Student Projects Fall 2015

The students in the class People, Environment, and Sustainability Fall 2015 were paired with businesses or organizations to work projects concerning sustainability. The students were asked at the end of the semester to submit their recommendations on how their clients should move forward sustainably with their projects. Below is a brief description of each project, and the students’ final recommendation reports can be viewed by clicking the title of the projects.

Cool Choices: Sitting Out the Game: Understanding Non-Participating Businesses

Cool Choices was created to inspire individuals, communities, and small businesses to adopt sustainable practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Cool Choices relies on best practices from a variety of social sciences and uses games to bring about behavior change.

In 2015, as part of the City of Madison’s Green Madison initiative, Cool Choices offered local businesses an opportunity to be part of a free region-wide Cool Choices game.  Cool Choices announced the opportunity through various business networks, promoting this as an opportunity to increase employee engagement, to help Madison win a $5 million prize and for the businesses to showcase their sustainability efforts to the broader community.  While some businesses joined the effort, others did not and we’d like to understand why businesses—especially those already engaged in sustainability (e.g., participants in Green Masters or the Sustainable Business Network, for example) did not participate in the free game.  In this project students will work with Cool Choices to identify non-participating businesses and then survey or interview stakeholders at those businesses to understand their decision not to participate in the game.  We expect the project to yield insights that will increase our effectiveness in marketing our games going forward.

CR 360

CR360 is a specialist provider of sustainability and EHS management software. Every day our solutions help companies all over the world to accurately capture, manage, analyze and report their environmental, safety, supplier and social data in one single system. The company is committed to helping customers gain an ever deeper level of sustainability analysis, while integrating sharp, data-driven insights into core business decision-making and mainstream corporate culture.

 Smart Moose: Through past education and experiences, we’ve noticed that small and medium-sized business (SMEs/SMBs) face many challenges when it comes to reaching sustainability goals due ​to ​their inability to acquire the adequate resources (financial, human capital, time, education, etc). We know there is a way to help these companies reach their goals and we want to be that resource.

Smart Moose is a cloud-based application for small to medium-sized companies to use as an alternative information platform (we are currently in the process of developing it!). The application will be tailored by industry. For each industry we will have specific and relevant information on best practices, how to meet goals, how to track footprints, etc. In addition, a main portion of the application will serve as a platform for businesses to collaborate with each other on how they have overcome challenges and for them to gain ideas from companies. 

Identifying Pilot Industries- This option is for folks up for a good challenge! We would like to know which Small and Medium-Sized Business industry would be best to start with? Which industry is currently most proactive in pursuing sustainability goals? Why? Then, what does that industry struggle with in terms of sustainability? Companies typically report what they do well, but we want to know the real, hard facts about the realities they face in that industry. It’s easy to find what people are talking about, but what are they not talking about and why? What are they confused about? What challenges to these companies face both internally and externally? What does research say?

Industry Trends- What are the big, upcoming issues medium-sized businesses will face in the future in terms of sustainability pressures from consumers and supply chain (from up the chain), and from state, national, or international regulations? We’d like a comprehensive analysis of near term pressures, longer term pressures, near term opportunities and longer term opportunities, along with a well developed background about what is likely to be happening in the world.

 Transwestern: DROP – Water Rating Program

Transwestern, a commercial real estate firm, is in its fourth year of developing DROP, a water rating program for commercial office buildings. Similar to Energy Star, the water rating program assigns a score from 1-100 based on the water performance of a building. Transwestern is seeking consultation in metrics development, reporting, and scaling of the program. Students will explore options in the marketing, branding, and development of the program. The project is highly creative and designed to be open-ended.

Pieper Properties / Transwestern Sustainability Services Compost Crusader Program

Pieper Properties is a property management company located in Milwaukee. Along with Transwestern Sustainability Services and Compost Crusader, Pieper Properties is developing a compost program for three of its properties. Pieper Properties believes this program can be a value added service; however, it is wary of numerous unintended consequences. Ultimately, the program should be easy to implement, clean, and cost neutral. For the class project, students will:

  • Develop a strategic plan (for each building)
  • Identify methods to increase tenant participation
  • Conduct a financial analysis of the program
  • Complete environmental impact calculations 

Green Earth Worm Farm

Green Earth Worm Farms is a concept for a business that will use specialized composting worms to transform coffee grounds and food waste into a sustainable, marketable, and high value soil amendment for gardeners, landscapers, and organic farmers GreenEarth Worm Farms, LLC (GreenEarth) is a Wisconsin Limited Liability Company formed in 2012.  The core business concept is to produce, brand, and market high-end specialty organic soil amendments produced from earthworm castings.

