Engaging Students in Sustainability Projects – The PRME Innovation Challenge

While embedding sustainability teaching into the curriculum at all levels and in all programmes is crucial, even more important, and popular with students and teachers alike, are opportunities for students to put that knowledge into practice. When students are given the opportunity to give insights to real life sustainable development challenges involving a real global company, even better.

The PRME Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Student Engagement Platform led by the PRME Secretariat has recently launched a new Innovation Challenge (the Challenge) for teams of students aimed at Advanced PRME Signatory Institutions. I spoke with the PRME Secretariat about the Student Engagement Platform about this latest challenge.


Why was the Challenge organised?

Here at the Secretariat we are always looking for ways to engage students to connect with both the SDGs and with companies actively seeking solutions to their challenges. We believe that companies are slowly starting to see that PRME Signatory students are an important untapped resource when it comes to sustainability and more companies are looking to work with us to tap into the innovative ideas students offer.

Over the past few years we have had a few opportunities for teams of students to not only connect but to actually contribute to strengthening the sustainability strategies of UN Global Compact companies. For example, during last years Breakthrough Innovation Challenge seven companies defined seven real-life challenges and seven student teams engaged with them to build sustainable business models and solutions powered by disruptive technologies.

Who is the business partner?

For this Challenge we are working with Manitou Group (Manitou). Manitou is a world-leader in design, manufacture, distribution and servicing of all-terrain, material-handing equipment for construction, agriculture, mining and industrial applications. They are looking to become sustainability leaders with objectives that include having 100% of new projects include eco design criteria. They are expanding the amount of revenue they derive from re-manufactured or reused parts and moving towards reducing the total cost of ownership by focusing instead on product service systems. To learn more about their CSR strategy click here.


What is the Challenge?

Manitou Group has proposed two challenges focused on SDG 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production) and 13 (Climate Action). Teams of students are given a range of questions to answer in relation to these challenges. Based on the response, two winning teams will be selected. They will then get the chance to work with Manitou virtually between the 1st of November and the 30th of April on their ideas and projects. On the 14th of May they will submit their final recommendations to the company and will then get the chance to present those final recommendations at Manitou corporate headquarters in Wisconsin, USA on the 7th of June.


What are the specific challenges?

There is a choice of two challenges that student teams can choose from. The first involves Manitou’s REDUCE programme. In this programme, Manitou has developed tools focused on reducing their machines’ environmental footprints. The challenge they are facing is that they need to change the mind-set of both their internal and external customers to switch from the acquisition price to full services and solutions with a total cost of ownership benefits mind-set. They are looking for students to provide some insights on that.

The second challenge involves the company’s efforts to reduce their supply chain eco-footprint and identify all the factors necessary to improve it, such as optimization of transportation, materials input, returnable packaging etc. They are looking for students teams to work on the optimization of the transportation, looking at consolidating orders/cargo from multiple manufacturing facilities and identify the criteria that Manitou should use to measure what eco-friendly transportation means.

More details about these challenges can be found here.


How do schools participate?

Any school that is an Advanced PRME Signatory institution can take part in the challenge. Students must be organised into teams that consist of no more than 4 undergraduate or graduate students. Teams should come from different disciplines. There is no maximum allowed number of teams per school.


What is the deadline?

Teams that are interested should register online by 15th September. Submissions are then due on 1st October. On 31st October we will announce the selected student teams who will then work with Manitou. Keep an eye out for the PRME Signatory newsletter for information about future Innovation Challenges.

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