The Unfolding Sustainability Generation
Ecology Prime is pleased to share the exceptional work and unique perspective of seven bright minds from the Whitman School of Management, Syracuse University, Sustainable Enterprise course, of Fall 2020. Individually, the points of view shared by these independent thinkers, are timely and unique. Collectively, these voices beckon to a broader generational shift that has been underway, and which is becoming more inclusive, diverse, and focused on a shared pursuit of a more sustainable future.
Mark Coleman, adjunct instructor of Sustainable Enterprise and an award-winning author of three books on sustainability, introduced a class of 29 students to Sustainable Enterprise. The course’s content, purpose, and learning objectives are focused on providing the tools, methods, and understanding of how systemic changes influence business and entrepreneurs and consequentially, how business and entrepreneurs address the needs of society and create new paradigms through sustainable value. The course is part of a broader curriculum which prepares students to engage in transdisciplinary collaboration to develop sustainable solutions to complex organizational challenges. The essays and video presented here over the next weeks were submitted as the Sustainable Enterprise course’s final projects.
What does the future look like for you?
By Camryn Lawyea
The future, from my view on the cliff’s edge of my college career, looks daunting and uncertain. By now, I have discovered many of my passions, my favorite subjects to learn, and what I think I would like to do with my career. But who can know for sure? I certainly don’t know which job I will enjoy the most, what path my career might actually follow, or where life will take me. I am on the precipice of a new chapter in my life, as many other students are right now, wondering what exactly the future holds and trying to figure out what the “right” next step is. However, there is no “right” next step. I can find some reassurance in admitting that I can’t know for sure what this next step should be, because that lifts the pressure off of my shoulders and out of my mind. All I can do right now is follow what opportunities are presented to me and trust that I am moving down a path that offers many lessons and chances to make a positive difference in the world. If anything, I am guided the most by my values. My values make up who I am, such as valuing authenticity, growth, equality, freedom, learning, creativity and love. If I can incorporate these values into my every day, as well as the greater scheme of my life, I will be successful. So, it is not necessarily about picking the “right” next step in my life, because that doesn’t exist; rather, it is about moving forward empowered by my values as a sort of guidebook to life.
How do my values and big life decisions relate to sustainability exactly? Well, sustainability is one of the subjects I value the most. It is a value and aspiration of mine to lead a more sustainable lifestyle and support sustainability in business. I believe that sustainability must become a way of life for humanity, in order for us to move forward living here. This means that businesses must adapt to engrain sustainability into their structure, processes, and values as well.
In some ways, businesses are the drivers of a community’s lifestyle. What the majority of businesses offer in a community, whether that be the global community, a nation or a small town, deeply affects consumer decisions and perceptions. For the past few decades, it has been acceptable for food, cosmetics, cleaning products, and clothing to contain harmful materials or ingredients. Many consumers do not know the impact of these products or there is often no better alternative, and so they consume them. On the other hand, consumers can also be the drivers of business. This is the bright side. We can affect change from an individual standpoint by demanding better quality product offerings from businesses. We all want to live healthier, longer lives, so as consumers we are prioritizing more and more the need for safe products for all. They must be safe, healthy, quality products that do no harm to others. Consumers across the globe are waking up to the fact that we need to change, and we must affect that change through the power of educating ourselves about what we buy, who our money supports, and challenging the status quo. This trend has been growing throughout my lifetime and became apparent to me at a young age. The idea that we must value everyone that is affected by a product, from creation to the end of a product’s life, has been important to me for many years. Industries have begun moving to meet this consumer demand trend, gaining momentum over the past decade, and they must continue to do so.
The ideal future of sustainable business is coming into view. There are countless businesses existing right now that embody what it means to be sustainable. The ideal for sustainable business is a world in which it is normalized and mainstream to value sustainability. And not only for the environment, but also for society and the economy. Sustainability is a multifaceted ideal that encompasses nearly every part of the globe and impacts every aspect of our lifestyles. Everything we make, purchase, and consume has an impact. So, the future of sustainability in business does not look one specific way. There are myriad ways that businesses can incorporate sustainability into their existing structure, as well as new businesses that value this from the start. The goal for the business world is to become sustainable across the board, in all industries and processes. This may not happen for a long while, since we are currently far from reaching this ideal, but we will get there someday.
