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MBA students design app to help Port Saint John reduce carbon emissions

Author: Kathleen McLaughlin

Posted on Jul 19, 2023

Category: UNB Saint John

Photo: Firdavs Nabiev, John Taiwo Omotayo, Rahul Murakkat Purushothaman, Bhanu Vamsi Lekkala and Shanshan Zhang.

Port Saint John is on a mission to help reduce the carbon emissions of the businesses that operate on port land and use its facilities. An experienced and skilled group of University of New Brunswick (UNB) students have developed the concept for an app that could help get them there.

The team of master of business administration (MBA) students, which includes Shanshan Zhang, Rahul Murakkat Purushothaman, Bhanu Vamsi Lekkala, John Taiwo Omotayo and Firdavs Nabiev, won first place for their idea at the Decarbonizing Port Saint John Case Study Competition hosted recently by Port Saint John and the Pond-Deshpande Centre (PDC) at UNB.

All the team members who came to the MBA program brought their real-world experiences to the project. Zhang, for example, was the chairman of Cargill Cares Bohai Council in China, which is a corporate social responsibility committee under the United States-based agriculture, energy and transportation company called Cargill.

Drawing upon all the team's expertise, they conceived SERA (Sustainable, Eco-friendly and Responsible Actions), a loyalty app that promotes simple, everyday lifestyle changes to reduce carbon footprints. Through SERA, tenants can actively participate in creating a greener future for the port industry.

"As the former chairman at Cargill, we conducted numerous social responsibility campaigns, often utilizing apps to motivate individuals,” said Zhang. “I believed this would be an area of interest for our team and they were open to it."

The loyalty app works in three ways: information gathering, personalized suggestions for carbon-friendly lifestyle adjustments, and a reward system that acknowledges and incentivizes the adoption of the changes.

For instance, the app will inquire about the user’s commuting preference: driving to work or taking the bus. If the user selected driving themselves, the app would propose optimal bus routes and schedules, simplifying public transportation. If the user decides to take the bus, they will receive insightful statistics on the carbon emissions saved, along with visuals of the nature and wildlife being protected due to this eco-conscious decision.

“The core of our thought process when deciding on our idea was how best to reach people,” said Purushothaman. “We used all our diverse backgrounds and work experiences to produce the easiest and most rewarding solution for everyday people and port tenants.”

If users choose to continue using the app, they have the option to set a timeline and receive enhanced rewards as they progress. The app will track their core motivations and provide personalized rewards that align with their preferences. For example, if a user stops at a coffee shop frequently, they would be offered a gift card. This ensures a satisfying user experience that keeps them engaged.

The competition itself was a very motivating experience for the team of MBA students.

“Being named the first-place winners for this challenge was a really exciting moment for us,” said Purushothaman. “Competiton's like this give us all the opportunity to be recognized within our community while also strengthening our skills. I would encourage university students of any level to participate if they can.”

Port Saint John, as a landlord to various long-term leaseholders involved in the cargo and cruise ship industries, aims to reduce emissions and wants to improve reduction performance at tenant operations in tandem with their own reductions.

The competition targeted postsecondary students to increase awareness of the Port and attract skilled labour while also seeking innovative solutions to global issues such as supply chain management, port digitalization and decarbonization.

“We engaged in this competition as part of ongoing work around increasing our engagement and creating awareness of our operations within the community,” said Paula Copeland, Vice President, Engagement & Sustainability for Port Saint John.

“The judges chose this team because they very uniquely addressed the challenge question with a solution that not only would work for our port but could also be used by other ports and even businesses not in the port sector,” added Copeland. “We look forward to continuing to seek innovative solutions to challenges of the port industry in the next couple of years on topics of port digitalization and supply chain fluidity.”

Katie Davey, executive director of PDC, says students have the skills and experience to support the work of community organizations like Port Saint John.

“We are thrilled to collaborate with Port Saint John by bringing students together to help solve systemic issues at the Port,” said Katie Davey, executive director of PDC. “This year, four student teams tackled an important question around decarbonization. The winning team used innovative thinking and clearly demonstrated the skills of each team member. Helping link students with the community to solve big societal challenges is where PDC thrives.”

The team is in the process of developing a business plan for SERA to submit to Port Saint John.