Success Stories from the Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business

The Foundation trustees and staff recently held their annual meeting with faculty, staff and students from the Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainability at Georgia Tech's Scheller College of Business.  While the growth and success of the Center's programs are obvious (see the Center Update), two key themes stood out.

  1. Women have been leading the way in putting sustainability into the mainstream through integrated, cross-disciplinary partnerships between various colleges and schools within Georgia Tech.
  2. The “Practice of Purpose,” which entails educating current and future business leaders on the importance of integrating sustainability into mainstream marketing objectives and bottom-line financial planning, is crucial. Business must learn to see sustainable practices as competitive advantages, so that sustainability can be a driver of economic growth.
The following quote from Ray Anderson touches on both themes:
"I believe, too, that the ascendancy of women in business is coming just in the nick of time. It is that instinctive nurturing nature, found more frequently in women, but also present in men if they will allow it to surface, that will recognize and elevate in business the vital, indispensable role of genuine caring. Caring for human capital and natural capital (Earth) as much as we have traditionally cared for financial capital will give social equity and environmental stewardship their rightful places alongside economic progress, and move society to reinvent the means for achieving economic progress itself." 
Ray C. Anderson, Mid-Course Correction
Women in Leadership Fostering Integrated Sustainability at Georgia Tech
Beril Toktay, Faculty Managing Director of the Center reminisced on how the initial seed was planted, and how she has seen subsequent growth for the Center over the past five years.
One of her most interesting observations was how the concept for the Center was really born when three women sat down to brainstorm and dream about how Ray’s legacy might be best celebrated at Georgia Tech, his alma mater.  Those women were Beril Toktay and Ray’s two daughters, Mary Anne Lanier and Harriet Langford.
Fast forward to the present, and it becomes apparent that Beril and the team at the Ray C. Anderson Center have influenced many more far-reaching sustainability-related success stories throughout Georgia Tech, and are therefore positively impacting the Institute’s influence to its global stakeholders.  Within a number of the success stories, there does seem to be a common thread of “women in leadership.”
  • Georgia Tech’s Quality Enhancement Program (QEP) - As part of the 10-year reaffirmation of its accreditation, Georgia Tech selected a Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) for student learning that had sustainability at its core.  The Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business, then called the Center for Sustainable Business Strategies, served as key anchor point for the QEP, which was co-authored by two women; Beril Toktay and Ellen Zegura. The resulting program, called Serve-Learn-Sustain, is now being led by the efforts of another woman, Jenny Hirsch. Read more here.
  • Carbon Reduction Challenge – In 2017 the Ray C. Anderson Foundation’s NextGen Committee provided a grant that enabled Dr. Kim Cobb, Professor, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and Dr. Beril Toktay, Faculty Director, Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business, to expand the program into a cross-college initiative between the College of Business and the College of Sciences and offer it to student interns and co-ops from all majors and disciplines.  The partnership also enabled the Challenge to be expanded to a wider range of companies and organizations by tapping into all of those that employ Georgia Tech students as co-ops and interns. Read more here.
The “Practice of Purpose”
Center-affiliated faculty member Omar Rodriguez-Vila published an article in the Harvard Business Review and a white paper on best practices to help companies align their brands with social purpose.
For many companies, social and environmental initiatives are purely about adding to brand value. These companies simply want to be perceived as good citizens in the marketplace, so little thought is given to how those initiatives actually make an impact, and how that impact might align with other aspects of the business itself.
As Rodriguez-Vila points out though, the most effective companies at deploying these initiatives are those that integrate them fully with the business, and by doing so create genuine value for the brand. As he notes, could you imagine what would happen to TOMS if they stopped donating shoes for every product sold, or to Patagonia if it abandoned environmental manufacturing practices? These companies truly practice their purposes, and generate real value by doing so.