BOONE, N.C. — An initiative by Appalachian State University’s Walker College of Business (WCOB) is helping companies use their businesses as a force for good — all while providing professional and practical experience to students in a multidisciplinary environment.
The Impact Clinic, developed by Dr. Tammy Kowalczyk, interim director of Appalachian’s Research Institute for Environment, Energy and Economics (RIEEE) and professor in the WCOB’s Department of Accounting, pairs student teams with businesses to measure and manage businesses’ environmental and societal impacts.
“We model our assessments on B Corp Certification goals, using a tool to evaluate how the business’s operations impact stakeholders, including owners and investors, consumers, workers, the local community and the natural environment,” Kowalczyk said.
A Certified B Corporation is a type of business that balances purpose and profit, working for the greater good, with a triple bottom line — people, planet and profit.
“Some people don’t realize how caring for the environment and for the employees benefits the company’s bottom line,” Kowalczyk explained. “Customers are interested in the social impact side of a business. If we can identify ways the company contributes to the community, or provides a good place for employees to work, the business can use those findings to attract new customers and increase revenue and profit.”
Making an impact
Kowalczyk said the Impact Clinic has worked with 12 businesses in Western North Carolina to date, with approximately 125 students participating.
Alex Helms '13 '16, a lecturer in the Department of Accounting and past business participant in the Impact Clinic, said, “This experience is pivotal for students. Many of our students have had little or no work experience — especially the type involving strategic decision-making. This program provides many students their first opportunity to come in and see how a business works from a management perspective and develop creative solutions to complex problems.”
Chris Grasinger ’13, Appalachian alumnus and CEO of Center 45 Climbing and Fitness in Boone, said he has been working with the Impact Clinic for several semesters. “The students bring a lot of energy to the table in helping us build our score to achieve B Corp Certification,” he shared. “We have considered everything from employee policies to environmental impact in great depth.”
Zak Ammar ’16, Appalachian alumnus and founder of Vixster, a waste and recycling collection service based in Boone, said the Impact Clinic has been a great resource for his business. “Students have completed projects for our company and we have executed comprehensive plans to further our B Corp status.
“Currently we are in our last round of work that will lead us to the certification,” Ammar continued. “None of this would have been possible without Tammy’s dedication to education, the students and making the world a better place.”
The Impact Clinic began as a pilot program in fall 2017 and was fueled by a grant from the Chancellor’s Innovation Scholars Program, which supports research and practice related to the innovation of higher education.
“With the grant, we were able to further develop this program to provide an experiential learning opportunity in a high-impact way for students,” Kowalczyk said. “After the Impact Clinic identifies the needs of a company, we can then collaborate with other departments at Appalachian to engage those who specialize in areas that can address those needs.”
The program is administered through the Assessing Sustainability in a Global Business Environment course, an undergraduate class open to all majors at Appalachian. Kowalczyk taught the course for several years, and Helms began teaching the class in the 2019 fall semester.
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About the Walker College of Business
The Walker College of Business at Appalachian State University delivers transformational educational experiences that prepare and inspire students to be ethical, innovative and engaged business leaders who positively impact our community, both locally and globally. The college places emphasis on international experiences, sustainable business practices, entrepreneurial programs and real-world applications with industry. Enrolling approximately 3,000 undergraduates in 10 majors and 175 graduate students in three master's programs, the Walker College is accredited by AACSB International – the premier global accrediting body for schools of business. Learn more at https://business.appstate.edu.
About Appalachian State University
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the Southeast, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The Appalachian Experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and to embrace diversity and difference. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System. Appalachian enrolls nearly 21,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.