Yale’s winning team with judges & organizers at the 2017 Patagonia Case Competition (Photo courtesy of Manali Anne Photography)

By Amelia Baum, UC Berkeley Undergrad & CRB Student Assistant; Eva Visscher-Simon, CRB Program Manager

There were no losers at the second annual Patagonia Case competition, but there certainly were winners. After substantial deliberation, a team of judges, made up of Patagonia executives and advisors, awarded first place to Yale University, second place to the University of Pennsylvania and third to Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

This year’s competition, hosted again by the Center for Responsible Business, took place on April 20-21 at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley. The event focused on regenerative organic agricultural practices. Regenerative organic agriculture (ROA) refers to farming practices that increase soil organic matter, promoting sustainability and resiliency. Teams were challenged with finding ways to incentivize farmers to use regenerative agricultural practices instead of conventional industrial ones, despite the financial and logistical challenges to doing so.

The case competition aims to engage some of the brightest interdisciplinary graduate student minds in the country in solving some of the most challenging sustainability issues facing retailers like Patagonia. The top three teams presented again to all employees at the Patagonia headquarters in Ventura, CA earlier this month. Luckily it wasn’t all work but also some time learning to surf at dawn and a visit to a local farm. The Yale Team will also work with Patagonia to implement their proposal.

Manager of Corporate Development at Patagonia’s Tin Shed Ventures, Alex Kremer elaborated that the visit to Patagonia’s Ventura Headquarters, “is a way to celebrate all of the work the students have put into their proposals and also to figure out how Patagonia can act upon some of the recommendations today.  Throughout the day, teams met with various Patagonia teams, and it was great to see some of the concepts develop as we talked through the opportunities and challenges facing each idea.” Kremer noted that Patagonia has already had multiple follow-up conversations with the teams and will continue to leverage their knowledge and insights to tackle the challenge of scaling regenerative organic agriculture.  

Winning teams learning to surf while at Patagonia’s Venture Headquarters

“We have real business problems, and we use this work and put it into action.[…]  Regenerative agriculture could be the most important environmental solution in the world,” said Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario at the competition.

Yale’s winning case stood out by focusing on the cultural barriers to ROA implementation, including the regional differences that often separate farmers from more urban incubators where such progressive practices are developed. The team proposed that Patagonia invest in a network of passionate community activists that would serve as “a connective tissue between Patagonia provisions and farmers on the ground.”

As the competition wrapped up, the Center for Responsible Business’ Executive Director, Robert Strand thanked the diverse group of judges and all the finalists, marking two years of close partnership between CRB and Patagonia.

“You can’t help but be optimistic when you are around this kind of energy,” Strand said.

Prizes
1st Prize: Yale’s Plant Power Team
(Nikola Alexandre, Nathan Hall, Nitesh Kumar, Chris Martin, Emily Oldfield, Serena Pozza)
2nd Prize: UPenn’s (Re)GenerationY Team
(Michie Adachi, Mohammed Bashkeel, Jessica Blum, Chelsea Meyers, Smitha Sharma, Vinayak Uppal)
3rd Prize: MIT’s FARM: Fair Agriculture and Resource Management Team
(Lee Evangelakos, Lila Fridley, Jeremy Hare, Kelly Rincon, Sean Singer)