Skip to main content

Marketing interns focus on sustainability, waste reduction


Two B&E marketing students are breaking ground for a new track within the discipline, one that focuses on sustainability.

The Marketing Department recently instituted three paths upon which students may center their educational pursuits: sales, integrated marketing communications and sustainable pathways to markets.

Already, Katherine Dyer and Sarah Wattick are involved in the latter as interns for the WVU Office of Sustainability, directed by Clement Solomon, who recruited them from Paula Fitzgerald's marketing class.

This month they presented a marketing plan to Dr. Solomon aimed at helping in an effort to reduce food waste in University dining facilities. Earlier in the month the WVU dining facilities and sustainability office conducted a dining waste audit that measured food waste in five WVU residential buildings. This included discarded cardboard, plastic, paper napkins, plate scrapings, food scraps, contaminated paper and plastic bags.

To attack the problem the University must overcome some student perceptions that encourage waste, among which is the tendency for students to load up their trays with food, even though they won't eat it all. Several dining halls have eliminated trays, which substantially reduced waste. However, the Evansdale Residential Complex continues to use trays. Eliminating them is more difficult there because of the size of the facility and other logistical issues. Marketing ideas are needed to alter student perceptions and behaviors.

Dyer and Wattick suggested that information cards be placed on napkin holders that would describe the problem and the environmental effects. The holders would also track the amount of waste for each dining facility and compare progress among the five WVU facilities. This, they hope, would lead to altered student attitudes and behaviors.

The students also suggested putting information on video screens in the dining halls and having a one-week trial of no trays in dining facilities during Earth Day celebrations in April.

Solomon said that according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, in 2010 the United States generated more than 34 million tons of food waste each year, about 14 percent of the total municipal solid waste stream. Less than three percent of the 34 million tons of food waste generated in 2010 was recovered and recycled. Food waste now represents the single largest component of municipal solid waste reaching landfills and incinerators.

Dyer is from Fairfax, Va., and will graduate in May. She hopes to find a marketing job near home in the Washington, D.C., area.

She said she has learned a lot about sustainability issues, even though she was already tuned in to the topic.

"I have always been very interested and active in sustainability, even before I took on this internship," she said. "I would have loved to have had more classes on sustainability and how it might relate to business. I think that Dr. Fitzgerald's sustainability in marketing class is a step in the right direction for the College—to narrow in on something that is really shaping and changing the business world, especially because almost all companies now are required to have a sustainability plan of action."

She has also learned some practical marketing. "I have learned how to accurately put together a complete marketing plan, which I have never had the chance to do in a classroom setting," Dyer said. "Although we learn all the components and steps in class, this has been my first chance to actually start from scratch and do a whole plan."

Marketing Department Chair Andy Wood said this sort of training and having tracks for students may help them find jobs.

"The department developed the tracks to allow student to focus their studies on a specific area of marketing," he said. "Company recruiters had indicated that the ability to differentiate themselves would help students during the recruiting process. Tracks provide that opportunity. The sustainable pathways to markets is a transformation in the approach to providing place utility. Profitable paths that also maximize resource efficiency and eliminate waste are the future. WVU is developing curriculum to lead the way to this new approach to serving global markets."

Wattick is from Pittsburgh, Pa., and graduates in May. She will be attending Duquesne University to pursue a master's in sustainability and hopes to someday have her own marketing consulting firm.

"I have learned that sustainability is the lens through which a business must view its practices and organizational goals," she commented. "Otherwise, that business will not be able to compete and/or could lose its competitive advantage. Through this internship and the sustainability marketing course, I have learned that not only a business's actions, but also an individual's actions, can affect the success of sustainability. Sustainability is a global, as well as a local, initiative."

Fitzgerald said sustainability can help companies and their profit margins. "Done correctly, having a sustainability program can help companies meet their needs and the needs of their customers," she said. "Our approach is to acknowledge that everything is about tradeoffs. So we look at the big picture, beyond a single issue, and try to consider strategies and processes."