Internships, Student Research

ENVS/BBA Student Veronica “Ronnie” Nitkin: Exploring Sustainable Business in Nicaragua

Ronnie Nitkin is a third-year business administration and environmental sciences double major who hopes to work in business making supply chains for common products more sustainable. Her studies focus on sustainable business practices, food and supply chain sourcing, and environmental institutions. We caught up with Ronnie at the end of her spring break trip to Nicaragua, which was partially funded by the ENVS Lester Grant.

1. How did you come to double major in Business and ENVS?

My senior year of high school, I took AP economics and AP environmental studies. I found I was learning about similar issues, like tragedy of the commons and agricultural supply chains, but from two different sides. I understood both of these sides, and knew that I could do something to ensure that environmental needs and business needs do not work in opposition to each other. At Emory University, I’ve found incredible courses both in Goizueta and through ENVS that have linked these areas of interest, Social Enterprise in Nicaragua being one of my favorites!

2. What did you do in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic?

The main focus of our trip to Nicaragua was learning about the coffee supply chain. I met a farmer who talked about the impact of climate change on his coffee production and went to a coop, which dried the coffee beans for further shipment. He said that because of increasing temperatures in the mountainous regions of the country, he is having to move his operations to higher altitudes. He is getting less yield of coffee cherries, and therefore less money, because he has less space that coffee can grow. I got to explore other sustainable enterprises as well, such as a small Fairtrade chocolate company, an after-school program teaching girls to code, and a living wage garment factory.

3. What were the most meaningful learning experiences on the trip?

After going to Nicaragua, I gained an even deeper respect for entrepreneurship. The people I met have made it through good times and rough times with their businesses, but continued to work with impoverished, disabled, and underserved communities doing what they love. Their spirit gave me confidence that anyone can do their part to make the world a better place. In addition, I spent some time considering the difficulty of ensuring that a complete supply chain is ethical and sustainable. Even if one part is good, it is very rare that an entire product is ethically produced. For example, the living wage garment factory paid workers fair compensation, but because of that extra cost they did not source their cotton sustainably. This is definitely an issue that has kept me thinking, especially after I’ve returned to America and am trying to be a conscious consumer.

4. After going to Nicaragua and exploring coffee and garment supply chains, do you have any insights on sustainable products to buy?

Absolutely! Here are some products that you can feel good about buying. These are places that I got to experience first-hand while on my trip.

Coffee — Ground for Empowerment is run through Emory’s Business school. They purchase coffee directly from farmers in Nicaragua (including Byron, who I got to meet!) and focus on giving women coffee farmers the opportunity to earn as much as their male counterparts. Check it out here

Apparel — Consider buying your apparel from a garment factory that has a bright, airy space, music playing, great community, ensured safety, an onsite doctor, and pays workers enough to send their kids to college. Even with all of these benefits for the worker, you can still buy your t-shirt for under $8! Look into purchasing apparel from Alta Gracia, located in the Dominican Republic here

Hammocks — This might not be as much of a necessity, but as spring comes, more and more people are “mocking” around campus in their enos. Instead of an eno, consider purchasing a hammock from Tío Antonio. Not only are the hammocks well-crafted, beautiful, and reasonably priced, but Tío Antonio hires only deaf workers, who wouldn’t be able to find jobs otherwise.