Mendoza School of Business

Taking environmental justice locally

Undergraduates plan and execute projects to support sustainability in the community

Published: June 1, 2022 / Author: Brandi Wampler

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

This phrase guided Yun Xing’s (ND ‘22) thinking as she worked on her final group project for the class, “Climate, Economics, & Business Ethics.” Taught by Jessica McManus Warnell, associate teaching professor of management & organization, and Eva Dziadula, associate teaching professor of economics, this integration course is offered as one of the University’s core curriculum options and focuses on the environmental and social justice implications of climate change, public policy, and impacts on global economies and communities.

For the final class projects, students were asked to put their explorations of sustainability and justice into action by coming up with projects that either had ​​real-world community impact or were policy proposals that examined business practices. Many of the students, like Xing, wanted to do something that went beyond the class itself — a project with a long-lasting community impact.

“We chose to collaborate with a local library to boost the sustainability content for children,” said Xing. “We believe that education has the power to inspire and enlighten.”

books on shelvesFor the class project, Xing and her group connected with the Mishawaka-Penn-Harris Public Library to contribute a collection of books about sustainability for children. Another student group collaborated with Notre Dame’s Campus Dining to create an herb garden to support sustainable food on campus. Both projects required students to provide cost and impact analyses as well as explain how their work emphasized the concepts of responsibility and intergenerational justice.

Lauren Amrol (ND ‘24) was a part of the group that created and executed the herb garden for campus. They chose to focus on dining because of the large impact food can have on the environment. Students met with the Campus Dining leadership and determined that there was not only a desire, but a need for an herb garden to create more green space around campus and contribute to sustainability and local sourcing in the dining halls.

To plan the garden, students met with Jessica Woolley, manager of the Sourcing & Sustainability Program and William Sanchez, the manager sous chef.

“Jessica Woolley and Chef Sanchez were our strongest proponents for the herb garden, and discussions with them revealed both the desirability and feasibility of implementing this project outside of North Dining Hall,” said Amrol. “Although creating budgets and proposals are valuable for practice and future jobs, actually bringing a project to fruition shows the power of students to make an impact and bring value to a community and stakeholders that we care about.”

Both the herb garden and book collection were developed not only as part of the course, but also in response to the Ethics Project, an initiative launched from Georgetown University piloted at business schools like Mendoza. The Ethics Project awarded a $500 grant to each student group to design the projects, execute them in the community and write a report on their projects’ connection to the course’s themes. The grants will be used to purchase herbs for the garden from Unity Gardens, Inc. and River Valley Farmers’ Market, and toward purchasing reading materials, supporting local organizations.

“We wanted a project that would make a tangible, visible difference on campus in the lives of students and staff. We wanted to use the $500 grant for a cause that the campus actually wanted, and would bring value to many stakeholders,” explained Amrol.

Other student groups chose to focus on campus initiatives or corporate policies that relate to sustainable operations and impact. These projects included guidance for off-campus student recycling and upcycling as well as proposals advocating for carbon pricing. Corporate proposals included standardized reporting in the fast-fashion industry and company-specific policy analyses such as redesigning packaging at a resource-intensive coffee company.

Throughout the semester of the course, students spent a significant amount of time learning about the importance of providing persuasive, informed information on ethical sustainability to stakeholders, and the principle of subsidiarity, which emphasizes local solutions and stakeholder engagement. Overall, each group utilized these concepts in their approach to the projects. They analyzed their outcomes through the lens of environmental justice, understanding how important the business community and economic systems are to ensuring that progress does not come at the expense of future generations.

“Adopting more sustainable practices not only allows us to fulfill our duties to the poor, vulnerable and those who are most impacted by climate change, but provides economic value to companies in the form of cost savings and risk minimization,” said Caroline McMullen (BBA ‘23), who proposed redesigning a coffee company’s packaging. “Acting sustainably is not only the right thing to do but is beneficial for long-term [economic] growth.”