Center for Sustainable Business Practices Blog

Collaboration and Innovation – Steps Toward Responsibility in the Apparel Industry

Over the past several years, there has been a societal shift when it comes to food—consumers are checking labels at the grocery store, frequenting farmers’ markets on the weekends, and asking restaurants where they source their meat and produce. This is not a revolution by any means, but a transition to consumer responsibility is happening.

On the other hand, the global apparel and fashion industry is staggering in size, employing 1 in 6 people (True Cost). Yet, in spite of the global reach of the industry, consumers continue to be disconnected from how their clothes are made and where they come from. How can we shift this paradigm? Fortunately, there are many organizations and companies taking responsibility and making positive change through collaboration and innovation.

The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) has been an amazing unifying entity within the apparel and footwear industry. Connecting fashion brands and outdoor brands under an ambitious goal: “an apparel, footwear, and textiles industry that produces no unnecessary environmental harm and has a positive impact on the people and communities associated with its activities. With this vision, the SAC has successfully introduced the Higg Index, creating tools for brands to measure the impacts and sustainability of their supply chain. I look forward to seeing how brands choose to communicate their Higg Index scores to their consumers in the future.

Industry organizations are a great way for businesses to join forces to combat large issues, however, brands are also taking their own approach to communicating their sustainable mission. Levi Strauss & Co. recently collaborated with Outerknown to produce a capsule denim collection centered water conservation and fiber traceability.

Both of these brands are raising the bar in product sustainability, however where I think they both shine is through their storytelling. Both Levi’s and Outerknown use their garments as a jumping off point to tell a larger story of sustainability – whether that be Levi’s’ Water Less process or Outerknown’s “the hands that build our clothes” graphic tee selection.

Brands are stepping up and taking big steps and risks to better connect their consumers with the story of the garments. It is exciting to see the industry taking steps to produce products more consciously and educate their consumers about the impact of the garments they purchase.

I am drawn to the apparel industry because of the size of the problem that needs to be addressed. There are endless possibilities for improvement and I want to be part of the movement.

Written by sholland

Sam is 2019 MBA with the Center for Sustainable Business Practices. Sam is a self-starter and team builder with 4 years of international development experience specializing in program development and research. Sam is passionate about business because of its ability to have a positive social and environmental impact on communities.

Oregon Companies, Making a Difference

How do you know when you’ve stumbled upon the right place to combine your life passions with your career aspirations?

I grew up in a Marine Corps family, went to college, and then joined the Marine Corps myself. I’ve moved so frequently that I don’t have one particular place I call home. My parents, and ultimately the Marines sent me to Idaho, Virginia, California, Vermont, and Japan. While there are amazing and unique things about each of these places, when it came time for me to pick where I wanted to call home I landed in Oregon.

Over the past five months I’ve tried to articulate what it is that drew me to the “Beaver State”. It was probably a decision rooted in some combination of my affinity for the west coast and a love of all things outdoors. Whatever the reason, I couldn’t be more satisfied with my choice. I’m staying.

As home to one of the top Green MBA programs in the country, it’s no surprise that Oregon businesses are leading the way with sustainable practices. Throughout my time in the program, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with and speak to many business leaders throughout the state. No matter how different a company is from another, they all share a genuine passion for making the right choices.

They have each proven that there are multiple different ways to have a social and environmental impact.

At Humm Kombucha in Bend, there’s a strong sense of connection with the local community who helped build the brand through continued support. As a result, the company is dedicated to giving back and supporting social initiatives.

When I spoke with the Marketing Director at Ruffwear, she emphasized how important sustainability is to their company because it’s just the right thing to do. As a result, they have worked hard to reduce waste at various stages of their supply chain.

Keen Footwear in Portland, invited us to their headquarters in the fall to learn about some of their sustainability initiatives. One major impact area that they are tackling is the reduction of chemicals in their production process.

One of the things I love most about being in Oregon is the culture and passion for good quality coffee. True to Oregon authenticity, the coffee companies I have come across value traceability and responsibility in their sourcing practices.

