Sustainability Case CompetitionSustainability Case Competition
Two Ithaca nonprofits that are considering creating a new business to recycle electronics have turned to the School of Business for help.

Six teams from across the Ithaca College campus are studying the case and preparing reports in the Sustainability Case Competition. They must recommend whether Challenge Workforce Solutions, an employment services organization, and Finger Lakes ReUse should cooperate on a program to refurbish, resell and recycle used computers.

Each team – of three to five members – must have at least one School of Business student. The competition is open to all majors. The teams must analyze the operational feasibility, market potential, financial performance and social benefits of this social enterprise.

“Neither Challenge or Finger Lakes ReUse had the available staff resources to conduct the necessary research, so this case competition will greatly accelerate our decision-making,” said Marty Gold, director of program development and quality assurance at Challenge. Without the students’ work, the issue wouldn’t be addressed until the fall, or later, she said.

The School’s mission includes fostering sustainable enterprises – from its LEED-certified building to its curriculum to its new waste collection and recycling system.

“Understanding the role that sustainability issues play in the workplace is key for our students, and this competition provides another way to educate them about this critical issue,” said Dean Mary Ellen Zuckerman.

The teams have eight weeks this semester to research the case and write a 10-page report that clearly states a recommendation for the proposed recycling business.

The reports should address current market conditions for used computer equipment, new market opportunities, legal and regulatory issues, potential profitability and costs, and possible job creation. Overall, the students are asked, “What are the quantifiable benefits and costs associated with this potential new business and what is the go/no-go decision on launching this enterprise?”

The reports – to be judged on the clarity of reasoning, supporting information and quality of analysis – are due March 23. The top teams will make oral presentations – limited to 20 minutes, including questions and answers – to a panel of judges March 29.

“Students will be using research, analytical, creative thinking, writing and presentation skills in this competition,” said Zuckerman. “Because this is a real-world case, without a ‘right’ answer, they will have to think independently and with imperfect information.”

Last semester, Gold and other Challenge staff met with Zuckerman and Assistant Dean Barbara Howard to discuss possible collaboration on social enterprises that serve what Gold explained is a dual mission: “Create employment opportunities for workers with disabilities and other barriers to employment and provide a revenue stream to help support Challenge program services.”

When Challenge mentioned computer refurbishing and recycling, Zuckerman developed the idea of a sustainability case competition.

Challenge – located in South Hill Business Park across from campus – is a 44-year-old vocational services organization offering employment and placement opportunities to those who face barriers to employment. It operates small businesses to provide jobs and generate revenue to support its work.

With its interests in areas that Ithaca College emphasizes – business, allied health, environmental sciences and communication – Gold says it’s natural for Challenge and IC to work together. While the Sustainability Case Competition is the first collaboration with the School of Business, Challenge also manages and operates the dish rooms in all three IC dining halls, is a community agency partner with a grant and proposal writing class and provides internships for environmental sciences and allied health classes.

“Our program services and business operations offer students real-life experience and students bring new ideas and energy,” Gold said.

Benefits to students are numerous, said Zuckerman. Students will learn about the two organizations and how to analyze a business problem and reach a recommendation. They can list their participation on resumes and social media profiles and discuss the experience in job interviews.

And if that’s not enough, $10,000 in prize money is available to the top three teams, with awards of $5,000, $3,500 and $1,000. The awards will be announced after the oral presentations March 29. The competition is open to the public at 4 p.m. in BUS 301.


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