Published: March 10, 2014

The Center for Education on Social Responsibility, CESR, presented its fifth annual Conscious Capitalism Conference, February 25-28, 2014. Expanded to four days this year, the event featured a variety of sessions that showcased the Center’s innovative curriculum and highlighted its commitment to shaping a different standard for tomorrow’s business leaders.

Through class visits, expert panels and lectures, student competitions and showcases, attendees explored their own values and networked with like-minded professionals about applying positive values in a business setting.

The Conference culminated in CESR’s flagship event, the Conscious Capitalism Symposium, on Friday, February 28th at the University Memorial Center on the CU-Boulder campus.

“The Center for Education on Social Responsibility is dedicated to developing socially conscious business leaders of the future by teaching them how to apply values-based decision-making in practice,” says Mark Meaney, The Center’s new Executive Director. “This event is one way in which we bring students and the business community together to foster the conversation around social responsibility in practice.”

Just as intended, the Conference provided a forum, free of charge, for students and professionals to explore, discuss and debate the impact of positive values in business settings.

One of this year’s highlights was the Film & Feedback event, which featured the film “So Right, So Smart.” The film showcased leading companies and experts that are proving what is good for the planet can also be good for the bottom line. Through its inspiring stories of change, the film shows how businesses and other organizations can profit by successfully integrating more sustainable practices. Following the film, a discussion took place among local sustainability practitioners and CESR faculty, moderated by Meaney.

“The film framed the discussion perfectly. Dana Villaneuve, Sustainability Generalist, New Belgium Brewing, and Don Martin, CEO, bloomin’, carried forward into the discussion period the film’s theme of ‘shared value.’ Audience members learned precisely how their firms operationalize ‘doing well by doing good.’ To be effective, the principles of sustainability must be integrated in vision, mission and strategy. The evening was a resounding success!” remarked Meaney.

Leeds students and faculty, students from regional universities, and Boulder community members turned out at the Conscious Capitalism Symposium to learn how talented leaders have used the traditional tools of capitalism to serve social needs. A contingent of students from the University of Northern Colorado made a strong impression through their participation in a hands-on group work session. Headlining speakers included James Autry, Author of The Book of Hard Choices, Patricia Aburdene, Author of Conscious Money: Living, Creating and Investing with Your Values for a Sustainable New Prosperity, Beth Jensen, Director of Corporate Responsibility of the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), Dana Watts, Executive Director of Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, and Dawn Bitz, Owner of Grasshaven Outdoors. The day’s activities were facilitated by Dave Payne, a CESR faculty member. Symposium participants were treated to a robust program that grounded the vision of conscious capitalism with frameworks, tactics and illustrative case stories.

“The Conscious Capitalism Symposium this year really engaged all participants to think critically about ethical decision making in real life business situations. Our two keynote speakers remarked about the challenges that go into ethical decision making in practice, highlighting how our environment has shifted making ethical decisions even harder today,” commented Lauren Dailey, a Leeds senior and CESR student assistant.

Leeds School of Business students donned their best business attire for the Career Panel event, where they learned how to find meaning and make a difference in their future careers. The event featured panelists from Anthesis Group, Best Organics Inc., Colorado Capital Management Inc., Luke’s Circle, Phillips 66, Renewable Choice Energy, Rudi’s Bakery, and The Kitchen Community.

Jamie Green, CESR’s student assistant and the event coordinator, noted, "It's incredible to see my fellow students interacting with knowledgeable business professionals receiving unedited, true advice that will help in their future business careers--no matter which direction they choose. It was such a great experience to give students an event that is so beneficial and thought-provoking!"

CESR’s Business Ethics Case Competition provided an opportunity for Leeds undergraduate students to compete as teams developing a solution to a challenging and realistic ethical dilemma in the business world. Leaders from the business community served as judges. In addition to competing for substantial cash prizes, students gained valuable experience learning how to incorporate their values into their leadership and business decision-making, while connecting with mentors and colleagues in the business community.

The Sustainability Showcase featured student sustainability projects, community discussion and industry professionals as judges, who offered their professional assessments of the projects presented. Sponsored by Wells Fargo, Ashley Grosch, Project Manager for Environmental Affairs, gave the keynote address.

Cash prizes of $1,000 and $300 were awarded to first and second place finishers, respectively. The top prize was awarded to the Surya Conversions team, a collaboration between engineers and business students to create a kit that could convert autorickshaws, mainly used in India, to hybrid vehicles. Maithreyi Gopalakrishnan accepted on behalf of the Surya Conversions team, commenting that the prize money would allow the group to create a prototype and compete in other business plan competitions. Second place went to the B-Corp Assessment and Impact Catalyst team, two Leeds students who are working with B Lab and a local business to complete a B Impact Assessment in hopes of become B-certified. Their goal is to eventually create an Impact Catalyst Program within the Net Impact club at Leeds to create opportunities for business students to help local businesses become B Certified. 

“The Sustainability Showcase was a way of giving the community a glimpse into ways that Leeds students are making a difference. I was inspired by the variety and scope of the projects my peers are involved in, as well as the words our keynote, Ashley Grosch left us with that evening. I was glad to be a part of it,” said Kirsten Farnsworth, organizer of the event and Leeds MBA Candidate '15.

The projects were presented in video summary format to the panel of judges consisting of members of Leeds Sustainability Council. After the initial viewing by the judging panel, the top two projects were tied for first place! On the evening of the showcase, excited attendees viewed the video summaries for all the projects and were asked to vote with a business card for their favorite video, thus the tie was broken. With the help of the audience, prizes were awarded. In addition to the cash prizes, Jeff Wahl’s project, Public Coffee, was awarded honorable mention as one of the audience favorites. Public Coffee is a pay-as-you-can business model that is a mobile coffee shop, providing the service to neighborhoods in and around Denver that would not otherwise have access to coffee shops

It’s safe to say that attendees of any of the Conscious Capitalism Conference events walked away with a better understanding about the practical application of social responsibility, values-based decision-making and sustainable practices in business.