Capstone Project

The LSM program concludes with a capstone project. The capstone is your opportunity to apply your passions, skills, and creativity to sustainability. There’s no set way to do a capstone. For some, it will be a traditional research paper. For others, it may be an analysis (or creation) of a sustainability plan. We have had students develop syllabi for courses on sustainability and ethics, new “green” processes for event management, and studies on waste in the food industry (see below). The only requirement of the capstone is that the scope of your project reflects the holistic approach of the LSM program. We view sustainability as a set of complex questions to address rather than a narrow technical skill.

Once students have completed (or are about to complete) the six core courses of the LSM program, they develop a capstone project. Download the Capstone Application. Ideas often reflect work you are already doing in your place of employment or a volunteer effort. Then, you will identify a program instructor or advisor to serve as your capstone mentor. Together with your mentor, you will craft your capstone, culminating in a presentation that’s appropriate to the type of project you’ve developed.  Students can do a capstone individually or as part of a team.

Capstone Project: Overview Video

Learn more about the capstone project in this online information session.

Capstone Profile: Nancy Himmelfarb

Nancy recently completed the Leadership in Sustainability Management certificate program. Nancy is a sustainability consultant who engages people in transforming their organizations by collaborating across disciplines, articulating opportunities, and creating a road map for sustainability. She is leveraging her experience in the program to enhance her consulting practice. For her capstone project, Nancy produced a report on business strategies for reducing consumer food waste for Business for Social Responsibility ( Currently, she is partnering with her capstone advisor, Prof. Sabina Shaikh, to teach a new practicum-style course at the University for graduate and undergraduate students called Environment, Agriculture, and Food: Economic and Policy Analysis. Working for their client, the Chicago Green Restaurant Coalition (, the students in the course are researching and developing new green certification standards for Chicago restaurants. Nancy provides feedback on the students’ research and also connects them with a large group of industry advisors for further support and advice.

Nancy previously practiced corporate law for over 15 years, including starting the legal department for three companies. Nancy has a BA with Distinction in International Relations and Political Science from Stanford University, a J.D. from UCLA School of Law, a professional certificate in Leadership in Sustainability Management from the University of Chicago, and is accredited as a LEED Green Associate.

View Recently Completed Capstone Projects

A Curriculum on Sustainability and Behavioral Economics
Aleen Bayard

I enrolled in this program in order to build my knowledge base on the ‘business of sustainability’. As a consultant and academic dealing in organizational change, leadership and communication, I already have deep subject matter expertise in these areas. As I refocus my practice to work in the sustainability field, I needed additional depth in the domains covered by this program. In particular, I needed to understand the value proposition and financial impacts that investments in sustainability might have formay offer my client base – typically large corporations and global service companies. Furthermore, I needed to understand the trade-offs involved in implementing sustainability practices, – and to reconcile them with growing commitments to triple bottom line accounting principles. I was asked by Pam Cohen to co-develop a curriculum on Sustainability & Behavioral Economics. Due to some unforeseen developments, I ended up developing was the lead instructor and developed 90 percent of the overall curriculum, an effort result I could have not even contemplated not conceive of prior to completing the Graham School program. I have spent approximately 45 hours completing the following activities: outlined specific learning objectives for the three-week course, selected primary text, selected more than ten scholarly articles and case studies for student review and analysis, created customized assignments to debrief each learning module, created 30 hours of classroom lectures with PPT slides, and arranged site visits to six leading regional and global organizations, worked with guest speakers/hosts on lecture content to be tailored to economics and sustainability from Baker & McKenzie, world’s largest law firm; Edelman, world’s largest privately-held communications firm; Holabird & Root, oldest U.S. architectural firm, leader in green building; Metropolitan Planning Commission; Jones Lang LaSalle, top ten global real estate services and investment company; Chicago American Institute of Architects; Delta Institute; and the Environmental Law Policy Center. I have demonstrated a significant understanding of “leadership in sustainability management” through the development of this curriculum; teaching materials; assignments and relationship building with key stakeholders in our region.

