I absolutely recommend [working with Leeds students in this class] to companies looking to explore their sustainability management. - Hannah Kight, Senior Environmental Health Services Manager, Breckenridge Brewery
Student consulting teams tackled ESG questions for seven local businesses as part of the new undergraduate capstone course The Sustainable Firm: ESG Strategies and Practices, taught by Joshua Nunziato. Ranging from data collection to corporate social responsibility (CSR) reporting, Fitwel and B Corp Certifications, students addressed business sustainability challenges.
Student Consulting Team: Bhari Cowlagi, Morgan Oliva, Pablo Aguilar Rubio, Victoria Leen
Students helped develop a process for becoming B Corp certified. They began by conducting a B Impact Assessment, which is a rigorous self-assessment that scores companies on their social and environmental impact. From that initial score, the team identified some specific policies and practices Breckenridge Brewery can adopt to help them add points and ultimately qualify for B Corp status.
Hannah Kight felt the students provided impressive content and gave her team the information they needed to move the conversation forward internally.
Student Consulting Team: Jasmine Ferdowsian, Lily Busse, Peter Harlovic, Zoe Snow
Students worked with Casey Stock and Paul Greenland, VP Marketing and Communications, to create Natera’s first CSR report. They began by reviewing a materiality assessment that had already been completed, created a report outline, and then looked at how to align the results with SASB reporting standards and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
The team also made recommendations for the future. One was to engage more stakeholders and thereby develop more granularity in the materiality matrix that would allow Natera to do additional prioritization. They also noted that Natera is in a position to proactively plan for new proposed SEC rules around greenhouse gas (GHG) protocols which will affect disclosure of environmental metrics, timeliness of data disclosures and collection strategies. The third suggestion was for Natera to add a section on ESG (environment, social and governance) and sustainability to the website to showcase work they are already doing.
Paul Greenland appreciated that the students helped shape the business case, “emphasizing the long term value of enlarging our positive handprint rather than just reducing our negative footprint.”
Student Consulting Team: Kiera Hurley, Makenna Kardell, Mary Sumner Kauffman, Max Brandt
For Settee, a sustainable furniture startup, students developed an ESG report. As a company built around a goal of sustainability, the question was how to convey what sustainability means, and how it is being measured, to help explain why sustainable furniture is the best choice.
The team began with a market assessment, and benchmarked Settee against their closest competitors. They mapped out a full list of the elements that could be evaluated in furniture making, including upcycling and recycling, materials, fabrics, VOCs, and quality over quantity. They also researched industry standards and certifications. Based on this, they designed metrics and outlined an approach of creating web pages for each, on which Settee can tell their sustainability story to customers.
Student Consulting Team: Isabella Casagrande, Josh Baker, Maya Nefs, Sarah O'Keefe
Mortenson asked their student team to develop a CSR report that would position them as a leader in their industry. Students researched best practices, conducted a peer review, and identified existing initiatives before developing some recommendations.
Their key recommendation was to use a reporting model based on “double materiality,” by considering what is financially material to the business as well as what is material to the environment, people and the marketplace. They believe this will unlock benefits that come from alignment with ESG, such as reductions to operating costs, increased efficiency, risk management, new business opportunities, and stronger brand value.
“There can be a fear that we have to eat the whole turkey in one sitting,” said Julianne Laue, Director of Building Performance at Mortenson. “It has been helpful to have the team to explain transitioning over time, options and opportunities.”
Delta Dental of Colorado (DDCO)
Student Consulting Team: Ashley Nesbitt, Caitlin O'Neill, Emily Knutte, Riley Cummins
Delta Dental of Colorado (DDCO) recently relocated their campus, and chose a site that had easy access to commuter options. Their student consulting project was an assessment of employee attitudes towards commuting by car, and green transportation alternatives, as part of DDCO’s strategy to achieve Fitwel certification.
To create a baseline for their recommendations, the students surveyed employees about their commuting habits and attitudes. They then calculated the equivalent emissions impact and used that to quantify the reduction in GHG emissions from different proposals that DDCO could pursue. One suggestion was to create a carpool matching group for interested employees. Another potentially easy win would be to post signage promoting stair usage and other healthy habits, which earn Fitwel points.
They also looked at two ways DDCO might leverage existing expenses to expand their impact. One was to move from sponsoring employee ECO bus passes to a mobile ticketing book which only invoices for activated passes. Another was to use those savings to internalize the costs of car commuting. The students argued that one reason green transport initiatives are hard to make stick is that employees don't really bear the full cost of driving. They proposed that DDCO could give employees a choice to park for free, or find an alternative and get a credit, incentivizing employees to look at greener transportation options.
Student Consulting Team: Kayte Abbott, Madison Reynolds, Mikah Anderson, Syd Chytka, Vance Parry, Zoe Berry
Canimal’s purpose is to improve the circularity of aluminum cans by overcoating "orphan cans", and then reprinting on top. Students were asked to investigate what issues are most material to the company, and develop recommendations that can help future-proof the business.
They started by validating the company’s environmental data and claims. This allowed them to see where data collection and inputs could be improved. The students also launched a survey effort targeting brewers to identify potential customers, and another for consumers to understand demographics and price sensitivities.The students proposed running the surveys again to expand reach and diversify participants.
In terms of future proofing, the team proposed a three phase approach to ESG that would move Canimal toward full circularity in operations, while addressing social impact through HR policies, and governance through a formal ESG values statement, a stakeholder engagement plan, and cyber security measures.
Tim said that he had already begun to operationalize the students’ insights and that he had a lot to share with brewery partners as a result of this project. ”I am considering doing a joint presentation at a brewers conference where the primary focus is sustainability,” he said.
Student Consulting Team: Cliff Dinwiddie, Hyde Weissenfluh, Nate Bodner
The Xcel Energy student team reviewed the company’s Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) report, compared it to a set of peer companies, distilled best practices, and made recommendations for how to improve comprehension, use and access to the report.
Some of the recommendations pointed out ways that Xcel Energy is already leading in their peer group, and focused on communicating those initiatives. For example, many energy companies focus their TCFD disclosures on renewables and decarbonizing electricity, while Xcel Energy has the opportunity to talk about its use of natural gas as part of their larger climate strategy along with offsets, internal carbon prices, energy efficiency measures, and investment in carbon capture. Other ideas included using data visualization techniques alongside narrative text, and moving the report to a website.
The students were also excited about Xcel Energy’s ESG library, and proposed that linking out to those reports from the TCFD, and making them easier to find, could add value for readers and showcase a strength of the company that goes above and beyond what other companies are doing.
Another opportunity to engage readers is in the conclusion, which is not guided by TCFD and so can include next steps and timelines and a call to action to investors and readers. By ending with goals and big milestones for climate goals Xcel Energy can leave the reader looking to the future, and inspire investors to share in the journey.
Interested in exploring opportunities for your company to work with Leeds’ student consultants? Email Justine Roberts to learn more.