Student Projects Fall 2005

Whole Foods Market – Composting Idea

Whole Foods Market in Madison, a natural & organic supermaraket, is interested in the feasibility of composting waste from the produce department.  The project would involve understanding the hurtles to putting in a composting site somewhere near the store, and recommending how to address or overcome those hurtles.  Some of the potential hurtles include: 1) Location; 2) Transport from produce department; 3) City codes; 4) Sanitation; 5) Aroma control; 6) Neighborhood concerns; 7) Method; 8) Use of end product; 9) Startup costs; and 10) Ongoing costs

Currently all produce waste is discarded as garbage but a “Core Value” of the company is environmental protection.  It’s also essential that we remain a good neighbor and maintain positive public relations.  We have a history of innovation and our flagship store in Austin, Texas currently has a composting program in place.

Second Nature Homes – Developing Metrics

Second Nature Homes takes pride in offering superior remodeled homes that reduce energy bills, improve indoor air quality, and use sustainable construction materials—all at an affordable price.  They believe in providing a clean, green home for customer’s well being, a strong community, and a sustainable planet.

In order to increase the attractiveness of this business, the owner would like help in quantifying and documenting the positive benefits of his work.  You would need to research the benefits of green building and develop some metrics that tell the story about the benefits of building green.  These metrics would include both traditional metrics, like how much green building costs, and also non-traditional things, like energy saved by better design and insulation, health benefits, other environmental benefits, etc.

Second Nature Homes – Marketing Plan

A second project with Darin is to develop a series of recommendations on how best to use the information that is developed above.  Develop a marketing plan for a green remodeling business. What information should be shared, where should it be shared, who are the most likely customers and where are they found, etc.  Though this is a fairly typical marketing plan, it is for an atypical business, and an understanding of those differences is very important.

Crescendo Design – Developing a balanced marketing message

Crescendo Design’s primary goal is to be a multi-disciplinary custom residential design studio focused exclusively on sustainable design.  In order for that to happen, we need to gain a larger share of ‘green’ clientele than we have been able to thus far.  The project is to provide recommendations on how to gain a greater share of “green” clients without alienating other potential clients.  How have other design firms done this?  What would we say?  Where would we deliver our message?

In general terms, we spend a lot of time thinking about how to frame our ‘green’ service-set in general.  The reason this is tricky is because everyone has a different idea about what ‘green’ really is.  What makes perfect sense to one person can scare away other clients.  For the time being, we have decided to not even mention a list of services or green principles we can employ, since they can be drastically misinterpreted, and could harm our chances of getting specific projects.  But this seems like a missed opportunity and we want the students to review this.  Additionally, if we make a really big deal about sustainability as our primary objective, potential clients who simply want a new custom home might shy away from us because they are afraid we might try to talk them into environmentally-friendly design, which they may not care for at all.  The sad reality is that, without these clients, we couldn’t survive.  In sum, we can’t look too ‘green’, or we will get pinched out of some important market niches we can’t afford to leave behind.

Crescendo Design – Marketing analysis

Crescendo Design is also interested in a separate project that just focuses on the potential market for their services.  In general terms, should we be focusing on the Madison market?  Maybe the answer is that Madison is the wrong market, and we should be looking at the Milwaukee market instead.  Or perhaps our market is not in Wisconsin at all, and we should be seeking a specialized Cradle-to-Cradle market outside of Wisconsin, since nobody really offers exclusively C2C residential design anywhere in the country that we know of.  It is still a new and growing concept, and would help us ride the competition publicity more effectively.  This project would provide a market analysis for the demand for the kinds of services that Crescendo Design provides.

Healthy, Wealthy and Wise

HWW is a socially entrepreneurial company looking for a way to integrate the concepts of sustainability into the National Child Nutrition Act.  School districts will be receiving grants which can be used to integrate wellness programs both into their curriculum and into school operations.  The focus of this project is to figure out how to include a commitment to support local farms and possibly organic agriculture.  The company has already received both statewide and national accolades and has nice momentum, yet there needs to be a business case made for why and how to include local and organic farms.

Good Harvest Market – Communicating Who They Are

Good Harvest Market’s mission is to live and promote the organic lifestyle.  We offer 100% organic meat; certified organic produce that strives to utilize the local harvest as much as possible; an organic café; an organic bulk section including herbs, spices, grains etc; a “Sustainable Home” section that focuses on organic, fair trade, hand made, recycled, and sustainably focused products for the home; a “Holistic Health” section that focuses on alternative health products and body care free of chemicals and preservatives; as well as a nearly 90% organic grocery section.  However, to the new customer, they see a unique market but don’t quite understand our mission and what we are striving to accomplish in our community.

We need a creative group of students to take a good look at our market and help us find unique, resourceful and innovative ways to communicate our mission and help educate our customers about the organic lifestyle throughout our store.

We would like recommendations about (but not limited to):

* How to communicate our mission especially upon entry and throughout the store

* What does the organic lifestyle mean—what can it mean to our customers and community

* How to communicate our use of locally grown organic produce, organic meats and our commitment to our community—info about who we work with and even their commitments to the organic lifestyle

* What are the benefits of organic foods—both health to people, communities, and the overall environment and economy—how and where can this information be shared with customers in the store

* Signage suggestions, display, the overall atmosphere of the store—how can we make it more “organic” while still following our initial design goals of a simplistic and clutter free, open space

Good Harvest Market – Grass Roots Marketing Campaign

Our greatest challenge is letting people know that we are here.  We talk to new customers every single day that just “stumbled” upon our store.  We have advertised heavily over the past months; however we are still not reaching everyone that might have interest in our store and having difficulty measuring our response rates from traditional advertising means.  Following our commitment to our community and sustainability, we are trying to use unique grass roots marketing opportunities that also have possible direct and measurable response rates.

