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Redefining Business

Sustainable Food Initiative: Taking Root After Year One

Written by Berklee Welsh, B.S. Business Administration ‘20

The sustainable food movement is no stranger to U.C. Berkeley and the University of California system at large. As a young Berkeley student, Alice Waters, now a modern food icon, began cooking for her friends, bringing them together to engage in conversation about our food system. The Berkeley campus has continually worked to understand how we can sustainably and nutritiously feed an expected world population of 8 billion by 2025 through partnerships with the University of California’s Global Food Initiative and the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems program at U.C. Davis.

This fierce drive is also present at the Haas School of Business. The global food and agricultural sector is one of the largest market on earth, and for business, is the greatest potential lever of positive impact on climate change and human health. The students and alumni of the Berkeley Haas School of Business have long served as leaders in the sector. Haas has built its reputation as a true innovation platform for food startups through the successes of young businesses like Krave Jerky, Back to the Roots, and Revolution Foods. In 2018, the Center for Responsible Business responded to student and community interest and demand through the founding of the Sustainable Food Initiative (SFI), which serves as a hub for sustainable entrepreneurship, innovation, and responsible leadership at U.C. Berkeley.

The time is now for Berkeley Haas to formally establish itself as the leader in sustainable food.

Through this bold new collection of courses, experiential learning, research, and events, the Center for Responsible Business is equipping a new generation of business leaders to tackle the many facets of the global food challenge. There has never been a time in history when there’s been a greater interest and more pressing opportunities in food from a cultural perspective. The time is now for Berkeley Haas to formally establish itself as the leader in sustainable food, to catalyze cross-sector innovation at U.C. Berkeley, and further the great work of our students, faculty, and alumni.

The Sustainable Food Initiative has four defining goals: to expand our courses for lifelong learning with food pioneers, to foster student engagement and the generation of innovative entrepreneurial ventures, to connect thought leaders and students through events and shared space, and to engage in and broadly share meaningful research. As the CRB celebrates 15 years of impact, we want to reflect on what the Initiative has accomplished thus far, and what is to come.

Students across campus filled Spieker Forum to capacity to witness the first Peterson Speaker Series as part of the Sustainable Food Initiative featuring Clif Bar co-owners Gary Erickson and Kit Crawford. With Will Rosenzweig facilitating, Gary and Kit spoke on their journey as entrepreneurs and leaders, as well as the debut of Clif’s Business with Purpose Scholarship, designed to inspire and enable tomorrow’s business leaders to become a positive force for change.

Fall 2018 also brought the revitalization of Will Rosenzweig’s MBA food entrepreneurship course, Food Innovation Studio. Dedicated to identifying food industry opportunities and developing innovative food systems solutions, students align execution tactics to build mission-driven, disruptive food ventures. Rosenzweig, the Sustainable Food Initiative’s faculty advisor, is also hard at work bringing the undergraduate Edible Education course, offered in the spring semester, to more students by making it widely available online to other UC campuses and a broad group of global stakeholders.

“We’ve seen this passionate student energy calling for a formal Sustainable Food Initiative.  The momentum is coming from the students’ voracious appetite to study, learn, and lead in a way that is going to transform the largest industries, businesses, and cultural institutions on the planet.” says Rosenzweig.

The Sustainable Food Initiative will be seamlessly integrated into one of the CRB’s largest events, the Patagonia Case Competition.  This year’s case centers around Patagonia Provisions and the creation of environmentally benign packaging solutions for their food products.  As a result, the fourth annual Patagonia Case Competition should have an industry wide impact in developing more sustainable food packaging.

Patagonia Provisions, founded in 2013, was also the focus of the 2017 case designed to accelerate the adoption of regenerative agricultural practices. Patagonia and the CRB recognize this opportunity for precompetitive collaboration and will look to engage other food industry leaders in this important work.

Lastly, as we look to envision what the future of the Sustainable Food Initiative might hold, we are proud to partner with Annie’s Homegrown and the General Mills Natural and Organic Operating Unit to help drive our strategy. Annie’s Homegrown is a strong advocate for the power of regenerative agriculture, and works to advance regenerative practices that build soil health, foster biodiversity, and support farmers through their products and partnerships. For many Haas students looking to forge a path in food, Annie’s was a natural choice to pursue their passions and build their careers in the industry.

I’m so excited the CRB is emerging during such a critical time for the food industry.

For Ali Kelley, Berkeley Haas MBA ‘15 and Associate Marketing Manager at Annie’s Homegrown, the values instilled during her time at Haas are mirrored in her current role at Annie’s, making the two institutions naturally aligned partners. “At Annie’s we’re not satisfied just maintaining the status quo, we need to fundamentally change the food system to leave the planet better than we found it. I’m so excited the CRB is emerging during such a critical time for the food industry.”

Head of Sustainability at the Natural & Organic Operating Unit, Shauna Sadowski states that “Annie’s has successfully collaborated with UC Berkeley in the past, and we deeply desire to build upon that work and further bring the business community into the leading discussion of sustainable food.  This partnership with the CRB and their demonstrated capacity to partner across campus achieves just that.”

Sadowski will join other food titans such as John Foraker, Jon Sebastiani, Julia Violoch, and Andy Peay in supporting and advising the Initiative. Their meetings have kicked off this Fall and will continue into the future.

The Sustainable Food Initiative organizes campus-wide conversations about food entrepreneurship, innovation, and responsible leadership. Along with the Berkeley Food Institute, GradFood, Food@Haas, and the Sustainable Food Lab at the Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology, the Initiative has joined an energetic and synergistic community meant to transform our food system.

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