What sets GreenEarth apart from other worm castings on the market is the purity and sustainability of our feedstock.   Our worm castings are exclusively derived from a specialized blend of organic food waste, with coffee grounds as the central ingredient. This mix is fed to “red wiggler” composting worms and the worms transform the “waste” material into a nutrient-rich organic fertilizer called worm castings.  Sometimes referred to as “black gold” in the organic gardening community, worm castings are well-known for their numerous benefits they bring to soils and plants. As an authentic and truly green product derived from local organic food waste, GreenEarth’s castings are well-positioned to thrive within the rapidly growing market for high-end products catering to organic gardeners, community gardeners, and urban agriculturalists who value pure and nutrient rich soils.

Overall, GreenEarth is a business that takes sustainability to a new level.  We are creating a value-added organic product produced entirely from “waste” material.   Our castings will become the new gold-standard for an authentically green product that embraces the growing market for products geared toward local food, urban gardening, green landscaping, and organic all-natural lifestyles.

Financing Project – How can GreenEarth finance its growth?  Are there opportunities for “crowd funding” as a strategy to attract funding?  What traditional financing methods should be pursued?

Developing A New Fossil Fuel Free Stock Index


Develop a global stock index for climate-minded investors that excludes coal, oil and natural gas companies, and any other companiess that profit from exploration or extraction. The intent is that investors will be able to use the index to build their own fossil-free portfolios, and thus avoid risks they see from “stranded assets.” The phrase refers to fossil fuel reserves that can’t be burned if the planet is  to stay below 2 degrees C of warming.

The team will be responsible for developing both the appropriate negative screens that will exclude fossil fuel companies and their supply chains, and also positive screens, including both financial performance screens and any other sustainable screens that the group agrees on.

A well-diversified Fossil Fuel Free stock market index can provide an opportunity for investors to responsibly divest from investments in fossil fuel producers and their support industries without sacrificing financial performance.

Once the screens are in place, and the index created, the team should identify 1, 3, 5 and 10 year performance, looking back.  By demonstrating hypothetical performance (if the index would have been in place), the team lays the foundation for creating market demand for this strategy moving forward.  Further, I expect the existence of this index to spur competition in creating real products by socially responsible investment professionals.

Yumbutter

Yumbutter is launching three new flavors of nut butter in January. And just like we pushed the boundaries of the nut butter realm when we launched YumbutterGO (nut butter in a to-go pouch for extreme athletes and everyday adventurers alike), we’re pushing the boundaries again with one of our new flavors. We’ll be going where no nut butter has gone before, experimenting with a group of food that has only recently grown in popularity, and has definitely not graced the nut butter scene before.
We have the dream, the story, the formula, and the passion. We know who we want to sell to, where they’re located, what we want to promote, and what our timeline is. Now we just need to narrow down the how. We need a Marketing Plan!
What have other companies like ours done to promote their launch? What are the best brands (especially those that share our values and swagger) doing to spread their word? We are looking for best in class approaches, and want to draw on the creativity of students like you to provide us with guerilla marketing, growth hacking, or just straight up effective techniques to reach our target market and get them as excited about the new stuff as we are.

Reynolds Transfer and Storage

Reynolds Transfer and Storage is a 6th generation family company in the moving and storage business.  In 2013, they became involved with the MPower Business Champion program, a year-long undertaking aimed at helping businesses take steps to become greener while also measuring the impact of their actions.

As a moving and storage company, the bulk of the environmental impact of Reynolds’ services occurs during daily operations, such as trucking, office activities, and building operations.  We recognize that we have significant room for improvement and have many projects in various stages of completion aimed at reducing our overall environmental impact.  The projects outlined below aim to reduce Reynolds environmental footprint in all areas of operation and our supply chain.

Customer Waste Disposal Project– As demonstrated by the trash heaps everywhere in Madison each year around August 15th, moving can motivate people to clean out many of their unwanted items. Most of Reynolds Transfer’s customers are not much better than the campus community, and customers regularly leave a large pile of unwanted items on the curb on or after move day. In order to help reduce the amount of landfilled waste created by their customers, Reynolds plans to offer pre-move services that help customers get rid of their unwanted items. To help with this goal, the project team would determine the most commonly discarded items, research proper disposal options and locations, and build a database for recording the best recycling and reuse opportunities. Helping customers donate or dispose of their unwanted items in a responsible manner will not only reduce the amount of usable waste landfilled each year, but also help people who desperately need these formerly discarded items. 

Plan and Coordinate the Eighth Annual Sustainable Businesses Council in Wisconsin

For the last seven years, a team of students create a conference that over 400 people attended.  The students are responsible for inviting top speakers, organizing the conference, and marketing the conference to business people from around the state.  Your task would be to work with Tom on the planning and coordination of the conference.  We have established an identity as the leading (and largest) conference bringing businesses together to learn about sustainability.  The conference will be held early December.  You would be responsible for making this conference a success.  Given how many people are involved in planning conferences such as these in the real world, having this experience under your belt could be a great resume builder.