SUSTAINABILITY STALWARTS MEET SUSTAINABILITY UPSTARTS
The companies represented on-stage throughout the day serve as examples. Sustainability stalwarts like Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia, and New Belgium Brewing have led radical ways of conducting business for decades. Upstarts like Revolution Foods and Ripple Foods have followed suit. While the Patagonia’s and Ben & Jerry’s of the world served as revolutionaries and rebels at first are now increasingly seen as trend-setters.
“I think what is interesting to me in this moment in time — and it goes back to consumer interest in mission-oriented brands — is that entrepreneurs are beginning to understand that that is a part of their value proposition,” Patrick said. “And we are having to think about that with our evaluation for investors. And that’s cool. It’s hard to measure. But I do think it’s sustainable and more than that, I think it can grow if we steward it.”
NOT YOUR PARENT’S B-SCHOOL EVENT
In classic Berkeley fashion, the conversations toed the line of tree hugger and capitalism. No greater example came when Judy Wicks, an entrepreneur and author, took the stage. “I believe that if we are going to transform our economy from life-destroying to life-giving, that it really begins with waking our hearts–waking the heart of the entrepreneur, the investor and all of us as consumers,” Wicks, founder of White Dog Cafe in Philadelphia and co-founder what is now retail store Urban Outfitters.
Wicks, who has also written multiple books in support of what she calls a “compassionate economy,” gave a presentation that could have been in a Harvard Business School classroom or a silent Zen Buddhist retreat in Bali. “We can expand our consciousness to value life more than money,” she said. “And I think this is one of the most important problems that we have, to really change the way we think about success as consumers in our society. It’s really about valuing life and living in harmony with our natural systems.”
‘YOU MAKE STUFF THAT’S SO GOOD, IT REPLACES THE STATUS QUO’
Some participants swung the idealistic pendulum toward realism. One of those was Adam Lowry, who founded Ripple Foods in 2014. “I think the sustainability of the product is just another aspect of its quality. That’s it,” he said during an opening panel on scale. “I don’t believe in sustainable marketing. I don’t believe in any of that stuff. I think you’ve got to make a product that’s better. And in 2016, one of the aspects of better has gotta be the sustainability of the product.”
Scheuth later shared similar beliefs. “We’ve got to deliver on the real-world, practical reality that people need to make money, have enough money to retire, and achieve certain financial goals. And that’s what we do,” he said.
Marcario also explained it’s the product that allows Patagonia to make long-lasting change. “I’ve sat on millions of sustainability meetings and, you know, whatever, but the truth is, make products,” she insisted. “That’s how you change things. You make stuff that’s so good, it replaces the status quo.”
BEATING OUT THE SCHOOL ‘A LITTLE FURTHER SOUTH IN THE BAY AREA’
A dichotomy of hippie dippy clashing with bottom line is exactly why both B the Change Media and Berkeley Haas believe an event like this belongs on the Redwood-covered Northern California campus, Strand said. But that mutual interest didn’t happen immediately. According to Strand, Haas had to duke it out with a few other schools for the honor to play host. “We knew that we were in competition with a couple of other schools, one of which, is a little further south in the Bay Area,” Strand told Poets&Quants at the event’s reception with a Klean Kanteen pint full of some local and sustainable suds. “And we just felt that this event belongs at the University of California-Berkeley. And the folks at B Corp rather quickly saw that also.”
Indeed they did.
“It is clear that the Haas School of Business is a leader in this category and in this space. And has influenced more people, more students, more of the business leaders of tomorrow than almost anybody. Everybody recognizes it,” said Bryan Welch, CEO of B the Change Media said before introducing Kellie McElhaney, an adjunct professor at Berkeley Haas who was moderating an impact investing panel.
WHY THE SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS ROAD RUNS DIRECTLY THROUGH BERKELEY
The event also served as another reason why the road to sustainability and responsibility in business education increasingly runs through Berkeley. Whether it’s hosting sustainable food forums, sustainable investment forums, or Patagonia’s first ever case competition — all of which have happened within the past year — Strand and company have elevated the business for good offerings to a new level.
“Berkeley has a tradition of social justice. And a tradition of being progressive. And this fits square in-line with the B Corp movement,” Strand continued. “And Best for the World is to question the status quo of business and to see how can we best ensure that business serves the need of society and not the other way around — that society serves businesses’ needs. And that’s what fits square in-line with the University of California-Berkeley.”
Initial conversations between Berkeley-Haas and B Lab were to make sure the intentions of B Lab were to mainstream this alternative way of conducting business. Strand explained they were not looking for a “fringe movement,” but a way to make long-standing change for business education and business as a whole.
“It’s the marriage of this progressive tradition and a mainstream, public, elite institution that can usher in a whole new era of how we think about business,” Strand said. “Berkeley is the right place for these conversations because you need to push on and question the status quo. But you also need to have the intellectual chops and rigor that this university has demonstrated. Marrying that pragmatism and idealism, I think is something we do very well here at Berkeley.”
A NEW BREED OF MBA STUDENTS
Still, Berkeley-Haas is definitely not alone, as Marcario pointed out.
“When I see young people today, whenever I’m at a college or whenever I talk to young people, I’m like, you are so much more well-informed than we were,” Marcario said. “It took so long for me personally for the penny to kind of drop. I was in my mid-30’s before I really started to get it. And I feel a completely different experience being here and talking to young people who get it. And they actually don’t care about things like traditional advertising and a lot of the things that regular corporations do. They see through it.”
For Patrick, the idea of B Corp and being cognizant of double and triple bottom lines is the only way to conduct business moving forward.
“If you really believe in long-term value,” Patrick said, “at a time, especially like this one of ubiquitous information, I don’t think it’s possible anymore to manage to the financial bottom line only. Because the environmental or social bottom line will come around and affect the financial bottom line.”