Choosing Oregon as a home, temporary residence or travel destination is a choice in good consciousness. You can bet that the people, communities and companies are making important and impactful decisions with a genuine passion for sustainability.

Written by bbuckles

Briana is a 2019 MBA with the Center for Sustainable Business Practices. She is an innovative and intellectual professional with four years of leadership and logistics experience from the US Marine Corps. She’s passionate about traceability and responsible sourcing of everyday products.

Sustainability, a Buzz Word at Outdoor Retailer

Outdoor Retailer (OR) is the largest sports expo and conference and is held twice a year, historically in Utah. However, after Patagonia dropped out over Utah state leaders’ opposition to Bears Ears, the industry came together to fight back against the attack on America’s national monuments, and this winter the show was moved Denver. A few of us had the chance to attend last week.

Paul Hawken, environmentalist, author, and activist, opened the show discussing his book Drawdown, The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming. He said, “There’s no such thing as a small solution. It’s a system. It’s the system that causes the problem, and the system that heals it.”

Sustainability was a buzz word at the show this year, however, every brand had their own way of defining it. Some brands are reducing their environmental impact head on, while others seem to be simply greenwashing. As Jeremy Jones, owner of Jones Snowboards said, “This industry is really good at marketing outdoors and the wilderness, and we’re really sub-par at protecting it.” The carbon footprint of the trade show was unfathomable and over 1,000 brands were pushing consumption. However, activists, CEOs, and politicians united to teach workshops on responsible sourcing strategies, what’s next for our nation’s public lands, biomimicry, leading outdoor advocacy through social media, chemical management, and retail activism on climate solutions. The Keen booth even had a “Call to Action” phone booth where individuals could make calls to their state representatives.

Patagonia is not only a leader in the outdoor gear industry but a leader across many industries,  addressing environmental and social issues. This year their environmental + social initiatives report discussed, the importance of regenerative agriculture, searching for PFC-free durable water repellents, protecting public lands, and improving materials with their clean color collection, responsibili-Tee, and recycled down. By building snow garments with recycled materials they diverted 215,435 pounds of factory scraps and plastic bottles from the waste stream. The industry is learning from Patagonia, however, there were many brands promoting their own sustainability initiatives.

Klean Kanteen– The family owned-company that introduced stainless-steel bottles to the industry, Klean Kanteen, a certified B Corporation, is now promoting Klean Coat. With the support of advanced chemical hazard assessment tool, GreenScreen for Safer Chemicals, it took 18 months to develop a powder coat. They went beyond typical standards and reformulated their paint recipes to eliminate ingredients that adversely affect people and the planet, the only bottle company to do so. In addition, the Klean Coat finish is 4x more durable than their previous finish. Click here to hear more from their sustainability manager.

Point6 – The only sock brand in the USA now using NatureTexx Plasma treatment to wash wool without the use of water or chlorine. This new technology simply combines air and electricity (from renewable sources), drastically reducing their impact. Point6 has continued to make their supply chain more efficient, partnered with Soles4Souls to donate all irregular product, and is working on an incentivized product takeback program to upcycle socks into disaster relief blankets.

SOLE – Footwear company, SOLE, adopted ReCORK, North America’s largest natural cork recycling program to use recycled cork in their new product line. They continue to partner with nonprofits and have donated $224,649 to Big City Mountaineers, $198,000 to Protect Our Winters and $198,000 to Karno Kids.

Prana – This year Prana promoted their use of only 100% organic cotton in their line (also running into their denim line). Their dedication to seeking out materials from sustainable sources is reflected in their use of recycled wool, hemp, recycled polyester and recycled down. Prana has partnered with BlueSign since 2012 and reduced 10.6m+ polybags from landfills from their polybag reductive initiative.

Clif BarClif Bar is a leader in the food and outdoor space. 74% of all ingredients are organic, 83% of their waste stream is diverted from landfills or incinerators, and 100% of Clif facilities are green powered. They recognize the importance of regenerative agriculture and have a longtime partnership with Terracycle to upcycle wrappers into new recycled products. Clif recognizes its impact and continues to set carbon reduction and zero waste goals.

