On November 21st and 22nd, the Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility (CESR) hosted the Chicago career trek, organized by Sara Neuner, Program Coordinator of CESR. The companies were selected with a focus on sustainability, but included a wide variety of industries and functional positions. Read below for more details on each company’s unique sustainability practices.
Thursday morning, our first visit was method’s South-Side Soapbox factory, located in the Pullman Historic District. Method’s factory offers well-paid jobs, on-the-job training and generous benefits in an area that did not have many high-quality job opportunities in the past. The South-Side Soapbox is a certified LEED Platinum and zero-waste facility that is built on a mission of minimizing environmental impact. One area where they have reduced waste is through their supply chain - they moved production of their plastic bottles in-house to eliminate the need to transport the bottles to various locations before they are filled. They avoided waste in procurement as well by arranging a deal with their hair-net supplier to recycle used hair nets to be remade into new ones for the factory. Method demonstrated the importance of intentional decisions in all aspects of operation, from constructing a building for the factory to how that product is distributed, in order to create a sustainable business.
During lunch on Thursday, we visited Impact Engine, a women-owned impact investing firm that works with innovative startups that have the potential to drive change within their industry. Impact Engine arranged a panel with other impact investing professionals, including Haley Taylor (Senior Philanthropy Associate at JPMorgan), Sam Schiller (CEO/Founder of Carbon Yield), and Chris Wu (Associate at Impact Engine). They addressed the increasingly common conversations surrounding sustainability and social responsibility among executives and the importance of focusing on more than just profit in modern business. Students asked how companies can balance the costs of sustainable practices with profit maximization goals, and the panelists answered that it is an investment that pays off by strengthening the reputation of the brand, which appeals to a growing number of consumers.
At the corporate headquarters of McDonalds, students had an engaging discussion with the Senior Director of Global Sustainability, Jenny McColloch, about the efforts her team is making to drive change in the fast food industry. They are concentrating on their motto “scale for good,” which refers to the magnitude of the change McDonald’s can create because of their wide reach internationally. Within this objective, McDonald’s is focusing on things like beef sustainability, climate action and packaging. Through closer monitoring of their supply chain, they can minimize deforestation for cattle production and limit the production of meat via factory farming practices. While the change may be slow moving, they have the potential to generate a much larger impact than small companies in the food industry.
Day two of the trek began at ePac, a packaging company that produces digitally printed flexible plastic packaging. The United States is a single-use economy that is dependent on plastics, but ePac has found a way to disrupt the industry and minimize waste in the production of single-use plastics. Using digital printing allows ePac to avoid ten thousand feet of plastic waste in every product run when compared with typical printing methods. Their quick turnaround times allow just-in-time production, which decreases the amount of plastics that are held in inventory both by ePac and their customers. They also are able to reduce their carbon footprint in the transportation of their plastic packages since they take up less space than hard plastic packaging, thereby allowing more efficient transportation.
Bright Endeavors is a nonprofit social enterprise that makes hand-poured soy candles and is a job-training program within the larger nonprofit New Moms that serves young mothers in the Chicago area. Their mission is to help young mothers develop professional skills through a 16-week training program. These moms work for three days of the week but are paid for five, which includes two paid training days. The team spoke about their need to always keep their mission in mind, rather than focusing on efficiency and growth. They will only grow if this would allow them to serve more moms.
Goby is a consulting firm leveraging big data and business value framework to help companies make sustainable choices. Students heard from the Senior Vice President of ESG, Sean Daley, as well as other frontline employees who work with clients regularly. Goby assists in the upkeep of sustainability certifications for companies and helps them to understand why certain sustainability decisions are not only good for the environment, but their wallet as well. For example, LED light bulbs are more energy efficient and last longer, reducing the amount spent on energy and lighting. They also provide highly detailed sustainability reports to their clients. Goby is currently hiring for several sustainability positions and will have internships in the summer, but they may not post all openings online. If you are interested, reach out to Goby directly to apply.
The panel at RXBAR, a company that produces protein bars, was composed of professionals from various business divisions ranging from marketing to finance. Students were able to observe the deeply ingrained values of the company in the “No B.S.” culture that’s written on the front of every package, and their focus on wellness. Their bars are made with minimally processed, simple, nutritious ingredients and panelists said they appreciated the company’s commitment to using Radical Candor in communication.
Curious about careers in sustainable business? CESR takes groups of business students on career treks every semester. Learn more about our upcoming plans on the CESR events page.