Several days have passed since the May 2 SPRNG Conference held by our Net Impact chapter, and we are still abounding with enthusiasm. Our group had been a part of a few projects since our inauguration last January, but we had not yet dreamt of organizing something of this caliber. When Ryan Seo, our group’s cofounder and vice-president of events, first suggested we put together a professional conference, the group responded with almost unanimous fervor. I distinctly remember the pride I had felt being a part of a group that was so full of energy and ambition to create something outstanding together, instead of lingering too long on our lack of experience.
We quickly organized into specialized teams and began dedicating our time to developing the theme, finding the speakers, and coordinating details of what would be the SPRNG Conference. If you can imagine a room full of highly driven and diverse individuals, then you can envision what Net Impact meetings resembled during this hectic time of collaboration. This was a period when my teammates and I were able to each shine in our own distinct way, and every member ended up contributing a piece of their individual ability and style to organizing the event. Together we overcame and laughed through blunders big and small while working toward a unified vision of quality.
Most of us didn’t cease working until that first bite of appetizers in the atrium of the UO White Stag building at 4:30 p.m. on May 2. The room was bustling with like-minded professionals and university students, all present because of a joint passion for sustainable business. Knowing that we were responsible for the enablement of this connection was just the first reward of the evening.
The conference was buzzing with the sustainability bug from the introductory reception to the final words of keynote Mark Edlen. Edlen had been rousing interest for the past few years as the CEO of the development company Gerding Edlen, responsible for more than 60 green projects in the western United States. And Edlen wasn’t the only invited speaker with an inspiring pedigree. Dave Frohnmayer, former UO president and versed in the kind of rhetoric that was able to impassion the room for the next few hours, initiated the conference podium with tales of Oregon’s sustainable past. A fellow Net Impact member, Alex Ayers, later mentioned that it was Frohnmayer’s reminder that our drive toward sustainability stems from Oregon’s distinct culture of caring for our lush surroundings. Our love for our environment produces caring individuals, and Ayers said that it is exactly this warmth and compassion that initially attracted him to Net Impact. Both Frohnmayer and Ayers rightly pointed out that this kindness and heart was a common thread amongst the SPRNG Conference attendees.
Marsha Willard, CEO of AXIS, carried the momentum with a presentation packed full of sustainability facts that I personally will be chewing on for a while. For example, I had no idea that only 6 percent of extracted raw resources get put into the final consumer product, with an astonishing 94 percent going to waste. Her expertise in consultation and sustainability education geared the audience toward the primary theme of the conference–”The Future of Sustainable Business.”
A panel made up of Andy Giegerich, Bill Campbell, Joe Whitworth, Regina Hauser, and Tim Smith–and led by moderator Sally Bell–examined past, present, and future trends in sustainable business. Speakers represented varying sectors from finance to media and highlighted the value of collaboration and out-of-the-box innovation for the success of the kind of businesses that place emphasis on societal gains over marginal growth. The clear passion of each panelist effortlessly translated to the room through a panel discussion that produced a compilation of quotable dialogue urging the audience to take part in using the power of business to create social change and lessen environmental footprints. Panelist Joe Whitworth, president of Freshwater Trust, reminded us that “while we cannot individually solve the problems of the world, we all hold a piece that is invaluable to the solution.” A colleague and I had a moment of mutual recognition for this power of teamwork as we stood together at the conference doors, looking into a room full of motivated and green-minded people facing our “SPRNG” logo.
Being a part of Net Impact, a group full of individuals striving for change, has affirmed what I’d like to dedicate my life’s work to. Our conference gave me yet another boost of hope and focus to stay dedicated to working for sustainability as I graduate from the University of Oregon this June. We managed to bring together true role models of sustainable business, and to me, they were verification that advancements toward a better world are possible through determination and a genuine love for every living thing in our communities. Each panelist pointed out that while work within the green arena is at times an uphill climb and a journey against the accepted grain, the work is always gratifying and worth the struggle. To a room full of college seniors, these words meant everything.
