It’s the ultimate match — or, as Robert Strand, executive director of the Center for Responsible Business at the University of California-Berkeley Haas School of Business, put it last Friday (April 20), “Patagonia and Berkeley simply belong together.”
Strand was talking about the Patagonia Case Competition that Berkeley Haas hosted for the third straight year. “I sincerely cannot think of a company that embodies the spirit and traditions of this fine University of California-Berkeley more than Patagonia,” he said. “Question the status quo — that’s a principle we hold dearly here at Berkeley. Patagonia also questions the status quo. And challenges the status quo. And arguably decimates the status quo — probably doesn’t even care about the status quo, perhaps.”
Haas hosted the outdoor gear and apparel company’s event for the third year in a row, and for the third straight year a new school took top honors. This year, a team from the University of Virginia, including the Darden School of Business, scored highest marks from the team ofPatagonia judges.
108 PROPOSALS TO MAKE PATAGONIA CARBON NEUTRAL
Like the winner, the focus of the Patagonia Case Competition has changed each year, as well. In 2016, teams pitched ideas on how to create water-repellent gear without the environmentally harmful chemicals found in common durable water repellant. Last year, teams tackled Patagonia’s desire to accelerate regenerative agricultural practices for food. And this year teams focused on making Patagonia a carbon-neutral company by 2025.
Pitches from this year’s interdisciplinary teams ranged from implementing more blockchain on the supply chain to purchasing massive amounts of pasture land for silvopastures, woodland combined with the grazing of domesticated animals in a mutually beneficial way. According to Phil Graves, director of corporate development at Patagonia, this year the company received 108 proposals — up 60% from last year. Patagonia staff worked through the proposals, which combined for more than 1,200 pages, to get down to the 10 teams invited to present last Friday. Yale University, which won last year’s competition, placed third. Bard College finished second, and Virginia won.
Yale is the only school to place in the top three each year of the competition. Winning teams earn cash and a trip to Patagonia’s Ventura, California office to work with the company in launching proposed solutions — and to surf.
A COMPANY THAT IS NOT AFRAID TO GET POLITICAL
Patagonia has long been an industry leader in using its business for positive impact, mainly in the environmental space. But recently the company has become increasingly active — and political — in their environmental activism. Last December, when President Donald Trump announced his intention to shrink multiple protected national monuments in Utah, Patagonia’s home page went completely blank except for a single sentence: “Your President Stole Your Land.”
Patagonia then announced it would file a lawsuit against the Trump administration. The GOP-led U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources responded by sending an email with the subject line: “Patagonia: Don’t buy it.”
‘WE’RE ALL PART OF THE PATAGONIA MOVEMENT NOW’
Business schools — and the current crop of MBAs attending them — continue to grow and tout sustainability efforts. Most top B-schools in the United States now have some form of initiative dedicated to the space. Harvard Business School has a Business & Environment Initiative. Stanford’s Graduate School of Business has a Sustainable Energy Initiative. And Pennsylvania’s Wharton School has an Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership.
The initiatives and case competition represent a greater growing movement, Strand explained at the beginning of the Patagonia Case Competition.
“Today is about more than a case competition,” Strand said. “Today is about starting a movement — a movement of caring and compassionate and bright people committed to upholding the mission of Patagonia, irrespective of where we may find ourselves in this world.
“We’re all part of the Patagonia movement now. We’re part of the tribe.”