Education in a LEED Certified Building
Maureen Farrell

I was part of the original design team of a newly built LEED certified satellite campus at the community college where I work. Four years ago the team I was a part of began a learning journey to understand how to bring a sustainability philosophy to the college in general and to the new satellite campus in particular. I worked with the architects to design a building that was both learning-centered for students and designed according to LEED specifications. Now that the building is complete, I would like to enhance the utilization of the building as a teaching tool for students, staff and visitors. My project would include creation of a binder of information, a Powerpoint presentation for use as a guide for touring the building to learn about its sustainable features, an executive summary of the project, and a document (brochure/flyer) to be utilized on a “walking” tour of the facility. This project would incorporate all six courses in the certificate because it would have many of the concepts and elements from each course. The most important concept that I would like to highlight is the Leadership and Change Management course that supported the idea that as a leader in my organization I am in a position to impact learning and change. The materials and documents that I create will be used to teach about sustainability in general and LEED certification in particular. The building has a geothermal heating and cooling system (Science of Sustainability), land usage and bioswales (Intro to Sustainable Development), EPA compliance issues (Environmental Law and Policy), costs with energy efficiency (Economics) and marketing tools (Green Messaging).

North Avenue Beach Special Event, Temporary & Permanent Improvements (NABments)
Lora Gartner, Fred Paul, and Lou Vasta

This Capstone Project is an action research project of an existing special event and a study of how to implement green initiatives and sustainable objectives into the event. Lou Vasta is co-producer of an annual event in Miami called The Miami Beach Polo World Cup. In late 2010 Polo Life Chicago, LLC was formed to hold the first Chicago Beach Polo World Cup in October 2011 on North Avenue Beach in Chicago. The partners who own Polo Life Chicago, LLC are the same producers and owners of the Miami event as well. The long term goal of the producers is to create a world-wide tournament culminating in a world cup Polo Champion similar to what the Federal International Futbol Association does for soccer. Teams from different regions will qualify in regional matches. The winners will advance to the world cup finals match in a pre-selected host city. This was our opportunity to set a new precedent for this event and subsequent events. The strategy that we have taken is to set this event up as a model and implement any and all possible “green and sustainable” ideas and measures. We looked to the definition of sustainability that’s widely accepted whereby sustainability takes into account the triple bottom line: the environment, social, and economic aspects. This is further spelled out in the MeetGreen® Sustainability Plan2. MeetGreen® is a meetings and event sustainability consultancy that Polo Life Chicago partnered with to write a sustainability plan for the event.

Business Strategies for Reducing Food Waste
Nancy Himmelfarb

Food is wasted at every stage in the continuum from farm to fork, as outlined in Business for Social Responsibility’s (BSR) March 2011 report. Estimates of global food waste range from thirty percent to fifty percent of all food produced. In the United States, the thirty-four million tons of annual food waste represent 14% of total municipal solid waste and the single largest component of municipal solid waste reaching landfills and incinerators. All of this food waste ends up wasting a lot of money and other resources – all of the water, energy, packaging and human resources used in production, transportation, retailing/food service and home storage of the wasted food. In addition, this food waste results in substantial methane emissions, which have 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide emissions. Many policy makers and businesses are striving to reduce food waste. On the retail side, more and more restaurants and grocery stores are reducing their operational food waste through improved inventory management, food donations and composting. These initiatives represent the “low-hanging fruit” of food waste reduction, because the initiatives are fully within a business’ control and often generate sizable cost savings. Despite broad success, these ‘back of the house’ initiatives miss an important piece of the food waste puzzle, which is the role of consumers. In Canada, for one, consumer food waste is estimated to be the largest component (51%) of the country’s total food waste. This brief explores opportunities for businesses to help reduce consumer food waste. It focuses on those businesses that are touch points to consumers – restaurants, grocery stores, institutional cafeterias and hotels – and highlights ways that these businesses have experimented with consumer-facing food waste initiatives primarily in the United States and Europe. Their efforts, as highlighted in this brief, serve as a road map for a dialog among businesses on getting engaged in driving consumer food waste reductions.

Building an Undergraduate Discourse on Environmental Ethics in Sustainability
James Masteler

As a third-year doctoral student in ethics and as one planning to stay in academia and teach undergraduate students from a variety of backgrounds at Loyola University Chicago (LUC), my work environment is the academy. To that end, I propose to develop two courses designed to engage students in the ethical questions surrounding the diversity of challenges to sustainability that have been discussed in the Leadership in Sustainability Management program at the University of Chicago. The first course would be designed with first year and/or second year students in mind and would be intended as their first introduction to the variety of concrete challenges to sustainability that can exist. It would also serve to introduce students to the interdisciplinary, “liberal arts” approach they can take to critically assess and deconstruct those challenges before arriving at informed conclusions for concrete solutions. The second course would be designed for third and fourth-year undergraduate students with advanced exposure to both the issues and methodologies of their own particular major. The emphasis of this second course would be more on the theoretical knowledge behind the practical issues discussed in the first course with explicit emphasis on the worldviews and value systems that a diversity of communities and individuals hold regarding the proper relationship between people and the planet.

