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Oregon’s Green Expert On Sustainable Biz

laura strohm

Laura Strohm is the program manager at the University of Oregon’s Center for Sustainable Business Practices

Sustainable practices are popping everywhere – from local, gourmet ketchup companies to multi-million-dollar sporting franchises. MBA students are likewise subscribing to the idea that businesses should confer both environmental and monetary benefits. The University of Oregon’s Lundquist College of Business has a full center dedicated to the subject: the Center for Sustainable Business Practices.    

The center represents the movement of business education into sustainability – a move that Laura Strohm, program manager and senior instructor at the center, believes reflects a larger business trend. “I think sustainable business in general is getting more sophisticated – it’s more industry specific, it’s using more software, and there’s more financial-benefit analysis,” she says. “Educational institutions really have to be stepping up to the plate and getting more sophisticated too.”

She spoke to Poets&Quants on everything from the top sustainability trends to the importance of experiential learning, and the value of green skills in the job market.  

What makes the Lundquist Center for Sustainable Business Practices unique among sustainability programs?

We’re right here in the Pacific Northwest, which is really the heart of where sustainable business grew strong. So our location is really fortunate. We really emphasize hands-on work – experiential education, and we have a center that really focuses on this and provides speakers, trips and real projects.

Why is experiential learning such a large part of the center?

We want students to have real practice with real companies, thinking about sustainability issues. So we arrange projects with companies for student teams to manage as if they were consultants. We have a team working with the Timber and Thorns soccer team – they figured out a sustainability baseline for them so that they know their starting point for their energy footprint, water footprint, the things they’re doing right and where they need to improve. Then the students develop an action plan for how that company can make progress. So Baseline and Action Plan – it’s an analysis of where they are first, and then it’s a plan for how to improve their sustainability performance.

Do companies pick up your students’ ideas?

Yes! They don’t usually do everything that students suggest, but they do a lot. We’ve worked with lots and lots of companies on lots of projects. Some of the projects are 20 weeks long – like a capstone project for the second-year MBAs – and some of the projects are just a few weeks long.

Forrest Paint Co. is another example. Now paint companies – you don’t think of them as being green – but this company really wanted some help figuring out what to do with their wastewater issues, so we had a team think about that. Another company we worked with was Mountain Rose Herbs, and the students were really thinking about their international supply chain. So there are a lot of different issues depending on what kind of company it is and how far along they are with going green. Students help them figure out what the next steps are.