A Roundtable for Change

March 18, 2014
by Vance Lopez

Large square solar panels stood tall in the parking lot welcoming us with energy and shade.  It set the tone perfectly for the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Roundtable hosted by Sempra Energy.  With recycled building materials and energy saving elements abound, the Energy Innovation Center from San Diego Gas & Electric made the for the perfect venue to discuss CSR and sustainability initiatives that the local universities were pursuing.

Representatives from various departments in UC San Diego, San Diego State University, and University of San Diego gave short presentations to a roundtable of CSR department heads from local corporation offices, including SDG&E, San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, and Bubble Bee foods.  I represented Rady as a member of the school’s Net Impact chapterNet Impact is a national nonprofit consisting of students and professionals that are motivated by social and sustainability efforts within the workplace. 

Having little interaction with Net Impact chapters, Sempra invited us to the table to give them some perspective on these student run organizations.   I presented some of the initiatives that the club has pursued in the past, such as the Electric Car event, and intended future projects such as the partnership with Grid Alternatives, the nonprofit organization delivering solar power solutions to low-income households.  I also highlighted some of the MBA courses offered that relate to CSR.  My main focus, however, was to introduce to the crowd a different perspective to the prototypical MBA student – one with a “net impact” mindset who operates with core business problem solving tools but who is driven by a commitment to social impact organizations or sustainability efforts.

The period of discussion post presentations made it clear that some businesses are wary of overly optimistic or idealist sustainability goals; that is, at the end of the day, CSR practices are most practical when they bolster the bottom line.  The conversation certainly had impact.  Undoubtedly, we can use the business management tools we learn at Rady to better integrate CSR and sustainability within the business model such that it is part of the equation and not simply an afterthought.  Being a part of this discussion was an incredible opportunity.  Linking local universities with industry professionals in a roundtable format has the potential to provide great insights to both parties alike and I hope the relationship continues in the future.

Vance Lopez is a full-time 2015 MBA candidate at the Rady School of Management and an active member of the school’s Net Impact chapter.  As a veteran, he is pursuing a career in the social impact field as a fitting extension of his military service.

Image courtesy of SDG&E.