Sustainability in Small Business
Eric Meyers

This capstone project addressed the issue of sustainability practice, or lack thereof, within small business. Over the course of six weeks, I engaged Saws International, Inc. (SI), a small, multi‐national manufacturing organization that has a local presence, to assist me with this project. For the purpose of completing this Capstone project, I contacted the president of SI’s U.S. operations, Mike Rans. Mr. Rans permitted me to develop a single‐site sustainability plan that would potentially identify immediate savings opportunities for SI. Although my initial pan included identifying savings opportunities as well as quantifying carbon footprint reduction efforts, I was unable to convince Mr. Rans that a reduction in SI’s Carbon footprint would positively impact his company’s earnings. This is seemingly a big hurdle for the practice of sustainability in small business.

Plastic Bags: A Sustainability Case Study
Cecilia Gamba

Plastic bags have made their way into pop culture as a symbol of abandonment, uselessness and decay. Plastic bags also cause other damages besides spoiling our landscapes. They pose a threat to wildlife, especially marine animals, which might eat them or become entangled in them. They can also clog urban sewers and drains, creating risks for public health and safety and using up public money in removal services. One critical aspect is their persistence in the environment: a plastic bag can take up to 1000 years to break down. However, abandoning the use of plastic bags could be a low-cost strategic choice from a broad sustainability perspective. First of all, unlike other plastic products (like packaging or product components), disposable plastic bags can be easily replaced by other types of bags that in most cases are equally effective. Secondly, and most importantly from a strategic point of view, an anti-plastic bag initiative could constitute an environmental “foot-in-the-door”: through a relatively easy and soft habit change, many individuals could become more receptive to green actions and choices in general. In the past few years, initiatives to reduce or eliminate plastic bags have arisen in many countries and cities around the world. There is broad variety in terms of policies adopted, implementation strategies and degrees of success. In most cases, unfortunately, the data publicly available on plastic bag consumption and policy implementation are incomplete and sparse. This makes it hard to monitor the progress of the anti-plastic bag programs and conduct a rigorous assessment of their impact. However the comparison of multiple case studies could allow us to draw useful implications that could be relevant not merely in relation to plastic bags but also for other sustainability-related issues.

Cooperative Transport
Gail Poole

The Laboratory Schools are in the process of an historic construction project known as the Lab+ Campaign. The Early Childhood Center, a part of this project, will be a new building located at 5800 S. Stony Island. ECC will house students from Nursery to 2nd grade. The Early Childhood Center presents a rare opportunity for the Laboratory Schools to initiate new programs designed to foster sustainable behaviors. The building will be designed and constructed to LEED standards of silver or better. The ECC site is located at 58th & Stony in the middle of the block. Of significant concern is the traffic impact of students, faculty and staff travelling to and from school at peak rush hours. The school will have a population of approximately 660 students and 100 faculty and staff. The potential risks include student safety, compromised air quality, traffic congestion, noise pollution, and increased traffic volume in the surrounding local secondary roads. Site selection to allow for and encourage alternative means of transportation is a LEED goal and accounts for critical LEED points towards certification. A program to reduce the number of individual commuter vehicles to the area could satisfy this LEED credit. Capstone Project/Deliverable: To create a model for a web-based program that would encourage ECC families to coordinate their transportation to and from school. The program will encompass all cooperative alternatives that reduce the overall volume of automobiles for student transport: carpool, bike train, walking school bus. The program will include a module that tracks carbon savings. These results will be expressed literally as well as in a context that has meaning to the student population. This information can then be used as an educational tool providing tailored information that demonstrates how individual actions impact the environment. The development and promotion of programs of this kind speak to the intention of the ECC faculty and administration to authentically incorporate the goals of LEED certification into its culture post construction.

