Experiential Learning in Portland: A Sustainability Cornucopia

It was a dark and stormy night. Okay, it was technically morning as the Center for Sustainable Business Practices’ 1st-year cohort gathered near the edge of campus in preparation for our first Experiential Learning trip. The destination: Portland, Oregon, home to some great street food, a thriving urban culture, and a number of businesses and organizations making terrific strides toward environmental and social sustainability.

Our first stop was at Mercy Corps, a non-profit aid agency that assists areas around the world hit by environmental disaster, conflict, and economic hardship. Locally, Mercy Corps Northwest helps strengthen community bonds through business development and training, prison re-entry programs, and economic development. Their latest project is a Community Investment Trust, an investment vehicle designed to give low-income residents an ownership stake in their neighborhoods. After a brief tour, we sat down for some Q&A with Mercy Corps’ Sven Gatchev, Ecova’s Cassidy Williams, and the Bonneville Environmental Foundation’s Sara Hoversten. All three are CSBP alum who are doing amazing work in Portland and the greater Pacific Northwest. It was a great opportunity to hear what’s going on in the real world, the problems people are taking on, and the work being done to make the world a better place.

Then it was back into the vans to head over to Columbia Sportswear. Founded in 1938, Columbia is an internationally-recognized brand with annual sales in the billions. The company is probably best-known for “Ma Gert” Boyle, one of the founding members who ran the company for years with her son Tim. At 95, Boyle still punches the clock from 9-5, Monday-Friday.

After a tour of the Columbia campus, we sat down for a panel discussion with several of the company’s executives. The panel included Steve Woodside, Senior Vice President for Global Sourcing and Managing; Doug Morse, VP, Chief Business Development Officer; Mike Peel, Senior Manager of Indirect Procurement; Valerie Morse, Global Consumer Insights Director; and CSBP’s own Guru Khalsa, Columbia’s Sustainability Director. This group provided insights into their industry, their personal and professional journeys, and keys to success, among other things. Columbia’s commitment to environmental stewardship is impressive, and the fact that they would sit their high-level executives in front of us for over an hour spoke volumes about their culture and willingness to give back.

As we rolled back into Eugene later that night, tired and road-weary, there was a mixture of emotions, but the most tangible was gratitude. Gratitude to the humble, inspiring professionals who took time out of their busy days to meet with us, to my classmates for being engaged and curious, and to everyone who helped plan and organize this experience. There was also an understanding that we have the responsibility to pay this experience forward in a few years, to the next flock of ducks.

“We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems” – John Gardner

Written by bfordham

Fordham is a writer and journalist who believes in addressing the future with clarity and vision. He has most recently written for the Mad River Union, an award-winning Northern California newspaper, where he helped bring subjects like biogas production and bond procurement to life. Through the Oregon MBA’s Center for Sustainable Business Practices, Fordham plans to build out his overall skill-sets, taking advantage of rigorous coursework and experiential learning opportunities to gain a strong framework of business fundamentals. After graduation he plans to work toward renewable energy solutions for a changing world. Fordham will graduate in Spring '18.