Op-ed: Is my green showing?

In this day and age, being successful in business and being “green” can often go hand-in-hand. Young business professionals continue to set an example in breadth of understanding and zeal in addressing the world environmental and social entrepreneurship and justice issues.

Being part of a successful company that’s also environmentally conscious is something the country’s future business leaders are taking very seriously. In a recent survey of more than 2,000 business students worldwide, 79 percent said they will seek socially responsible employment at some point during their careers and more than half will do so immediately after graduation.

My own experience is that no corporate leader worth his or her soul is disinterested in world economic and physical health, a healthy environment – clean water, air and a sustainable future. At the same time, my generation of baby boomers has fallen short at doing what’s best for the environment and the world. Our political systems seem unable to adequately deal with these important and difficult world issues.

Countries other than the United States lead the world in thinking through and acting upon these subjects, but our young people – working hand-in-hand with others across the country – are striving to catch up. I am inspired by the leadership our business students have exhibited in understanding and addressing the issues of world health, poverty, environment, social entrepreneurship and social justice.

My early work in environmental areas came by serving on nature conservancy boards and poverty alleviation efforts. Yet, after watching the goals and achievements of students at the Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management, as they dedicate endless hours to creating realistic environmental business plans and organizing the upcoming Net Impact Conference, I am envious… and green.

Net Impact is the world’s largest gathering focused on corporate social responsibility, social entrepreneurship, international development and non-profit and environmental management. This year, the conference has left the east and west coasts and chosen Tennessee to highlight the spread of companies being environmentally proactive.

Some powerful business leaders are coming to Nashville to be among the 300-speakers sharing their ideas and challenges, including Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, Charles O. Holliday, chairman and CEO of DuPont and Tensie Whelan, executive director of the Rainforest Alliance. Many area companies are also jumping on board. International Paper is helping make the conference carbon-neutral by providing offsets to the carbon emitted through the travel of almost 2,000 conference participants. For the first time in the history of Hatch Show Prints, the 128-year old company used recycled paper and soy-based ink for the Net Impact posters. And as Vanderbilt becomes the first university in the state to be recognized for environmentally friendly construction by the U.S. Green Building Council for the new Commons, Owen has retrofitted all of its bathrooms to include new low-flow toilets and reduced its power consumption.

The theme of the Net Impact conference is “personal accountability,” asking each of us to think about what we can personally do to improve our environment, reduce our adverse environmental footprint and improve our collective existence. I’ve got to say that their challenge is working: our students have made me re-think my values and evaluate my own actions. I have always believed in setting goals very high, now I am also making my goals green.

Jim Bradford is the Dean of the Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management. This opinion piece was originally published in The Tennessean Oct. 31, 2007.

[The Net Impact Conference will be held Nov. 1-3 at Vanderbilt. Additional information about the conference – including details about the curriculum and registration information – is available at www.netimpact.org/conference. One-day passes are being offered to Tennessee residents which may be used Friday or Saturday, not both. Discount codes for professional one-day passes: NashProfDayPass07_FRI or NashProfDayPass07_SAT. If someone wants to attend a keynote session at the Ryman, $25 cash payments will be accepted at the door. Keynote speakers are Yvon Chouinard (Patagonia), Chad Holliday (DuPont), and Tensie Whelan (Rainforest Alliance)].

Media Contact: Amy Wolf, (615) 322-NEWS

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