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Students Partner with Alton Businesses on Sustainability

Photo by Jenna Carlie

This spring, Principia College students taking an elective course on Sustainability in Business and Economics partnered with Alton businesses to help the companies gain a B Corp Certification. B Corp status requires that a business meets sustainability criteria related to the environment (energy, water, waste), internal governance, treatment of workers, community action, and customer service. This world-renowned certification puts a business on par with socially conscious, for-profit companies such as Arbonne, Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s, Method, and Eileen Fisher.

The Riverbend area has a growing community of sustainability-minded businesses, and three local companies agreed to have the students act as consultants—Theodora Farms, an organic community farm and store in Godfrey; the Rushmore fashion boutique in downtown Alton; and Old Bakery Beer Co. brewery and restaurant.

Students met with their assigned business owners to learn about the business’s practices and engagement with sustainability. Then, they prepared consultancy reports for each company, explaining the necessary steps to becoming B Corp certified, as well as the costs and benefits of doing so. The students also provided a series of recommendations to each business on how they could improve their practices to better fit the B Corp model.
“It was really inspiring to me to see a business dedicated to sustainable land practices,” says Daniel Christianson, a senior business major who participated in the class project. “It’s clear that Theodora Farms really values maintaining the local ecosystem for future generations.”

“It was actually amazing to learn how sustainable agriculture can contribute to reducing carbon emissions by ensuring all local crop and organic matter residue is used on the farm,” says sophomore Jimmy Owino who also worked with Theodora Farms.

The recommendations from the students included ways each business could adopt higher standards for impact on the local community, environment, and economy—in other words, the “triple bottom line” that characterizes a sustainable operation. Some recommendations focused on the communication of sustainability objectives within the business, such as publishing a mission statement or code of ethics. Others focused on environmental aspects, such as tracking water use or installing LED lighting fixtures. Recommendations related to community outreach and worker inclusivity included deepening partnerships with local businesses and developing a diversity-related sourcing policy.

“It was a wonderful opportunity to engage with local businesses and learn more about the sustainability efforts happening right here in Alton,” says Bubba Sugarman, a senior business major. “I gained valuable consulting experience and honed business skills that will serve me in my career after college.”

Junior sustainability major Abby Holt agrees, “It was really cool to have the opportunity to work with local businesses and see how my work in the classroom translates to real-life situations. It felt good to be able to promote sustainability and have the business my group worked with be so interested in pursuing the B Corp Certification. It was inspiring to be part of positive change in the community; it makes me want to pursue projects like this in the future.”

The class is an elective course for students pursuing a degree in sustainability or business administration. In addition to sustainability-related courses, the College’s Center for Sustainability involves students in a variety of hands-on projects related to energy, biodiversity, water, waste, and sustainable food systems. The College operates on 100 percent renewable electric energy, hosts Three Rivers Community Farm on its property, and its dining services operation has earned a five-star rating from the Green Dining Alliance.

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