Icebreaker – This year Icebreaker released its first 120-page transparency report. The report includes a full list of their NZ stations, grower audits and results, map of their entire supply chain, and packaging materials and quantity. Known for their NZ merino wool, this company is being transparent and even disclosing that when NZ can’t meet their needs, they source from Australia (11%) and South Africa (5%), who also meet their quality and ethical specs. Read the entire report here.

Sea to Summit – When I approached a member of the Sea to Summit team to talk about sustainability, his reaction was skeptical. He wanted to know how I defined sustainability. He didn’t send me to someone in PR like most other companies, he dug deep, and I knew from our insightful discussion that Sea to Summit is taking sustainability seriously. We talked about our concerns for the industry, the footprint of the show, greenwashing, and warranty programs that simply replace products. He told me that although Sea to Summit does not advertise their green initiatives, they continue to look at the life-cycle analysis of products. Their goal is to provide the most durable product, utilize scraps to replace parts for free, and focus on quality and not hitting a particular price point. Although it would beneficial to see more communication from the company surrounding their goals, I was happy to hear members of their team taking sustainability seriously.

Written by staciab

Stacia is an accelerated MBA student focused in sustainability. She spent almost 3 years working in the outdoor gear industry in a marketing role and headed sustainability initiatives. However, after graduating this June, she hopes to pivot into the food industry and work for a company that aligns with her values.

The Power of Young Brands

 

Recreation in the outdoors inherently connects the user to mother nature. Over time, when we experience weather patterns across various settings, it becomes very difficult to ignore the volatility.

For me, this is a key driver for why I am interested in sustainable business practices specifically focused on the outdoor industry, and I’m not alone. Though a few large brands have immersed their process with a sustainability ethos since their inception, many companies in the industry today with a sustainability focus are quite young. Each one of these companies has arrived in this space by following different paths. Ultimately, they are now all striving to connect their consumer to their message in such a way that the product being sold seems second in importance, a means for the company to survive and fund their mission.

Consumers will continue to buy outdoor apparel and hard goods for the foreseeable future. The traditional methods for manufacturing these items have an immense impact on the environment and the humans physically involved in the process. What if that weren’t the case though? Or, at least the process itself had been fundamentally changed so that inputs no longer drew on new resources and by-products weren’t disposed of in landfills? After walking around at the Outdoor Retailer trade show in Denver this year, the most fascinating part of the show was the lower level where the smaller emerging brands were set up. These small brands, given a fresh start and born out of new form of outdoor consumerism, are doing exactly that to their manufacturing and supply chain. Whether it’s making buttons out of coconuts, planting trees for each garment sold, using scrap materials to build all their product, or replacing plastic flatware with bamboo, the momentum is undeniable.

Looking towards the future, I hope that these young brands continue to push the established ones in the same direction they are focused on. After hearing about their mission and their manufacturing process, I find it difficult to justify why I would buy product from a brand lacking this consciousness. The outdoor industry as a whole should be concerned about its environmental impact as it directly relates its long-term health. Over the next decade, I am confident that the brands who don’t fundamentally adjust their process and their ethos within this industry will be left behind. The change is addictive and purpose driven. In a world where everything seems to be going backwards, it’s very refreshing to see and industry identifying our north star in the darkest of night and sailing towards it full speed.

Written by phazelet

A cat-astrophe in the making: pets and sustainability

Oregon is known for a lot of things: hipsters, rain, hiking, Portlandia, craft beer, lumber…the list goes on. What only locals may realize, however, is how much we love our pets. In fact, 63.6% of Oregonians own a pet and the Eugene-Springfield area has the highest percentage of adults over 18 owning a cat in the country at 49.1 percent, followed distantly by Rochester, NY at 38.2 percent.

