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Centre for Building Sustainable Value

Where Lies the Intersection of Sustainability and Business? A Student Reflection

  • Tom Tao
  • |
  • Nov 23, 2022
Where Lies the Intersection of Sustainability and Business? A Student Reflection

Tom Tao is an HBA 2 student at Ivey. This summer, he completed an internship at ReForest London as a part of Ivey Connects. Read about his experience below. 

I have always been sceptical. Perhaps it’s my background in Global Development Studies from Huron University College at Western or my “realist” outlook, as described by my friends, but I often find myself questioning the validity of business’ sustainability efforts. How can a company focus on both growth and sustainability at the same time? This summer, I set out to find the answer.  

I began searching for opportunities in impact-driven organizations where sustainability efforts would be at the forefront of my work. I was able to find this through the Ivey Connects and Canada Life program. The program not only partners with organizations that are leading change, but ones that are also focused on developing students’ sustainability-focused skills and experiences.  

A Summer at ReForest London 

This summer I worked at ReForest London, the largest environmental non-profit in London, as their Community Tree Nursery Business Case Developer. ReForest London, as the name suggests, works to improve environmental and human health in London, affectionately known as the “Forest City”, by planting and protecting trees. The organizations programming includes volunteer tree planting and aftercare events around the city, a Neighbourhood Tree Giveaway program where every household in London can claim up to two free trees to be planted on their property, and its newly developed Westminster Pond Centre for Environment and Sustainability. The Centre collaborates with other non-profits such as London Environmental Network and Talbot Land Trust as a hub to promote sustainability in the London area.  

Upon discovering this opportunity, I immediately knew it was the perfect chance to get involved in impactful work while learning about sustainability- and impact-focused business case planning. I was brought on board to further develop the business case for the Community Tree Nursery, a project that aims to supply trees for ReForest London and other organizations across the city.  

Business Beyond Efficiency 

A significant chunk of my summer was spent improving the modelling tool designed to indicate the required resources for starting tree nurseries of various sizes and their corresponding impacts, which will soon be shared with organizations across Canada for use. This required several rounds of beta testing processes both internally and externally, which gave me the chance to meet and learn from many different environmental organizations across Canada.  

This project also gave me incredibly valuable insights on how organizations can truly consider sustainability in every aspect of their operations. After a year of taking business courses, I approached the modelling tool with a focus on efficiency. However, in speaking to my manager and other community partners, I quickly realized there were factors even more important such as accounting for the diversity of native tree varieties in various locations and demonstrating a case for support.  

A Future of Impact  

My curiosity for how, and whether, growth and sustainability can co-exist in an organization still remains, but my work this summer certainly gave many valuable insights into how I can consider sustainability in everything I do. It also reaffirmed my decision to work with impact-driven companies where I can be supported by like-minded people and make a difference. 

Sustainability will continue to be at the forefront of key global issues for the foreseeable future. So, I urge this generation of future global business leaders to experience impact-focused work at least once to learn what sustainability can look like and let their skills learned at Ivey, such as social impact assessment and community outreach, benefit the world around us.  


Current and future HBA students: Learn more about the Ivey Connects program