Course Asks Business, ‘What’s Your Green Strategy?’

Posted: October 31, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Tara Laskowski

If you shop at one of the local Whole Foods markets in the D.C. area, you might notice that the store has increased its selection of locally grown produce, or that it is now selling its compost back to customers.

These environmentally friendly practices are in place because of a new course at Mason that teaches students how being ‘green’ not only benefits society but can actually help businesses boost their bottom line.

Nicole Darnall
Nicole Darnall
Photo courtesy of Nicole Darnall

Nicole Darnall is a professor of environmental science and policy (ESP) at Mason who focuses her research on business strategy. One of her courses, Corporate Environmental Management and Policy, often enrolls more management-focused students than scientists; however, the principles she covers in the course can apply to and impact students of all majors.

“Environmental concerns have become a strategic issue for businesses across all sectors,” says Darnall. “Future business leaders need to be prepared to make decisions based on sustainability criteria, and they must realize the ethical and financial reasons that support these decisions.”

In this graduate-level course, students have readings, lectures and case studies that assess companies’ sustainable business practices. From studying the practices of companies such as Walmart, Xerox and Dow Chemical Company, students get a sense of how organizations’ independent actions may improve the environment while enhancing their internal efficiencies, market opportunities and reputation.

In one of the course projects, student teams select a company and assess its opportunities to improve the environment and enhance firm value. The students talk with managers or regional managers to determine how their company’s strategies and production processes affect the natural environmental. Student teams then formulate recommendations for change.

John Patrick, a PhD student in ESP who took Darnall’s course last year, worked with other students to analyze Whole Foods stores in the mid-Atlantic region. Their efforts led to many stores implementing a stronger “Buy Local” program and a comprehensive compost program to deal with food waste.

“The Whole Foods representative was really pleased with our efforts,” says Patrick. “He said our assessment gave him external credibility to push forward some things that he had wanted to do for a long time.”

Which brings up a point that Darnall teaches in her class — often managers want to implement environmentally friendly practices, but don’t know how to do so or can’t seem to justify the initial costs and changes it would require.

“Many businesses want to be sustainable, but they don’t know how to begin,” she says. Darnall’s hope is that in working with her students, “these companies can move forward with adopting stronger sustainability goals and do so with greater confidence about the business advantages of their decisions.”

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