Comprehensive Green Action Plan - Progress Report 2009-12
Martha Dooley

In 2008, the Village Board directed Schaumburg staff to prepare an inventory of existing programs and policies that support sustainability and to create a plan that would build upon those current programs. The result is the Village of Schaumburg Comprehensive Green Action Plan (C GAP) which was approved by Schaumburg’s Village Board in 2009. For the purposes of C GAP, Schaumburg consolidated the 12 actions from the US Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement into 9 categories: CO2e baseline; Land Use; Transportation; Green Power; Energy Efficiency; Green Buildings; Water Conservation and Management; Recycling and Waste Reduction; and Education and Outreach. Within these categories, Schaumburg defined current programs and developed goals to build upon the existing programs. The implementation of the goals in C GAP began immediately after the plan was approved. Goals were established and incorporated into Schaumburg’s Corporate Goal Program beginning in April 2009. Due to the onset of economic decline, no village funding was available to implement the goals of C GAP so staff began working on projects/programs that could be completed at no cost; such as the anti-idling Administrative Protocol for village owned vehicles. Shortly after C GAP was approved, Schaumburg was notified that the village would receive $776,500 as a direct allocation from the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) program. This provided the needed funding to implement more goals within the plan. While staff has been implementing EECBG activities that support C GAP, little or no time has been set aside to quantify and evaluate the village’s success in implementing the goals of the plan. The purpose of this Capstone Project is to produce a progress report that summarizes the achievements made during the past 3 years toward reducing Schaumburg’s impact on the environment and will define Schaumburg as a leader in the area of environmental stewardship.

Octavia Hooks and FlanaganOctavia's Natural Hair Care Experience - A Sustainable Business Plan
Octavia Hooks

My goal is to create a comprehensive corporate social responsibility business plan for my existing salon, Octavia’s Natural Hair Care Experience Barbershop. The plan will serve as a tool for attracting potential sponsors and funders to my project. The plan will present a strategies and unique salon business model that adheres to the triple bottom line—social, economic and environmental—guidelines. In order to present one comprehensive brand presence, I will retool Octavia’s Natural Hair Care Experience Barbershop website to include a film that highlights the correlation between a healthy lifestyle (social), natural hair (social and economic) and best environmental practices.

Sustainability for Business Growth: A Consulting Template
Debera Backhus, Amy Conn, and Natalie Valenti

Project Objective: Build a consulting model that can be tailored to various scenarios that transforms an existing business model to include sustainability as a core strategy. Format-MS PowerPoint presentation designed to be tailored to individual company circumstances. Each slide built to optimize audience reception and engagement with a mix of industry and lay terms. Scope the Client. Overview: a presentation/conversation with the client with an overview of sustainability, the pros/cons, benefits with real life examples. Program: provide a description and methodology for each phase of the program. Set goals: Define “goals” per scenario. A new company just exploring sustainability might set internal goals to benchmark resource usage. A company that has already embraced sustainability might set bigger goals to be an industry leader, revenues from sustainable products, innovation, more global goals (either far reaching or global in the sense of how they communicate the goals). Identify the industry and leading sustainability issues. Identify individual company sustainability issues which would include issues that matter most to the company and issues with the most opportunity. Make them public and known, assign accountability, establish contingency. With each goal define and understand why the particular chosen goal is important to the entity. What is the anticipated benefit (this will come into play in reporting). Create a time table. Track. Measure. Validate. Report. Be regular and consistent in reporting. Be transparent and honest.

Compost Consulting Business Plan
Mark Bigelow

For my project I want to create a plan for a business that specializes in encouraging and assisting clients in their composting efforts. The business will provide consultations primarily to businesses and organizations that generate large quantities of food waste, which will likely include restaurants, produce distributors and retailers, schools and hospitals. Enterprises of this sort, who have a substantial portion of organic waste, could benefit from composting by reducing their waste hauling costs while also improving their reputation and customer perception by demonstrating their commitment to sustainability. While not complete, the primary services that my business will offer include: Education and trainings to client staff members to motivate and encourage proper disposal of their waste; Design the signage and the infrastructure to collect the food scraps and other organic waste at a given site and develop the best practices for the company to follow for proper disposal; Identify the options available for a client to compost their waste (hauling and off site composting or on-site composting units); Track metrics and provide clients with meaningful data and materials to effectively market their services to their customers so they may reap the marketing benefits of their efforts.

