My Internship Creating Environmentally and Socially Sustainable Corporate Solutions

This post was written by Liza Schillo, a joint MEM/MBA student at Duke in October 2013.  Liza worked with Natural Capitalism Solutions over her summer internship, made possible by the support of the Summer Internship Fund.

This summer, I worked with Natural Capitalism Solutions (NCS), a sustainability consulting firm located in Boulder, CO.  This boutique consulting firm was founded by Hunter Lovins, currently the organization’s president and a pioneer in the concept of corporate sustainability.  In addition to NCS, Hunter founded the Rocky Mountain Institute, co-developed the concept of natural capitalism, which she has written several books about, and written hundreds of white papers (for a complete biography please follow this link).  In 2000 she was named Time Magazine’s Hero of the Planet, and Newsweek awarded her with the title of Green Business Icon in 2009.

Since Hunter Lovins and David Elliot founded NCS in 2002, NCS has established a proven record of success in improving the environmental efficiency of its corporate and government clients with innovative and cost effective solutions.  In addition to standard client-based projects, Natural Capitalism Solutions is in the process of developing an online toolkit, the Madrone Project, for corporate and government interests who wish to educate themselves on “innovative business solutions to dynamic global challenges.”

My responsibilities over the course of the summer were focused on two challenges: join a team that was building a sustainability portfolio for a corporate client, and develop NCS’s online social network presence.  Most of my time was devoted to working with the corporate client – a major corporate restaurant chain.  When I entered the project, this restaurant group had no formal sustainability plan in place and my team was just beginning the process of categorizing the 77,000-unit ingredient list into low-, medium-, and high-risk ingredients.  These risk ratings were based on several metrics including the reputation of the supplier for sustainability and labor issues, as well as the human health and environmental and social sustainability concerns surrounding the ingredient.  My team and I completed an assessment of each ingredient, providing a risk value and reasons and recommendations for each decision.

After the assessment we moved on to supplier outreach, where we investigated the sustainability merits and concerns surrounding each of the restaurant group’s suppliers and vendors.  Thanks to my work, the restaurant group now has a succinct and easy-to-understand method for prioritizing modifications to their menu.  I also left them with sustainability questionnaires specific to their most important suppliers, which will allow them to open the conversation with their suppliers on how to work together to form a more sustainable supply chain. The concepts that I learned through coursework on business operations, supply chains, and sustainability best practices were directly applicable to my work, and gave me confidence in sharing my ideas for their supply chain.

My ability to communicate a message with brevity and intrigue was exceptionally helpful to NCS as I worked on developing their online social networks.  The very first Facebook post I crafted received over 300 views.  I did research on strategy for communicating with stakeholders through LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, and applied what I learned to various posts, incorporating best practices for optimizing viewer engagement and varying the theme I posted about.  The results of my experimenting are being incorporated into NCS’s strategy for online outreach moving forward.

My two greatest takeaways were both very valuable to me in their applicability to my job search moving forward.  I learned, first, that a career in sustainability consulting is something I now know plays to my strengths.  Beyond being familiar with the subject matter, I enjoyed having a deadline, working on several projects at once, being able to get creative with my ideas for sustainable solutions, and participating as a member of a very capable and diverse team. I also valued the experience I had with my supervisor; he demonstrated very positive managerial skills that I hope to incorporate into my own future experiences with project management.  He made sure to ask me upfront about my own interests and matched me with projects in which our priorities were most closely aligned.  He also made it clear from the beginning that my opinion was valued in the office.

The Summer Internship Fund (SIF) enables first year Duke MBA-Daytime students to learn about the rewards and challenges of social sector management without making a significant financial sacrifice. In addition, the program enables organizations that otherwise could not afford to hire MBA student interns to benefit from students’ expertise.  The SIF has supported more nearly 150 students, distributed approximately $430,000, and helped to further the mission of many nonprofit and government organizations. Funds are raised through student fundraising and from donors who believe in the mission of the program.  If you would like to contribute, you can donate online.