As much as we Oregonians like to practice yoga with our dogs and drink coffee in cat cafes, owning and raising a pet doesn’t necessarily align with the “environmentally-conscious” state of mind that we are so proud of. Now, I am a proud owner (or dog mom, if you prefer) of two wonderful rescue pups and I am not about to suggest we end pet ownership. However, there are many steps we can take as responsible pet owners to reduce the environmental pawprint of our furry friends. In this post, I am going to focus on two of those steps: what goes in and what comes out.

Food
Recently, a trend has emerged in the pet food industry encouraging pet owners to buy “human-grade” foods. While I have admittedly uttered the words, “if it’s good enough for my dog, it’s good enough for me” while buying heinously expensive dog food, it is time we re-evaluate whether “human-grade” actually matters.

Perhaps the most obvious place to start is meat, which requires far more resources than plant-based food and puts a strain on the global food system. In fact, if American pets were a country, they would rank fifth in global meat consumption. While it is important for pets to receive adequate protein in their diets, they do not require prime cuts of meat. Instead, the animal byproducts that Americans do not like to eat are perfectly safe for dogs. What is important is that pets receive the right balance of nourishment, not “human-grade” meats.

Waste
I became interested in this topic one afternoon as I was picking up dog poop with a plastic bag that had “Save The Earth” printed all over it. Ironic, no? In fact, many dog owners—myself included—simply assume that bags advertised as “compostable” or “bio-degradable” are better for the environment. However, the Federal Trade Commission issued a report in 2015 warning consumers that these claims may be deceptive as there are no labeling guidelines on these packages.

As someone who picks up roughly 300 pounds of poop each year, I had to find a better way than tossing hundreds of bags in the landfill, especially when they are full of poop that could release excess nitrogen and carry disease. What did I find? Well, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, the best way to dispose of pet waste is none other than flushing it down the toilet with other waste.

It is important that pet owners not only evaluate their pet food and waste for environmental impact, but also consider toys, grooming, vet care and even where they find their pets in the first place. While making these changes will likely never lead to a carbon-neutral pet, it will help reduce the environmental pawprint that will allow humans to continue to raise furry friends in the future.

Written by mblake

MacKenzie is an accelerated MBA student focused in sustainability. She is excited about sports apparel and the built environment, as well as animal and low-income causes.

Food & Sustainability

The relationship that individuals have with food is intimate. Some people choose to eat everything, while others choose or may be limited to a vegan, vegetarian, raw, paleo, Atkins, sugar-free, pescatarian, allergy-free, plant-based or gluten-free diet. Food is influenced by culture and society, but have we overlooked a larger implication?

Vermont, photo by Stacia Betley

It turns out that what we eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner is the #1 cause of global warming. The social and environmental impact of food is enormous. The production of food requires land, fossil fuels, chemicals, food for livestock, packaging materials and refrigeration. There is not one solution, however we need to wake up and start asking questions about where our food comes from and what’s in our food. Let’s find a way to eat food that is not only healthier for us, but also healthier for the environment. As Paul Hawken’s book Drawdown – The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming states, “Rather than releasing carbon dioxide and other GHGs into the atmosphere, food production can capture carbon as a means to increase fertility, soil health, water availability, yields, and ultimately nutrition and food security.”

Plant-Based Diets– A University of Oxford study modeled a worldwide transition to plant-based diets between now and 2050 and results show business-as-usual food emissions could decrease by 63%.

Food Waste– ⅓ of food is lost or wasted and 35% of food in high-income economies is thrown out by consumers.

Access– We are currently producing enough food to feed 7.6B individuals globally, however those who are hungry lack access. How do we fight for equal access to food?

Brain Development– How do we demand more thoughtful food in schools?

Price– How do we make organic and transparent food more affordable?

Technology– How are companies using technology and innovation to address issues in agriculture? Check out Microsoft’s FarmBeats, an AI & IoT solution for agriculture.

Health–  There are now more obese people in the world than underweight. A New York Times series, Planet Fat, explores the causes and consequences of rising obesity rates. Hint: big business is to blame. Through taxation, banning targeted advertisements, and increasing consumer labeling, people and governments are starting to fight back.

