Archive for November, 2009

Net Impact–MBAs and More

November 27, 2009

There have been numerous changes to MBA programs over the past several years. One of the more refreshing ones is the increasing prominence of an organization called Net Impact. Net Impact is an organization of business students (and interested graduates and others involved in the business community) who believe that the “power of business can be used to improve the world”. From its beginnings as the Students for Responsible Business in 1993 with 6 chapters (in 1994 I started the Penn State chapter of that organization), Net Impact has evolved to over 200 chapters, including over 120 at leading graduate schools across the world.

Net Impact’s reach is very impressive. The core of the organization is the chapters. All of the top MBA programs have a student chapter. Many U.S. cities including Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, New Haven, and several abroad (Seoul, Tokyo, London, etc.) have professional chapters also.

In addition to the chapters, Net Impact also has national and international conferences. The 2009 conference featured the CEO of GE, Jeffrey Immelt as well as Cornell’s president David Skorton, speaking on innovation in a green economy. The European conference a couple of years ago featured the theme: Sustainable Prosperity—Taking on the Global Challenge.” Additionally, numerous organizations use Net Impact as a recruiting vehicle to help with various sustainability efforts.

Of equal interest are the ‘Issues In Depth Calls”. These are conference calls with representatives of companies implementing various types of social engagement—including but not limited to sustainability per se. Upcoming topics for these calls include “Driving Sustainable Growth (Dupont) and “The Holy Grail of Sustainable Culture” (FMYI). Other events have covered very diverse topics, including: “Writing a Sustainability Report”, “Green Jobs”, “How to Develop an Eco-Purchasing System”, and “Green Benefits”, etc.

When I found out about the organization, I eagerly joined my local professional chapter (Philadelphia). I was very happy to find out that it was a very active chapter—with lots of events and programs. The programming schedule has included monthly book clubs, periodic volunteer days, occasional happy hours, panel discussions, research projects, and more. Most important to me, it is local, so I can actually participate in the programs.

Meeting other like-minded people (such as those in the Philly chapter) is a great way to help me incorporate sustainability into my own life. For example, my wife and I love fish. Via Net Impact, I have heard about a seafood store in Philadelphia that specializes in sustainable seafood (Otolith Seafood). I am looking forward to enrolling in their Community Supported Seafood program in the spring. Without Net Impact, I would have had no idea that this program even existed.

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The Big Mac Has Left the Country

November 7, 2009

The era of Big Macs has passed in the small country of Iceland. This is due mostly to the aftereffects of the fiscal crisis that gripped Iceland last year. As a result, the local McDonald’s saw its costs double. In order to make the Big Mac profitable, the local McDonalds franchise owner would have had to charge over $6 for it. Compare that to the price in the United States (about $3.50). The competing Icelandic offerings using locally sourced produce (and other ingredients) now cost noticeably less than the Big Mac.

In other words, the locally sourced products not controlled by the global corporation have become the cheaper option. We usually hear that the “sustainable” or “ecologically friendly” way actually makes the product economically uncompetitive. In this case, the exact opposite happened. Admittedly, the increasing expense of the Big Mac ingredients is the result of a perfect storm of a national financial meltdown and corporate dictates. But the end result is that the Big Mac became economically unsustainable, and the business that it supported did not survive—at least in Iceland.

Put another way, in times of severe economic stress, the Big Mac business in Iceland turned out to not be very secure after all. Meanwhile, the competing businesses based on locally produced foods turned out to be secure enough to survive the economic storm that engulfed Iceland last year. In fact, they are so secure that they have a new entrant—the old McDonald’s franchisee.

The coda to the story is a classic entrepreneurial story. Since the McDonald’s business is no longer viable—the franchisee looked around for one that was. The answer turns out to be one also based on local (Icelandic) produced foods. Even better, he hopes to be able to keep all 90 of his employees in his new venture.

Interesting websites:

http://www.wacotrib.com/money/content/shared-gen/ap/Finance_General/EU_Iceland_McDonalds.html


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