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New group focuses on “net impact” of business practices

A group of Portland State business students recently started a student chapter of Net Impact, a nationally recognized organization that focuses on sustainable business practices.

Sustainability in general means using methods that do not permanently deplete or damage available resources. For businesses, this might mean recycling or incorporating more locally available products. Co-chair Steven McGrath is a graduate student in the School of Business, and he is excited about the interest already expressed by both faculty and students at PSU.

“Within the broad scope of Net Impact, our chapter is mainly interested in addressing creating a sustainable future,” McGrath says. “We’re not focused exclusively on the business school, we’re interested in anyone who wants to look at how businesses can function in a positive way.”

Student chapters of Net Impact at other campuses have traditionally been aimed at graduate-level business students, particularly MBA candidates. PSU’s chapter is trying to broaden that net to include undergraduates and anyone else interested in sustainability from a business perspective.

McGrath says the group is trying to get speakers to let future business students know “what the industry is doing and what to expect when we get out into industry” in terms of sustainable business practices. The group also aims to influence the PSU curriculum in a positive way by introducing concepts such as social responsibility and environmental and economic awareness.

McGrath is also looking into topics students can research, particularly business cases built around sustainability. Last year, several of the current co-chairs met with the Food for Thought Caf퀌�, located in the basement of Smith Memorial Student Union, to help them figure out a business plan. Food for Thought is a student-run, sustainability-oriented caf퀌� that uses locally-grown organic food.

The PSU Net Impact group has only been officially recognized since the beginning of fall term but is already planning several events and outreach activities for the coming year. Upcoming opportunities to get more information include a membership-oriented informational event in November and a professional-development workshop in January.

In addition, student members of Net Impact can attend all professional chapter events, which are held regularly all over the country. The most recent event was held Monday at the Nike campus in Beaverton. Net Impact members met with Jim Goddard, director of corporate environmental initiatives at Nike, to discuss Nike’s Reuse-a-Shoe footwear recycling program. McGrath says events like these allow for some “cross-fertilization” between the professional and student chapters.

Currently the student chapter has about 24 members signed on to its Yahoo newsgroup, and 12 people attended the last meeting. McGrath says the group is still fairly compact in size, but given its target audience, he notes that even 24 people is impressive.

“The main challenge in the business school, especially with the graduate students, is that most of them are primarily off campus for most of the day. It’s hard to get them involved,” he says. “If you figure the number of full-time, daytime students in the business school, there’s only about 40 students, so we’ve got fairly good participation from within that core group.

For more information on the national Net Impact organization, go to www.net-impact.org. To get involved with the PSU student chapter, contact co-chairs Steven McGrath, [email protected]; Roberta Anderson, [email protected]; or Karen Havran, [email protected]