Students tackle campus parking problem with green solutions

$5000 grand prize inspires participation in first Olin Sustainability Case Competition at Washington University in St. Louis

Students, faculty, staff, visitors and neighbors vie for parking spots on and near urban campuses everywhere.

At Washington University in St. Louis, teams of business school students have tackled the parking dilemma with an eye on the environment as part of the first Olin Sustainability Case Competition (OSCC).

“This inaugural competition is the fruition of over two years of planning by the MBA Programs Office and several MBA student organizations,” says Owen Bochner, a second year MBA student at Olin and one of the organizers of the OSCC. “The goal is to raise awareness of and engagement with sustainability among the Olin student body.”

Over 100 students entered the competition, representing every level of study at the business school from undergrads to Executive MBAs. Sharon Yoon, associate director of MBA student affairs, says the participation “exceeded our expectations.”

“We were thrilled with the interest,” Yoon says. “The quality of the entries was generally quite strong. We saw a lot of very creative suggestions and unique approaches to solving the on-campus parking challenges at Washington University.”

One of finalists proposed an automated parking facility with robotic valets that would decrease carbon emissions, save energy and increase safety. Bike-sharing systems and an increase in the existing WeCar sharing program were also featured in many of the sustainability plans.

From an original field of 30 teams, four advanced to the final round on Feb. 12. Armed with power point presentations and hours of research and analysis, the teams took turns on stage to “sell” their proposals to a panel of judges.

The top prize went to the team that targeted a specific segment of the university population – graduate students in nearby university housing – as the most likely to use public transportation and bicycles if services and pathways were improved. They argued that grad students were most likely to make the behavioral changes necessary to reduce the number of cars on campus when given proper incentives. They posited, if successful, this group could be a role model for other constituencies on campus to follow.

The judges said the winning team’s survey of students about transportation choices led them to feasible solutions and compelling results. The winning team with four MBA students received a $5000 cash prize, free WeCar hours, and an opportunity to present their recommendations to university administrators, including Chancellor Mark Wrighton.

The case study for the competition, “Where have all the parking spots gone?” was prepared by Olin MBA ‘09 alumnus, Everett J. Hullverson. It outlines the ramifications of the parking dilemma for all constituents. Financial constraints such as the $45,000 construction cost per space in underground garages and compliance with zoning requirements in four jurisdictions where the campus is located are addressed as major concerns for the university’s strategic planners along with environmental impact and community relations.

The Washington University in St. Louis community is currently reviewing an operational sustainability strategic draft plan. With the plan, the university hopes to become a model for other large universities and institutions of sustainable operations that have a positive environmental impact. The plan is available on the website.