Net Impact Conference: Using the Power of Business to Improve the World

The annual Net Impact Conference, the largest gathering of graduate business students and young professionals in the world, was held at the Stanford Graduate School of Business from November 10 through 13. The Conference is one of Net Impact’s most important events and constitutes the largest gathering of graduate-business students and young professionals in the world. More than 1,500 participants from around the planet attended this year’s edition, including 125 students from Stanford and Berkeley, 60 from Yale and Georgetown, 30 from MIT and Columbia, and 13 from HBS.

Just as last year at Columbia, the quality of the workshops was exceptional, and with 75 panels, the topics were varied enough to satisfy all tastes. Here is a random sample of this year’s workshops:

* Healthcare: Stemming Costs
* The Nike “Livestrong” Campaign
* Clean Energy: The Competitive Landscape
* What Does it Take to Get Off the Ground? Profiles of Successful Entrepreneurs
* Green Building and Real-Estate Development
* Women in Leadership
* Expecting Returns: How Well Can Socially Responsible Investments Perform?
* The Organic Food Industry
* Disclosure of Social and Environmental Liabilities in For Profit Companies

The conference also featured its traditional Career Fair & Expo with more than 45 for-profit, not-for-profit and government organizations from around the world, including The Timberland Company, Mattel, KIPP Schools, Gap Inc. and GE Energy.

Finally, this year’s keynote speakers included Al Gore, chairman of Generation Investment Management; Gary Hirshberg, chairman, president and CEO of Stonyfield Farm, the world’s largest manufacturer of organic yogurt; Vyomesh Joshi, executive vice president of Hewlett-Packard’s Imaging and Personal Systems Group; and Judy Vredenburgh, president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.

In order to reflect its aspirations by acting to reduce its impact on the environment, the event was carbon neutralized. DuPont retired more than 700 tons of Carbon Emissions Credits from the Chicago Climate Exchange to offset the emissions created by conference activities and participant travel. Also, jZcool Catering Company provided this year’s conference attendees with delicious meals using organic and sustainably-produced ingredients, and recycled or composted all wastes generated by the diners.

Al Gore kicked off the Conference with his “Earth in the Balance Sheet” opening keynote address. The former Vice-President, who now acts as chairman of Generation Investment Management, noted, “Global warming is just one symptom of the deeper collision between our civilization and the ecological system of the Earth.” Other warning signs include the devastation of fisheries, the unprecedented rate of species extinction and the destruction of the tropical forest. At the same time, Mr. Gore was optimistic that the 1,500 MBAs in the room had the power to change the business world by “choosing the hard right over the easy wrong.”

Another inspiring speaker was Gary Hirshberg, CE-Yo of Stonyfield Farms, the number one organic brand in the world. He explained that the current premises of our society are in fact myths that need to be shed and replaced by sustainability principles. Among these misperceptions: that we can grow our economies forever; that technologies will save us whatever happens; that we can keep heating the planet without suffering any consequences; and that there is an “away” if we screw up here.

However, the conference was not just about denouncing.ÿ First and foremost, it really focused on results and practical solutions. As Alex Moyer (OF) put it, “The conference was inspirational. The speakers and panelists focused on solutions, not problems.” He added, “Amory Lovins, the CEO of the Rocky Mountain Institute, offered a practical plan to revitalize the U.S. auto industry and wean the U.S. off of foreign oil through technological and design innovations and new bio-fuel technology.

“Will Rogers highlighted the Trust for Public Land’s efforts to make our cities and suburbs more livable, for example building parks for kids from Los Angeles to Brooklyn and building a 22-mile bike path around Atlanta. Conservation is not just about far off places, it is about our every day lives,” Moyer recalled from the presentation.

Andrea Chang (NB) said, “One of the most exciting things about attending the Net Impact Conference was seeing how closely social entrepreneurship is becoming integrated into more conventional industries. Not only was it inspiring to see companies becoming more interested in expanding their definition of value, it was also heartening to see how many business school students are viewing business as a tool to create blended (e.g. social and economic) value.”

Finally, Monica Lee (OI) shared her experience saying, “It was incredible to see over 1,500 MBA students and business professionals at the Net Impact Conference.ÿ The enthusiasm and energy was contagious… and made me realize that there are so many of us working towards a tangible social impact in the world.” ÿ

Kellogg Announced as Host of the 2006 Net Impact Conference
The Conference culminated with the Saturday night Farewell Dinner & Celebration, followed by a long night in San Francisco. During dinner the traditional Net Impact awards were proclaimed and the Yale School of Management was named Net Impact chapter of the year, with Haas and Columbia Business School runners up. Also, Kellogg was announced as host of the 2006 Conference that will be held October 27-29.

For those who missed the conference and would still like to get a taste of it, a debriefing will be held Tuesday, November 22 from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. in Aldrich 207. Of course, you won’t get the radiant California weather, the laid-back West Coast attitude and the delicious organic Napa wine, but it should still be interesting…


Net Impact is a global organization that brings together more than 13,000 young leaders around the idea of using the power of business to improve the world. As such, Net Impact is arguably the most innovative and influential network of MBAs, graduate students and young professionals. Members share the conviction that business can do well by doing good.

Through a central office in San Francisco and more than 100 chapters around the globe, Net Impact offers a portfolio of programs that enable members to transform this ideal into measurable results. Net Impact’s global network of MBAs, graduate students and professionals includes:

* Thought-Leaders for the future of business
* CSR Leaders
* Social Entrepreneurs
* Environmental & Renewable Energy Experts
* Nonprofit Directors
* International Development Specialists
* Socially-Responsible Investors

For more information, see

November 21, 2005
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