The last thing Lisa Kelly Boët expected was students photographing her trash.
But that’s what Florida Gulf Coast University students Natasha Gascon and Melissa Rodriguez were doing Wednesday at Boët’s Naples restaurant, Bamboo Café, 755 12th Ave. S., Naples.
They snapped photos of the bistro’s waste and recycling material as part of their sustainable business class project. They also inspected appliances, lighting, water usage, purchasing practices and marketing strategies to prepare a customized sustainability plan for the restaurant.
“It’s a living classroom,” said Boët, co-owner of the restaurant along with her husband, Philippe. “If you’re going to be studying business and sustainability what better way to do it than by actually analyzing a real operating business. You’re leaving the theory behind and actually going into what’s practical and realistic.”
Students in the course research and learn methods to improve company sustainability, such as increasing energy efficiency, decreasing water consumption and using more green products. Their professor, Gerry Segal began teaching the class last year with a goal to incorporate real world research into the curriculum. Last year, his students worked with Mel’s Diner in Cape Coral.
“They are actually adding value,” said Segal, the associate professor of management and director of sustainable business programs at the school. “They are going to a business, studying their activities and giving them real advice.”
Even in these tough economic times, companies around the world continue to invest in ways to improve their efficiency and reduce their environmental impact. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers’ 14th annual Global CEO Survey, nearly half of CEOs said they would change their companies’ strategies in the next three years because they expect stakeholders to factor companies’ environmental and corporate responsibility practices into purchasing decisions.
Students in Segal’s class, who are taking the course as an elective, anticipate gaining the skills to help those corporations.
“This is the future of business,” said Melissa Rodriguez, 21, who was part of the second group to visit the restaurant. The first group consisted of about 25 students. “We are learning invaluable skills that I think all employees will need to know and understand in the future.”
With pens, papers and cameras in hand, they fired off questions to Boët, such as “How many times do you print your menus?” “What kind of light bulbs do you use?” and “Do you have a green marketing component to your website?” to find gaps in the restaurant’s current sustainability practices.
Natasha Gascon, 22, admitted it was somewhat tough because Boët and her husband were one step ahead of them.
“Within the year, we started operating with the environment in mind and with the idea to leave less of a mark as a business,” Boët said. “We buy local and use organic. We actively try to recycle and use less. We are thinking green with everything we do.”
Although they are ahead, the couple welcomed new ideas and a more concentrated plan of action.
“We’re busy business owners,” Boët said. “There is only so much time in the day we can devote to these activities. It’s bringing a whole knowledge base to us that we wouldn’t otherwise have.”
During the visit, Boët discovered she could get a rebate when using a Florida, Power and Light-approved contractor to replace certain lighting, and a student suggestion about growing a garden on the roof also seemed novel but a little unfeasible.
“They had very good ideas,” Boët said. “I don’t know if the building would support a garden on the roof, but it’s something that makes sense.”
In December, the students will present a complete analysis and plan for the restaurant. Boët and her husband expect to take their suggestions seriously and implement what they can.
“We will absolutely try to follow through with any recommendations, but it has to make sense business wise,” Boët said. “There has to be a return on our investment.”
Boët would like to take the eco effort a step further by applying to be the first certified “green” business in Naples. The city started a certification program this month to recognize companies who have met a high standard of sustainability.
“This is a really refreshing way to look at our business, and being sustainable is a concern for us,” Boët said. “So, hopefully this can help Bamboo Cafe become certified.”