The Central Coast MIT Enterprise Forum hosted Go Big, Go Green! an event focused on how business and sustainability can and should go hand in hand in order to create solutions to environmental problems.

The MIT Enterprise Forum has 25 chapters worldwide that “inform, connect, and coach technology entrepreneurs.” The mission of the Central Coast Forum is to “develop and strengthen the entrepreneurial community in the Central Coast through interaction with experienced executives who have successfully navigated the challenges of building an organization.”

Go Big, Go Green! featured dean of the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at UCSB Steven Gaines as the keynote speaker. The program began with a networking hour following by Gaines’s keynote address and a panelist discussion featuring Gaines; the director of corporate development at Patagonia, Phil Graves; the editor of and, Craig Shields; and the director of sustainability at Sonos, Mark Heintz.

In his keynote address, Gaines stressed two important ways to increase the link between business and sustainability. The first is to take existing companies and try to improve their sustainable practices while focusing on profitability. The second is to launch new businesses, which would be created with the intent to solve environmental problems, as well as focus on profitability. Gaines stressed UCSB’s success with the latter.

Graduate students at UCSB can learn to incorporate business with sustainability through Eco-Entrepreneurship, a program in collaboration with the Technology Management Program (TMP) in the College of Engineering. The program allows students to “learn how to move environmental solutions from concepts to market for their personal and financial benefit, as well as for the betterment of the environment,” according to the program’s description.

The program began in 2010 and has since produced successful, award-winning ventures such as Salty Girl Seafood, a project geared toward selling sustainable, traceable seafood. Gaines claimed that the motivation behind this particular project came from a study that reported there was a one-in-three chance that when ordering seafood at a restaurant, you are not eating what you think you are eating.

“My take-away would be there are enormous opportunities to solve environmental problems and make profits and that we ought to exploit every one of those that we can,” Gaines said.

Meanwhile, Patagonia, a business that has been around for over four decades, is continually finding new ways to become more sustainable. As a representative from Patagonia, Graves stressed many of the ways the business has continually focused on sustainability while ensuring profitability.

Graves highlighted moves by the company in 1993 and 1996 respectively, when Patagonia began making fleeces out of recycled soda bottles and switched from conventional cotton to organic cotton.

More recently, Patagonia implemented the $20 Million & Change initiative, which Graves oversees. Graves’s favorite explanation of his job comes from his 4-year-old daughter, who says, “My dad gives Patagonia’s money to companies that are good to the Earth.” The initiative is a fund through which Patagonia invests in companies that bring positive change to the environment. Other highlights from the panel included conversations about environmental risk management and political action.

Go Big, Go Green! was hosted by the Forum at the Cabrillo Pavilion Arts Center in Santa Barbara on January 20. On February 17, the Forum will host another event at the Cabrillo Pavilion Arts Center called “Disruption in Education: Higher Education’s Perfect Storm.”


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