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Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business Celebrates Sustainability Community at Tenth Anniversary Party

The Center, which empowers leaders to create sustainable businesses and communities, joined its stakeholders for a night to remember in celebration of ten years of impact.
team photo

The Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business team

Reminiscing, hugs, and laughter abounded at a celebration for the tenth anniversary of the Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business (Center). On October 21, 2023, The Center’s stakeholders attended a party at the popular Marietta speakeasy, The Third Door, where conversations were shared over delicious food and the establishment’s signature cocktails.

There was a lot to be joyful about! Over the ten years since its founding, the Center team has worked with passion and purpose in support of their vision to empower the leaders of tomorrow to create sustainable businesses and communities. In fact, one may say the Center is enabling leaders of today to make an impact. Students, faculty, practitioners, community members, and staff are working in classrooms, on projects, and in organizations to enact real-world change for the betterment of people and the planet.

The Center, founded by Faculty Director Beril Toktay, launched in 2013 with just one hire, a managing director. Today, in 2023, the ACSB team of staff and faculty has grown to 12. Assistant Director of Business Operations Arianna Robinson, the Center’s second hire back in 2014, has seen the Center through its tremendous growth. Robinson says, “It has been an honor to grow with the Center over the years. When I joined, they had just recently convened the launch event and were preparing to host another high-impact event, featuring a globally recognized expert on sustainable business, the next month. We came out of the gate running – and we’ve never lost that momentum.”

The Center has many milestones that represent its areas of influence. Long-standing programs include a speaker series, a program for Sustainability Fellows and Ambassadors, the Sustainable Business Consulting Practicum, and the Carbon Reduction Challenge. More recent developments from the past couple of years include the launch of the Drawdown Georgia Business Compact and the Sustainable-X entrepreneurship program. The Center continues to innovate to meet the needs of its stakeholders on their shared commitment to four key thematic areas: climate action; the circular economy; social performance and human rights; and Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) leadership.

In the paragraphs that follow, members of the Center’s key stakeholder groups share their reflections on the Center and the anniversary celebration.

James A. Lanier, Jr., Mary Anne Lanier, and John A. Lanier

Responsible Stewards: The Center could not have achieved its tenth anniversary without the generous support of the Ray C. Anderson Foundation. “Ray (IE ’56, Honorary Ph.D.’11) was a pioneer in his understanding and application of sustainability in business through a multifaceted, systems-based lens. He was ahead of his peers in recognizing business as a complex ecosystem,” says James A. Lanier, Jr., trustee of the Ray C. Anderson Foundation. “We are incredibly proud of how the Center has taken what Ray taught us and put it into practice broadly across all disciplines and majors at his beloved Georgia Tech. Today, this Center is producing graduates who value traditional measures of business success, like efficiency and profitability, while also placing equal emphasis on the financial and social reward that comes through cross functional, creative collaboration.”

Brandon Bermudez Bolivar and Adithya Pattabhiramaiah

Prioritizing Students: As stated by the Georgia Tech Strategic Plan, “Students are our top priority.” The Center offers courses and an abundance of extracurricular activities, including the Sustainability Fellows and Ambassadors program, the Carbon Reduction Challenge, and the Sustainable-X entrepreneurship initiative. Brandon Bermudez Bolivar, a third-year math major, first got involved with the Center as a 2022-23 Undergraduate Sustainability Ambassador after a friend said it was a “must-do experience.” He says, “Attending the tenth anniversary celebration was a delight, filled with great people, food, and scenery.” Reflecting on the “truly rewarding” experience of being an Ambassador, Brandon explains, “Collaborating with the team to tackle challenging problems was both enjoyable and enriching. The ability to work for actual stakeholders on a real-world problem allowed me to understand the applicability of the skills that I am learning in class.”

Center-affiliated faculty and leadership

Supporting Faculty: The Center supports an ever-growing number of affiliated faculty who are committed to researching sustainability topics and to infusing sustainability into the curriculum. Bradford Baker, assistant professor of organizational behavior, who comes from a family background in farming, is particularly interested in regenerative agriculture and researches greenwashing, carbon capturing, and behavioral ethics. He values the opportunity to mentor MBA students. “The presence and the existence of the Center at Scheller plays a critical role in highlighting sustainability issues to MBA students,” he says. “MBAs are some of the most powerful gatekeepers of the world. Throughout their careers, they control a huge litany of assets. The Center plays a key role in giving students a lens through which they can view how to steer assets for the improvement of the world.”

John A. Lanier, Valerie Bennett, and Ben Damiani

Impact on Industry: Opportunities for engagement with industry abound at the Center, such as through the Drawdown Georgia Business Compact and the Sustainable Business Consulting Practicum. Cherry Street Energy, which makes solar power attainable for large-scale customers, is both an active Compact participant and a two-time project sponsor for the practicum. Ben Damiani, the company’s chief technology officer, reflected on how the Center has helped to connect Cherry Street Energy to potential partners and customers. He says, “Scheller MBA students have evaluated renewable power generation opportunities for us. We love the exposure to local talent and driven students. We had the opportunity to accelerate deployment of a mobile solar/battery trailer for disaster relief. Our engagement has been a great learning experience and resulted in an outcome that exceeded our expectations.”

Lara Ferreira, David Lukens, and Arianna Robinson

Alumni Engagement: The Center proudly continues relationships with its alumni. The location of the celebration, The Third Door, was in fact inspired by an alumni connection. During her time at Scheller, the speakeasy’s co-owner, Lara Ferreira (MBA ’18), was involved in diversity and inclusion efforts, ILE’s Global Social Venture Competition, and Scheller’s Net Impact – MBA Chapter. She reflects, “It was deeply meaningful to me to have the Center celebrate its tenth anniversary at The Third Door. I am proud of the Center’s growth and accomplishments, and it was a pleasure to reconnect with the dedicated people I respect so much!” Ferreira’s business reflects the sustainability lessons she learned at Scheller. For instance, the space was renovated using mostly reclaimed materials, and inclusivity is listed as the highest value on the mission statement.

Beril Toktay and Michael Oxman

Leading with Humility: Beril Toktay and Michael Oxman, the Center’s faculty director and managing director, respectively, shared the following reflection: “Thinking about our celebration, the word that comes to mind is ‘community.’ Our sustainability family came together to celebrate both Ray’s legacy and the people who are committed to extending that legacy in higher education. We are so grateful for all of our constituents: students, alumni, faculty, practitioners, staff, and of course the Ray C. Anderson Foundation. Everyone in attendance had meaningfully contributed to the vision. It’s exciting to see how many are now taking sustainability skills forward in their workplaces and communities. That evening, it was wonderful to hear stories of impact. We look forward to continuing to innovate in our programs and to building the partnerships that make our impact possible.”

Written by Jennifer Holley Lux

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