Olya Surits ’13
It’s been a very busy Spring Term here in the Oregon MBA. First year students are reaching the halfway point in their MBA careers, and finding internships for the summer, while our second year and accelerated students rapidly approach graduation and their return to the work force. Here are a few highlights from each of the four centers this term:
- Center for Sustainable Business Practices: After a fantastic trip to the Bay Area to learn about sustainability at a variety of startups (including Facebook), CSBP students finished off the month of April with a series of great events and guest speakers during Earth Week. In the classroom, courses such as Impact Investing and Advanced Strategy (with Professor of Practice, Michael Crooke) have continued the dialogue about responsible business and continue to prepare students for the ever-evolving landscape of impact business.
- Finance and Securities Analysis: FSAC also enjoyed the opportunity to visit the Bay Area, and reaped the benefits of some really impactful meetings with Wells Fargo and Equilibrium Capital. A recent update of the Emerging Markets Fund has shown growth in the portfolio since last quarter, and the group continues to identify new investment opportunities as second-year students mentor first-years in the EMF process.
- Lundquist Center for Entrepreneurship: Spring has been especially hectic for LCE students, as they have volunteered at the perennially successful New Venture Championship, visited San Francisco with their CSBP and FSAC classmates, and competed in a variety of venture-launch competitions. Of particular note is the (well documented) success of Red Duck Ketchup, who have entered production and launched a KickStarter campaign to help raise capital for future operations.
- Warsaw Sports Marketing Center: The Warsaw Center celebrated its 20th anniversary this year, and once again hosted an incredibly successful Women in Sports Business Symposium that focused on branding athletes in the digital age. First year students visited San Francisco during the first week of the term, and as we speak, the second year students are working to finalize their two-term Strategic Planning Projects for their clients.
Check back soon to see what else is going on within the program!
After a busy day of business meetings, we had the wonderful opportunity to spend the evening in great company with business leaders at the Century Club in San Francisco, hosted by Mark and Martha Greenough. The evening opened with drinks and appetizers providing ample opportunity to introduce ourselves to our hosts (and other guests) and begin learning more about their various business ventures. The variety of our guests gave us insight into small business management, financial advising, capital investment, entrepreneurial startups, and general business advice.
The evening continued to the dining room where our first course and main course were served over more intimate conversations between the students and our business guests. Topics of conversation ranged from football allegiances to work-life balance and entrepreneurial advice, to name a few. We students were then offered the opportunity to introduce the guests at the table to the entire group, giving everyone a chance to see the great talent, success, and achievements made by those in our company.
As we made our way upstairs for drinks and dessert, Mark Greenough prepared a networking activity to offer additional time for small groups to ask questions and glean as much as we could from our guests before the evening drew to a close. In small groups, we spoke with 2-3 guests about their great achievements, biggest challenges, and highest aspirations. The intimate setting provided for a honest discussion of the highs and lows of business, focusing on how the journey is the exciting part, not the destination.
To say the least, the evening was motivational as we had the honor to hear about real world business success from the mouths of those who achieved it. The variety of personalities and careers afforded us a myriad of examples of what success really looked like and how it could be achieved. As young men and women at the beginning of our career adventures, this dinner provided us a unique look at the paths taken of those who were once in our shoes. The Oregon MBA is grateful for the following guests, especially Mark and Martha for offering us their time, energy, and wisdom:
- Mark Greenough (Greenough Consulting Group)
- Martha Greenough (Independent Bookkeeper)
- Joshua Greenough (Capital One Innovation Center)
- Brian Connolly (Connolly Advisors)
- Ben Keighran (Chomp)
- Lauryn Agnew (Seal Cove Financial)
- Geoff Dolan (Makani Power)
- Claire Herminjard (Mindful Meats)
- Robert Simon (IDC Ventures)
- Ken Pearlman (Oceanshore Ventures)
- Eli Janin (Capital One Innovation Center)
- Bob Komin (TicketFly)
The second day of the combined FSAC/LCE/CSBP trip to the Bay Area began with chocolate. A factory FULL of chocolate. We visited the Guittard Chocolate Company at their HQ and manufacturing facility in Burlingame. After a great discussion about quality control and the importance of sustainable agriculture to their supply chain, we were fortunate to be able to take a tour of the factory and see exactly how chocolate is made. The production floor was hot and it didn’t always smell like fresh chocolate, but our perseverance paid off in the end as we were all sent home with a massive box containing a variety of amazingly delicious treats!
