It’s starting to look a lot like Allston’s Christmas.
It was a September day when most rents in Boston were surrendered, and tenants ended up leaving tons of furniture and other household items on the side of the road. And every year, the City of Boston has to get rid of all that trash.
Is there a sustainable solution to this perennial problem? That was one of the questions raised during the Questrom Sustainability Case Competition at Boston University. A group of online MBA students from the University of Suffolk Sawyer Business School—Olivia Curreri, Rachel DiGiammarino, Jillian Garner, Jennifer Hernandez, and Matthew Sacchi—came in and, well, cleaned up. They beat 61 other teams from 11 colleges and universities and took home a $50,000 prize, 10% of which they had to donate to a non-profit organization focused on environmental sustainability.
Huddled together virtually for seven weeks—while working full time and attending classes—the four instantly become “waste management gurus” when they do their research. Working with faculty trainers Professor Jodi Detjen and Professor Pelin Bicen, the team spent hundreds of hours developing their solution.
After making it through the first round with their essay and then through the second round face-to-face presentation, the team landed in the final. But that’s when the jury added a rule change: what solution would the team come up with if people weren’t allowed to throw away reusable furniture?
The group has an hour to spin around and provide answers… and ultimately wins. (Because the jury is from the actual company that will be implementing the solution, a non-disclosure agreement prohibits the team from sharing details about what, exactly, they are proposing.)
The trust is there
The group is still in for adrenaline-pumping days after the win. “This is a project where we can really make a difference,” said Garner. “We are pleased to see the recommendations we made come to life.”
The team gave several reasons for their success, one being the dynamics of their cohort and that they have all worked together in various combinations since starting their program. “The trust is already there,” said Sacchi. “People tell us we seem to be having fun,” Hernandez agrees.
Another reason they won was because their approach to the problem was different than what other teams had put forward. “We are focused on creating lasting behavior change, which we believe is critical to achieving our goal of zero waste.” said DiGiammarino. It also helps that they can use so much of what they learn in their MBA curriculum. “So many of our class showed up,” said Curreri, who traveled the final presentation day but still managed to help his teammates with their slides and talking points while he was at the airport.
Associate Dean of Innovative Education and Programs Professor Jodi Detjen realized from an early age that the five students were a special group. “When I saw the first draft of their idea, I saw the potential,” he says. “They see the problem solution as we talk about throughout the programme: the feasibility of making it work and last. They bring out the best of what our MBA helped build.”
Of course winning the competition and taking home $50,000 is great fun. But there’s an added bonus: Safety Insurance, for which Sacchi works as a field representative, will match a $5,000 donation the team makes to the Boston Area Gleaners, who work to save crop surplus for people in need.
“My colleagues at Safety Insurance are very excited to receive this opportunity,” he said. “I am proud to work for a company that understands the importance of paying it forward and is in a position to do so.”