Published: March 25, 2015
CSR student winners

On Friday February 27th, the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business finished in third place at the 4th annual Milgard Invitational Case Competition on Social Responsibility at the University of Washington in Tacoma. The competition provided an opportunity for undergraduate students from 13 schools to explore a real CSR question facing REI, the outdoor gear retail giant. They spent 72 hours researching and developing their solution and presentations, then presented to panels of judges representing CSR professionals and executives from REI. 

CU’s winning team consisted of Leeds seniors Sophia Miller, Abigail Readey, Kenneth Glade and junior Patrick Sullivan. Finishing in third place was a major achievement as this was the first year CU has participated in the competition. The team from UW Seattle took first place, while the team from UW Tacoma finished second. Each member of the first place team received $1000, second place $500 (each) and third place $250 (each).

The Winning Idea

The case was focused on sustainability issues that REI is currently facing. REI is a major retailer of outdoor recreation gear, sporting goods, and clothing with sales exceeding $2 billion. While the company has been extremely profitable, it has struggled in implementing a sustainable business model.

Owen Borum, a faculty member from the Center for Education on Social Responsibility (CESR) at Leeds who accompanied the team, said, “REI was looking at ways to improve sustainability using the shared economy model.” As is the case with most retail business, he explained, the amount of limited resources used to make products limits long-term growth. The participants were asked to develop innovative solutions to REI’s sustainability issue.

CU’s team came up with a unique idea that propelled them into third place. One of REI’s main goals is to encourage people to be active outdoors. Based on their mission, CU’s team developed a recommendation for REI to rent out recycled GoPro cameras to outdoorsmen who would then be able to upload their pictures and footage to REI’s YouTube page with an REI watermark. In doing so, they were able to promote the outdoor lifestyle while incorporating the shared economy model.

Owen explained, “It had a marketing component to it, it had a sustainability component, it had a shared economy component, so it was a great idea.”

The How & Why

A week before the competition, the teams received the case and were given just 72 hours to analyze, research, and put together their solutions. A few days after submitting the proposals, the CU team flew out to Tacoma to present their solutions to a panel of high-ranking judges from REI, including REI’s Vice President of Strategy Vikram Sahney. Presentations were 15 minutes long followed by 10 minutes of Q&A and feedback. Judges based their decisions on quality of analysis, quality of recommendations, quality of presentation, and quality of Q&A.

The case competition provided an opportunity for students to practice solving real-world challenges that businesses face on a daily basis. The exercise of analyzing, researching, and developing a proposal is an extremely valuable experience for students’ professional development. Beyond that, participants had the opportunity to network with the judges, faculty, and students in attendance.

CESR’s Case Competition

CESR also hosted a case competition for the Leeds School of Business. The final round of the competition was Friday, March 13th at the University of Colorado. The Business Ethics Case Competition boasted a $10,000 prize pool along with a judging panel from a variety of sustainable companies in Boulder.