Next, we were off to visit 500 Startups, which is a business incubator/accelerator (with heavy focus on mobile applications) located in Mountain View. The laid back environment was completely open, and focused totally on allowing new ideas to flourish and develop into potential businesses. Everything seemed acceptable here, as evidenced by the sign on the front door that read “Warning: Ninjas and Pirates and Lasers and S[tuff]“. Unfortunately our time here was a bit limited by our schedule, so we asked a lot about the current tenants and the funding structure (the incubator provides seed funding and guidance, and maintains relationships with larger organizations in the area) before heading to our much anticipated meeting with Facebook.
Looking at the campus from afar, you’d barely be able to distinguish Facebook from a series apartment buildings, until you spotted the gigantic “Like” button right outside the driveway entry. At Facebook we met with Lyrica McTiernan. Lyrica is a Sustainability Program Manager at Facebook, which means that a great deal of her time is spent analyzing the performance and developing programs for the company’s data centers. Because of their massive energy demand, data centers make up very large portion of Facebook’s environmental impact, and have dedicated team that works tirelessly to balance maximum reliability and minimal energy usage. While the discussion of energy efficiency and green building practices was interesting, I think it’s safe to say that most of us were a bit preoccupied trying to get our names on the signature wall (Shaq’s autograph is obviously at the very top) and take in the beauty and eccentricity of our surroundings (complete with a mural of Yoda!).
After “checking in” at the Facebook HQ, we moved north again on US101 to visit Pinnacle Engines. This was another short visit, but allowed us the opportunity to observe an engine durability test in progress, and learn about a potentially massive upgrade in fuel efficiency for internal combustion engines. Using Pinnacle’s patented and innovative engine design, small vehicles (mopeds, motorcycles, cars) can experience over 50% more efficient use of fuel. Pinnacle’s VP of Marketing and Special Projects, Tom Covington, explained the importance of selecting the right markets for initial adoption, and outlined the company’s plans to build a strong customer base in emerging markets such as India and China, where sensitivity to fuel prices and an abundance of smaller vehicles combine to create favorable market conditions.
The last visit of our trip was at Stanford Hospital with the Executive Director of Emergency and Medicine Services, Janet Rimicci, and a panel of Stanford Hospital executives. Our discussion here was centered on the important role that logistics can play in a hospital that continually needs to move patients in and out of various services, as well as sustainability at a facility that requires redundant systems and constant access to electricity to support its systems. Overall it was a great visit that provided a nice finale to our busy trip to the Bay Area!
Our trip to the Bay Area last week was action packed, to say the least. After a long drive from Eugene to San Francisco, we had an evening to rest up before our first day of business visits. FSAC split from the main group to conduct their own visits (look for another post soon!), LCE and CSBP hit the ground running with the executives from Ticketfly. CFO Bob Komin is a relatively new addition to the Ticketfly team, but as a UO undergrad alum, he was more than happy to share his experience with our group, and give us advice on how to maximize the power of our MBA.
Klout was second on our agenda, and provided us with a fantastic visit that helped us understand what it’s like to be part of the San Francisco startup scene. Students enjoyed learning about Klout’s mission of “empowering every person by unlocking their influence.” During our visit, we also learned about the company’s formation, and its goals for the near future. Students also learned about the importance of social media in today’s society and the influence each Facebook and Twitter user can generate through sharing content. The reward-based gamification of social media via Klout was also very interesting, as it provides incentive for individuals to target their online interactions in order to achieve personal gain.
The next startup on our schedule was Dropcam. At Dropcam, we observed a great example of “recognizing business opportunities”, as the co-founders explained how they sort of fell into their company by initially trying to help out their parents. They then went on to explain the challenges of ensuring that their product could add value for their customers, and the difficulties they faced as they tried to segment markets, and straddle the line between producing hardware and providing software for their customers.
