Net Impact Conference 2012

by Matthew Russo, MBA ‘14 (11/28/12)

Matthew Russo, MBA ‘14

My experience at one of largest conference of sustainability-minded students and practitioners.

The annual Net Impact conference took place in Baltimore, MD on October 25-27, 2012. A delegation of about twenty current Johnson and Cornell students drove down to experience one of the largest gatherings of sustainability-minded students and practitioners – the number at the Baltimore Convention Center approached 3000!  

NI Conf 2012Before jumping into the conference, the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise and the Cornell Club of Maryland hosted an intimate networking reception for Cornell students, alumni, and guests at nearby Kona Grill.  With about forty people in attendance, it was a great way to start building relationships with alumni and professionals working at places such as the Environmental Defense Fund, Waste Management, and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Inc. (GMCR).

Speaking with Julia Bonarigo, a GMCR recruiter, was absolutely a highlight for me. She spoke about GMCR’s high growth position, particularly with its recent acquisition of Keurig.  As an aspiring marketer interested in food and beverage, among other products, I find it exciting to hear the cycle of innovation and product launches that marketers and brand managers are able to tackle.  But it was GMCR’s actual work improving their supply chains, influencing fair-trade demand among its consumers, and mobilizing their workforce to volunteer over 40 hours of their time each year that really spoke to me.

My fellow students had different conversations along their specific interest areas –including energy, sustainability consulting, and affordable housing – but we were united in taking advantage of the small crowd and great appetizers before heading into the larger conference. 

Ni Conf 2012Given the breadth of sustainability as a discipline and movement, no student’s experience at the Net Impact conference looked the same.  I continued to focus on the intersection of marketing and corporate impact, which I found at several breakout sessions including one entitled “Corporations and the Triple Bottom Line in International Development.”  Moderated by Anastasia Thatcher of Accenture Development Partnerships with PepsiCo’s Erica Matthews, The Mosaic Company’s Kari Niedfeldt-Thomas and Merck’s Celina Schocken as panelists, attendees were treated to an inspiring, yet tough conversation about the ability to create social impact within large, traditional corporations.  The panelists’ companies are doing some incredible work including Merck’s Saving Mothers Giving Life initiative, Mosaics’ knowledge transfer of agronomic expertise in Guatemala and India, and PepsiCo’s transformation of its supply chain.  Despite these successes, each panelist acknowledged the need for more sustainability-minded talent in traditional roles, who are global thinkers and entrepreneurial, to help move the pendulum even further with regards to scaling corporate social impact. 

Though it was bittersweet to leave Baltimore, I and fellow Johnson students were thankful to have had the opportunity to delve into areas of sustainability that matter to us most.  It was encouraging to meet and learn from experts as well as fellow students from other graduate programs. Most importantly, I feel re-energized about the efficacy of the functional expertise I’m building at Johnson, but also the exposure I’m getting to thought leaders and professionals who are reinventing the way business creates social impact.  I am looking forward to next year’s conference in San Jose, CA.