Kate Hammarback

Students Motivated to “Make History” at 2016 Net Impact Conference

The first weekend in November was a busy one for those of us who are student members of Net Impact at the University of Oregon.  Twenty of us—first and second year Oregon MBAs and undergraduates in business, environmental studies, journalism, psychology and economics—flew across the country to participate in the 2016 Net Impact Conference from November 2 to November 5 in downtown Philadelphia.

Net Impact is an international membership organization of over 100,000 students and professionals who are interested in the intersection of business and social or environmental impact.  The theme of this year’s conference was “Make History” and included a wide variety of keynote speakers like Alicia Garza, Co-Founder of #BlackLivesMatter, Jay Coen Gilbert, Co-Founder of B Lab, and Doug McMillon, President and CEO of Wal-Mart.  Beyond the content of the conference, the opportunity to network with students from all over the country is a huge part of the value of attending the conference.

Eddie Rosenberg, a second year MBA student in the Lundquist Center for Entrepreneurship put it this way: “While the presentations, workshops, and cheesesteaks were amazing, the most impactful part was being with a community of incredibly smart, driven, and environmentally/socially engaged students.  There are a lot of bad things in the world and big challenges to overcome…meeting and working with this group of Net Impacters gave me hope and more momentum to make a difference.”

The UO contingent was unique in its own right because of our make-up of undergraduates, first year MBAs, and second year MBAs—few other schools we talked to made such an effort to connect with each other across years.

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The UO Undergraduate Net Impact Chapter is a powerhouse of active students and a full schedule of club activities.  The undergraduates not only draw important industry speakers like former Patagonia CEO, Michael Crooke to their weekly meetings, but also host their own one-day conference each year at the UO.  The consensus from the undergraduates was generally that the conference had renewed their motivation and (already impressive) energy to promote the work of sustainability in business.  Audrey, a junior in advertising and the Vice President of the Public Relations for the UO undergraduate chapter summed it up when she shared that “The Net Impact Conference has provided me with opportunities to continue the movement and create an impact within our community.”

The Graduate Chapter was recognized as a Gold Chapter again this year and also kept busy by organizing a West Coast Net Impact Chapter Meetup with MBA programs from University of Washington-Evans, Willamette University, and University of Colorado—Leeds.

Our three brave first year MBAs had only been with the program a little over a month when they headed to the conference.  It can feel like drinking from a firehose with the incredible amount of information available and the packed schedule of speakers and activities, but all three enjoyed the experience. Ben, a first year MBA in the Center for Sustainable Business Practices, shared that his main takeaway was “how much acceptance sustainability is gaining in the corporate world. Major players are leading the way now.” His classmate Leah echoed that sentiment, sharing that she was impressed by “how integrated sustainability is becoming in the corporate world.  It is something that most companies these days are considering and many across all operations.”

This trip marked the second Net Impact Conference for all of my fellow-second years who attended and I was curious to hear what they thought of the experience being now “older and wiser” than we were just a year ago.  Andrea, a second year MBA in the Center for Sustainable Business Practices and Treasurer of the Graduate Chapter shared her impressions:  “[The] biggest thing for me was the shift in how businesses are developed.  Entrepreneurs are looking at what problems need to be addressed, then building a business to fix the issue.  Also, [there’s a] definite shift away from siloed sustainability departments.  [You] have to have sustainability in all teams.”  Second years also came to the conference this year with a clearer focus on networking and jobs.  Anna, a second year MBA in the Center for Sustainable Business Practices and the President of the UO Graduate Chapter heard some surprising advice: “I loved that both presenters on the sustainable apparel panel told us to not go out and get jobs with sustainability in the title—that we would be more effective implementing these practices in other industries/departments/projects.”

It was an action-packed three-day weekend in Philly listening to well-known keynote speakers, engaging with panels of sustainability professionals, participating in applied case scenarios and eating a lot of pretzels, cheesesteaks, fried chicken, and ice cream served on a doughnut!  Most of the group even arrived early enough Thursday to see the Liberty Bell, the LOVE statue, and accidentally stumble upon the house where Thomas Jefferson signed the Declaration of Independence.  The knowledge gained from the 2016 Net Impact conference, and the powerful, evocative location, accomplished its mission of inspiring this group of University of Oregon Students to go forth and help make history!

