Independent Projects

Many HBS students take learning out of the classroom and into the workplace and wider world in faculty-supervised field-based learning during their Elective Curriculum year through an Independent Project with a field or research focus, and are able to work in teams or one-on-one with faculty supervisors. Current students can find details on registering and HBS policies on field-based learning here (login required).

IP registration must be completed by 8:30 am on the first Thursday of the relevant term. Registration is not part of EC preregistration – the IP registration process takes place just before the term starts. IPs take on many different forms such as case development, student-driven research, or company-initiated project work. Students planning for fall may want to connect with a potential faculty supervisor before leaving campus for the summer; those planning for spring IPs may want to plan their projects before leaving for winter break. It’s up to the student or student team to scope and find a faculty supervisor. A few recent projects are summarized below.

Mitigating the Municipal Waste Management Crisis in Emerging Markets: A Cost-Benefit-Analysis of Enhanced Waste Management Interventions

Problem Background: For world leaders from developed countries, the management of municipal solid waste (MSW) tends to be a low priority because most developed countries manage waste under very strict environmental and sanitary standards. The case in developing and emerging markets, however, is often very different. In these countries, more than 80% of collected waste is currently disposed of in open dumpsites or substandard landfills, with little or no environmental controls. These practices entail significant social, environmental and economic impacts, including serious health effects such as higher mortality rates, and large contributions to global climate change.
Project Overview: The objective of this project was to build a cost-benefit-analysis that can more broadly quantify the benefits of converting substandard landfills in emerging markets to sanitary landfills, and build a more compelling business case for municipalities and other key stakeholders to make this shift. Three key questions helped to guide the research and development of the model:
Key Findings: The results of the cost-benefit-analysis demonstrated that in almost all cases, the energy recovery landfill + composting and the energy recovery landfill + recycling had the lowest cost overall once a broader range of benefits were included in the cost-benefit-analysis. This included potential revenue and cost savings from selling electricity, compost, recyclables and voluntary carbon credits, the value of reduced land capacity, and both a regional and global estimate for the social cost of carbon.

Project ReGeneration — Power Plant Repurposing

There are over 130 coal-fired power plants in the United States that are already or soon-to-be retired. These closures are driven by the shift to alternative energy sources, natural fleet aging, regulatory measures, and public activism. While some plants may be suitable for conversion to natural gas-based generation, the preponderance will need be remediated and redeveloped, with precedent examples pointing to use cases as varied as public parks, multi-family residential housing, and office space. Given the magnitude and complexity of the situation, an opportunity exists to partner with utilities, developers, and other stakeholders to expertly and expeditiously make these sites ready for reuse. This independent project, sponsored by Professor John Macomber, explored the market opportunity, site selection criteria, unit economics, and related issues, with an eye toward potential investment strategies and business formation possibilities.

Encouraging Water Conservation Among Consumers of Personal Care Products

A large consumer goods company would like to develop a consumer-facing platform to encourage people to save water while showering. Because many of its products require water in use, a substantial part of the firm’s environmental footprint is related to its consumers’ water use, and it feels that it can have a significant impact by encouraging and enabling more sustainable behavior. For this independent project, the student worked with an internal team to research key success factors in sustainable messaging and social marketing, survey existing domestic water conservation messaging, examine consumer attitudes towards water use and conservation, and benchmark other companies’ approaches to encouraging sustainable water use. The insights from this work will be used by the company to develop content for their platform and promotional messaging tied to some of its relevant products. The faculty supervisor of the project was Nien-he Hsieh.

Foreign Investment and Economic Development in the Manufacturing Sector in Lesotho

Lesotho, a tiny country in southern Africa, presents a fascinating case of the confluence of global value chains, foreign trade policies, market niches, and economic development. There has been disagreement as to whether foreign trade policies such as the U.S.’s Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) has resulted in real economic development in Lesotho or whether it is simply an artificial and temporary boon that will lead to an eminent bust. Since the development of the 2006 “The Market and the Mountain Kingdom” case on Lesotho, it is high time that someone went back to understand what has happened in the past ten years. What does the industry look like today? Has Lesotho managed to diversify? Has technology transfer and local ownership taken root? Has foreign investment led to sustainable development? The faculty supervisor for the project was Sophus Reinert.

Cocoa Bean Sustainability and Value Chain

Over the course of one year, the project examined the cocoa bean industry at a high-level to assess the various stakeholders and determine how macro trends affected the economics of cocoa. The second paper written as part of the project was titled "The Future of Ecuadorian Cocoa" and outlined the tensions in the Ecuadorian cocoa industry. The student spent ten days in Ecuador with different cocoa farmers to assess the cocoa bean value chain at a local level. The final paper made recommendations to the Ecuadorian government in order to prevent the decay of their cocoa industry. The faculty supervisor for the project was Rebecca Henderson.

Electric Boiler in China

On Nov 8th 2015, as the winter heating season just began, Shenyang, China recorded a historical high of PM 2.5 reading surpassing 1,400 micrograms per cubic meter. Emissions from coal-fired boilers in the winter season have been identified as one of the main contributors to higher levels of particulates in the ambient air. This project shed light on how to reduce emissions by focusing on retrofitting existing coal-fired boiler facilities with pulverized coal-fired boilers and integrating wind power to provide for the heating needs of people during the winter. The faculty supervisor for this project was Joseph Lassiter.

Pellion Technologies is a Boston based early-stage company developing next-generation batteries with the potential to deliver substantially higher energy density and lower cost than current lithium ion cells. Pellion was founded in 2009 by leading scientists from MIT and is backed by top-tier venture capital and the U.S. Department of Energy ARPA-E. The HBS BGB team is investigating potential strategic partnerships to support rapid commercialization.

The Solar Model

The Solar Model is a SaaS solar project evaluation tool designed to provide a detailed estimate of financial and electrical output for new solar projects. Our software enables customers to evaluate the complex drivers of solar projects in a simple and intuitive way, optimizing solar project financing and providing an effective means for new technology evaluation. Our BGB team is simultaneously developing the core technology while evaluating potential business models and partnerships to help bring the technology to market.

WWF Commodities Financing Project

This project is looking at the capital structures of firms that work producing at least one of the World Wildlife Fund's target commodities. This involves examining the equity structure and holders as well as identifying the lenders and debt-holders for these firms. The end goal is to use this information towards determining the role of the finance community in promoting sustainable mandates within target commodity firms.