The Working Waterfront
Posted: April 11th, 2012 | BUSINESS, ENVIRONMENT

Students Work with Businesses to Foster Sustainability

by Craig Idlebrook

Jay Friedlander
Professor Jay Friedlander discusses sustainable business practices with his students at College of the Atlantic. Photo courtesy of COA

This past semester, students from the College of the Atlantic collaborated with two Mount Desert Island businesses, the Atlantic Brewing Company and the Acadia Corporation, to find new ways for the businesses to strengthen their environmental and economic sustainability. Owners of the two businesses said that working with the students has led to creative and doable ideas they hope to implement in the coming months.

The collaboration was part of a class on sustainable business practices taught by Jay Friedlander, a Collage of the Atlantic (COA) professor and the Sharpe-McNally Chair of Green and Socially Responsible Business. Friedlander says he wanted to help students move past the old dichotomy of environmentalism versus business.

“You can use sustainable practices…to enhance the value of the business,” Friedlander said.

True environmental sustainability can only be achieved in most cases if it’s also economically sustainable, he said, and that can only come when the two sides work together to create a new model.

“They can help each other create a world that has economic, social and environmental innovation,” Friedlander said.

College of the Atlantic students are well-known for their environmental ethos, and the college only offers a single degree program in Human Ecology. But in his class, Friedlander focused on helping students also understand the economic realities of small businesses.

It was clear to see that understanding grow throughout the partnership, said Atlantic Brewing Company co-owner Doug Maffucci. Maffucci agreed to open his business to COA students, but he didn’t expect much to come of it. Initially, the suggestions offered by the students were broad and unworkable economically, he said. Although the company already reuses its water and recycles some 95 percent of the materials it uses, Maffucci said he couldn’t afford to subscribe to a green solution if it didn’t help his bottom line. His company has faced pressure from a 15 percent price increase of commodities in the past three years, and he needs to find ways to cut costs.

“I’ve got to do the same [in cost] or make some money saving the planet,” Maffucci said.

But the students’ suggestions became more focused as they learned from Maffucci and Friedlander how businesses worked throughout the semester. They found six concrete suggestions that Maffucci felt could be implemented. From them, he picked two he hopes to pursue.

Maffucci is most excited about how students found a way he might use a new technology to offer small “eco-kegs” for customers who want draft beer. In the past, customers who bought kegs either needed a separate device for CO2 cartridges or enjoy their beer within 24 hours. The new, smaller keg design has a built-in CO2 cartridge compartment, so customers can use and return the entire keg for refill. It is also small enough to fit into a fridge—about the size of three paint cans. The Atlantic Brewing Company hopes to bench-test the new product in the coming weeks and then pilot it throughout Hancock County.

The company also will pursue a greater partnership with the Clynk recycling company, Maffucci said.

Acadia Corporation CEO Dave Woodside also has been impressed with the work done with the College of the Atlantic students. The suggestions generated were a mixture of environmental sustainability and marketing savvy, including such things as creating drinking water facilities around Jordan Pond to help visitors choose tap water over bottled water and concentrating the local ingredients offered by The Jordan Pond House restaurant to the dinner menu to maximize exposure of Acadia Corporation’s commitment to buying local. The company is working with Acadia National Park to try and implement the drinking water idea, said Woodside. 

This is the second year that COA has offered the class on sustainable business practices. Last year, students focused on businesses in Southwest Harbor and created such a stir that business owners requested they present their suggestions to the local chamber of commerce, said Friedlander. Suggestions adopted by Southwest Harbor inn owners included in-room recycling bins and creating natural cleaning products from inexpensive materials.