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BYU: Marriott students create sustainable change

By Kaylee Hepburn - BYU | Oct 9, 2021

The SIP team takes a picture while walking through a Walmart. (Courtesy Elisa Huhem)

This summer, Walmart challenged four BYU Marriott School of Business students to create a sustainable alternative for a supply chain process through an internship with the school’s Ballard Center for Social Impact. These social impact projects (SIPs) enable students from all disciplines to create lasting solutions to global challenges.

Over the summer, the Ballard Center worked with Walmart to assign BYU Marriott students Brandon Adams, Elisa Huhem, Emily McDonald and Aaron Rameson the challenge to increase the corporation’s environmental sustainability through new eco-friendly packaging designs for company products.

The team met with Walmart’s sustainability department via Zoom to participate in a virtual corporate walk-through of a Walmart property. Walmart staff taught the students how to analyze the packaging of products in each department and to look for opportunities for more sustainable solutions. During this meeting, students learned about Walmart’s current sustainability efforts and the importance of reducing plastic waste in product packaging.

“Witnessing how social impact works in a corporate setting was amazing,” says Adams, a junior from Las Vegas in the global supply chain management program. “People often think about social impact within the nonprofit sphere but working with Walmart taught me that corporations also have huge opportunities for significant impact.”

Meeting with Walmart inspired the student team to complete their own walk-throughs of several store locations and design environmentally friendly alternatives to current packaging designs. To find the most sustainable solutions, the students visited some of Walmart’s local competitors and observed which products were packaged in the most sustainable ways between the organizations.

The SIP team examines different Walmart products. (Courtesy Elisa Huhem)

“Our group looked at products with a new perspective and consistently asked ourselves how the products’ packaging could be improved,” says Huhem, a first year MPA student and native of Ceder Hills in Utah County. “We were not afraid to brainstorm a variety of ideas, because innovation is at the heart of improvement and is critical for actionable change.”

Innovation led the students to compile their research and discoveries into a sustainability playbook for Walmart’s manufacturers and suppliers. The group’s guide features charts, certification requirements, and suggestions about reducing the use of single-use plastics in packaging by replacing them with sustainable materials. Walmart now uses this playbook in corporate meetings as a detailed overview on how to increase its sustainability.

“I initially thought we would play a small role as interns,” says Rameson, a finance junior from Spanish Fork. “However, I realized our research and efforts are impacting all levels of Walmart’s organization. Our mentors called our team a catalyst for change.”

The group’s playbook is playing a helpful role in reducing content in landfills and helping the earth heal, notes McDonald, a junior in the marketing program who hails from Silver City, New Mexico. “That’s what social impact is about: doing our small part to make the world healthier, happier, and more sustainable.”

All students who participate in SIP projects have similar experiences, says SIP instructor and director Jill Piciatelli. “Like those who worked with Walmart, students who participate in SIP projects gain highly mentored experience in social impact work that helps prepare them with unique skills and training as they approach entering the workforce. Students in these projects apply their skills in the context of a real problem with mentors to guide them. Regardless of where a student goes in their life, the lessons they learn during an SIP experience will positively impact their future and the world around them.”

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