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Redefining Business

CRB Mobilizes Students to Solve Patagonia’s Most Pressing Sustainability Challenges

Finalists from the University of Pennsylvania present to senior leaders at Patagonia.

Read an extended overview of the CRB’s partnership to solve Patagonia’s most pressing sustainability challenges here

In 2016, the Berkeley Haas Center for Responsible Business embarked on a unique partnership with an industry leader in sustainability: Patagonia.

Each year since then, Berkeley Haas and Patagonia have developed a case related to a real-world sustainability challenge faced by Patagonia. Each fall, the topic for the case is released, and teams from business schools around the country submit proposals to present their solutions to Patagonia’s executive leadership team at Berkeley Haas in the spring.

In 2016, the case explored alternatives and improvements to Durable Water Repellent (DWR) in Patagonia’s waterproof clothing, which has become a persistent environmental pollutant. In 2017, students presented ideas for how Patagonia could accelerate regenerative agricultural practices through it’s new food brand, Patagonia Provisions. In 2018, the company asked students to help them build capacity to reach their goal of Carbon Neutrality by 2025.

The 2019 competition will challenge students to find environmentally benign packaging solutions for Patagonia Provisions that will position them as a leader in sustainable food packaging.

Birgit Cameron of Patagonia Provisions asks a follow up question after a team’s final pitch to Patagonia executives.

For Patagonia’s leadership team, it provides a unique opportunity to source fresh perspectives and innovation from MBA students business schools across the country.

“We get tremendous perspective from the case competition process from having some 70 to 100 schools work on the intractable problems,”said Doug Freeman, Chief Operating Officer at Patagonia. They are real-life, day-to-day issues that Rose Marcario (CEO of Patagonia), the management team, and I are struggling with in Ventura atPatagonia headquarters. So we get a fresh set of eyes on these problems. It gives a new lens to look at these solutions through, and it’s incredibly helpful,” said Freeman.

“Students provide us a perspective that we don’t have, and they have a fresh way of looking at things. They have a different cohort. These students come from all over the country, so we get experience from all over the country,” says Rose Marcario, CEO of Patagonia.

“For us it’s a chance to really take a pulse of what’s going on with a new generation of thought leaders and really business leaders of the future,” said Marcario.

Unlike other case competitions, it’s not just an exercise – Patagonia’s leadership team is committed to bringing students’ solutions into practice in their operations.

“We take [the] information that we get from these cases, and we bring them back to our desks, and we work on them,” says Marcario. “We create our business plans based on input from these students. This is not just a couple of days at the case competition to come and leave. It is really about the long term intractable business and environmental problems that we’re trying to solve together with the greatest students from around the country and the greatest school of responsible business, Berkeley Haas.”

Madeleine Carnemark from the University of Michigan shares her solution for reaching carbon neutrality by 2025 to Patagonia judges during final presentations of the 2018 competition.

For students at Berkeley Haas and beyond, this case competition is an unparalleled opportunity to work on a pressing corporate sustainability issue with one of the most forward thinking companies in the world.

The experience acts as a launchpad to get more students engaged and equipped to understand current sustainability challenges throughout various industries and able to work towards redefining sustainability. Throughout the years, solutions have been presented by student teams from MBA programs across the country such as Michigan, Harvard, Texas A&M, Yale, Berkeley, MIT, Wharton and Bard, bringing perspectives from students with different backgrounds, disciplines and experience.

“The environment is not like any other competition that I’ve ever been part of…[you see] some connections being built of like-minded and like-hearted individuals who are coming together to address bigger problems, bigger challenges in this world.

“I think by having that experience in this competition, and seeing how much that impacts your end product, and how much deeper and more nuanced and applicable it is, it just gets me excited to go out there and have a much more open mind about the collaborators I choose to work with. And making sure that they all don’t look like me, or have my background,” said Rodrigues.” says Adrian Rodrigues, Berkeley Haas MBA ‘18.

Audience members find a humorous note amidst a day of final presentations on how Patagonia can reach carbon neutrality by 2025.

For some students, their participation in the competition may lead to a career at Patagonia, and the chance to lead and innovate further within the company. For all participants, the experience will be a defining moment in their MBA experience, and their careers in business.

Kai Hinson began a job with Patagonia Provisions while still an MBA student at Berkeley Haas, and helped drive the 2017 Case Competition.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for students while they’re still in this nest of the academic environment, to step out of some of the constraints that you have in a real world job and go a little crazy and have fun with it and really think outside the box. I think those edges of thought, are where innovation occurs and today…it’s great to see people dive deeper and really push us to be thinking more about some of the aspects they’ve brought up,” says Hinson, MBA ‘17, Product & Sourcing Manager at Patagonia Provisions.

Robert Strand, CRB Executive Director, Rick Ridgeway, VP of Environmental Affairs at Patagonia, and Jeff Denby, MBA ’08 and Co-founder of The Renewal Workshop.

For Patagonia’s Leadership team, the CRB is an invaluable partner in generating meaningful solutions and developing future leaders.

“The program at Haas and Robert’s leadership and all the folks that work on the program understand this and make it a priority in their work. They’re helping us to create the companies and lead the next generation of responsible business people. So, we are honored to be a part of the school and to be active in the case challenge every year. We’ll be back every year.” said Rose Marcario, CEO of Patagonia.

Learn more about the Patagonia Case Competition at: http://responsiblebusiness.haas.berkeley.edu/events/patagonia-case-competition.html

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