With ClimateCAP, B-Schools Confront ’21st Century’s Biggest Biz Issue’

UVA Darden hosts this year’s ClimateCAP conference February 21-22. Darden photo

Elizabeth John, First-Year MBA Student, NYU Stern School of Business

Liz John. Courtesy photo

I’m really excited. The agenda looks great — it’s pretty packed and there’s a lot of amazing speakers coming. I think the reach of this conference really is what appealed to me, because you have a ton of different business schools participating and a lot of different companies, and a lot of the speakers are C-level employees, so you can tell that the companies are really invested in making this conference successful and also making a good impression. So it seems to me that this issue has become front and center for many, many companies. And I’m heartened to see how that’s kind of come through in the planning of the conference.

I think sustainability is something I’m definitely interested in going much deeper into, so this conference is an opportunity to just learn so much more about this space. I just think there’s a ton of opportunity in this space and I think it’s still becoming defined. Being a part of defining it could be really exciting.

Anecdotally, I’ve sensed a lot of interest even from folks who are not necessarily recruiting for sustainability or environmentally focused positions. I think people realize this is something that touches every part of business. So I would say there is a wide interest and whenever I talk about what I’m looking into, other people seem very interested. I don’t know how that compares to maybe several years ago. I know the (Stern) Center for Sustainable Business is becoming even more present and important and getting a lot of features. So I imagine that’s becoming more and more of a driver for students at other schools too.

Daniel Aycock, Second-Year MBA Student, UVA Darden School of Business

Daniel Aycock. Courtesy photo

I first heard about ClimateCAP through my role leading Darden’s Energy Club. More and more MBA students — myself included — are increasingly interested in learning about and engaging in the transformation happening in the energy industry. The conference is a great opportunity for students interested in energy — both at Darden and our peer schools — to hear from and interact with leaders of organizations who are either driving or grappling with that transformation on the front lines. And as someone interested in the challenge of climate change broadly, I’m looking forward to hearing not just from the energy industry, but from a host of other industries increasingly coming to terms with the risks and opportunities of climate change. It’s time to move from marketing and PR to real solutions and innovation, and I’m excited to have that conversation.

As a ClimateCAP Fellow, my primary responsibilities are marketing the conference, generating content and questions for industry breakout panels, and hosting our guests to help them feel welcome at Darden and in Charlottesville — both MBA students from our peer schools and our impressive slate of speakers.

I’m very encouraged by the number and caliber of business schools supporting ClimateCAP. It reflects a broader trend toward more robust curricular offerings, new research initiatives, and increasing career opportunities for MBA students. I believe climate change will be one of the defining challenges of my lifetime, and solving it will require hard work, perseverance, and a will to lead and act boldly from my generation. We need great scientists, engineers, and politicians to succeed, but we also need great leaders of businesses driving innovation, commercialization, and scale in the marketplace. Graduate business education and the business community at large need to take their seats at the table of these conversations, and ClimateCAP is a terrific place to start.

Alexandra Cahill, Second-Year MBA Student, UVA Darden School of Business

Alexandra Cahill. Courtesy photo

I wanted to participate in the planning and execution of the conference because of my professional experience and interest in the topic, as well as my role as President of the Darden Business & Public Policy Club. The mission of BPP is to engage students in action-oriented discourse about the implications of business and policy decisions. The ClimateCAP conference aligns well with this objective and is a great opportunity for all MBA students, including those for whom climate may not be top of mind, to engage in conversations about the impact of climate change on business decisions across sectors and industries.

Prior to Darden, I spent two years as the chief of staff to the Massachusetts secretary of energy and environmental affairs. My experience working with different stakeholders, including the business community, to advance renewable energy legislation and climate mitigation programs in Massachusetts underscored the importance of collaboration between the public and private sectors to address climate change. Understanding the cross-sector implications of climate change is an increasingly important issue for business leaders. ClimateCAP is a timely opportunity to elevate this important issue across MBA programs.

I think this conference demonstrates how climate will be an important consideration for future and emerging business leaders, regardless of sector or industry. The breadth of industries represented in the conference (finance, agriculture, transportation, CPG, energy) is an example of how climate is not a standalone issue, and that MBAs will need to be equipped with the tools to address and adapt to cross-sector challenges. I think that Darden does an excellent job of preparing students to address complex challenges such as climate change, beginning with stakeholder theory and business ethics in the first-year core curriculum. This conference brings real world perspectives and experience on these issues, while also providing students with an opportunity to build connections and resources for their future careers.

Wendy Kadon, Second-Year MBA Student, Northwestern Kellogg School of Management 

Wendy Kadon. Courtesy photo

I found out about ClimateCAP through the Energy & Sustainability Club at Kellogg; a classmate posted about it. I like that the conference brings together leaders from across industries to share experiences, best practices, and new ideas on this subject. Climate change represents both the greatest opportunity and the greatest risk for businesses in our lifetime. As a complex subject, it’s necessary to hear these diverse perspectives.

This is a subject that I have been interested for a while. Before Kellogg, I was a buyer in the apparel retail industry, and got to see first hand the environmental footprint that clothing production has, like the amount of water required, the chemicals used to dye fabric, and the waste from scrap materials and discarded clothing. I’m not naïve, however — consumers still love to shop (including me) and businesses still need to make money. Environmental sustainability has, for so long, been wrongly seen as a tradeoff with profits, but technology has amplified our ability to make it make business sense, too. In addition, consumers today expect business to both do well and do good, and are using their spending power to vote for brands that represent their values. Businesses can’t ignore this shift if they want to stay relevant; what may be a nice-to-have now will be table stakes in the future.

I am working to be a change leader in a consumer product category one day, helping large companies pivot their strategies and transform their supply chains to compete in this new environment. During my time here at school, I have been working with a classmate (now alum) Dave Costello on his startup, Scoots, the world’s first plant-based footwear brand. We ran a successful Kickstarter this past June that raised $40K+ and delivered our first product this fall, and he is currently raising money to move the company to the next phase. This past summer, I interned at AB InBev in their procurement department, which owns many of the company’s ambitious sustainability goals; one of my two projects was directly focused on the company’s North America plastics footprint. After Kellogg, I will be joining BCG to deepen strategic thinking and organizational change management skills that will make me a more effective change leader in the long run.

I see the goals of the conference as bringing this topic to greater prominence among the business community by illustrating both the opportunity and the risk presented by climate change; sharing learnings and ideas across companies and industries, because this issue is systemic and cannot be addressed in isolation; and networking. I think it’s great and important that schools are taking an interest. Businesses have the ability to accelerate change through innovation, collaboration with the public and nonprofit sector, and more. The biggest companies often have wider reach and impact than individual nations alone, because they operate across the world.

Business schools are driven by the interests of their students and by the needs of employers. As millennials and Gen Z come through the education system, their demands as consumers will also translate into their professional goals, or at the very least a need to understand how to operate within these factors. As businesses try to address these consumer demands, they will want graduates who are equipped with the knowledge and tools to not just navigate but excel in this environment. I believe that more schools will incorporate sustainability into their curricula in one way or another as it evolves from being a non-market consideration to a market factor.



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