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Smeal Students Propose Sustainability Strategy for Industry Partner Saxbys Coffee

Smeal Student Jessica Commisso, 4th year Accounting student in the 5 year Integrated Masters program presenting her team's proposed Sustainability Strategy for Saxbys

In "Strategies for Enterprise Sustainability" this semester, as happens each time it is offered, teams of students developed a proposed Sustainability Strategy for a client. This semester there was one special client: Saxbys. This new coffee company has opened a location in the business building and afforded us the unique opportunity to look at sustainable business through a single product and a unique company.

Saxbys has been committed to social impact from their earliest days. Their core business model is built around providing real-world learning opportunities for students. Their university locations are all run by students with a "Student CEO" as the top management position for each location (CEO = cafe executive officer).

In my class, nine teams worked for 15 weeks and at the end we held a Poster Session in a tradeshow type environment. The students pitched their ideas to representatives from Saxbys, to their classmates, and to their instructor. It was special to see the students learning so much during the semester even though at first they may have been apprehensive when faced with such a large project.

One student commented: "Initially leaving class with the paper outline [for the sustainability strategy for Saxbys] and project requirements, I felt little overwhelmed. This was one of the first projects in college I had been tasked to complete to actually impact a real business."

Another student commented: "I didn’t realize beforehand that a sustainability strategy was necessary in order to implement sustainability into a company. I had originally thought the company just needed to find ways to make some of its processes more sustainable or come up with a sustainable product and as long as it advertised it properly and maintained its customer base, the company would be considered sustainable.


Sustainability should not just be bolted on, it should be built in.


This class showed me there is much more to it! It's not just a community service project or a sustainable product. Sustainability affects everything you do as a company."

In the end, many teams highlighted what I would summarize as three top opportunities for Saxbys to further strengthen the business with a social and environmental impact strategy:

Penn State Lion Pantry
  1. Serving Coffee and the Community - This is Saxbys "bread and butter" and the students encouraged them to do even more. Community outreach and engagement opportunities abound and can be focused on addressing issues most pressing for college students

  1. Trim Your Waste Line - Waste reduction and diversion especially with food and coffee ground waste. Paying to dispose of product isn't good business, especially if there is still value in it. Penn State has a robust commercial composting operation called OMPEC and could take coffee grounds (easily over 100 lbs a day). It could even be used at the Penn State Student Farm!

Penn State Student Farm
  1. Hugs for Using Mugs - Emphasize reusables (such as using ceramic mugs) over disposables. Not only is this a waste crisis of 110 million coffee cups a day but an often--though not always--avoidable cost to the business. Students discovered that in a cup of coffee, the greatest cost is the cup, not the coffee itself. So avoiding the cup both saves money, reduces waste and provides a sturdier container for a customer staying at the cafe. Hiding behind the counter at Saxbys....they found ceramic mugs! But they also discovered that baristas weren't yet asking customers if they wanted a mug. Positive feedback is important so...maybe a hug (or a fist bump at least?) for each mug.

disposable hot coffee cups used in the U.S.


The students learned a lot and more importantly actually developed important business skills. As Jessica Commisso said, "The work with Saxbys reinforced the concept from one of our textbooks that sustainability should not just be bolted on, it should be built in, and the companies that follow this concept are the ones who will be successful."

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