Students offer ideas for increasing locally grown food on campus

Could Washington University in St. Louis strengthen the local economy and limit its carbon footprint by sourcing more locally grown food, while still providing nutritionally balanced and diverse food options?

That was the question posed in the year’s Olin Sustainability Case Competition (OSCC), which began during the 2009-10 academic year as a way to increase awareness and expand educational opportunities about sustainable business practices at Olin Business School.

Junior business administration student Marc Bernstein and junior architecture student Miriam Alexandroff won the top prize of $5,000 for their proposal. They suggest using local greenhouses to grow food during the winter months and creating a virtual farmers’ auction in an effort to make local produce available all year on campus.

“This is the first time I competed in a business competition, and it was exciting to see how my skills as an architecture student applied to a different set of problems,” Alexandroff said. “I also really enjoyed the opportunity to collaborate with Marc, who is in a different school than me and therefore can approach the same problem through a completely different lens.

“Sustainability is something that is important to me, so having the opportunity to share my passion and ideas concerning the subject was very meaningful.”

“It’s so rewarding to see practical problems solved with business solutions,” Bernstein said. “I’m so glad that we were able to show that business has a unique soft side, where the whole goal is to maximize the value for everyone involved. In this case, we had to consider our impact on students, farmers, the university administration, the university community, local contractors, and of course, the planet.”

Open to all WUSTL students in both undergraduate and graduate programs, the case competition gives participants a chance to learn about practical, real-world applications of corporate responsibility and sustainability concepts so they can make an impact in the world.

“Continuing to increase the amount of food we are able to buy locally is a priority for Washington University Dining Services,” said Steve Hoffner, associate vice chancellor for operations. “These students gave us a number of suggestions to help us achieve this goal, and I look forward to implementing as many of their ideas as possible.”

The OSCC is presented by the Olin MBA Programs office, in conjunction with the Olin Strategy and Consulting Association and the WUSTL chapter of Net Impact.

Designed as a traditional business case study, the competition is based on a current business problem and prepared with the assistance of leading sustainability experts and Olin faculty.

Sponsors for this year’s competition were Novus, Edward Jones and WUSTL Dining Services.