Accounting | Sustainability

Canadian team takes first prize in global sustainability competition

Winning proposal uses innovative technology to eliminate methane emissions. Team looks to take idea past competition and into a sustainable business.

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Hand lifting trophy in the airFirst place in the 2019 A4S International Case Competition went to Team Rotapower—a group of four students from John Molson School of Business (JMSB) at Montreal’s Concordia University

A Canadian team has taken first place in the second annual A4S International Case Competition (A4SICC). The Accounting for Sustainability (A4S) project was founded in 2004 in effort to inspire finance leaders towards resilient business models and a sustainable economy. CPA Canada and The Prince of Wales’s A4S Project launched the Canadian Chapter of the A4S CFO Leadership Network in 2017 working with chief financial officers and their teams across Canada to integrate economic, environmental and social issues into strategy. 

The competition was co-sponsored by CPA Canada and held this year from March 29-30 at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. It challenged students from leading business schools across the globe to develop businesses of the future. 

Sustainability is a hot topic among business leaders today. And to prepare future leaders to be part of the solution, this year’s competition asked how technological solutions can add value to businesses by addressing environmental or social sustainability concerns. Teams from Canada, Singapore, the United States, India and Kenya took part in the competition.

THE WINNING TEAM

First place in the 2019 challenge went to Team Rotapower—a group of four students from John Molson School of Business (JMSB) at Montreal’s Concordia University. They won the $10,000 prize for their proposal on methane mitigation in landfills. The winning idea proposed using biogas from the landfill to power a rotary engine, completely eliminating methane emissions and converting it into usable electricity that could be used locally or sold directly to a power company. 

When the applications for the A4SICC opened, the teammates—Genevieve Roch, Akshay Joshi, Ankit Kumar and Eda Tuzunatac—were just in their first semester of the MBA program. JMSB encourages case competitions, explained Joshi, with a community of people helping and mentoring, including faculty members and alumni coaches. There were initial tryouts before the school created teams of students with diverse backgrounds. 

“Genevieve had logistics and operations, the other members had marketing and finance backgrounds and I was an engineer,” Joshi says. “So it was put together that way so we would complement each other.”

Team Rotapower receiving their prizeTeam Rotapower receiving their prize (Image provided)

Before he joined the MBA program, Joshi had been working for a start-up company based out of California that used the same technology they employed in the winning proposal.

“The case asked for an innovative technological solution, and we wanted to do something immediately implementable because that would set us apart from other teams,” he says. 

The start-up Joshi was working for had been using the engine, but not looking for this sustainability application, which the team saw as a great opportunity.

FIRST PLACE AND BEYOND

Team Rotapower met weekly for three months to perfect their presentation. They worked diligently and knew they had a great idea, but did not know what to expect from the competition.

“We were really not anticipating winning,” Roch says. “I think because a lot of us are essentially new to the case competition world, but also because of the competition culture here—there’s a conservative and humble perspective [to the competition].

“But it was absolutely mind-blowing...”

With their hard work recognized, Team Rotapower is looking ahead at developing their business even further. Roch says companies—particularly in the bigger industry of oil and gas—are feeling the pressure to invest significantly in their emissions mitigation because of the high amount the industry emits. “We thought: this is a great opportunity for us to have a very sustainable business.”

“Developing this idea through this case competition taught us so much,” Joshi adds. “We think it’s a good idea. It’s actually doable. So we’re excited to explore it further.”

EXPAND YOUR SUSTAINABILITY KNOWLEDGE

CPA Canada offers a wealth of education, information and resources related to sustainability. For more on environmental sustainability, read about how the environment can affect you as an accountant, and steps your business can take to respond to climate change.