Net Impact Conference 2012: Insights from a Devoted MBA Student

Guest post by Carley Klekas

2012 Net Impact ConferenceThe Net Impact Conference this year in Baltimore served as an inspiration for those engaged in corporate responsibility and sustainability. The event drew over 2,700 business leaders, students, and sustainability professionals ready accelerate their impact and connect with each other in order to move swiftly towards the security of a thriving future.

Although a long-time Net Impact member, this was my first conference and I am greatly looking forward to next year’s conference hosted closer to home, in San Jose. This year with 8 interest tracks and over 100 sessions, the options were endless on how to spend your day. Some of the most captivating sessions covered the greatest issues of our time, like climate change, corporate responsibility, and employee engagement.

Speaker Overview

Each speaker was provocative and engaging and suggested to the audience to set high targets at their companies to reach their sustainability goals – from keynotes speakers like Bea Perez from Coca-Cola who believes in transparent packaging, to Lou Leonard from World Wildlife Fund talking about the devastating issue of climate silence in society today.

One surprising takeaway was the influx of companies setting high targets to engage their stakeholders and employees, and make substantial commitments for social and environmental causes. Some of the most surprising targets are for making commitments to make the world a better place, and that is a true inspiration.

Engaging Tidbits from Speakers…

Carol Cone, Executive Vice President at Edelman, argued the importance of storytelling, presenting her company’s research supporting the claim that consumers want to buy products that stand for something.

Ellen Weinreb, CEO at Weinreb Group, discussed that the biggest growth in sustainability today is around water and energy. Ellen owns her own sustainability recruiting company that places VP and senior level executives at top companies.

Seth Goldman, President and TeEO at Honest Tea, talked about how to maintain commitments to environmental and supply chain standards after his company was acquired by the beverage giant Coca-Cola.

Ed Quevedo, Interim Dean of Faculty at Presidio Graduate School, simply blew the audience away with a thought-provoking seven minute TED talk-style engagement on how we have our heads in the sand and sustainability is just not enough. He ended with a question we had to discuss with our neighbors: “How do you measure the growth of character in your colleagues?”

Lisa Hall, President and CEO of the Calvert Foundation, who was a captivating closing keynote speaker, argued to be bold and take risks. We must continue to circle back to the question “What risk are you willing to take, for what cost, and what impact?”

Jigar Shah, Founder at Jigar Shah Consulting, made the highly intellectual and valuable claim that climate change is the biggest economic value of our time.

Final Takeaway

After 3 days of stimulating speeches, workshops, and networking, I felt more inspired and more adept to take on the sustainability challenges of our time. In my opinion, the conference was an accurate portrayal of where we are today in terms of sustainability and corporate responsibility – surprisingly farther than the uninformed expect, but still just at the very beginning. There is still a great deal of work to do.

Carley Klekas is a student at Presidio Graduate School getting her MBA in Sustainable Management, and is a Marketing Consultant for a tech start-up in Silicon Valley where she is proactively developing charitable giving campaigns and partnerships with companies engaged in sustainability initiatives. Previously she worked with VolunteerMatch to develop and execute innovative strategies to build the business case for volunteering as an integral part of corporate social responsibility. Carley received her BA in Psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara, while also pursing her passion for renewable energy and environmental awareness. She served as the Co-Chair for the Student Chapter of the California Public Interest Research Group, CALPIRG, where she led grassroots efforts to engage fellow students in environmental protection. She lives in San Francisco, enjoys snowboarding, traveling, hiking and is an avid twitter user.

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