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Exploring sustainable solutions for business travel

April 22, 2024

CSSI co-op student Ethan Yang

Q&A with Ethan Yang (4th year BCom) about his co-op with the Centre for Social and Sustainable Innovation.

Question: Why did you apply to work with the Centre for Social and Sustainable Innovation (CSSI)?

Ethan Yang: Growing up, I always enjoyed being outside in nature and going on camping trips with friends, and I feel very lucky to have these experiences. I want to ensure that future generations can have these experiences too.

When I was on an exchange in Thailand, I saw the effects of pollution and over-tourism first-hand. After experiencing the outdoors all my life and seeing these detrimental effects abroad, I knew I wanted to contribute to sustainability-focused initiatives. This co-op position offered exactly that, and I knew without a doubt that this position would be a great opportunity for me to give back and work towards something I am passionate about.

Q: Tell us about your co-op position. What projects did you work on?

EY: I had two priorities for the term: develop a sustainable travel guide for Gustavson faculty and staff and facilitate the 2024 Carbon Offset Pitch competition.

To develop the sustainable travel guide, I looked at the full journey of an employee travelling for work—from assessing the need to travel to arriving at their destination—and found ways to reduce their carbon footprint and carbon emissions.

However, some travel emissions are unavoidable. To recognize this, Gustavson purchases carbon offset credits. Our students decide which projects we invest in to offset these emissions through the Carbon Offset Competition. The winner’s portfolio (selections from a pre-approved list) is how we choose which projects to invest in.

In addition to these projects, I was also responsible for notetaking at board meetings and other sustainability related events and updating the CSSI website.

Q: What challenges did you encounter and how did you overcome them? What successes or achievements are you most proud of?

EY: My biggest challenge was the wide breadth of research required for the sustainable travel guide and then finding the right medium for the final document. Most of the sustainable travel guides I found from other universities had a lot of information, which made it difficult to condense into one document. I overcame this by continuously seeking feedback from my supervisors and organizing my notes into categories which helped me decide which parts were important to include.

My biggest achievement is the number of submissions (11) for the Carbon Offset Pitch competition—the most submissions Gustavson has ever had!  I visited many classrooms to promote the competition and increase engagement. I’m particularly proud of this achievement as it means that more students than ever before are engaging with Gustavson’s sustainability initiatives, giving me faith that sustainability engagement will grow in the future.

Q: How has your experience at CSSI contributed to your personal and professional growth? What valuable lessons have you learned?

EY: In this remote position, I had to hold myself accountable for ensuring tasks were completed on time without reporting to a supervisor as regularly as I’m used to. I improved my project and task management skills, as well as my research and analysis skills.

Most importantly, I feel reassured in my career path. I want my career to center around a sustainable or social cause.

A valuable lesson I learned about sustainable and social innovation in the business world is that there is always a way for each of us to contribute, regardless of the position we’re in. And no contribution is too small. Even choosing to turn off the lights in your office (or home) can make a big difference.

Q: What advice would you give to other students interested in pursuing opportunities in sustainable business or social entrepreneurship?

EY: Embrace your creativity and embrace failure and shortfalls as opportunities to reflect and grow from. In sustainable business and social entrepreneurship, there will always be new ways of doing things and new opportunities to undertake, so it doesn’t hurt to try new things! Shortfalls are also ways of showing areas you need to improve, meaning opportunities for growth and learning.

Q: What does Earth Day mean to you?

EY: To me, Earth Day means taking the time to give back to our planet for all the wonderful experiences it has given me. Being out in nature and exploring the outdoors has been a blessing I am grateful for. I acknowledge this on Earth Day and encourage others to also take time for gratitude and to do their part in sustaining a healthy world that everyone today and in the future can enjoy.