After Dropcam, we visited Equilibirum Capital, a visit that has been highlighted in detail here. Then we were off to the Capital One Innovation Center for an interactive group exercise with Josh Greenough, another UO alum. Josh focused a great deal on the innovation that is taking place nowadays with the increasing prevalence of mobile technology and transactions. He also discussed the role his team plays at Capital One, which is intriguing because they serve as an incubator inside of a much larger banking entity– two groups with very different levels of risk tolerance.
Although our first day was not finished yet (still on the docket was a wonderful dinner at the Century Club), our official business visits were complete. And in spite of the hectic scheduling, I think that everyone felt stimulated by the fast pace and excitement of San Francisco and its rapidly evolving tech environment, and hungry for more (and also that dinner at the Century Club!).
Students from the Center for Sustainable Business Practices, the Lundquist Center for Entrepreneurship, and the Finance and Securities Analysis Center found common ground last Thursday in a visit to Dave Chen at Equilibrium Capital’s San Francisco office. Back in September, we visited Dave at his Portland office, and he has been a wonderful host on both occasions. He is full of wisdom and speaks eloquently on all matters of finance, something not easily accomplished.
Dave’s firm, Equilibrium Capital Group owns a platform of real asset managers focused on the areas of water, distributed and renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, and integrated land management green real estate. It’s a mouthful but the concept was born from Dave boldly saying YES to the question, “Could finance be a solution for global issues such as famine, abuse of resources, and global warming?” Dave sets out solving these problems by channeling funds into real assets that are managed using sustainable practices, which results in growing value and consistent returns. After all, Dave says “Investing, no matter what word you put in front of it is still investing, even impact investing. Everybody in investing wants to get paid.” Often times sustainability gets criticized for being a fluffy concept that is difficult to define. But according to Dave there is nothing fluffy about sustainability. Through his experience he can see that it is an economic shift. With 4 billion humans entering the middle class “wanting to eat chicken and drive cars”, our methods for farming, development, and energy generation are going to have to change to be able to support the stresses put on the system. Sustainability is essential for our global economy moving forward.
Where do MBAs fit into all of this? Dave shared some knowledge and skills we must possess if we want to be in impact investing.
- Know your way around a spreadsheet (be able to trace benefits flows- dissecting benefits flows can lead to financial innovation)
- Risk management and assessment
- Valuing of externalities
- Willingness to roll up your sleeves and figure stuff out
Visiting firms like Equilibrium Capital gives students like us a first hand account of the skills desired by our future employers and adds significant value to the education we are receiving at the Oregon MBA.
Last week, I had the opportunity to chat with Sven Gatchev and Pam Birkel, two second-year CSBP students who are part of the SPP team working with Mountain Rose Herbs (MRH), about their project and what they’ve learned so far.
What exactly does MRH do?
MRH sells herbs, teas, and essential oils. About 97% of their products are organic, and they blend and package these ingredients at their facilities into their own proprietary varieties for retail.
What is your project all about? What have you been working on?
We are working on a 2012 Baseline Sustainability Report, focusing on 9 key areas of impact: buildings, landscape, water, energy, waste & recycling, products (sourcing, packaging, shipping), employee benefits, philanthropy, and prosperity. We also had the opportunity to conduct a Greenhouse Gas Inventory and Analysis for MRH’s Scope 1 & 2 impacts, which was great because it allowed us to directly apply some of our classroom knowledge obtained during our LifeCycle Analysis class with Joshua Skov. Moving forward, we’re going to take a deeper look at the findings of the baseline report, and make recommendations for improved performance, and provide MRH with tools for tracking and management of their impacts and initiatives.
What have you learned so far? What have been the biggest surprises and challenges?
