Net Impact 2011: Something For Everyone

by Selina Ang, MBA '12 (12/2/11)

Selina Ang, MBA '12

Portland, Oregon may be 2,800 miles away from Ithaca, New York, but eight students and one Career Management Center (CMC) representative made the trek to attend the annual Net Impact Conference this year in late October.

 Co-author Nora Hansanugrum, MBA ‘13

Portland, Oregon may be 2,800 miles away from Ithaca, New York, but eight students and one Career Management Center (CMC) representative made the trek to attend the annual Net Impact Conference this year in late October. According to the locals, Portland is known for books, beer, and sustainability -- a great combination for a conference of this nature and scale. With over 2,600 students and professionals in attendance, it was wonderfully refreshing to see such a large pool of individuals come together with the common mission of making a positive impact on business and society. This linkage also lends itself to individuals and organizations that have widely diverse interest areas within sustainability, which only adds to the richness of resources that a conference of this sort brings. To accommodate these interest areas, there were six categories, or “tracks,” that guided us on our quest to absorb information and interact with others through a myriad of workshops and keynotes. With tracks including Career & Professional Development, Corporate Impact, Energy & Clean Tech, Environmental Sustainability & Natural Resources, Finance & Investing, International Development, and Social Innovation, there truly was something for everyone.

On Sustainable Business Strategy
Sally Jewel, President and CEO of REI, was the opening keynote interviewee to kick off the conference, with journalist Marc Gunther as her interviewer. She openly discussed her company’s commitment and journey to minimize its environmental impact while also generating profits. How does a company of such size do that, especially while growing the business? To start, REI needed to understand what its baseline footprint was in order to proceed. An “army” of business school students mapped out REI’s carbon footprint, and the rest was in the magic of execution -- through a series of initiatives around using Green-e certified energy providers, improving energy efficiency in its stores, encouraging public transportation for employee commuting, and examining its supply chain, it was able to reduce energy usage 4% between 2008-2010 while also opening new stores and growing sales. Sally Jewel states it best,”There’s no mission without margin: if you can’t run a healthy business, you’re not sustainable.”

On Young Brands
Marc Gunther also moderated another panel cleverly titled David Takes on Goliath: How Young Companies Challenge Established Brands, of which the lineup included CEOs Seth Goldman of Honest Tea (Tea-EO in this case), Jason Graham-Nye of gDiapers, and Sheryl O'Loughlin of the Nest Collective. What do bottled tea, diapers, and organic food have in common? A mission-driven vision and drive to influence their industries to sustainable business practices and innovation! These are homegrown businesses that have taken risks to develop a niche market through product innovation, which is more challenging for larger, established companies. On the other hand, similar smaller companies also face challenges such as maintaining their legacy vision upon growth or acquisition. In any case, these companies are definitely ones to follow and from which to seek inspiration.

On International Development
Organized in a different manner than a majority of the sessions offered, Pioneering Approaches in Global Development, broke its session down into two segments: an initial panel discussion, and then a more intimate breakout of smaller group conversations with panelists. This structure gave attendees a unique opportunity to dive deeper into questions and topics that were not touched upon by the moderator. The overall panel consisted of a myriad of individuals from very differing fields of business, Patrick Meier of Crisis Mapping, Evan Thomas of Portland State University and Engineer Without Borders, Jocelyn Wyatt of IDEO.org, and Florence Navaro of William James Foundation. However, as different as these individuals are in their backgrounds and current line of work, one commonality is shared: their forward thinking visions on new approaches to addressing some of the world’s most pressing problems. Each of these individuals and the organizations they represented have applied a method of problem solving and creative thinking that is similar to what IDEO coins as a “human centered approach”. One major take away from this session is that development is not about getting buy in, it’s about creating a sense of ownership within the communities- to work with individuals by “creating together.” This must be accomplished in a very tactile way, addressing the long-term goals, and overall longevity of solutions created to address international development issues. It will be interesting to see how new organizations such as IDEO.org raise the bar and shift the overall approach away from what has been established by more traditional development organizations.

While these reflections merely scrape the surface of the many interest areas in sustainability, Johnson students were collectively able to customize and explore all tracks at the conference. We look forward to seeing new ideas and opportunities next year in Baltimore, Maryland!

Net Impact Group

Picture Caption:

Johnson past and present (left to right): Elliot Kadar (MBA ‘09), Daniel White (MBA’05), Andrea Findley (MBA/MPA ’09), Uyen Hoang (MBA ’13), Willy Wang (MBA ’13), Veronica Lescay (MBA ’13), Nora Hansanugrum (MBA ’13), Stephanie Kwok (MBA ’13), Roberto Cusato (MBA ’12), Selina Ang (MBA ’12). Kristen Rainey (MBA ’09), and Heather Kientz (MBA ’99)
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