MBA Students Address Subway’s Climate Risk in Foundational Course on Sustainable Business


In Spring 2020, Stern MBA students enrolled in the course Sustainability for Competitive Advantage (the Foundational course for the Sustainable Business and Innovation Specialization) were tasked with assessing climate risk for Subway (the sandwich company) and proposing strategic recommendations to help the company align its priorities to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Hosted by Stern alum John Scott, MBA ‘00, Chief Transformation Officer at Subway, the project offered students the opportunity to apply skills and frameworks learned in the classroom to a pressing global challenge facing the food industry and society at large.

“The project was truly experiential in the sense that we were actively applying our classroom learning to our consulting project, from conducting materiality assessments to calculating carbon emissions,” said Ellen Knuti (MBA ‘21).”

On his engagement with his alma mater, John reflected, “The potential impacts that climate change may have on global corporations like Subway are complex and reach our entire system from across our supply chain to inside our restaurants. Tapping into the minds of some of our brightest future sustainability leaders through NYU’s Stern Center for Sustainable Business not only gave students the opportunity to sharpen their skills with real-world challenges, but provided valuable input into our business and risk management thinking.”

Emma-Tei Kyono (MBA ‘21) explained the project assignment: “We were asked to put together a deck assessing the top eight climate risks we felt were most material to Subway’s business. This project called for us to build out models to quantify the financial impact of the risks and propose solutions for the top three risks in the 10, 20, and 30 year time horizons. We went on to present our findings to members of Subway’s leadership team.”

Reflecting on the implications of the project for the business world, Emma-Tei said “I think at this point, climate change and its impact on the business world is undeniable. However, sustainability planning is not always top of mind for business leaders. Throughout our course we’ve talked about the issues with short-termism and why it can be so difficult for businesses to think long term. I love that Subway asked us to consider climate risk on a 30 year time horizon. We were able to show with data that even catastrophic events with low probabilities are almost guaranteed to occur over longer time horizons. This mindset will become increasingly important for leaders to properly assess the impact on climate risk on their companies.”