Panel Event: When Corporate Impact Meets Consumer Behavior

logoConsumers, businesses, and government are rapidly changing the way they think about the environment, and how we are putting it in harm’s way. There is local, national, and international focus on this topic, which will undoubtedly become one of the most important of our generation. As a business school Haas has made corporate impact a key pillar, seen in the title of the most recent edition of Berkeley Haas magazine (Spring 2014), Empowering Business Social Impact. The bay area is a place that fuels social thought, and with all of the resources and demand for ‘green business,’ it is no wonder that so many of our Haas grads pursue or start their own green ventures.

There is such a great connection between this movement and the Haas Defining Principles.  Both Beyond Yourself and Challenge the Status Quo are hugely relevant.  It can be so easy to throw your hands up and call it all noise, but Haas culture makes us want to do exactly the opposite.  Haas students ask themselves, what is the norm right now and how could it be better?  Who are these practices affecting?  How can we change them?  How can we scale green innovation?  How will future generations be affected?  The prevalence of Corporate Impact discussion is a great barometer of the success of our principles.

Two nights ago I had the great privilege of attending the 3rd annual Kaleidoscope Event: When Corporate Impact Meets Consumer Behavior. I went to cover it for the blog, but I got so engaged at times I forgot. It was put on by our very own Haas Center for Responsible Business, in collaboration with Net Impact Berkeley, a campus group, which is made up of many, but not all, Haas undergrads. This article summarizes this event, but I strongly urge you to check out both of these groups and their various events throughout the semester. This is an important, interesting, and booming characteristic of business today, get educated! Both groups’ ‘about’ pages are linked below!

Amy Dinh, of the Center for Responsible Business, kicking it off!

Haas Center for Responsible Business:

Net Impact Berkeley:

So, why did I enjoy this event so much? It was a panel of 4 local bay area residents. They differed in just about every aspect, less their support of Business Social Impact, and all four of which were from for-profit companies, which gave credibility to the Haas theme of sustainability within business. Having an academic tell you ‘the world is ending’ is not quite as engaging as real local change. Our group passionately fielded questions about how they and their companies strive for corporate impact. Personally, 3 of my 6 courses this semester (The Social, Political, and Ethical Environment of Business; Edible Education; and Global Wealth and Poverty) touch on these topics, and it was really cool to hear a panel of real examples of these topics!

Seeing as I was told long ago at the blog, “write about whatever you want,” I will introduce each panelist, give a quote from each, and expand a bit on the meaning. I hope it will give a cool feel for what was discussed, and maybe even spark an idea for some up-and-coming social entrepreneur out there!

Left to right: Rachel Chang (Net Impact), Robert Strand, Desirae Early, Mike Beebe, Molly Janis, Katie Dewitt, Tiffany Tran (Net Impact) and Amy Dinh (Center for Responsible Business). Big thanks everyone!

robertstrandreducedModerating the panel, shortly before flying back to Copenhagen, was Haas’ own (GO BEARS!) visiting scholar, Robert Strand. Robert was really working the crowd. He surfed the isles, engaged the audience, and expanded on the thoughts of our panelists. He comes from some very high level research about how CSR is perceived at the ‘C-level.’ He kept the entire room engaged and was an example of someone who was excited about a subject of which they were very informed.

img3829001First on the panel was Desirae Early who did both her undergrad at Cal and is currently in Haas’ Evening and Weekend MBA program (GO BEARS!). She works for Levis, which just as an aside, is the company that by far has received the most praise for CSR in my Haas classes. They are a bay area company that has done it right, is doing it right, and will continue to do it right. Above all, they do it as a part of their overall strategy not to extort revenue from the green revolution. She told the room that at Levis, “if we wanted to look at minimizing the impact of our product, we had to change our framework and our lens.” She went on to discuss the consumer side of Levis’ products, and how consumers play a huge role in Business CSR. Levis has always cared about internal social responsibility, long before it was the buzzword it is today, but the new goal also includes the outward goal of affecting consumers. An example discussed was trying to educate consumers about washing clothes less and hang drying. They even held a contest to find cool ways to publicize this idea.

20344daNext was Mike Beebe, a graduate of UC Berkeley in Interdisciplinary Studies in 2006 (GO BEARS!). Mike has a great story, and taught kids through teach for America for 5 years before ending up here in the Bay at Tesla. A great thing that Mike added to the panel was his advice for undergrads, “it’s okay to go on the winding path.” He talked about his time at teach for America as a real asset, rather than a setback in his career. Speaking to a room full of business students I think that he really got our attention. ABC (accounting, banking, and consulting) careers are the norm and the goal for many, and to hear from an interesting person at an interesting company that this might not be right for everyone was really cool. Multiple times in his talk he spoke about finding passion and getting excited about what interests you, which for many in the room was clearly CSR.

headshot.foradpNext was Molly Janis, from Annie’s Inc. right here in Berkeley. Although she did not go to Cal, she represents 9 years in the field of energy and climate consulting, and her last year at Annie’s Inc. She added a lot to the panel on overall global changes as well as the discussion in the food industry, but my favorite quote from her was during the Q and A when she was asked about how they maintain ethical and responsible standards throughout their supply chain. She remarked that, “simply by asking the questions, we get asked a lot more questions.” She goes on to detail some questions that her suppliers ask her about how to be sustainable. Simply by demanding a high standard, Annie’s is creating standards in other companies which might not previously had considered CSR an important topic.

1b3f76cLastly we had Katie Dewitt, MBA 13 (GO BEARS!), who currently works for Solar City. Katie brought a cool personal story including the Peace Corps and her undergrad at Yale. A cool thought from Kaite was an insight into how her company markets solar panels. She said that her company has done a lot of research which shows that installing solar panels is completely an “economic decision,” but once they go solar, “they become really proud about the green part, and even tell their friends,” which is why 60% of Solar City’s revenue is from referrals. I loved this idea because it shows how close we are as a society to a tipping point in sustainability. As long as we can plant that seed, the products will drive themselves, and Katie explained how her company is capitalizing on that.

All in all a great event. I enjoyed the panelists, the moderator, the Q&A, and of course, the free pizza. Like I said above, check out either of these groups if the booming area of CSR could be a part of your future career!

Great panel!

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