Prior to enrolling in Professor David Correll’s supply chain management class at Clark University’s Graduate School of Management, what most students know about the topic can be summed up in a UPS catchphrase: “It’s logistics.”
“It’s true,” Correll says with a laugh. “But that’s OK. I love being able to teach students about this important concept basically from scratch.”
His course, Green Supply Chain Management, delves into how a company or organization integrates environmental thinking into its supply chains, in areas such as product design, material selection, and manufacturing processes. And Correll does more than just talk about it; he shows his students how it works through business partnerships. Last year, his students worked with a popular Boston brewery, which provided a valuable experiential learning opportunity.
“Students see immediately that what they’re learning and being taught is actually quite important and will be considered seriously by the company.”
This year, his class partnered with U-Turn Audio, a Massachusetts company that manufactures turntables. After being approached by Correll, a big fan of U-Turn’s products, co-founder and chief operating officer Peter Maltzan visited the class to talk about how the company’s supply chain and operations have evolved over time.
Correll divided the students into four teams, each tasked with developing analyses and creative supply chain ideas for the young company. To foster competition, he and Maltzan would award points at the end of the project based on the quality of the ideas and final presentations. The winning team would have their points added to their final course grades.
During the semester, Maltzan met with each team for 30 minutes to help steer their concepts, and then returned for the final presentations. In the meantime, students presented their ideas to their peers, as practice for the final competition. The class was a mix of MBA and dual MBA/MS in Environmental Science and Policy students, which Correll said made for some fun and productive discussions.
“Environmental Science and Policy students sometimes focus predominantly on climate change, while MBA students focus on business aspects,” he says. “Having a mixed group made the class stronger — sometimes it was the ES&P students addressing environmental questions to the MBA students, and sometimes it was the other way round.”
The students’ ideas, with which Maltzan was impressed, ranged from trying to find greener materials for U-Turn’s products, to identifying its environmental footprint in the production area, to finding ways the company could engage more with its community.
“They were thoughtful, creative, and presented well,” Maltzan says. “This was our first project with a school like GSOM and the first time we had students turn around ideas and present to us in a consulting type of role. It can be a real challenge to find environmental impact improvements that don’t jeopardize a business’ viability.”
Maltzan felt the project was particularly helpful because in small companies like U-Turn, ideas and solutions come from a small pool of decision-makers. He said hearing new perspectives “was a rejuvenating experience.” In addition, the students exposed Maltzan’s team to other businesses in the sustainability industry that could help his company improve its environmental mindfulness.
“We understand now we could do a better job of disposing of or donating scrap materials, and we learned of better choices for consumable materials that we use on a daily basis,” he says. “Other ideas that will help us were larger in scale and will become long-term objectives that we’ll keep in mind as U-Turn evolves.”
Correll believes providing students with experiential learning opportunities forces them to think seriously and critically about problems and how to solve them. The class format also helps students master presentation skills. Among other things, second-year MBA student Madeleyn Valenzuela found the course invaluable for what it did for her confidence.
“We had a lot of time to practice presenting, so every week I felt more confident. When I got up in front of Peter [Maltzan], it felt like just another presentation,” she said.
Fellow MBA student Stefan Dutka agreed, adding, “We had plenty of class time for back and forth with the professor. It felt really good to have that support. In my future job, this type of research and presentation won’t be some new and scary undertaking.”
Correll isn’t sure who the client will be for his next course, but his class model won’t change. He wants his students to be able to demonstrate to real companies how green supply chain management can be integrated successfully into their businesses through the development of tangible solutions for their existing problems.
“Students see immediately that what they’re learning and being taught is actually quite important and will be considered seriously by the company,” he says.