By Jon Chabun, Gustavson Web & Marketing Specialist. Pictured: Aydan Benning. Photo credit: Rose Creative.
As I meet Aydan Benning face-to-face for the first time, he starts telling me about all the different sustainability and social responsibility initiatives that his co-op employer, the Inn at Laurel Point, runs. It is an impressive list and I had no idea that a hotel could live those values so extensively. Benning’s passion for this unique co-op shines through, as does his interest in doing meaningful work.
The Working for a Better World co-op, which Benning and the Inn at Laurel Point participated in this summer, is not your standard co-op experience. It lets businesses doing “good in the world” access funding to hire a Gustavson BCom student when they might not have been otherwise able to do it.
For Benning, the experience opened his eyes. Working in a sustainability-focused position gave him a sneak peek into what the future of his career could look like.
He had a fulfilling experience at the Inn at Laurel Point, praising the organizational culture of his employer. His supervisor Eda Koot and staff at BC’s first carbon-neutral hotel went out of their way to make him feel welcome and valued.
“It was super refreshing to work for a company that held such amazing values,” says Benning. “My time spent there didn’t always feel like ‘work’ since I was doing things I was passionate about, plus I was learning new things every week!”
Benning has been able do a sustainability audit of the hotel, run the SustaINN committee and helped create a plan for their eventual Biosphere certification.
While Benning’s experience was on-site at the hotel, the other three students on Working for a Better World co-ops worked remotely.
Joel Bannister’s co-op was about “driving business and expanding reach” for Kindred Apparel, the Canadian partner of Joyya. The organization employs women in India who have faced the harsh realities of human trafficking, hiring them to make eco-friendly apparel.
Bannister wanted to have an “unconventional co-op and try something new.” He found it working with Alexandra Bouchard at Kindred Apparel.
“This summer, I was able to really take a deep dive into the daily life of an entrepreneur,” says Bannister. “Alex was able to give me unbarred access to her entire business. She opened my eyes to the fact that as an entrepreneur, you are the one who dictates everything. How much you work, your business plan, strategy, giving yourself the motivation to push forward every day, and how successful your business can be.”
BCom student Mikayla Boulanger found inspiration working as social media manager for the organic, sustainable period-care company joni. The organization produces biodegradable and compostable menstrual products at an accessible price and gives back a percentage of profits to period equity initiatives in Canada. Boulanger’s role was to help tell joni’s story via their social channels.
“The joy of going to work each day and being continuously challenged by difficult conversations has left me inspired to pursue meaningful work,” says Boulanger. “Being supported by a female-led social enterprise and co-founder has given me the encouragement to dream bigger for my career goals and for the change I can make in social commerce.”
For his part, BCom Shayne Hunter could not pass up a co-op that had the opportunity to have a “social, economic and sustainable impact.” Wiser Marine Technologies does all these things by finding sustainable technology solutions for remote and Indigenous communities. One memorable project involved new solar tracking technology in Hartley Bay, an isolated village accessible only by air and water.
“My role was coordinating the delivery of solar panels and equipment to Hartley Bay,” says Hunter of the fragile and expensive product. “I had to coordinate the crane, courier, warehouse, barge and receiver to ensure a safe and successful delivery.”
The co-op experience let the students draw on their business knowledge. Bannister was able to apply his skills from his Marketing Principles and Management course to do market segmentation and brand storytelling. Benning tapped into skills from his Leading People and Organizations class to lead and motivate his co-workers as well as work as an effective team member.
The employers agree that the unique co-op helped benefit their companies.
“Having a student has allowed us to have a dedicated focus on a priority of ours that no one has had the time to take on,” says Eda Koot, general manager at the Inn at Laurel Point. “It’s also interesting how someone new is able to reach people and see things through a new lens.”
Alexandra Bouchard enjoyed having a fresh face on her team to help drive her organic, fair-trade business forward.
“It has been a great benefit to Kindred,” says Bouchard. “It may not have been viable to take on any extra staff at this stage without the program. We are very pleased to have had the opportunity to take part.”
Funding from RBC helped make the Working for a Better World co-op a reality.
“These students have been gaining real-world skills working at companies making an impact in our world,” says Laurie Goodfellow, vice president commercial banking at RBC. “We are pleased to be able to support students in giving back to businesses that are socially responsible and focused on doing good for the environment and society, and to explore potential careers with these themes.”
For Boulanger, that focus on working for an ethical and eco-friendly business lined up with what she believed in.
“I strongly believe that the future of commerce starts with a sustainable and open-minded approach,” she says. “Working with a company that aligns with these values is incredibly important to me and will help make a difference in the world.”
Sustainability and social responsibility are strong threads within the education BCom students receive at Gustavson. Although many of our students undertake co-op work terms with sustainable components, the first year of Working for a Better World co-ops set out to build very intentionally on these ideas to offer students the experience of building sustainability into their future careers.