Solving today’s complex global issues in a way that balances economic, social, and environmental concerns requires bringing together people with diverse points of view, skills, and knowledge. To move forward, more people need to take part in sharing ideas, developing solutions, and finding common ground. And everyone needs to participate.
The expectations on businesses to reduce their environmental footprint are increasing, yet the six million small businesses in the U.S. often struggle to find the resources to focus on sustainability. Today’s college students and young professionals need to be actively engaged and trained to make our world more sustainable. Manomet’s U360 Business Sustainability Internship creates full-circle learning between business professionals and the next generation. Manomet is at the center of that circle; facilitating the conversation, and providing the sustainability tools to the people who can enact changes today and tomorrow.
Sustainable, successful small businesses are the backbone of strong, thriving local communities. By discussing sustainability with dozens of business owners around the country, students participating in U360 learn to see the world through the business owners’ eyes. Through these experiences, U360 students develop both confidence and humility, and leave the program prepared to bring their communication and professional skills and ability to create practical, sustainable business solutions to any job or industry.
U360 was launched just under four years ago. Since then, the program has engaged over 800 small businesses in all 50 U.S. states on sustainability. “When we started this U360 school year, past students had interviewed businesses in 47 states and D.C., so we only needed three more states to say officially that U360 has business participants in every U.S. state,” said Lora Babb, U360 program manager. “That has been a big goal of ours from the start, so I challenged this year’s students to get interviews in those three states…and after interviews in both Mississippi and Delaware earlier in the semester, one of my students officially crossed the last remaining state off our list when she interviewed a business in Iowa earlier this month.”
What are the impacts of connecting these college students with small business owners? Engaging with U360 interns helps businesses reduce their environmental impact, identify ways to save money and resources, adapt to a changing marketplace, and improve their long-term health and profitability. After their interview, 40% of participating small businesses say it’s highly likely they’ll make changes to their business practices as a result of their conversation with a U360 intern. Our survey of participating businesses a year later shows that 63% of respondents had made at least one change to their environmental practices since their student interview; and nearly 40% of those businesses say that U360 influenced the change.
Through real-world experiences with small business owners, U360 interns gain critical skills that cannot be taught in a college classroom. By preparing young people to be a part of the solution, we can build a more sustainable tomorrow.