Environmentalism and Entrepreneurship: Interview with Junior Achievement
On a beautiful morning in May I had the chance to sit down with Keith Pudwill (left), Director of Programs for Junior Achievement of Northern Alberta and the Northwest Territories and Morgan Zinck (right), Junior Achievement's High School Programs Manager. I chatted with them about Junior Achievement’s most popular initiative; the high school company program, how Junior Achievement (or JA as it’s commonly known) encourages environmental consciousness, and how they see businesses adapting to environmental issues moving forward.
ON THE COMPANY PROGRAM
Morgan: The JA Company program is for students in grades 8-12. They can either take it in their classrooms or they can do the traditional after-school program. They come together over the course of 18 weeks and start a product based business and see that through from the start with brainstorming and coming up with an idea. Then, they elect their executive positions and form an actual company, they do their production, they have to worry about their financials, sales, and marketing [and] they go all the way to liquidation. We try to make it accessible to any student who’s interested in joining. There’s a $10 investment they have to make for start-up funds for their company but JA makes sure that if that's ever an issue for any student we make arrangements for them.
ON JUNIOR ACHIEVEMENT’S CORE MISSION
Keith: One of the three pillars of Junior Achievement is entrepreneurship: the idea of [youth] creating a company is incredibly exciting. It’s about the development of soft skills: conflict resolution, time management, the ability to collaborate. Really being able to help these students gain confidence to tap into their strengths, learn about the areas they need to challenge themselves in and work a little bit harder at while [in] a different setting as opposed to the regular classroom.
Morgan: A lot of the students who participate tell us that they don’t really have a “thing” of their own, maybe they don't play sports, maybe they don't have that extracurricular activity they feel like is theirs and a lot of them feel that way about the company program.
ON ENVIRONMENTAL CONSCIOUSNESS
Keith: We want to make sure that students understand that without the community in which they’ve come from, without the environment in which they live, their business would not exist. They would not exist. It’s incredibly important to recognize and be able to protect and give back to those sorts of things and so social entrepreneurship is something that naturally comes along. These kids live in a time when the environment is a huge topic in media, culture, and politics. A lot of people will complain about “kids these days” but they see that stuff (environmental issues), we don’t have to tell them.
ON INCENTIVIZING ENVIRONMENTAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP
Morgan: That’s from the Emerald Awards, we always post about it and share it with the advisors at the start of every year, really before the brainstorming even happens. We post the information for them and say “explore this” and here [are] some of the requirements that you have to meet to get the grant and there's always a lot of excitement when a company receives it. Social entrepreneurship and the environmental aspect [are] huge, the students know that. I’ll talk quickly about one particular company: Bee Green. They sourced their beeswax from somebody in Spruce Grove, they wanted it to be local. Their product is all about replacing tin foil and saran wrap. It’s very environmentally conscious and that's something that we help them run with.
ON JUNIOR ACHIEVEMENT’S ROLE IN CREATING ENVIRONMENTALLY CONSCIOUS ENTREPRENEURS
Keith: I wouldn’t say we’re creating-
Morgan: -we’re just facilitating.
Keith: Absolutely, I think we’re kind of the catalyst. All of a sudden there are these ideas that these kids on their own have or through discussion with their advisors and then [we’re] able to connect the Emerald Foundation with them. We’re helping to incubate it to become something more of a social venture.
ON LEARNING THESE LESSONS YOUNG
Keith: You want to start young to be able to plant those seeds because once they start experiencing success at those younger ages, then they're just going to keep going. They’re going to look for other opportunities to bring that [consciousness] in and even if the majority of our Achievers don't go on to own their own businesses, if they at some point were in grade 9 and had a business that was really focused on being environmentally friendly, as they get older they start looking for those things as consumer[s], helping to promote that again indirectly.
Morgan: I think it’s all about how much earlier the habit forms, how much easier it is to incorporate [environmentalism] in so many other aspects and not even think about it. The company this year Just In Case made pouches out of [recycled] plastic bags and I guarantee that not a single one of those students will look at a plastic bag in the same way. They did a plastic bag drive in their neighbourhood trying to get people to give them plastic bags to reuse instead of just throwing them in the trash. That's something that they’re always going to remember.
Keith: It’s the same with financial literacy: learning how to budget, different ways of spending, pros and cons of different methods and things like that. If our kids understand that at an early age by the time they get to university it’s second nature.
ON THE FUTURE OF BUSINESS AND ENVIRONMENTALISM
Morgan: Businesses now are realizing that in order to thrive they have to start meeting those demands of consumers and if they ignore those I don't see it being possible to carry on. People are really going to start focusing their time and money on businesses that are more environmentally friendly, produce a more environmentally friendly product, or [have] less waste, in their packaging, whatever it might be. The students recognize those huge driving factors.
Keith: Since businesses started they have always been changed by the values of the citizens of the community that they exist in, by technology, by competition, by the economy, and other external factors. Now we’re in a very interesting spot where the environment is really going to be shaping what our businesses look like. They have to adapt otherwise they're not going to exist. The businesses that step up first are going to be the most successful and they're going to set the bar. If they don't keep up- if they don't want to adapt, then they're going to lose customers and they’re going to be weaned out.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
This article was written in partnership with the Alberta Emerald Foundation.