Business Science and Technology

Student competition to spur sustainability

Students throughout the University of Miami are welcome to participate in a student-led competition that engages local academia, policymakers, companies, and key city stakeholders to advance United Nations sustainable development goals.
Sustainability competition
A view of flooding that took place during Hurricane Ian, which hit Southwest Florida in September 2022.

University of Miami students, both graduates and undergrads, from any discipline are encouraged to apply to SDG Challenge Miami, the first time the competition that advances United Nations sustainable development goals (SDGs) is being held in the United States. 

As part of the initiative, the Patti and Allan Herbert Business School will host “A Deep Dive: Shaping a Sustainable World” on Nov. 9, an event featuring alumni and faculty members geared to explore SDG#9, which will focus on industry, innovation, and infrastructure. 

Students participating in SDG Challenge Miami can expect to build their network through collaboration with local businesses, peers, and industry leaders and to benefit from internship and job opportunities. Prizes will be awarded to the winning team’s solution. 

Teddy LHoutellier, the University of Miami’s sustainability director, highlighted that students’ innovation and advocacy have historically led the movement for a more sustainable and greener University of Miami. 

“Every year students are bringing innovative sustainable solutions to our campus life,” LHoutellier said. “It is just natural for them to address those same issues at the regional, national, and global scale. The same way that ECO Agency students work with all campus stakeholders, the SDG challenge is an opportunity for our students to reach out to multiple stakeholders in private companies and in the community, address project management challenges, and make their ideas impactful.” 

The competition is divided into three phrases. First there is registration, which is open now and launches officially on Oct. 4 with an event at the Miami-Dade Beacon Council. Then there is “Sprint Day,” when teams develop their projects on site with their business partners utilizing the pressure-cooker methodology. And it culminates with “SDG Finale”—where teams pitch their projects to a jury, a winner is selected, and the awards ceremony is held. 

Once registered in the contest, University students are paired with students from three other local colleges: Florida International University, Miami Dade College, and Lynn University. The student teams are then coupled with a local business and tasked to assess the firm’s adherence to one of the 17 sustainability goals created by the United Nations in 2012 in its effort to address the world’s most critical environmental, social, and economic challenges. 

The competition is coordinated by Accountable Impact, part of the SDGs Consortium of nonprofit organizations that accelerate and scale SDG solutions. Scarlett Lanzas, who founded the organization three years ago, emphasized that the goal is to showcase evidence and build a clear business case for adopting the SDGs locally. 

“Challenge Miami is part of larger strategy to create an SDG ecosystem in South Florida,” Lanzas explained. “We want to hold local businesses accountable, not as a watchdog, but as a support system so we can partner and cocreate to address the most pressing challenges facing our community today and in the years ahead.” 

Lanzas noted that Challenge Miami is especially important because South Florida is lagging in terms of advancing these goals.

The Challenge concept was launched in the Netherlands in 2018, and competitions have been held there, in South Africa, and in Portugal. Next year, they will take place in the United Kingdom. Challenge Miami is the first to be held in the United States. 

Carbon Biocapture is among the local businesses partnering in the contest. The firm uses scalable microalgal technology to reduce carbon emissions and already has established a collaboration with the University through the College of Engineering. A global hotel chain is another projected partner. 

Silvia Garrigo, a School of Law alumna and an assistant professor of professional practice in business law with the Miami Herbert Business School, will moderate the discussion for the “Deep Dive” session in October. Digna Cabral, a City of Doral councilwoman and clinical research project manager for the Miller School of Medicine’s Department of Neurology, will serve as one of several alumni on the panel. 

“The SDGs provide a universal framework for complex and interconnected sustainability challenges impacting business operations and supply chains, such as geopolitical instability, diminishing natural resources, human capital, economic inclusion, environmental degradation, and climate change,” noted Garrigo, a former senior vice president of Environmental Social Governance for the Royal Caribbean Group. 

“But the SDGs are not just about addressing risks,” Garrigo added. “They represent a wide range of opportunities, also. Leading companies address the most relevant SDGs impacting their business to shape, execute, and communicate their sustainability strategies and goals; catalyze innovation and partnerships; engage and retain talent; open new markets; raise capital; and create shareholder value over the long term.” 

The launch of SDG Challenge Miami coincides with the 2023 SDG Summit that takes place Sept. 18–19 in New York. The U.N. gathering is expected to provide high-level political guidance to inspire renewed hope, optimism, and enthusiasm for the 2030 agenda and to usher in a new phase of accelerated and transformative action and progress toward the sustainable development goals.