MBA student applies lessons from sustainability course

MALVERN, Pa. — When he decided to take "Cornerstone of Sustainability" as an elective course as part of his master of business administration (MBA) degree, Penn State student Richard Beswick, who works as a general manager in the packaging industry, saw it as an opportunity to better understand what customers wanted when they talked about sustainability. It’s a hot topic in the business world, after all, and Beswick wanted to be sure his company’s idea of sustainability matched up with what customers wanted.

After completing the course in fall 2021, his thinking was different — there were plenty of ways his company could think about sustainability on a larger scale.

“We sort of felt ourselves to be good at this, and coming out of it, I think we will be good at it,” Beswick said. “There are some things we can learn. There are some things that I learned that we can apply.”

Penn State Great Valley extends its MBA program to Penn State Berks in Reading and Penn State at the Navy Yard in South Philadelphia. That location flexibility was perfect for Beswick, who began taking classes at Penn State Berks in the fall 2019 semester.

The course, taught by Associate Professor of Management Science and Information Systems Eric Stein, explored issues surrounding sustainability management, pressing environmental and social issues, and the scientific foundations and economic principles of how sustainability can provide competitive advantage, among other things.

One of the key points that stuck out to Beswick was designing with the end in mind. His company frequently designs solutions for clients, and Beswick realized the focus on getting the product to market often didn’t layer in more sustainable ways to do so.

In the past, when the company designed and constructed buildings, adding solar panels wasn’t usually considered. But now, Beswick is pushing for solar to become a larger part of construction because of the economic and environmental benefits.

“[Implementing sustainable measures] is not as hard as you think because a lot of the simple things, like the building and the education pieces, I can just do,” Beswick said. “I’ve got 150 employees, so educating them on practices is a huge amount of that. A lot of the times, some of the big things are some of the simple stuff we can do.”

Beswick is perfectly positioned to encourage the use of solar power. One of the two buildings at the plant where he works already has a solar roof. Beswick plans to study and compare the two buildings to present the benefits of how solar energy helps the company’s business and specific machinery.

While the sustainability course has had the greatest impact on Beswick, who’s set to graduate this spring, he’s learned valuable lessons from every class he’s taken. He particularly feels more confident in his leadership and decision-making abilities

“I didn’t know what to expect getting into it, but every class I’ve taken has been good for something,” Beswick said. “As general manager, I’m hitting it all. I’ve got sales, design, customer service, engineering, production, scheduling, finance, accounting, so there’s no class that I take that doesn’t apply or doesn’t teach me some skill that I’m using every day.”