“Green Team” Interns Advance Sustainability

Summer program at University's PSEG Institute finds sustainable solutions for top companies

Photo: Mike Peters

Whether majoring in political science or sustainability science, public health or accounting, the 35 Montclair State student PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies “Green Team” members shared a common purpose: to address sustainability issues facing leading regional and global businesses.

“Every time I talk about this program, I smile,” says Institute Director Amy Tuininga, who created the 10-week summer pilot. It pairs students – including a geology major and a business major from Rutgers-Newark – from 22 different degree programs with companies seeking sustainable solutions to problems ranging from zero waste to sustainability marketing and reporting. “This initiative has been very important in terms of developing a model for productive academic-corporate-community partnerships.”

Participation in the paid internship program was highly competitive. “We had a rich applicant pool for 35 undergraduate and three supervisory graduate student spots,” says Tuininga. Seven teams of five students each worked with host corporations Bristol-Myers Squibb, Cox Printers, Greener by Design, NJM Insurance Group, PSEG, Prudential Real Estate Investment and Sabert.

Funded by the PSEG Foundation, this novel approach to transdisciplinary experiential learning also included professional development training, field trips to venues such as the United Nations and New Jersey’s Salem and Hope Creek Power Plants, and grounding in sustainability science.

“PSEG and the PSEG Foundation have been longtime supporters of the PSEG Institute for Sustainable Studies and their Green Team program,” said PSEG Energy and Sustainability Policy Manager Angela Ortiz. “The Green Team program is the type of program we support to help students who are increasingly broadening their knowledge of the relationship between the environment, businesses and economy.”

“This program goes far beyond any internship experience. It not only focuses on sustainable development and resolving real world environmental issues, but it also tied into fields like business, health and information technology,” says public health major and rising senior Leana Zeidan, who was a member of corporate partner Greener by Design’s team. “We’re coming out of this internship with hands-on experiences that we couldn’t have gotten anywhere else, so we’ll be a step above the rest.”

The program benefits host companies, as well as students, by providing an opportunity to explore and develop custom-tailored sustainability solutions. For example, various departments within NJM Insurance were able to assess the sustainability of their operations and identify areas where they might improve efficiencies – while pinpointing ways to better align initiatives with their mission, vision and values.

Making the World a Better Place
The way rising senior and sustainability science major Ralph Olacio sees it, the Green Team pilot program is a bold step for the University. “It’s the first program of its kind in New Jersey to bring academia and the private sector together to promote and implement a truly sustainable future for all,” he notes.

The Cox Printers team developed ideas that could help reduce the company’s carbon footprint and initiate green programs to share with the surrounding community. As a team member, Olacio created a printable 3D design for a rooftop mini-golf course. “It was refreshing to see the future of sustainability from the perspective of a business,” he says. “Although many economic barriers inhibit true sustainability in all industries, it was great to see such institutional forward-thinking.”

According to PSEG’s Ortiz, the energy company was seeking a fresh and unbiased perspective on new trends in sustainability reporting – and what should be publicly available and reported.

“This has been a great experience,” says public health major and PSEG team member Julie Attys. “It showed me sustainability is not only about recycling but about people and making the world a better place.”

Attys learned something new every day. “I’m in a group with geology, political science, biology, and sustainability science majors. Working with them and with a large electric company was an eye-opening experience.”

Teammate Abdiel Jimenez valued the opportunity to work with PSEG. “As students, we don’t have enough experience to understand the corporate world,” the sustainability science major says. “But through this program, my team and I have learned to understand it.”

Putting Theory into Practice
Students seldom participate in corporate boardroom conversations and presentations at a Fortune 500 company, but at Prudential Global Investment Management Real Estate (PGIM Real Estate), Karthika Priya Jayaprakash and her teammates were able to do just that.

According to Jayaprakash, the experience benefits students and companies alike. “The corporate partners interacted with students who are truly passionate about sustainability, conversant with best practices and want to make a real difference,” says the computer science major. “Students got beyond theory to practice and got a ringside view into how corporations operate, how every decision has to be quantified, how risk assessments are performed, and the factors that drive policy.”

“Our participation in the MSU intern program provided us with the opportunity to engage in projects outside of our typical day-to-day activities and also challenge the students to find solutions for real-life sustainability issues,” recalls David DeVos, PGIM Real Estate VP, Global Director of Sustainability. “As a result of our collaboration, we have developed new tools to improve the implementation of our sustainability initiatives and streamline the reporting of our sustainability program.”

Seeing Green
NJM Insurance calls their Green Team students their “A Team.” The students worked collaboratively to identify and roll out easy-to-implement, cost-effective, environmentally beneficial programs that have been well received by the company. Some of the students’ ideas may eventually be incorporated into NJM’s ongoing sustainability efforts.

Jurisprudence, law and society major Emma Lavin joined the program for a hands-on experience that would teach her about energy efficiency. “We worked to help solve NJM’s sustainability issues such as finding new ways for them to decrease the yearly amount of energy they use,” she explains.

As an unexpected benefit, the internship has Lavin considering a career in environmental law.

A Win-Win Program with a Bright Future
Encouraged by the pilot program’s success, Tuininga expects to offer it again next summer. “We offered a great resource and practical deliverables to our corporate partners, while we brought students together from different disciplines who are able to build their resumes and network,” she says. “They learned hard and soft skills, from industry best practices to corporate social responsibility.”

Tuininga believes that all businesses could benefit by taking a closer look at their sustainability practices. “Our students have shown they are eager to help. So far, the program has been a win-win situation all around and we anticipate an even brighter future.”