MBA Students Win $50K Sustainability Competition

Group beats more than 60 other teams at Boston University-sponsored event
Rachel DiGiammarino, Matthew Sacchi, Jennifer Hernandez, and Jillian Garner holding their $50,000 prize from the Questrom Sustainability Case Competition
Rachel DiGiammarino, Matthew Sacchi, Jennifer Hernandez, Jillian Garner, and (not pictured) Olivia Curreri won $50,000 in the Questrom Sustainability Case Competition.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Allston Christmas, that is.

That’s the September day when the majority of leases in Boston turn over, and tenants end up leaving tons of furniture and other household items out on the curb. And every year, the City of Boston has to cart away all that junk.

Is there a sustainable solution to this annual problem? That was one of the questions posed during the Questrom Sustainability Case Competition at Boston University. One group of online MBA students from Suffolk University’s Sawyer Business School—Olivia Curreri, Rachel DiGiammarino, Jillian Garner, Jennifer Hernandez, and Matthew Sacchi—entered and, well, cleaned up. They beat 61 other teams from 11 colleges and universities and took home a $50,000 prize, 10% of which they’re required to donate to a nonprofit focused on environmental sustainability.

Getting together virtually over the course of seven weeks—while also working full time and attending classes—the quintet became instant “waste management experts” as they did their research. Working with faculty coaches Professor Jodi Detjen and Professor Pelin Bicen, the team spent hundreds of hours developing their solutions.

After making it through the first round with their essay and then through the second round in-person presentation, the team landed in the finals. But that’s when the judges added a regulatory twist: what solution would the team propose if people weren’t allowed to dispose of reusable furniture?

The group had an hour to pivot and come up with an answer...and ended up winning with solutions that focused on building students' emotional intelligence and creating an event that would accentuate the positive impact of re-use. (Since the judges were from an actual company that will be implementing the solutions, a non-disclosure agreement limits the team from sharing the name of the company or details of the proposals.)

The trust was there

The group was still on an adrenaline high days after winning. “This was a project where we could actually make a difference,” said Garner. “We’re excited to see the recommendations we made become real.”

The team gave several reasons for their success, one of which was their cohort dynamic and that they’d all worked together in various combinations since starting their program. “The trust was already there,” said Sacchi. “People told us we seemed like we were having fun,” agrees Hernandez.

Another reason they won was that their approach to the problem differed from what other teams were proposing. “We were focused on creating lasting behavior change, which we think is critical to achieving the zero waste goal.” said DiGiammarino. It also helped that they were able to use so much of what they learned in their MBA curriculum. “So much from our classes came up,” said Curreri, who was traveling the day of the final presentation but still managed to help her teammates with their slides and talking points while she was in the airport.

Associate Dean of Innovative Education and Programs Professor Jodi Detjen realized the five students were a special group early on. “When I saw the first draft of their idea I saw the potential,” she said. “They were looking at problem solutions the way we talk about it across the program: the feasibility of making it work and last. They showcase the best of what our MBA helps build.”

Of course winning the competition and taking home $50,000 was exciting. But there was an extra bonus: Safety Insurance, where Sacchi works as a field representative, will match the $5,000 donation the team is making to Boston Area Gleaners, which works to rescue surplus farm crops for people in need.

“My colleagues at Safety Insurance were excited to accept the opportunity,” he says. “I’m proud to work for a company that understands the importance of paying it forward and is in the position to do so.”


Greg Gatlin
Office of Public Affairs

Ben Hall
Office of Public Affairs