Valerie Davis, CEO
“We want you to ‘Occupy Wall Street,’ but from the inside.” That’s what Net Impact Executive Director Liz Cutler Maw urged a crowd of some 2,500 future Corporate Social Responsibility leaders at the Portland, Oregon, Convention Center on October 28.
I got to sit in for a day of the conference last Friday, and I was heartened by the students (mostly undergrad and graduate business students from around the country, and other countries) and the business leaders giving the green pep talks. As a careful cynic of both job candidates and businesses who say they’re “going green,” I was impressed by the genuine enthusiasm and smarts demonstrated in the seemingly countless breakout sessions.
I learned a lot, and appreciated the points of view from the speakers and panelists representing hundreds of companies. I even got to hear business students from as far away as the University of Cape Town, South Africa, give three-minute pitches on real ideas for social entrepreneurship.
Here are a few more of my favorite moments from the day.
“Having common sense and curiosity are more important than a degree.” – Keynote speaker REI President/CEO Sally Jewell (pictured left, being interviewed by Fortune Magazine Contributing Editor Marc Gunther). She said this in reply to a Carnegie/Mellon MBA student who asked what it takes to have a successful career in corporate social responsibility. Jewell is a former banker. By the way, she said lighting – not heating and cooling – are the biggest energy-suckers in retail. She talked about using natural light in REI stores, including at one store in Round Rock, Texas, where the sunlight streams into dressing rooms on the first floor – in a two-story store. Jewell said REI has joined Patagonia, Timberland and others in the American Apparel and Footwear Association to take transparency in product supply chain to the next level. (I’ve always loved what Patagonia has done with its Footprint Chronicles.) Jewell is a Regent of the University of Washington.
“It’s going to take people who are driven to get close enough to the problem so that it hurts.” – Social Venture Partners Seattle Executive Director Paul Shoemaker, to business students in “The Future of Philanthropy” session. Shoemaker said it will take human capital, not financial and intellectual capital, to solve global social issues faced by business.
“You may not agree with science, but you probably think it’s stupid to waste energy.” – Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer, on climate change at the opening keynote session. Decked out in a pink bow tie and with a green bicycle pin on his lapel, the exuberant Congressman talked about what makes the conference host city of Portland such a hub of sustainability. He said PDX has the country’s highest percentage of Prius ownership, and that more people here want to pay for green power. One of my favorite features of the city is the light rail and streetcar system (which I’m about to take to the office). Rep. Blumenauer talked about how the city has given a nod to old-school transportation of the early 20th century with its streetcar system, and that Oregon has manufactured the first American-made streetcar in 58 years.
I agree with the consumer responsibility angle, as long as it’s clear what the company is doing to implement sustainable business practices, internally and externally. Levi Strauss & Co. was one of 86 companies exhibiting – and recruiting – at Net Impact.