Accounting Team’s Eco-Friendly Ideas Finish First
Sustainability Plan for Luxury Hotel Wins National CPA Group’s Competition
Jan. 27, 2011
Four UT Dallas undergraduates showcased their talents in accounting and environmental sustainability when they placed first in a business challenge aimed at making improvements for a real-world client.
The School of Management students earned $10,000 and finished ahead of University of Tennessee in the last round of the 2010 American Institute of CPAs’ Accounting Competition held in New York City on Jan. 20.
The competition, held by the AICPA in partnership with the Institute for Sustainable Development in Chapel Hill, N.C., initially drew 64 student teams from around the country. Ten teams advanced to the three-round final competition, whose ultimate purpose was to help the Umstead, a luxury hotel and spa in North Carolina, match practices with the principles of sustainability.
Doing contest business as Eco Consulting LLC, SOM team leader Dariel Dato-on and fellow accounting majors Jinson Jose, Jennifer Rauschuber and Diane Henry sold the judges on the merits of installing a rooftop garden at the Umstead.
Already certified Green Plus by the Institute of Sustainable Development, the Umstead had sought suggestions for environmental-footprint improvements that would both make financial sense and be consistent with its luxury branding.
In preliminary rounds, the UT Dallas students described how such a garden would provide extra insulation, save water by diminishing runoff, and yield produce that could be used in the hotel’s restaurant. By Eco Consulting’s calculations, the garden would help the roof last twice as long, reduce energy costs by 30 percent and save $5,000 a year in food bills.
The team’s final eight-minute live presentation had a slightly different slant, Dato-on said. Eco Consulting found that 87 percent of U.S. travelers prefer eco-friendly hotels and that the Umstead has engaged in many sustainable projects. But the hotel has not been marketing its efforts: “It was not sure how its advertised ‘greenness’ would affect the luxury-guest experience,” Dato-on said. “We wanted to use our project, the rooftop garden, as the way for the Umstead to openly communicate its commitment to sustainability.
“We also showed that if the garden could increase the hotel’s occupancy rate by 2½ percent, then it would pay for itself in three years.”
“Sustainability is a hot topic in the accounting world and in every class here at The University of Texas at Dallas,” said team adviser John Barden, director of the School of Management’s undergraduate accounting program. “We discuss social and economic strategies that have been proven to increase employee morale, recruit better customers and employees, and provide long-term profitability.”
The accounting industry “has been preaching sustainability for years by working hard and assisting our clients to achieve their ultimate objective,” Barden said. “That is exactly what the UT Dallas team communicated … and that is how it brought home first place.”