Originally published in the June 2012 issue of the Nova Scotia Business Journal - National Environment Week (June 3-9) special advertising feature
In architecture, a capstone refers to a finishing stone crowning the top of a wall or building. For many of the first graduates of Dalhousie’s College of Sustainability and the ESS program (environment, sustainability and society), the capstone class project signifies the final achievement of their undergraduate career.
In its debut year, the fourth-year students worked with Credit Union Atlantic (CUA) to get hands-on experience performing a baseline assessment of the financial institution’s environmental footprint as part of CUA’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy. CUA provides banking services and financial solutions to individuals and businesses in Greater Halifax/Dartmouth, and is one of the largest credit unions in Atlantic Canada.
A big part of CUA’s CSR strategy is to become more environmentally conscious in its operations and business practices. President and CEO Marie Mullally recognized that to “articulate tactics or initiatives that CUA can realistically and cost-effectively implement”, a baseline assessment of CUA’s emissions, energy use, waste, water, etc. would be required.
In working with Dalhousie’s College of Sustainability, Mullally mandated that the final recommendations needed to be practical for the size of CUA, keeping in mind its resources and the fact that it rents most of its branch locations.
The project was complex — students divided themselves into three work teams to measure CUA’s carbon emissions equivalent. The energy team focused on building operations (electricity, heating fuel etc.) as well as employee and corporate travel. The materials team measured CUA’s usage of paper, water, office supplies and its waste output. The employee resources team conducted an online survey of CUA employee attitudes and engagement with environmental issues and hosted two focus group discussions to gather employee suggestions of ways to enhance CUA’s environmental efforts.
This year’s capstone class was comprised of 21 students from at least four faculties. Each student combined the ESS curriculum with a second major such as: international development studies, environmental science, history, economics, marine biology, community design, business or the history of science and technology. This diversity and multi-disciplinarity of the students was a huge asset for the project.
Kyle Mustard, who is majoring in history and ESS, said the real-world learning experience of working with a client such as CUA was invaluable.
“There were real deadlines and short notices for assignments unlike in regular classes,” said Mustard. “It also provided an opportunity to not only utilize the skills I’ve gained throughout my university career but also to develop new skills and perspectives shared by my classmates.”
Students made a presentation to CUA management at the end of the semester featuring their corporate report findings. Remembering Marie Mullally’s requirement that all recommendations needed to be feasible, students rated each suggestion as “high, medium or low” on cost savings, visibility, and sustainability impact, and organized these in the final report with a colour-coded graphic indicating how each suggestion was rated. Some of the recommendations were simple, like installing toilet dams in water-guzzling toilets or increasing the use of recycled paper, but others involved educating CUA customers about the benefits of online statements, or changing staff behaviour to replace bottled-water coolers with tap-water jugs stored in the fridge.
The final deliverable was a series of spread sheet “calculators” which will enable CUA to continue monitoring their energy, water, and materials usage and track their reduced environmental impact in the coming years.
* Read more "Environment Week" stories at: http://www.ns.dailybusinessbuzz.ca/Industry-Spotlight/National-Environment-Week-23763