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Written by Kate Hammarback

Kate is a 2017 MBA/MPA from the Center for Sustainable Business Practices. Originally from Wisconsin, Kate graduated with honors from the University of Wisconsin with a political science degree and spent time working in state and national politics before pivoting to nonprofit resource and program development. Kate is an active member of LiveMove and Net Impact and is happiest when working at the intersection of policy, planning, and business development through social and sustainable enterprise. After graduation, she plans to work where she can use finance and sustainability strategy to impact the triple bottom line.

Net Impact’s Inaugural Impact Trek to Humm Kombucha

Four minutes before 10 o’clock, on a gorgeous sunny day in Bend, Oregon, the UO Net Impact Graduate chapter piled out of Suburus and Priuses onto Humm Kombucha’s lawn to kick off our chapter’s inaugural Impact Trek. Our plan was to use our diverse backgrounds, passion for sustainability, and graduate student can-do-it-ness to offer free sustainability consulting brain power to businesses in exchange for the opportunity to get to know their company and present our ideas to them at the end of the day.  The trip was organized by our president, Katie Clark (who is famous at Humm for dressing as a bottle of their Blueberry Mint Kombucha this past Halloween) and fellow second year Andrea Teslia. The trip was modeled after the UC-Berkeley Net Impact chapter’s Impact Trek to Patagonia in Ventura, CA.

After shaking ourselves IMG_8854out from the two hour drive from Eugene, we were met by Mike and Jeff—our fabulous tour guides, sounding boards, and supervisors for the day.  We started our behind the scenes tour at—where else?!—the Humm taproom where we each tried every flavor they had on tap!  Humm’s taproom has the distinction of having been the first kombucha tasting room in the contiguous US.  One of the first and lasting impressions we got from the factory floor was that everyone was smiling!  People were genuinely having a good time and all along brewing and bottling lines, employees waved, smiled, and offered us bottles of lemon ginger kombucha right off the line.  Everywhere we went at Humm, there was a feeling of operating from abundance.  Everyone we met was generous with their time, generous in their attitudes, and generous with their pours of kombucha.

This feeling of authentic good vibes was very evident in the “fermentation room.”  Kombucha is a fermented drink made by introducing SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) into tea and allowing it to ferment into the effervescent drink many of you are probably familiar with.  Referencing the work of Masaru Emoto—the scientist who discovered that Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 5.06.27 PMwater exposed to pleasant thoughts and words created beautiful crystals when frozen—Mike explained to us that the lavender walls, loving names like “Ulysses” written on the SCOBY drums, and the hand drawn hearts placed here and there were all in an effort to infuse their tea with love.

The tour was all fun and games and kombucha, but, after an hour, we retired to some picnic tables on the front lawn to get to work.  Our task was to offer solutions for the SCOBY and tea waste products that Humm ended up with each week.  Our team brainstormed together and then broke out individually to google, reference class materials, call professors, text ex-colleagues, and follow as many rabbit holes as we could.  After 4 hours of work, we compiled our best ideas to share with Jeff.  In the short term, we shared resources for offsite composting in farm supply markets and onsite composting options.  In the long term, we gave Humm preliminary specs for purchasing and operating an anaerobic digester, either as a community project or on their own.  We also talked about the leadership role that Humm could potentially take in the realm of zero waste and composting.

After a great day of IMG_8872working together, we also made sure Jeff knew that the next time Humm is looking for help with efficiency or sustainability projects, the Center for Sustainable Business Practices would be a great resource for eager, educated, free labor who will happily work for bottomless kombucha!  Net Impact spent the rest of the weekend in Bend working with Mt. Bachelor Ski Area (whew, this sustainability consulting is sooo rough…!) and visiting Deschutes Brewing (salmon safe hops were an educational highlight of the tour!).  On Monday, we all showed up to class tired, but elated from a fun, productive adventure weekend, and craving a tall glass of cold Kombucha.

 

Written by Kate Hammarback

Kate is a 2017 MBA/MPA from the Center for Sustainable Business Practices. Originally from Wisconsin, Kate graduated with honors from the University of Wisconsin with a political science degree and spent time working in state and national politics before pivoting to nonprofit resource and program development. Kate is an active member of LiveMove and Net Impact and is happiest when working at the intersection of policy, planning, and business development through social and sustainable enterprise. After graduation, she plans to work where she can use finance and sustainability strategy to impact the triple bottom line.

