The Sustainability Field Study Course at the CU Denver Business School led by professor Graham Russell that concluded this past Spring gave students the real world experience they crave. Students who took the coursework individually or in small teams to conduct a semester-long sustainability project in a local company, government agency or non-profit.

These projects address a clearly identified need and lead to a well-defined product or deliverable that can be achieved within the duration of a single semester.

Hands-on experience

Jordan Dullea is one of these students. She worked to build a sustainability-focused culture at CDPHE.

Jordan Dullea was tasked by the Colorado Department of Health and Environment (CDPHE)’s sustainability team with identifying priorities for improving the unit’s environmental performance and engaging employees to help meet the sustainability goals mandated by Governor Hickenlooper’s “Greening Government” executive order. This project suited Jordan well as she had previously worked in HR roles in the financial services industry and is interested in building her future career around employee culture and change management as it relates to corporate sustainability strategies.

In discussion with CDPHE’s newly formed Green Team, Jordan established three priority areas on which to focus on, reducing waste and improving CDPHE’s environmental performance: purchasing, recycling and composting. In order to gauge current employee attitudes towards sustainability and develop a game plan for increasing their interest in and commitment to sustainability, she conducted an employee survey across all divisions of the organization which achieved the remarkably high response rate of 16.3%.

While most staff considered that sustainability should indeed be a priority for the CDPHE and wanted to be actively engaged in the process of improving its environmental profile, it was also clear that staff generally were either unclear about what sustainability really means from a day-to-day behavior standpoint or lacked the tools to make the right things happen.

Enhancing sustainability awareness

Based on the findings of the survey and discussions with employees, Jordan made a formal presentation of her recommendations to the sustainability team. They included, among other things: create a “Spotlight on Sustainability” column in the weekly employee bulletin to enhance awareness of sustainability initiatives and successes; establish an interdepartmental sustainability challenge process and a Green employee of the Month Award: conduct a waste audit to establish baseline waste diversion data and set improvement goals; increase the number of waste bins and improve signage to help staff better understand what can and cannot be recycled.

The project enabled Jordan to learn a great deal about waste reduction, which is often the lowest hanging fruit in organizations attempting to get some quick results from sustainability-focused initiatives. On a higher level, working with the sustainability team contributed enormously to Jordan’s understanding of both the challenges and opportunities associated with building momentum for sustainability initiatives in a large, decentralized, multi-division organization, whether corporate or a public agency like CDPHE. She also learned how green teams work and the challenges they face in securing solid support – both verbal and financial – from an organization’s senior leadership, which may well be supportive in principle of sustainability programs but whose most demanding priorities often lie elsewhere.

“If I had a position available, I would hire Jordan in a heartbeat. Her work will definitely be useful to CDPHE and our sister agencies.” – Member of CDPHE

Lauren McDonnell, a member of CDPHE’s sustainability group, worked closely with Jordan and oversaw the project on behalf of the host organization. She said: “I can’t say enough good things about Jordan Dullea. She went above and beyond numerous times, offering help and producing outcomes that were beyond our initial scope.  If I had a position available, I would hire Jordan in a heartbeat. Her work will definitely be useful to CDPHE and our sister agencies.”

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