Cookstoves– 40% of the world’s people cook with carbon-based fuels like like wood and coal, emitting 2-5% of the world’s GHGs annually.

Eco-labelsWhat is an ecolabel and what makes an ecolabel effective? Does a ‘natural’ product have any credibility?

More topics to explore: regenerative agriculture, food composting and silvopasture.

As Michael Pollan say, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Bananas, photo by Stacia Betley

Resources:

Hawken, P. (2017). Drawdown (pp. 37- 74). New York: Penguin Books.

Sustainable Diets: What You Need to Know in 12 Charts | World Resources Institute. (2018). Wri.org. Retrieved 11 January 2018, from http://www.wri.org/blog/2016/04/sustainable-diets-what-you-need-know-12-charts

Written by staciab

Stacia is an accelerated MBA student focused in sustainability. She spent almost 3 years working in the outdoor gear industry in a marketing role and headed sustainability initiatives. However, after graduating this June, she hopes to pivot into the food industry and work for a company that aligns with her values.

Why Sports are Important to Sustainability

Sports and sustainability are two areas that most people do not see going hand in hand. While organizations like the Green Sports Alliance and the Council for Responsible Sport (CRS) are working to fix that viewpoint, the everyday consumer may have more difficulty connecting the two. If you ask the right people, they may see how sustainable practices can have a large positive impact on sporting events in terms of waste reduction or energy efficiency. But would they mention that sports can also have an impact on the sustainability movement?

This summer I was able to work with the City of Eugene on a grant they received from the Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN) to help create a framework for responsible events. My specific focus was creating an engagement model for how best to utilize universities in the responsible event space. I was really excited to learn more about the events area, and was unpleasantly surprised when I found out that the majority of events that would be using this framework would be sporting events.

Let me clarify, I am not a sports fan. I say, “Go Ducks!” but I have never been to a game, and I’m definitely not the person you should ask if you want to know the outcome of last weekend’s game. I watch the Super Bowl, but only for the advertisements. So, when I found out that a significant portion of my research would be surrounding sporting events, I was less than enthusiastic. I could see how sustainability could benefit sports. It was clear that helping to implement those practices was important, but I was much more eager to learn about how sustainability had been executed at music festivals than baseball games.

I could not have been more surprised by what I learned from my conversations with multiple people in the green sports area. Many professional leagues are moving towards more sustainability-focused goals. The Final Four has been certified a couple of times by the CRS, and Major League Baseball has made efforts to have a Green Team at the All-Star Game. New ways of connecting sustainability and sports are coming up every year, and learning about how these events have been made more sustainable is exciting. While it was quite simple to see how sustainable goals were improving sports, my biggest takeaway was how important sports are to the sustainability movement.

58% of Americans identify as sports fans[1]. Sports as a platform for communication is invaluable. What sports teams support, and the messages they promote, will be heard by thousands. For the people pushing sustainability forward, the ability to use this platform created by sports allows them to reach people who might not normally be exposed to sustainable ideas. If people, especially children who grow up watching their favorite teams, see these stadiums or leagues “going green” they may be inspired to do the same.

My viewpoint on sports has completely changed since the beginning of the summer. While I still don’t identify as a sports fan, I finally see the value of sports as a platform. Last weekend I was able to incorporate these lessons into helping put on the Green Football Game at Autzen Stadium, where we met our goal of receiving 500+ pledges to be more sustainable. I’m looking forward to utilizing sports in my future sustainability experiences.

                                                     

[1] http://news.gallup.com/poll/183689/industry-grows-percentage-sports-fans-steady.aspx

 

Written by Llyswen Berna

Llyswen is a 2018 MBA from the Center for Sustainable Business Practices. She is a motivated individual with extensive leadership experience and a passion for sustainability. Most recently, she worked on the quality assurance team at Epic, a top healthcare software company. Before that, she was an AmeriCorps volunteer, where she advised low-income students about getting into and through college. At Oregon, Llyswen plans to build on her skills in project management and sustainable business practices. After graduation, she’s interested in consulting with companies and nonprofits to develop sustainable business strategies.

