When we talk about business sustainability, the focus is usually on the businesses themselves. But sometimes, kids can add a lot to the conversation. Just take a look at Doing Business in Birmingham, one of the winning projects in the Microsoft Partners in Learning 2012 US Forum—a competition that recognizes teachers who use technology to improve student success.
Pauline Roberts and Rick Joseph teach the same class of 54 students at Birmingham Covington School in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, a suburb outside Detroit. Roberts teaches math and science, while Joseph teaches arts and social studies. Up until recently, says Roberts, the pair "realized we didn’t know what each other did in each other’s rooms." The fifth and sixth grade students in their classes wanted to learn more about sustainable business, so Roberts and Joseph teamed up on what would become a huge project: Doing Business in Birmingham.
The yearlong project, which culminated in a green business rating system (and ratings for businesses in Bloomfield Hills), started with field trips organized by the kids themselves to downtown Detroit. After speaking with the people behind big businesses—theaters, hospitals, sports arenas, and the like—the kids "came back with huge amount of knowledge about what it means to be sustainable in business," according to Roberts.
Good news for the future of our planet: the kids were so intrigued that they wanted to look more closely at businesses in their local community. So all 54 of them went with Roberts and Joseph to downtown Bloomfield Hills, where they interviewed 100 business owners about what they were doing to be sustainable—and captured plenty of pictures and video (see more info on the class Wiki). "[The kids] were very interested. They’d come in with information about their parent’s businesses They became stealthy supersleuths," says Roberts.
Sustainability, according to the kids’ class Wiki, "requires looking at the various elements of your business operation that determine your business success. These elements include business profitability, meeting visitor expectations, engaging local communities, and protecting the environment for future generations through environmental performance."
The next step for the kids: creating a "green star" sustainable business rating system that evaluated businesses based on the actions they were taking. Factors included composting food and landscape waste, installing CFL bulbs, using shade during the day instead of switching on lights, using hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles, and more. For every five sustainable practices used, businesses received a star. If a business reached over 25 practices, they were given a giant gold star. It doesn’t sound all that different from other green rating systems—except this one was created by middle schoolers.
In the end, a handful of businesses were deemed sustainable enough to reach the class honor roll. They included a jeweler, a music academy, an olive press, a public library, and UPS, which is known for its efforts to increase fleet efficiency.
Joseph and Roberts will only continue with the project next year if students are interested. Here’s hoping they are.