One of our major takeaways is that MRH is already doing a really great job, but there is always room for improvement. Something that’s been fun to see in action, and be a part of, is the company’s informal policy to “do something crazy and controversial every year” (with regard to sustainability), and realize that a relatively small group of people (150-200 people) with a similar perspective can create a significant positive impact. One surprise/challenge we’ve faced is actually the company’s financial success. MRH is a firm that shies away from the term “profitability”, instead preferring to use the more appealing term “prosperity”. Part of our job has been to convince them that this success is not only great for them, but a large part of sustainability in general, as they set a good example for other firms, and have increased flexibility to implement creative sustainability solutions.
What do you expect to see as the impacts of your project?
As a result of our baseline report, MRH will finally have a clear and concrete document to centralize and give structure to their sustainability efforts. Having the baseline in place will give them a great jump-off point for future ideas, and has definitely helped them realize their role as leaders. Our contact, Alyssa Lawless, provided a great soundbite when she said “We didn’t realize how awesome we were,” and that was really satisfying for us, to help our client gain a better understanding of their true impacts, both positive and negative.
It sounds like a very satisfying project overall, how do you think you’ve benefitted personally from working with MRH?
It’s been amazing to see firsthand the amount of success a company can have when they truly put people and planet before their own prosperity. Looking at the “big picture” of MRH’s total footprint, and having the ability to impact that, and help shape the way it moves forward, is an extremely valuable experience. We’ve really gained a lot of exposure to the core ideology and vision that motivates the employees of MRH, and we’ve really drawn on that energy, and been treated as full partners in this endeavor, and that’s been a wonderful experience for us.
Shannon Oliver offers Lessons Learned from Natural Products Expo West, as Red Duck Ketchup looks back at a whirlwind weekend of business development as they prepare for their May launch:
- Bring a bigger suitcase – you’ll end up with more samples than you anticipated.
- When Michael Besancon introduces you to the people who come up to talk to him, they are important. Pay attention.
- Do not try every sample offered to you (vegan fishsticks?).
- Go hang out at the Marriot bar – that’s where the real stuff happens.
- Practice your swooping tactics ahead of time – you never know when you’ll have to grab Dave Dahl by the shoulder to get a chance to talk to him.
- In the natural foods world, there is an inverse correlation between the professionalism of attire and the status in the industry – if someone is dressed like a bum, they’re usually well-connected or a CEO.
- Park near the event, even if it costs more than you think is reasonable.
- All of Bob Marley’s relatives seem to have started natural product companies – Ziggy Marley Organics, Marley Coffee.
- Kale, Greek yogurt, chia, quinoa, fermented foods, salted caramel and non-GMO are HUGE in 2013.
While using our tetris skills to get all our free samples in our luggage, Karen Bonner and I began reflecting on the amazingly productive two days we’ve had here at the Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim, CA. We’re here building our business, Red Duck Ketchup, and followed the recommendations of those in the natural foods industry to attend the event and soak in the knowledge from the wealth of companies and individuals attending. Expo West is one of the largest natural products trade shows in the world with representatives from companies far and wide.
We’ve had meetings with the former Global Director of Purchasing for Whole Foods, the Regional Buyer for Costco, and the CEO of KeVita Probiotic Beverages. We chatted with the co-founders of Madecasse (an awesome mission driven chocolate company using the power of business to make an impact in the world), distributors, suppliers, and a whole lot of folks making kale products of every shape and form. We also had the chance to see other Eugene companies that have grown and succeeded: Nancy’s Yogurt, GloryBee foods, Larry & Luna, Good Clean Love, and Emerald Valley Kitchens (now owned by Wildwood). We even spoke to a sauce company out of San Francisco who had heard of our company through a recent news article (possibly this bizjournals article).
All this came as Whole Foods announced, during one of yesterday’s keynote addresses, that it would be completely GMO transparent by 2018 – a huge commitment that stands to create lasting effects in the food industry, much the same way WalMart’s sustainability initiatives are shaping global supply chains. Whole Foods said, “all products in our US and Canadian stores containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) must be clearly labeled within five years. We heard our customers loud and clear asking us for GMO labeling and we are responding where we have control: in our own stores.” This is tremendously encouraging for us, both as individuals interested in sustainability and as a company launching a non-GMO product. As we finish packing our bags, setting our watches ahead an hour, and getting ready for our 3:30am wake up call, we realize we have one final thought about this weekend:
10. Sometimes it can be overwhelming but in the end you just have to go with the FLOW
First year CSBP student Eric Ringer chronicles an outstanding visit to Starbucks headquarters in Seattle.
