College of Business brings sustainability to the forefront

College of Business brings sustainability to the forefront

W hen you think of business, you may not automatically think of sustainability. But there’s a lot to be learned in supporting locally-owned farmers and learning more about Georgia College’s sustainability efforts. 

Dr. Micheal Stratton, Jehan El-Jourbagy, JD and Dr. Nicholas Creel
Dr. Micheal Stratton, Jehan El-Jourbagy, JD and Dr. Nicholas Creel

“The dean and I discussed that agriculture is one of the largest industries in Georgia,” said Kari Brown, business outreach coordinator of the J. Whitney Bunting College of Business (COB). “Your local farmers’ markets are small, but growing businesses. We want the Georgia College community to really see where their food comes from and make that connection.”

So, Brown went to work, partnering with the Office of Sustainability, Auxiliary Services and Sodexo Dining Services to hold a Farm-to-Campus event and “Farmer’s Feast”—a farm-to-campus dinner last October. 

“Sustainability and business are not mutually exclusive. By collaborating with partners across campus and within the community for events like the Farm-to-Campus Festival, we highlight real applications, showcase sustainability as a business model, and support our local vendors. It’s our mission to be a business school for the public good, and sustainability is key to this mission.”
– Dr. Michael Stratton

“We started with the idea for a Farm-to-Campus dinner, where we would invite local farmers to either bring food to Sodexo Dining Services to have them prepare it, or they would prepare the food themselves,” she said. “We ended up expanding the event to the Farm-to-Campus Festival.”

The COB held a farmers’ market during the day on the front porch of Atkinson Hall. Local vendors came, some of which were students from the West Campus Garden, and sold various products, including pesto and produce, like herbs. 

Savannah Taylor (left) and Allison Esmond of the Office of Sustainability sell produce from the Campus Garden and fresh pesto.
Savannah Taylor (left) and Allison Esmond of the Office of Sustainability sell produce from the Campus Garden and fresh pesto.

Some student clubs participated and sold plants, like succulents, they had grown in the greenhouse. Local farmers sold cabbage, collards, leaf lettuce, potatoes, and more. Sodexo educated the public on nutrition facts of organic foods they offer.

Comfort Farms, a local farm, catered the “Farmer’s Feast.” The dean envisioned the feast to have one long table, so everybody could sit together and introduce themselves to each other.

“Although the farm is small, the owners also care about sustainability,” Brown said. “Everything they catered for the event was compostable, from the plates to the silverware. So, we were able to put these items in the university’s composter.” 

A Farm-to-Campus vendor arranges sprouts prior to the event.
A Farm-to-Campus vendor arranges sprouts prior to the event.

Approximately 30 people attended the dinner, also held on the front porch of Atkinson Hall.

There were 12 vendors who participated in the first annual Farm-to-Campus event and around 100 people showed up throughout the day including faculty members who brought their classes by.

A few COB faculty members teach sustainability through business.

“In my business ethics course, which covers environmental sustainability in the corporate context, my students do 10 hours of service in the community,” said Jehan El-Jourbagy, JD, assistant professor of Business Law. “I always have one or two groups who do their work with the Office of Sustainability, learning about composting, the community garden, recycling glass or many other initiatives spearheaded by that office.”

El-Jourbagy is also excited about taking eleven students to Sweden on a corporate sustainability-themed study abroad program this summer.

“For example, we’ll be going to Copenhagen where we will take a sustainability bike tour, learning about innovative practices in the Danish city,” she said.

More sustainability initiatives in the COB are being reviewed. Dr. Micheal Stratton, dean of the J. Whitney Bunting College of Business, has been working toward innovative learning opportunities like this since coming to Georgia College in July of 2020. 

“In my business ethics course, which covers environmental sustainability in the corporate context, my students do 10 hours of service in the community. I always have one or two groups who do their work with the Office of Sustainability, learning about composting, the community garden, recycling glass or many other initiatives spearheaded by that office.”
– Jehan El-Jourbagy

Stratton is leading a 17-person task force of stakeholders to create the COB’s new strategic plan. After surveying COB stakeholders, students, alumni and community members, the two constant areas of interest were sustainability and sustainability in business.

“We just met with a potential partner whose company helps people invest in sustainable businesses,” Brown said. “So, this is also something we're proposing to do in the future through our Center for Innovation and new classes being developed.”

“The Center for Innovation hopes to embrace sustainability in a few key ways. For example, it’s our hope to launch a student-managed portfolio that allows them to get hands-on experience with environment, social and governance (ESG) investing,” said Dr. Nicholas Creel, assistant professor of Accounting and Business Law.

“In essence, we want to teach our students how to seek out a profit with their investments while taking into account the effects a company has on the environment and society,” Creel said. “We also plan to initiate a business plan competition for students across the university, with cash grants to help bring their ideas into reality. Sustainability will be a key metric used in judging the recipients of these grants, with our goal being that all businesses launched through the Center for Innovation will fully embrace this concept.”

In addition to proposals by the Center for Innovation, El-Jourbagy is developing an Accounting for ESG Reporting course for the graduate program to provide Georgia College students an advantage in this growing field. 

In collaboration with the GC Global Food Pathways program and as an opportunity for a new GC2Y course, a COB faculty member created a new class on the economics of shrimp.

“As students are eating, they’re understanding that it's more than just, ‘I bought some shrimp,’” Brown said. “It's like, ‘Oh, it came from this place, and there’s a culture of why these spices were used. There’s a story behind it including an economics and a business side.”

“We have many faculty members who are excited and ready to take on some of these initiatives,” she said. “I see these as interesting and creative opportunities for us to collaborate across disciplines.”

The strategic plan for COB will be confirmed by the end of the spring semester, with some initiatives beginning over the summer. The COB is also partnering with the College of Education for innovative lab space, so it can expand some programs. This will take place next year. 

“In essence, we want to teach our students how to seek out a profit with their investments while taking into account the effects a company has on the environment and society. We also plan to initiate a business plan competition for students across the university, with cash grants to help bring their ideas into reality. Sustainability will be a key metric used in judging the recipients of these grants, with our goal being that all businesses launched through the Center for Innovation will fully embrace this concept.”
– Dr. Nicholas Creel

“Georgia College is going to have some cool opportunities in the next five years around Milledgeville,” Brown said. “I see sustainability opportunities growing.”

The Central State Hospital Local Redevelopment Authority is also working with local farmers and producers, helping them grow their businesses. And there is speculation of hydroponic and aquaponic self-sustaining farms moving to Milledgeville.

“Students would be able to work with the self-sustaining, organic farms not just for the sustainability aspect, but to learn how to grow food, make it profitable, and see what can come out of the experience,” Brown said. “I'm excited because there are going to be some really unique opportunities that students won’t be able get anywhere else.”

The College of Business’ goal is to be a business school for the public good.

“We want our students to not only graduate as good business professionals but good citizens,” Brown said. “Practicing these techniques and incorporating them into their everyday lives, really creates a positive impact.”

“Sustainability and business are not mutually exclusive,” Stratton said. “By collaborating with partners across campus and within the community for events like the Farm-to-Campus Festival, we highlight real applications, showcase sustainability as a business model, and support our local vendors. It’s our mission to be a business school for the public good, and sustainability is key to this mission.”