Wandering with Purpose at the 2017 Net Impact Conference

It’s the night before the first day of the Net Impact conference and I’m furiously looking through their website, writing down all talks I want to attend and people I want to network with.  The list was long – if I wanted to get to everything, there would have to be 5 extraverted versions of myself. I went to sleep feeling anxiously prepared.

Standing in line to register the next day, I saw a looming sign featuring the theme of this year’s conference – “Path to Purpose.” It struck me that I didn’t know my purpose for attending. Yes, I knew I wanted to network and learn new things, but that’s not purpose. Those are actions to satisfy my purpose. Suddenly, I felt like a lost child in a giant shopping mall. Where is my purpose?! Where’s an adult that can tell me where my purpose is?!

This isn’t a new feeling for me. Most of the time, I feel like a cat constantly changing direction to look at the new shiny thing. Professors, career counselors, and parents ask me, “what do you love to do?” In the words of one of the keynote speakers at Net Impact, Cheryl Dorsey President of Echoing Green, “what makes your heart sing?” I mean, a lot of things. I love connecting and helping people on a deep level. I love coming up with new and creative ways to communicate an old message. I love traveling and food. I love being outdoors. I love movies and culture and art and their impact on society. DO I HAVE TO PICK ONE?

At the risk of going crazy trying to define a purpose that would further my career and define my life’s work, I decided to keep it simple – be curious, learn something new. I left the extensive list of people and sessions in my bag and made game time decisions. It felt like I was moving with a tide – going to sessions and exploring which conversations moved me, then finding sessions that dig deeper into that topic. For example, Paul Hawken, the author of Project Drawdown, walked us through the top solutions to reverse climate change. I was moved to tears to hear that women’s issues had some of the biggest impact – Solution #6 was educating girls and solution #7 was family planning. Giving the control back to women gave them the power to choose their own path, which usually led to smaller families and higher education. This led me to the gender equality panel, one I didn’t consider before hearing those statistics. It turned out to be my favorite session. I learned about the implications of cognitive diversity from Mary Harvey, a Principle at Ripple Effect Consulting and former US women’s national soccer team goal keeper. I found out from a fellow student that computer science started as a female-dominated field before the personal computer revolution made it a “masculine” endeavor. Later, one of the sessions I wanted to go to was closed, so I ended up at “Don’t leave your values at the door.” Cause marketing is another passion of mine and it just so happens that the woman who essentially invented it, Carol Cone, was leading the panel.

I satisfied my “conference” purpose – I was curious and learned new things. Did that lead me to my life’s purpose? Not exactly, but it did reignite my passion for impacting food systems. And it did make me want to explore and understand gender equality and its impact on the workplace and environment. Most of the successful professionals I heard from had winding paths to their current positions because they were curious individuals with multiple passions. And with each pivot, their purpose became clearer. So, for all my fellow wanderers out there: Having a wide range of interests is a good thing. Don’t be afraid to follow your passions through unconventional career paths. Go to that art opening. Volunteer at that organic farm. Reach out to that person with your dream job – the one you never thought would want to talk to you. With each new opportunity, you’ll discover the common thread that spells out your purpose.

Written by Alison O'Shaughnessy

Ali is a 2018 MBA from the Center of Sustainable Business Practices. She spent most of her career working in digital marketing for non-profit clients in New York City. After graduating, she plans on combining her expertise in marketing with her passion for socially and environmentally responsible business practices by working for a company that shares her altruistic values.

Building Connections: My Weekend at the Clinton Global Initiative U Conference

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, standing

On October 13-15, I attend the Clinton Global Initiative U Conference in Boston. The conference was hosted by Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton, and I was beyond honored to be selected out of thousands of applicants to represent the University of Oregon at this incredible event. The speaker list was stacked with impact-makers from across the world including people like the 19th Secretary of State Madeline Albright; Alan Khazi, founder of City Year and national service champion; Daryl Davis, who did amazing feats to strengthen race relations; Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy III; David Miliband, current CEO of International Rescue Committee and former Foreign Secretary in the UK; Olympic medalist, Ibtihaj Muhammad; and 19th Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy.

