By Julia DiGiacomo
Sustainability-related issues are a topic currently making a significant impact on the world of business. In response, University of Iowa faculty, students, and entrepreneurs met to engage in dialogue on the issue and learn more about sustainable strategies through a business lens.
The May 10 and 11 Faculty Sustainability Summit brought together speakers from a variety of environmentally conscious companies, such as Patagonia, New Belgium Brewery, Organic Valley, Frontier Cooperative, National Cooperative Grocers Association, and Allsteel. Faculty members and speakers gathered from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday at Celebration Farms in Iowa City.
Interim Director of the UI Office of Sustainability Sara Maples said the purpose of the summit was to “learn and grow your own knowledge about sustainability issues that are affecting the business enterprise and also look at the challenges and opportunities that these impacts bring now and into the future.”
“The reason the event is important is because virtually every company, regardless of whether they’re a small company or big company, should understand the importance of the environmental and social crisis ahead of us,” UI marketing lecturer involved with organizing the event David Collins said. “They’re changing the way they’re doing business and it’s up to us as faculty members to be able to better prepare our students for their future in business.”
The Thursday keynote speaker was the CEO of Blackburn Consulting, Bill Blackburn. He outlined how to make business sense of sustainability, including how environmental and social issues can impact business practices. He also explained the challenges and opportunities of implementing sustainable practices and discussed components of ethically responsible businesses.
“A key thing is that transparency [as a business] is important to build trust — but you have to follow it up with action,” Blackburn said. “That’s an important lesson.”
Tippie College of Business Dean Sarah Gardial said she hopes environmental or sustainability related topics are woven throughout the curriculum of many majors.
“Corporations, the really good ones, are going to use [sustainability] as a platform that’s going to draw other people in,” Gardial said. “To me, it’s completely necessary that we are talking about this in the college of business all the time in every class.”
On Friday, representatives from Patagonia, New Belgium Brewery, Organic Valley, Frontier Cooperative, National Cooperative Grocers Association, and Allsteel will speak on the three major topics of innovation in a changing world, changing financial models, and stakeholder engagement. They will discuss topics such as communicating sustainability, product innovation, company cultures, and much more.
To tie everything together, sustainability consultant and author Adam Hammes will give remarks on infusing sustainability into the classroom in the hopes that faculty will bring their sustainability knowledge back to UI students.
“The resources we have on this planet are limited and frankly the business community has a big role in shepherding those resources and managing those resources,” UI clinical professor and executive director of the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center David Hensley said. “The more that we can learn as faculty as well as that we can [teach] to our students, I think we can make a significant difference here on campus and then our students will go out and change the world.”