Study Group, a summer sustainability-curriculum workshop offered by Dickinson’s Center for Environmental and Sustainability Education (CESE), he decided to focus on a case study much closer to home.
The result was his fall 2009 course, Going Green: Challenges and Opportunities. Its premise—students would be members of BRush-Green Consulting, a firm tasked with analyzing and evaluating Dickinson’s sustainability strategy and implementation. Fratantuono also invited Ken Shultes ’89, interim vice president for campus operations, to team-teach.
The course’s guiding philosophy is the “triple bottom line,” a term first coined by John Elkington, founder of the international business-consulting firm SustainAbility, that focuses on social, environmental and economic factors in all decision-making processes.
Fratantuono and Shultes posed three questions to the class. What would individual students need to do to become more sustainable? In what ways do campus culture and operations reflect a commitment to sustainability? Ultimately, does Dickinson have what it takes to make environmental sustainability a competitive advantage among its peers?
“This course was designed to get students looking pretty hard at their own environment,” Fratantuono says. “Because that template was applied to Dickinson, the students actually got into a critical mode with respect to their own school.”
What made the course even more distinctive was the diversity of majors and opinions. Environmental-studies students worked side-by-side with INBM students. Initial resistance to decisions about laundry and printing quotas and going trayless in the Dining Hall led to discussions about larger contexts.
“It was an interesting dynamic, especially at the outset of the semester,” Fratantuono says. “[We] asked them to wear two hats, and as students, they’re subject to policy changes. It took about a month for them to begin to appreciate the challenges confronting the leadership at Dickinson and the meaning of sustainability.”
To gain that deeper understanding, the class toured the College Farm, the Center for Sustainable Living (Treehouse), the Rector Science Complex and the biodiesel plant. Guest speakers from across campus shared their perspectives. For Steve Riccio, director of staff development, it was the consultant’s mindset; for Annette Smith Parker ’73, vice president and treasurer, the college’s finances and investment strategies.
Kate Consroe ’09, sustainability coordinator, requested feedback on the Climate Action Plan, and CESE director Neil Leary updated students on sustainability across the curriculum. (See related story on Page 16.) Student Senate President Lee Tankle ’10 and Senator Evan Kontras ’12 explained their role in the college’s decision-making process.
At semester’s end, student groups made recommendations on multiple fronts—from launching a trash-and-recycling education campaign and eliminating bottled water on campus to renovating the Holland Union Building and Malcolm Hall. Some groups will present their findings at a Sustainability Symposium in April. (See Page 18 for more information.)
The class’s final assessment of Dickinson’s sustainability strategy was positive, with some qualifications: it has yet to permeate the curriculum, and organizational culture needed further work. They see the college as an institution in transition—blending its global-education tradition with the newer sustainability emphasis.
Reflecting on their own habits, some students calculated their personal carbon footprint and worked on lowering it. Others compared their before-and-after behaviors, from turning off lights to becoming vegetarian. Business-minded students discovered the financial value of environmental sustainability, and students with environmental-advocacy leanings learned how corporations can effect social change.
Kristen Lee ’10, an environmental-studies major, says that as a result of the class, she’s decided to seek work as a corporate sustainability consultant. In her final paper, she writes, “No longer do I believe that business people are entirely consumed with the notion of money. … I have found that business is a pathway that is flexible and forward-thinking, which allows much room for entrepreneurial spirit and change.”