I heard inspiring talks on a variety of global issues, but to me, one key theme emerged: connection. It is the conversations between people that drive empathy and understanding, it is the partnerships between organizations that create massive change, and it is the networks each person at the conference had that allowed them to get where they are today. We are a global community that needs to work together to reach a common purpose, peace, and quality of life for every person. As President Clinton said, it is not division and subtraction but addition and multiplication that will help us create a better future.

I was particularly inspired by panelist Daryl Davis, an African-American man who decided to write a book on the Ku Klux Klan at the height of the civil rights movement. Like any good author, Davis needed to interview the subjects of his book, and he put himself in great danger to do so. But the conversations he had with KKK leaders also broke down walls. Through these conversations, Davis befriended 1000 Klan members who subsequently quit the organization. His words will stick with me forever, “It is when the conversation ceases that the ground becomes fertile for violence.”

Seeing the theme of connection played out so strongly was especially empowering for me, because it’s something I’m focusing on here at the Oregon MBA. The application to attend Clinton Global Initiative U required a commitment to action. For me, that commitment is a program I developed called the Sustainability Hyperinnovation Collaborative (SHIC). It’s an event series that brings together multiple stakeholders to co-create sustainable solutions to the problems we see today. The inaugural event for SHIC will take place April 20-21 and will focus on creating integrated transportation platforms that will help cities and businesses create cohesive public and shared transportation systems. Government officials, transportation executives, university researchers, and passionate graduate students will be divided into teams and lead through rapid innovation processes to create a product in just two days.

It has been a challenge to develop an event like this, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support of faculty members at UO who gave me the tools and connections to help this idea grow. With the help of my network, I hope to grow SHIC into a network of universities hosting annual events that support sustainable business through collaboration. Together, we can create bigger, faster, and stronger impacts; something that CGI U is working to accomplish as well.

Image may contain: 5 people, people smiling, people standing, sky and outdoor

My take away from CGI U is this: connect with others. Impactful projects are only successfully with the help of a network and a team. Political and social divides can only be broken through mutual understanding, one conversation at a time. We can all do something to impact the world: communicate, listen, understand, grow, connect.

Written by Leah Goodman

Leah is a 2018 MBA student focusing on Sustainable Business Practices and Strategy. She is a Clinton Global Initiative U '17 class member and a Net Impact Climate Fellow. Currently, Leah is developing an innovation lab, the Sustainable Hyperinnovation Collaborative, and hopes to grow this business after graduation.

Reflections on a Case Competition

Ok, deep breath, you got this, 15 minutes and it’s all over. This is what was going through my head right before presenting in the final round of the Simon Fraser University Sustainability Challenge. This was my first live case competition and I never thought our team would get this far. We were three Americans, competing in Canada, in a business and cultural setting we knew little about despite the similarities between our countries.

When we first heard about the SFU Sustainability Challenge, my team including Seth Lenaerts, Leah Goodman, and I, were all excited. We saw it as a great opportunity to compete in an international live case competition with a focus on sustainability.  Once we saw the case, however, we knew it was going to test our education, business ethics, and values. The case prompt was to provide feasibility and pre-engagement advice to the FortisBC team with respect to the potential for natural gas conversions in First Nations communities on Vancouver Island. Our initial reaction was, “are we supposed to market natural gas to First Nation communities?” It was difficult to see the link to sustainability and tested our ethics.

Feeling confused and a bit disheartened we sought guidance from a couple of advisors. We were questioning our values and trying to decide what our next step should be. Upon re-reading the case we realized we were not being asked to come up with a marketing plan but to consider if natural gas could be an option for these communities, what these communities’ values were, and how these related to the natural gas company. Once we realized this, we were reenergized and dove back into the case, viewing it as a challenge to bring environmental values to a fossil fuel company.

