Last month, I attended the Net Impact conference in Baltimore. Net Impact is an annual forum for non-profits, for-profit and the public sector to come together to discuss what the triple bottom line in action really means. Some environmentalists view sustainable business with suspicion. Terms like “green-washing” have become common speak in the environmental movement, and not in a good way. Other environmentalists believe that big corporations can help create a livable future and work towards solving our climate crisis and reinventing our global food system. This latter group is the audience for Net Impact. The participants included a diverse menu, from micro-lenders like Kiva.org to technology titans like Microsoft. I am a University of Utah MBA student and I was delighted to learn about career opportunities in sustainability in the corporate world.
I learned about the emergence of the B-Corp, a new business model that “uses the power of business to solve social and environmental problems.” I learned about the Hult Competition, an international business plan competition that will give the winner $1 million to start the next social enterprise that will work to solve the global food crisis. I learned that General Mills has a natural food line. Have you ever had a LaraBar or those delicious Food Should Taste Good chips? General Mills acquired those businesses as part of their Small Planet Foods arm, and I believe they really do have a goal to develop healthier foods. I learned about the partnership between RecycleBank, a startup that offers incentives for customers to recycle, and Waste Management, one of the nation’s largest waste haulers. They are working together to increase recycling rates nationwide. This partnership alone could lead to the recycling incentive program growing from 3 million to 18 million households.
In sum, this conference was the highlight of my semester; every day of the conference I learned from and was inspired by the creative dialogue from the over 2,500 Net Impacters. One of my favorite sessions, a debate titled “Are Non-Profits or For-Profits Better Poised to Solve Environmental and Social Challenges?” shed light on the many ways that both organizations can do more—and work together—to create solutions to the vast challenges our society faces today. We need a combination of corporate and non-profit solutions to the environmental problems we all care about. I wish every student at the University of Utah could attend the Net Impact conference. And if that’s too lofty of a goal, I encourage students to explore the opportunities here on campus to engage with the sustainability discussion. Sustainability is no longer just a small group of tree-huggers hoping for world peace. Sustainability is clean energy, local food, alternative transportation, gender equality, fair labor, natural resource preservation and more.
Whitney Williams is currently working towards an MBA at the University of Utah. Previously, she worked with the Office of Sustainability as the Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund Coordinator.