General Motors created its first Student Sustainability Advisory Council this year to begin a new dialogue on sustainability. Composed of five graduate students from MIT, Penn State, Georgia Tech, University of Michigan and Stanford, the council provides fresh perspectives on sustainability at GM.
The company convenes formal stakeholder dialogues through Ceres and informally through various other sustainability networks. This initiative, however, offers students the opportunity to take a step inside the company and lend their unique insights into our sustainability strategy and priorities. The students come from diverse backgrounds, but they all share an interest in the subject.
Jess Newman, a student pursuing both an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management and a Master of Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, is part of the program. She said she’s pursuing a dual degree because she wants to be an environmental problem solver conversant in both the public and private sectors.
“My career is focused on the nexus of business and sustainability, and I’m excited about the opportunity to have a real impact on a company’s strategy through the GM Student Sustainability Advisory Council,” said Newman, who is also pursuing a Sustainability Certificate as part of her MBA program at Sloan.
She said that GM’s sustainability work is innovation at the intersection of the public private and nonprofit sectors.
“This is exactly the kind of work I want to do in my career,” said Newman. “I am delighted that GM wants student input on sustainability, and impressed with the company’s holistic systems approach, global progress to date, and incorporation of sustainability goals into things like employee compensation.”
So what does it mean to be a student advisor for GM?
Each person is paired with a mentor working on sustainability initiatives at the company. They connect via conference calls and seminars to learn about a specific topic, from how to best build a framework for supply chain sustainability to benchmarking corporate renewable energy purchases.
The students spent about 20 hours of work on their projects. In May, they presented their findings to a room of GM executives.
GM is using the students’ recommendations. For example, Braxton Mashburn, an MBA student from the University of Michigan, researched 400 corporate environmental, social and governance key performance indicators tracked by the financial community and provided insights into how GM measures up. GM uses the material to help prepare for various engagements with investors.
GM gets a lot out of the collaboration, but students also appreciate the mentorship, professional exposure and access to a network of employees and peers across the United States and beyond.
“The council will give student leaders meaningful input on sustainability strategy, which is a rare opportunity,” said Newman.
The first five members will stay on the council for two academic years. The company will continue to seek their perspectives on topics such as material issues and sustainability report content.
GM Sustainability Director David Tulauskas said the idea for this initiative was a result of engaging a group of students from the University of Michigan.
“We asked these students to provide feedback on our sustainability report,” said Tulauskas. “I was impressed by their depth of analysis and insightful recommendations. I thought, ‘if we could bottle this up and do it again, it would be worthwhile.’ Students are stakeholders and their opinions are valuable as we further embed sustainability into our business.”
GM plans to add five more members in 2017.
By giving these students the opportunity to look at our company critically through an academic and sustainability lens, we hope to gain additional insight on how millennials view our performance, and learn tips on how to further maximize impact while reducing our environmental footprint.