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Brandeis project examines State Street's water use

Lack of clean, fresh water poses risks to companies in cities around the world
February 7, 2011

What would happen to a global company that suddenly faced a massive water shortage in one of the cities where it operated? Would its business be able to function? Would its employees be able to work? How would its office buildings be affected
These are questions a team of students from Brandeis University recently confronted while working on an environmental project for State Street Corporation,  the Boston-based financial services group, around the company's water-management strategy. The team, comprised of 18 students from the International Business School, the Heller School for Social Policy and Management and the college, examined both the water supply and sanitation levels in locations where State Street has offices to determine potential operational risks.

A lack of clean, fresh water presents increasing threats to companies in many cities around the world. Sydney, for example, has an ongoing water scarcity problem, while Boston and London have aging infrastructure, which can have an impact on the availability of clean water. State Street, which has $1.9 trillion in assets under management, operates in 27 countries.

 "It was exciting to be part of something like this," says Jenn Taylor MBA '11, who managed the project. "I have background in project management, but I had never experienced how it works in the private sector. Working on this for State Street showed me how large global companies must put a tremendous amount of thought and energy into environmental issues, and seriously work to integrate them into their corporate culture."

Over the course of three months, the team had weekly conference calls with officials from State Street, as well as regular email exchanges. Ying Becker, an adjunct professor at the business school and a vice president of State Street Global Advisors, helped coordinate the early stage of the project, and Joel Singer, a professor at the school, advised the team and oversaw their work. At the project’s end, the team delivered their research and gave a final presentation to 10 State Street vice presidents.

Helena Cardenas MA ’11, president of Brandeis’ chapter of Net Impact, an organization that promotes use of business skills to support social and environmental causes, developed the initial idea for the project.

“I am so proud of the team’s work,” says Cardenas, who hails from Quito, Ecuador. “This was a not-for-credit opportunity and yet every single member of the team brought a lot of enthusiasm and energy to the table. In the middle of midterm exams, we had a crunch time for the project, and people still delivered.”

Peter DeBruin, vice president of environmental sustainability at State Street, says he was “supremely impressed” by the team’s work. “Their learning curve was steep: not only did they have to learn about our company’s culture, norms, and nuances, they also had to learn about the subject of water risk in a short amount of time,” he said. “Those were two huge challenges and yet the team did everything in a highly professional manner. It was clear that they were passionate about what they were doing, and that they put a lot of thought and analysis into the final project and presentation.”

Based on its initial success, the team will execute a second phase of the project, which involves investigating opportunities for State Street to  help meet water-use reduction goals in business operations.
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