SUNY Students Helping Stewart's See Green

MBA students evaluate retailers operation, make business case as part of G3 program

Greg Lindenberg, Editor, CSP

ALBANY, N.Y. -- A group of MBA students at the State University of New York (SUNY) Albany School of Business have completed its G3 (Going Green Globally) program, an intensive two-week process to develop an environmentally sound plan for a local businesses, including convenience retailer Stewart's Shops Corp., Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Although a previous group of student's focused on New York grocery chain Price Chopper, Stewart's is the first convenience retailer that has been a part of the program.

To understand Stewart's and how it operates, in late April the students--Jose Valdez, Aymen Belazi, Mark Wagner, Robert Dimola, Mengying Liu, Anastasia Maher and Tianyu Zhang--toured Stewart's Greenfield, N.Y. store and manufacturing and distribution facility, Maria D'Amelia, spokesperson for Stewart's, told CSP Daily News.

Click here to view the tour.

The students tasked with helping Stewart's, and the other groups, presented their recommendations to the company and their classmates on May 15. They recommended installing a new cleaning system to reduce water consumption, an idea they say will save four million gallons of water a year.

The goal of the program, Mark Wagner told CSP Daily News in an interview with the group, was "to have to save [Stewart's] $100,000 … through our recommendations as well as increase their revenues in some way, shape or form."

He said, "We're focusing on water savings. Most of their processes at the plant are water intensive, so we decided that was how we could save them some cost, by reclaiming some of the water that they use. As a company, they would reduce their operating costs. They want to make sure that their manufacturing and distribution plant is sustainable first and foremost, and then once they are satisfied with how their processes are running at the manufacturing plant, then they would focus on the stores."

The students also commented on how vertically integrated the company is. "They are very lean; they do everything very efficiently. I didn't realize that 95% of their products come out of one manufacturing and distribution plant," said Wagner.

Although they focused on the facility, they were impressed with the convenience store. Across the group, there was a variety of familiarity with the chain and what it offers. A few of the students are local and others are form different parts of the state and international.

"For the amount of space they had, they do a quite a bit with it," Jose Valdez said. "A lot of things are going on in a small amount of space. They provide a lot of different products and services within that space."

The company has also implemented some green practices inside the stores, the group said. It has switched the lights over from T12 to more energy-efficient T8 bulb, and the newer stores are using LED lights. "They are very proactive in trying to be a socially responsible company," Valdez said.

The students emphasized that while the company does not have to implement their recommendations, it was "very active" in the process. Stewart's executives wanted to stay informed throughout the entire process and were "very receptive" to the group's ideas.

Linda M. Krzykowski, Ph.D., vice dean for administration and sustainability at SUNY's School of Business, explained how the program works.

"We give them the flexibility to work on whatever are the most pressing issues the client brings to the table under the sustainability rubric. We really talk to the students, though, about the fact that they are MBAs and this is a business school. This is not public advocacy, this is not environmentalism--these have to be business strategies that make sense. So we really force the students to get into the mindset of the triple bottom line [people, planet, profit], and we require that whatever proposal that they give back to their client needs to show the client a significant savings or revenue enhancement. They can get at justifying their work from a financial standpoint in a bunch of different ways, but it needs to make sense to the bottom line."

The recommendation has to be a "comprehensive and integrated" business solution for the client. "It's not enough to say 'we're going to save energy'," she said. "The students need to go beyond that say 'how do you change the culture of the organization to get the people to do the things that you want them to do save energy. How do they justify this investment? What is the net-present value of what they are looking for? … Why do they think this is the most important the client should do now, and how does this fit into their long-term strategic goals and objectives?"

Clients sign on to be involved for at least two years, and many participate for more. "We find the first year, the students really get the clients thinking about sustainability, and then the clients are usually very anxious to come back to us the second year," Krzykowski said. " By the third year, the client is looking for things that are more sophisticated than we can do."

Stewart's Shops operates approximately 330 c-stores located in more than 30 counties across upstate New York and southern Vermont.