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Sustainability Blog

Sunny Gupta and Melissa Ting
Sunny Gupta and Melissa Ting

Reports from the Future: A Close-Up on Sustainability Course Infusion

The Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business (“Center”) proudly supports Scheller College of Business faculty in infusing sustainability into courses across the undergraduate and graduate curricula. For over three years, Center-affiliated faculty member Eric Overby has been integrating a special sustainability project into his undergraduate- and graduate-level courses on emerging technologies. Throughout the semester, students learn how to develop scenarios about the future, with particular emphasis on the effects of emerging technologies. In “Reports from the Future,” students put what they have learned into action with an eye turned to the impact of technologies on critical global environmental and social issues. Overby says, “I have students develop forecasts and scenarios about how things will develop in the future, so that we can identify actions to take now to make the most desirable future come to pass.” In this co-authored blog, full-time MBA students Sunny Gupta (CS ’14) and Melissa Ting (Arch ’13) reflect on the experience of being students in the Fall 2020 section of MGT 6059: Analysis of Emerging Technologies; of developing an award-winning report and presentation related to renewable energy in Austin, Texas; and of the lessons they will take with them into their future careers as a result of their project.

 

Professor Eric Overby’s course was aptly titled “Analysis of Emerging Technologies.” Throughout the course, we reviewed a wide variety of emerging technologies, such as lab-grown meats, cryptocurrency, and alternative energy sources. Additionally, we explored frameworks and methods for analyzing, developing forecasts for, and making decisions about emerging technologies.

For the “Reports from the Future” assignment, students were asked to pretend that we were in the year 2030. We were tasked with looking back at the past 30 years to see how some societal challenge or problem was addressed through a series of events. We were required to select a problem related to one of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Since the reports were being written in 2020, students were able to leverage 20 years of actual historical events to project the remaining ten years of developments into a narrative of credible events. As such, for our selected topics, students had to have a good understanding of what key developments, trends, and challenges occurred through 2020 so that we could provide a detailed and plausible look at the last ten years.

Melissa Ting and Sunny Gupta present their project at a virtual event on February 4, 2021.

Ultimately, this project is the culmination of the entire course. At the heart of the project, we researched an emerging technology related to one of the SDGs. By creating a report “from the future,” we also utilized the methods and frameworks taught in the course to develop strategies and recommendations that would help these emerging technologies reach the market and help the world.

Our team decided to study how the city of Austin, Texas, achieved its first day powered on 100% clean energy. With all the environmental benefits of clean energy, we wanted to understand what challenges may be holding the United States back from being a country that is powered completely by clean energy. We decided to focus on Austin for a couple of reasons: first, because of its unique position as a city that has already invested quite a bit in renewable energy, and second, because it is in Texas, the largest oil-producing state in our country.

Foundationally, all projects were required to connect to at least one SDG. Our project primarily connected to SDG #7, which is the goal “to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all.” However, since sustainable energy has such broad-ranging impacts, it relates to many other SDGs—from SDG #3: Good Health and Well-Being, to SDG #13: Climate Action. In our “Report from the Future,” we discussed how Austin, in 2030, reached its first day powered by 100% renewable energy. By 2020, Austin was moving in a positive direction regarding clean energy. It was already drawing 63% of its electricity from renewable technologies. This success was due to Texas’s large deployment of wind energy resources, which provided Austin 1,400 MW of energy. Additionally, Austin had already implemented public policy programs, invested billions of dollars in infrastructure, and set aggressive targets for renewable energy.

To reach 100% renewable energy by 2030, we forecasted that Austin’s efforts were supported by major developments in technology and public policy. For instance, we projected that advancements in wind turbine technologies (such as airborne wind turbines or floating offshore turbines) would significantly increase capacity. Also, we projected that a large federal effort would further ignite the renewable energy economy by enacting policies to drive down the costs of renewable energy. At the same time, public advocacy groups would help drive bipartisan support for renewable energy, including efforts to shift public policy by partnering with the reality television series Duck Dynasty.

We were really pleased to be selected by the judges as the first-place winners. The judges remarked that they liked our presentation style and flow. Additionally, they also appreciated that we included policies to address affordability—that is, ensuring that the high fixed costs of emerging technologies do not deter underserved communities from taking advantage of renewable technology.

Both of us learned a lot from participating in this class project. Melissa arrived at a deeper understanding of different types of policies that support renewable energy on the local, state, and federal levels. She appreciated her team members teaching her more about the new technologies in solar panels, wind power, and battery storage. Above and beyond the topic itself, she learned how to analyze and forecast the impact of an emerging technology—not only on the impacted industry but also on society. The main takeaway from the project for Sunny was that implementing wide-scale change goes well beyond technology. He believes, of course, that technology is very important. However, even the most revolutionary technology requires significant development in government policies and public sentiment to have a true impact.

As a result of Professor Overby’s class and the “Reports from the Future” project, both of us now see more clearly how forecasting is an essential tool—no matter what industry you’re in. You should first understand what new technologies could potentially disrupt your business. You should then prepare scenarios that will help you turn the situation into a benefit for your company. By forecasting what the future could be based on historical trends, you can hopefully figure out what actions are needed to set your company up for success. What’s more is that by looking backwards from a desired future, leaders can look at the problem from a different perspective and, as a result, generate more creative and impactful strategies to achieve their desired outcome.

 

Authors’ note: The presentation that is the subject of this blog was based on a report created by Scheller MBA students Melissa Ting, Sunny Gupta, Luke Sewell, Kyle Wolfson, and Tyler Bass.

 

Meet Our Guest Bloggers:

Sunny Gupta (CS ’14) is a full-time MBA candidate in his last semester at the Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business. Sunny has a background in software development, which he has applied to the data analytics and big data engineering fields. Sunny is passionate about creating amazing, user-friendly products, and in his spare time, he enjoys playing with his dog, Gizmo.

Melissa Ting (Arch ’13) is a full-time MBA student at the Scheller College of Business. Prior to enrolling in the MBA program, she spent six years working at an architecture firm in Atlanta—designing restaurants and redeveloping malls. In her free time, she likes to bake macarons, run, and practice martial arts.

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