Sustainability Leadership and Emotional Intelligence
Robert Gramillano

I would like to put together a PowerPoint presentation for a speech on Leadership and Sustainability. Motivating and coaching leaders toward sustainability using Emotional Intelligence, Personal Mastery and leveraging the relationship with nature, the environment and the legacy for future generations. “Making a difference through Sustainability”. I will address one by one, the Seven Competencies of Emotional Intelligence and how to develop and apply them to organizational practices and culture while developing empathy for the environment.

Revisions to the Intro Course
Joseph Kreitzer

The purpose of this capstone project is to create a revised Intro to Sustainability course for the Leadership in Sustainability Management certificate program. Of all the courses in the program, the Intro to Sustainability course has the most room for improvement. Being the first course in the program, it is critical for this course to be engaging, informative and encompassing in order to energize the class to complete the program. The scope of the project is two main components: a revised syllabus for the Intro to Sustainability course and a presentation for a proposed lecturer on sustainability software for a new technology session for the Intro class. The brief lecture will demonstrate how organizations utilize software to track, report, and expand their sustainability objectives. The recommendations proposed for the revisions to the syllabus will be based on: my professional knowledge: a senior manager in the Sustainability private sector; previous student surveys: utilize the results of the surveys conducted by the program's office in the past to understand if the class met expectations and motivated the students to continue the program; additional student survey: incorporate recommendations from classmates by creating an online survey to identify the most and least useful sessions and readings; facility survey: provide the current and proposed syllabus to the other course instructors to gain their insight as to their expectations and recommendations for the Intro class; board survey: create an online survey for the board members as industry leaders and hiring managers to identify the content to incorporate that meets their expectations, industry needs, and would gain most use and credibility in the business world. To make the case for this change, as there is no current plan for any change, the principles of the Change Management course will be utilized. The content for the technology lecture will be based on my professional knowledge and enriched using content from the Green Messaging, Science of Sustainability and Law & Policy courses.

District Energy Systems: Achievieng Energy Conservation and Advanced Sustain
Lynda Russo

District Energy (DE) networks are utility solutions with robust, long lived technologies serving the thermal energy needs of groups of buildings. They are distributed generation, multi-fuel networks that can harness renewable energies to efficiently meet the thermal requirements of a wide variety of users to heat and cool their buildings. Many renewable technologies and fuels would not be feasible for individual buildings to deploy on their own without a DE network. Fuel diversity and industrial scale specialization allows DE systems to pass on economies of scale savings to its customers, typically reducing end-user energy use by up to 13%, while freeing capital, labor and space, and dramatically reducing maintenance and operations expenses. DE plant centralization allows individual buildings to experience savings, reliability, and efficiency that they could not experience on their own. It has been a technology that helps communities achieve environmental and economic gains, and could be even more widely adopted to harness renewable or low carbon fuels.

Water Resource Conservation at Public Transit Facilities, Small Steps toward Sustainable Design
Beata Welsh

Water is one of the many resources used by or affected by public transit systems. Historically water resources have not been the major concern for public transit sustainability planning. Most sustainability plans for transit focus primarily on fossil fuel and the creation of greenhouse gases. Yet water has the potential for extreme impact on public transit, as was proven on October 29, 2012 by Hurricane Sandy. The MTA in New York City estimates its losses at up to $5 billion to repair or totally replace subway stations, tracks and terminals. NJ Transit has estimated losses of $100 million in trains and equipment. Huge disasters sometimes overwhelm and overshadow the issues with water resources across the nation. Policy makers frequently face many barriers to finding big solutions. They fall under the categories of financial, lack of belief in climate change, and the will to change. Yet every location has the ability to make small incremental change. This is where leadership in sustainability management can be assisted to direct efforts and improvements. This capstone is a presentation of small step approaches toward sustainable design in public transit facilities which lessen facility impact on water resource usage. Additionally it discusses how facilities can be adapted to mitigate the effect of climate change on the facilities. A Capstone project demonstrating that the success of a society, a field or of an individual human life is its ability to evolve and to adapt to an ever changing world and environment. Over the course of the last sixty five year the United States has seen an evolution in environmental concern and planning and the field of transportation planning has changed as a result of that evolution. With a long career in transportation planning and a shorter one in garden design it became possible for me to envision the important connection between the two professions. That vision led me to see the possibilities in even small changes.