Looking at a smaller scale of individual businesses, especially new ventures, sustainability is about creating effective cycles. From ideation to production to end-of-life, a sustainable enterprise should look at a product or service’s impact from every angle. They should be built intentionally, thoughtfully and carefully to cause no harm to people or the planet. The end of a product’s life should also be taken into account because this often has the longest-lasting impact. Landfills and polluted oceans must be prevented through effective cycles that bring a product back through the system, transforming it for another life or managing waste in a safe way. Thus, a new company should include sustainability as a major part of the planning process, even in the initial Business Model Canvas or early development stage. Of course, a company cannot be perfect from the start, but they should do everything they can to minimize negative impact and set themselves up for improvement in the future. There should be opportunities and systems in place for the company to assess its progress towards sustainability goals, just as many large corporations do in their Corporate Social Responsibility reports. This is yet another cycle of setting goals, analyzing progress, and adjusting course towards achievement.
It may sound difficult to believe that all businesses can and should incorporate sustainability into their action plans. After all, many businesses are struggling already, and setting more expectations could negatively impact them. However, I believe that a business with a good purpose and sustainability in mind will be able to succeed. Many consumers want to see this value reflected in the companies they support. A business that recognizes this and prepares itself for this trend is more likely to be successful in the long run. Young adults like me, members of the iGen generation, use values as a determining factor in their shopping decisions even more. So, for a business or industry to stay ahead, they must utilize this to their advantage. Additionally, since sustainability is more a rarity than the norm right now, consumers are often willing to pay a premium for this value. Lastly, to some people’s surprise, corporations that are turning towards extensive sustainability goals often pair this with a goal to become more cost-efficient.
Although it seems contradictory, there are ways to balance both of these objectives. Overall, sustainable enterprise presents an opportunity for long-term growth and improvement. Although I am not certain of what the next chapter of my life holds, I do know that I am passionate about sustainability. I want to incorporate this value into my life, by creating daily habits that are sustainable for my own health and wellness, by being an ethical consumer and supporting sustainable organizations, and by making sustainability a part of my career path. Whatever organization I may work for in the future, I can make an impact by helping them become more sustainable through small practices, like recycling, and even influencing leadership to prioritize sustainability. And eventually, hopefully I can lead my own ideal sustainable enterprise that embodies all of my values and what it means to be truly sustainable. I know that if I follow my values, including sustainability, I will be able to make an immeasurable impact in the business world by being an example of a values-based company, as well as leading a values-based life.
I am a Senior majoring in Retail Management, Supply Chain Management, and Entrepreneurship & Emerging Enterprises at the Martin J. Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University. With a passion for business and a love of learning, I have developed my skills throughout my college career. I am specifically interested in sustainability as it relates to business, as well as incorporating creativity into the business world as much as possible. I’m lucky to have focused my courses on both of these subjects during my time at SU. My dream is to work for a sustainable enterprise, or better yet, start my own business that makes a positive impact on the world!
Connect with me! LinkedIn: Camryn Lawyea
Feature Image Photo Credits
Students from Left to Right:
Jared Simon, Madison Covino, Zachary Fredendall, Stephanie Pearson, Joshua Simoncic, Camryn Lawyea, Josh Katowitz
Buckminster Fuller – Montreal Biosphere, 1967 – Photo by Cédric ThévenetCC Wikimedia Commons
Disposable cups – Photo by Ann H. – CC Pexels
Box of face masks – Photo by Ivan Samkov – CC Pexels
Rainbow – Public Domain Pictures CC
Plastic bottles – Photo by Magda Ehlers – CC Pexels
Girl with facemask – Photo by Maksim Goncharenok CC Pexels
Path with girl – Photo by Vlad Bagacian – CC Pexels
Ocean pollution – Photo by Artem Beliaikin – Pexels
Post Photo – Path with girl – Photo by Vlad Bagacian – CC Pexels