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Earth Matters

by Cathy Castillo

Classmates and friends of Conradin von Gugelberg have made his conservationist bent an ongoing force at the School.

The director of Greenpeace, the group chief executive of BP Amoco, and the “CE-Yo” of yogurt maker Stonyfield Farm have one important thing in common. All advocate an ecological balance between business and the environment.

For more than a decade, an unlikely cross-section of activists and industrialists has visited the School courtesy of the Conradin von Gugelberg Memorial Fund, which supports the annual lecture on the environment as well as public-sector internships for MBA students, case studies in environmental management, and activities to encourage recycling. The fund was founded by four of von Gugelberg’s MBA classmates.

“Conradin was a friend, hiker, skier, and outdoorsman who studied engineering in Switzerland and worked in venture capital and management consulting,” recalls Robert Cohen, MBA ’87, one of the founders. “We knew him as a gentle soul—a gentleman and a conservationist.” Classmates Adam Stern, Peggy Brannigan, Louis Boorstin, and Cohen joined von Gugelberg’s friends and family in Switzerland to create the fund.

Cohen remembers how when they were students, von Gugelberg would retrieve the School’s only two recycling bins from the basement after Friday afternoon LPFs, haul them up to the courtyard, and “put all the cans and bottles in them because he knew if he didn’t, they’d go into the trash.” Von Gugelberg’s legacy to the School has been not only a plethora of recycling containers but also the annual discussion of the environment that continues today in his name.

Over the years, BP CEO John Browne explained his energy company’s approach to reducing greenhouse gases; Stephen Schmidheiny, founder of the Business Council for Sustainable Environment, showed how bankers must figure environmental factors into their lending and investment decisions; and Body Shop founder Anita Roddick described how her international cosmetics empire operates under a strict, environmentally friendly code.

In 1996, Barbara Dudley, director of Greenpeace USA, acknowledged that her organization is confrontational but argued it is a necessary approach. “At this time there is no international body with the power to stop environmental degradation. We have the World Trade Organization but we do not have the World Environmental Organization,” she said.

Seven years later, architect and author William McDonough described the Hannover Design Principles—written for the German city—that cover the interdependence of humanity and nature, spirit and matter, and urge responsibility for long-term consequences of design decisions.

Many speakers have shared their belief that sound environmental policies make economic and strategic sense for businesses at large. “Mankind is heading for a new age of industry in which environmental responsibility leads to better business, profits, and long-term sustainability,” Paul Hawken, author and founder of the Smith & Hawken specialty garden retailer, said in his 1998 address.

And this year’s speaker, environmentalist and yogurt maker Gary Hirshberg, pressed the point. “Organic foods are now a $13.7 billion business in the United States,” said the founder of Stonyfield Farm, the nation’s leading manufacturer of all-natural and organic yogurt. “I believe business is the most powerful force on the planet,” he said. “Business has the power to create a sustainable future, but if business doesn’t, it’s not going to happen. We’ve got to demonstrate the economic advantages of this cultural revolution.”

Hirshberg, who started the business in 1983 with seven cows and a recipe, sees organics as a sea change, with mainstream food companies entering the field “because they see the market going there and don’t want to be left out.” People don’t eat organic yogurt because it’s good for the environment, Hirshberg said. “They buy organic food because it tastes better. We’re clearly paddling with the waves of society.”

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  2. Free Webinar: Sustainability Matters
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