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Social Enterprise Symposium

Mar 08, 2013
Entrepreneurial Spirit

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The passion for sustainable business practices and fostering a work-place culture centered on creating social value was palpable at the Robert H. Smith School of Business’ 5th Annual Social Enterprise Symposium on March 1, 2013.

Hosted by Smith’s Center for Social Value Creation (CSVC), the daylong conference took place at the University of Maryland’s Stamp Student Union, during which more than 1,000 attendees – mostly students – filtered in and out of the 14 presentations and panels geared toward creating a better world though business principles.

The symposium kicked off with a glowing introduction from Dean G. “Anand” Anandalingam, who thanked CSVC Director and Assistant Dean of Global Initiatives Melissa Carrier for her and her team’s hard work: “When you have someone who has a real passion and someone who has the capability of making their passion a reality, you should say ‘yes’ – then stay out of the way! … This is really part of our vision, that the Smith School of Business becomes a vehicle for which our students, staff, faculty and alumni become agents of economic prosperity and transformative social change.”

Elysa Hammond, the director of Environmental Stewardship for Clif Bar and the symposium’s morning keynote, took the stage next. She spoke to the audience in the Grand Ballroom about the significance of addressing the environmental issues businesses face.

“‘Ecology’ and ‘economics’ share the same root word, ‘eco’ – ‘home,’” she explained. “Ecology is the study of our home and economics is the efficient management of our home. Those are our communities, our environment, the planet we call home. It’s time for ecology and economics to get back together – business is a powerful way to get things done. Business has been part of the problems we are facing today and business needs to be part of the solution.”

“We now know that babies are born pre-polluted. Babies are coming into this world with more than 200 chemical pollutants in their bodies,” Hammond said, enumerating on other problems. “In our oceans, we have islands of plastic the size of Texas. … It’s really urgent that we take action.”

With her call to action, Hammond put the issues at hand in a language all business people can understand: “Business has its own langue for challenge: ‘opportunities’ – we have a lot of opportunities that need your attention.”

She switched her attention to Clif Bar, a family and employee-owned company of more than 330 employees that began in 1992.

The company took a chance and went organic after the founder turned down a multimillion dollar offer to buy Clif Bar: “He said, ‘I’m going to start running the company the way I want to. I’m going to run the kind of company that I would like to work for,’” Hammond recounted.

Since the transition to organic, Hammond has worked on Clif Bar’s approach to sustainability, which she explained has five components:

  • Business: Investing for the long-term
  • Brand: Products and programs with quality, integrity and authenticity
  • People: Supporting our employees (gym, childcare, dogs in the office, sustainability benefits, ongoing education)
  • Community: Promoting healthy, sustainable communities, locally and globally
  • Planet: Reducing our ecological footprint in everything we do, from the field to final product

When Clif Bar’s organic product took off, they started to create products in other niche food markets: “We create products that people want and really need. People wrote to us and asked, “Can you create something for women?” So we created the Luna Bar with fewer calories, more calcium and higher protein.”

Hammond continued to give several examples of Clif Bar’s organic and sustainable business practices, as well as the ways the employees strive to give back to their community. She left the crowd with one resounding message: “You can market and create good at the same time.”

When the morning keynote ended, conference attendees had several breakout sessions to attend, one of which was the “Key Ingredients for a Mission Driven Organization.”

On this panel, Richard Eidlin, policy director for the Sustainable Business Council; Amy Hall, director of social consciousness at Eileen Fisher; and Anas “Andy” Shallal, founder of Busboys and Poets, discussed the issues of running a sustainable business from an employee-centric point of view.

“Workers and employees are everything,” Shallal said. “When you talk about a sustainable restaurant you never think about the workers. You think about the cows and the chickens, but rarely the people who work there. We started focusing on that a lot more after we opened, on issues that seem to be common sense, like paid sick leave. Things like this may be a burden on a business, but as a society we have to decide that some things are not acceptable.”

The panel’s overarching message: Change doesn’t just happen with a PowerPoint presentation. You must take action.

About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business 

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and part-time MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, MS in business, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.