We need and innovative team that will take on the task of coming up with an action plan for a Grass Roots marketing campaign that engages our community in organic living, that also focuses on schools, integrative health organizations and businesses that would benefit from our store’s products and services.

Cascade Asset Management

Cascade Asset Management is a national leader in computer and electronic equipment recycling.  The company has been in existence since 1999 and employs 28 individuals.  It assists everyone from Fortune 1000 companies to individuals with safe and secure disposition options for their unwanted computers and other consumer electronic equipment.  Cascade takes in approximately 250 tons of old electronics in its Madison facility each month and processes the equipment for repair and reuse or disassembly and recycling.  Recyclable commodities are sorted and separated for processing by downstream vendors.  Currently, more than 30 tons of plastic (primarily ABS, HIPS, and other styrenes) are sorted and baled for shipment to Chinese processors for manufacture into low-grade applications.  In the summer of 2004, Cascade agreed to participate in a research project with the UW’s Polymer Engineering Center to test the viability of using Cascade’s plastic in extrusion applications.  A plastic company conducted some tests on the plastic and found it to be a favorable substitute for virgin plastic in certain applications.  This company was willing to pay more than four times the value Cascade currently receives from its overseas processor.  In the meantime, a manufacturer (Bemis Corporation of Sheboygan Falls) has been identified who is interested in using the recycled plastic as a substitute for virgin ABS to make up to 80% recycled content toilet seats.

Cascade is looking for recommendations on how to proceed.  They would like help in investigating the market for their plastic and determining which is the most sustainable option.  They also need help in marketing the plastic as a potential feedstock.

JenEhr Family Farms – Employment Recruitment Analysis and Kit

Labor on an organic farm is often the hardest part of the business.  The narrow margins along with hard dirty work often create aless than desirable situation.   JenEhr relies on several groups of laborers to get the job done on the farm while creating local jobs and educational opportunities.  What we’re looking for is an analysis of the labor groups used, a feasibility analysis of these varied groups, and then finally a recruitment “kit” to recruit the desired labor force.

Aveda Corporation – Corporate Giving Program

What does a socially responsible corporate giving program look like?  What level of funding is appropriate?  What are other companies doing – broken down between “known socially responsible companies” and “not known socially responsible companies?”  Who are the leaders in medium size companies ($300 – $700 million in sales)?  Is hands-on community (local or otherwise) involvement by employees an important component of a socially responsible corporate giving program? Should companies differentiate in their reporting between straight philanthropy (cash, product and in-kind services); strategic philanthropic partnerships linked to their business, and cause related marketing and public relations programs?  If so, how?

What can/should a company count toward its philanthropic activities?  Can a company that is buying and using certified organic ingredients, sourcing raw materials at a higher than market value to help an isolated community survive and grow put any monetary value on these activities as part of reporting its overall philanthropic activities?  If a company is using less toxic cleaning products but paying more to do this, can they count this as their philanthropy.  If yes, how can a value be placed on these initiatives?  If not, why not.

I think the issue here is that sometimes companies want to get “rewarded” for doing things that make good business sense but in reality they are very self-serving (reduce risk, reduce costs) and do not have real “philanthropic value.”  Maybe this can be addressed in very short order so students can get at the bigger research issues of size and content of programs at various companies that define an excellent corporate giving program.

Aveda Corporation – Engaging community and activist organizations

How does a company go about defining and creating stakeholder engagement as it relates to community / activist organizations?  Aveda is looking to hear from a range of environmentally focused NGOs to learn what their expectations are of our company and what they believe will be the critical environmental issues of our time over the next decade.  The definition of “environmental” is broad here – could be environmental justice, civil society and others.  Should specific meetings be more focused with the idea we would host a series of meetings, each with more homogenous groups?

Budgets are limited so how do we decide who and how many to invite?  Why? What does an agenda look like?  Can Aveda facilitate this or do we need an outside facilitator?  Can this be done as a one-time event or is this an on-going process with a group of stakeholders?  What should Aveda expect out of this and what should the stakeholders expect out of this?  How do we get honest ideas, concerns and opinions from the stakeholders?  How do we manage expectations on both ends?

Who from the company needs to be at this meeting?  What kind of issues do we want to put on the table for discussion or do we just want to listen to a host of issues based on who is invited.  Our big issues are sustainable agriculture, ethical sourcing, green chemistry, environmental responsibility in business operations, working with indigenous communities and overall social responsibility.

Southeast Wisconsin Initiative for Fair Trade – Business Plan Development

SWIFT is an organization dedicated to promoting fair trade in the World market place.  The organization will promote “Fair Trade Products” and “Clean Clothes” (Clean Clothes being all types of clothing items that are produced in non sweat shop conditions, shops that provide fair wages and good working conditions for employees) through both educational programs and product sales, perhaps through a store front in Milwaukee.

This project has been approximately one year in the planning and is now at the point of coming into reality. There is some financial support presently offered and the organizers are in the process of seeking additional support. The completion of the above items will assist in assembling a full business plan which will provide the information needed to proceeding with financial support acquisition.

You will be expected to consider two approaches for the store.  The first is to focus on a wide range of fair trade items.  The second would involve just focusing on clean clothes.  Is there a need for a retail store in southeast WI?  Should this store also focus it’s efforts nationally (perhaps through the internet?)  What is the appropriate market area, who are the competitors, how should advertising be done?