One of the great things about the Oregon MBA program is the amazing trips we take to see business leaders in action. We really know how to leverage our student status around here to open doors that aren’t even cracked for the average person. This weekend the CSBP and LCE first years drove up I-5 to Seattle, home of Starbucks, REI, Amazon, Microsoft, Boeing, among many others. We visited with businesses as diverse as a motor boat company, venture capitalists, geocachers, and coffee fiends.
While each stop had its nuggets of wisdom, the conversation we had with the great folks at Starbucks was my favorite. As someone who moved to the Pacific Northwest for its position in sustainability leadership I loved hearing about the complex issues Starbucks faces on a global scale and what they are doing to use their size for good.
As soon as we entered the gigantic 4 million square foot headquarters (it takes up about 3 square blocks) it felt like we had just walked into a Starbucks ad. Stylish people were casually scattered in comfy chairs lost in conversation, coffee cup in hand and smiling genuinely. It seemed like Starbucks truly was an enjoyable place to work. We strolled past the expert quality checkers that swish sip after sip of brewed coffee to ensure each batch of coffee beans coming through is of consistent quality, photographers strategically positioning products in a studio to get just the right light for the new ad, and the innovation room where employees can sign up to taste and provide feedback on new product ideas, both good and bad.
We landed in a conference room where we met with Jim Hanna, Director of Environmental Affairs, and OMBA alum Mark Brown, Director of Operation Support Services and Project Management. Jim made a big impact on me when he discussed the common topic of making the business case for sustainability. He covered a lot of the major reasons for incorporating sustainability into decision making: reduces operations costs, mitigates environmental risks, greater customer loyalty, larger share of emerging market, negotiating tool with policy makers, impacts the brand “halo”, prouder employees that stick around, and impacts on license to operate. But what struck me most was his position on the triple bottom line. Jim emphasized to us that for all business, the number one priority is to earn a profit. You can’t survive without it. The legs of social and environmental responsibility are incorporated into the profit column, they aren’t separate and conflicting priorities. Treating employees and customers with respect leads to loyalty and a better product. Considering the impacts of your operations and supply chain on the environment and mitigating risk allows you to continue to function as efficiently as possible to make a profit. With that mind set, sustainability becomes a competitive advantage.
Jim also highlighted a couple initiatives Starbucks is implementing that embody their values.
- LEED Construction- every building they construct, including stores, is LEED certified. While this does not include stores that already exist because it is more environmentally damaging to gut a perfectly good building, they have additional efforts to reduce energy consumption in those stores.
- C.A.F.E. Practices- currently 85% of Starbucks coffee beans come from farms that follow Starbucks’ Coffee and Farmer Equity program (C.A.F.E.). C.A.F.E. is a set of guidelines that help their farmers grow coffee in a way that’s better for both people and the planet. You can read more about it here. Starbucks’ goal is to have 100% participation in the program.
The most relevant piece of advice Jim communicated to us is that a lot of students coming out of school eager to make a positive impact through sustainability equate passion with experience. He assured us that they are not the same and that all organizations need employees with skills in specific areas such as marketing, finance, and operations as well as technical skills from science and engineering backgrounds. If businesses are trying to incorporate sustainability principles into all decision-making processes then the decision-makers better be equipped with the skills necessary to make those decisions. Passion alone won’t cut it.
Finally, Jim and Mark confirmed the belief I have that led me to the Oregon MBA program. Of the three organizations essential for a thriving society, business, NGO, and government, business has the greatest potential for impact in this world. To live up to that potential we have to take the skills we have and turn the language from “How can we meet our sustainability goals?” to “I can help you meet that goal through sustainability.” Sustainability is not a separate branch of a business, it is a better way of operation that infiltrates all aspects of a business.