Incorporating sustainability into our proposal was not the only challenge we faced. We were also dealing with the cultural differences between Canada and the United States. Canada is a big proponent of natural gas as a clean energy source whereas our group still viewed it as an extractive fossil fuel. We were also playing catch up on the cultural context and understanding the history and relationship of First Nation communities in Canada. While these challenges hampered our understanding of the case initially, having an outsider’s perspective may have helped us in the end.

Our team worked wonderfully together, building off each other’s ideas and helping each other understand the nuances of the case. When someone struggled with an idea or concept we would take the time to go over the issue and ensure everyone was on the same page, often leading to a breakthrough in how we structured our case. Our finalized product was something we could all be proud of, a values-driven suggestion on how FortisBC could use renewable natural gas (something they were currently offering at a premium) to these First Nation communities.

When we made it to Canada we weren’t quite sure what to expect. During the opening ceremony, we were chosen as the first to present the following day. We quickly returned to our hotel room and practiced our presentation until we knew it backwards and forwards. We felt good about our presentation but were not confident we would move onto finals.

The next morning, we got ready, practiced once more, and headed off to present. Wow, that was rough. We were torn apart by the questions the judges asked us. We recognized our weaknesses: some points weren’t supported enough, some examples not fleshed out, some questions we simply couldn’t answer. At that point, it was hard to focus on what we did well, especially without getting to see other presentations for comparison. We decided that no matter what, this was a valuable experience and at least we would be able to see the final presentations to learn what a winning presentation would look like.

After a few hours exploring beautiful Vancouver we came back to hear who would move onto the finals. Four finalists were chosen, each picked out of a cup in dramatic fashion to determine what order teams would present in. Once the third name had been called our team was pretty convinced we were not going to be picked; we were happy to simply enjoy the other presentations and learn from our competitors. Then it happened, they called our name “Sustainasaurus.” We were to be the last finalist presentation!

A variety of emotions passed through our group from disbelief and excitement about making it to the finals to disappointment that we would be unable to see any other presentations. After taking in this new information we quickly made our way downstairs where we would spend the next two hours practicing our presentation and working on answering those tough questions we faced during the first round.

And now here I am, taking a deep breath and about to step out in front of the panel of judges and students. Our presentation went well. Again, we were faced with tough questions, many of which we could answer well, some of which we had no answer for. We then took a seat ready to hear the judges overall feedback for the day.

We all got it wrong. Almost every single team managed to read the case incorrectly. We were never asked for a plan on how natural gas could work for First Nation communities. We were asked what information the company needed to gather in order to make their own plan. The entire audience of students sat stunned once we heard that. A case that did not require a plan of action? Being MBA students meant we were trained to associate presenting cases with presenting solutions. The judges went on to give us more feedback on how the teams could have performed better, what information could have been included and what information should not have been.

We reflected on what had just happened and were reeling from some of the feedback we had heard. We felt good about our presentation but had no context on how we compared to others. We didn’t know if the judges only hit us with the tough questions or if everyone had faced those. We didn’t even know what other teams had proposed to see if what we said was even viable.

Walking into the ending ceremony felt amazing. There was a giant sense of relief that presentations were over and that, no matter what, we had made it to the finals. When they began to announce the winners, there was a sudden hush around the room as we all crowded around the podium.

“Third place goes to team Sustainasaurus.”

No one has been more excited to receive third place then us. We quickly found each other in the room and made it up to the podium. For the rest of the night people kept coming up and congratulating us; we could not have been happier! We made positive connections with other competitors and professionals within the industry, several of whom we are looking to work with in the future.

We learned a lot from this experience and are eagerly looking forward to taking that knowledge with us when competing in future case competitions.

Written by Llyswen Berna

Llyswen is a 2018 MBA from the Center for Sustainable Business Practices. She is a motivated individual with extensive leadership experience and a passion for sustainability. Most recently, she worked on the quality assurance team at Epic, a top healthcare software company. Before that, she was an AmeriCorps volunteer, where she advised low-income students about getting into and through college. At Oregon, Llyswen plans to build on her skills in project management and sustainable business practices. After graduation, she’s interested in consulting with companies and nonprofits to develop sustainable business strategies.