Green is the New Black

What do a clothing retailer and a premium chocolatier have in common? A lot more than I thought!

On the Oregon MBA’s recent experiential learning trip to Seattle, I got to see two very different businesses both using environmental responsibility to grow their bottom line—Green Eileen through post-consumer product responsibility and Theo Chocolate through supply chain management.

For the first visit, we headed south to Seattle’s Columbia City neighborhood looking for the west coast retail outlet of Green Eileen–Eileen Fisher’s “recycled clothing initiative.” The Green Eileen arm collects, processes, and sells already worn Eileen Fisher clothing in excellent condition—called “seconds” by Green Eileen. I was expecting the store to feel and look like a second hand store, but it has a boutique, spa-chic feeling and features a revolving dry cleaning rack that adds an industrial design element to their inventory display.

Green Eileen TourWe met with Megan Arnaud, Retail Leader in Seattle, who shared her impressive depth of knowledge about the overall corporate responsibility mission of Eileen Fisher. She acknowledged, “We are a teeny tiny tip of an incredibly big iceberg,” within the overall clothing industry, but “we feel a responsibility for the whole lifecycle” of their products. Eileen Fisher is not only committed to environmental responsibility, but are also using their “seconds” to open a new sales market. The Green Eileen model serves as a new, more effective, way to reach a younger market segment—a demographic Eileen Fisher would like to reach, but currently doesn’t have in its traditional customer base.

Over in the Green Eileen recycling center in a very cool old warehouse in the SODO area of Seattle, we met Patty Liu, Recycling Program Leader at Green Eileen. It was impossible not to get excited as she drove home the possibilities inherent in thinking nimbly about dealing with Eileen Fisher “seconds.”  Through the Green Eileen store, pop-up sales at the recycling center warehouse, and planned expansions to factory stores and internet sales, Green Eileen is reaching previously untapped demand for high quality, sustainable fashion from a younger market segment. By embracing the challenge to internalize responsibility for the entire lifecycle of their products, they have started to create a new market for both their product and their mission. Patty shared, “You really have to invest and believe in what you’re doing to drive other people to see value.”

Theo Chocolate TourLater in the afternoon, across town in the Fremont neighborhood, we piled out of the van into the Theo Chocolate Factory and outfitted ourselves with hairnets and beardnets to begin a tour inside the closest thing any of us will ever come to Willy Wonka’s factory. Our tour guide was knowledgeable, funny, and generous with the chocolate samples as we learned Theo’s history and current supply chain processes and commitments. Feeling worlds away from the retail fashion world, I nonetheless started hearing a very similar story from what we had heard in the morning—taking environmental and social responsibility for your product can help you reach whole new market segments and grow your bottom line. While Green Eileen is focused on Eileen Fisher’s post-consumer product responsibility, at Theo, their focus is on supply chain responsibility.

Theo uses both direct interaction and third party certification to ensure social and environmental responsibility at every single step of its supply chain. Of their suppliers, our tour guide explained, “People want to work with us because there’s the immediate benefit of people making more money,” due to the higher price premium fair trade and organic ingredients command. On the customer side, Theo enjoys a price premium compared to conventional chocolate bars, but tries to keep the price point at a level that is accessible for people to treat themselves.

MBA Seattle trip 2016The biggest take away from the day (besides the six pounds of chocolate samples I ate throughout the tour) was a reinforced appreciation for social and environmental sustainability as a powerful business tool to drive both mission-related impacts AND a company’s bottom line. Despite the competitive advantage both companies enjoy from their practices, it was energizing to hear both companies’ desires to share the lessons and tools they’ve found along the way with others in their industries. In Patti’s words, “Do I hope other companies will see what we’re doing and try to do it, too?  Well, yeah!!”

 

 

Written by Kate Hammarback

Kate is a 2017 MBA/MPA from the Center for Sustainable Business Practices. Originally from Wisconsin, Kate graduated with honors from the University of Wisconsin with a political science degree and spent time working in state and national politics before pivoting to nonprofit resource and program development. Kate is an active member of LiveMove and Net Impact and is happiest when working at the intersection of policy, planning, and business development through social and sustainable enterprise. After graduation, she plans to work where she can use finance and sustainability strategy to impact the triple bottom line.