Students Redefining Sustainable Leadership at the Undergraduate Level
The Rausser College of Natural Resources is the oldest college at the University of California, Berkeley and, since its conception in 1868, has continued to lead the field of environmental and ecological studies year. This, combined with the undergraduate Business Administration degree from the Haas School of Business, creates a pinnacle academic opportunity that equips students to steward sustainable business initiatives entering the workforce. The intersectionality of business and environmentalism is becoming increasingly more important and students are curating their academic career paths to accommodate their interests in both fields.
Mainstreaming sustainable business practices is one of the top three priorities of Haas Dean Ann Harrison in her commitment to Haas School of Business being “the most inclusive, sustainable, and innovative business school.” Similarly, Rausser College of Natural Resources is committed to “providing the tools both to protect the Earth’s natural resources and ensure economic and ecological sustainability for future generations.” Building a partnership between Haas and Rausser by institutionalizing a simultaneous degree program would further both colleges’ mission and provide students with the pathway to pursue the intersection of business and the environment.
In many RCNR classes, we have learned to be critical of corporations and the role of capitalism in the degradation of the planet and people. It is this lens of critical thinking that allows us to understand the world’s most pressing issues and is important in identifying pain points where change is needed. However, identifying problem areas is only half the battle. The other half is finding solutions. For a truly sustainable future, we need the combined effort of governments, businesses, NGOs, and individuals. Blaming capitalism and throwing away business as a tool for social and environmental progress fails to recognize the significant role that businesses play in society. As students, we can be critical of capitalism and the greater system change that is needed, while learning how to make tangible and measurable change with business tools (ie. sustainability reporting) and sustainable business models.
This increasingly urgent issue of tackling the irreversible effects of climate change requires academic institutions to invest in students to be the changemakers of tomorrow. This simultaneous degree program will encourage new ways of thinking about business in a way that meets the triple bottom line of meeting the needs of the people, planet, and profit.
A few students who advocate for a formal, dual degree program between the College of Natural Resources and the Haas School of Business share their experiences and ambitions for pursuing this path on their own:
Zarine Kakalia is currently a third year undergraduate student from Fremont, CA pursuing simultaneous degrees in Environmental Science and Business Administration. She grew up spending time outside and watched her family members work in a variety of environmental roles. When applying to colleges, she chose to study Environmental Science because she wanted to get a breadth of knowledge and learn about different sectors. This environmental foundation helped her navigate UC Berkeley’s club recruitment where she ended up joining Venture Consulting, a group that exposed her to the analytical skills needed for advancing sustainable business initiatives. She also found the intersection of conservation and business by working with the Rainforest Connection and learning how bioacoustic sensors are used to monitor human activity in the rainforest. In the future, Zarine hopes to pursue sustainability consulting and help with internal company analysis or enter the nonprofit sector and bridge the gap between nonprofit work and company collaboration.
Victoria Stafford is a senior from Logan, Utah majoring in Business Administration from the Haas School of Business and Society and Environment from the College of Natural Resources. Her father’s experience in fighting for renewable energy in a state where people didn’t believe in climate change shaped her values from a young age. She quickly learned that “selling” renewable energy was tied to ideals of family, the economy, and the freedom to explore the outdoors. Her hometown of Logan has perpetually bad air quality which spurred Victoria toward getting her degree in a state with more progressive environmental policy that she could learn from, while attending a school that had strong environmental and business programs. Once at UC Berkeley, Victoria joined 180 Degrees Consulting, a social impact consulting club that helped her learn about sustainable industry and environmental justice. When applying to Haas, Victoria reckoned with being critical of capitalism and the ways in which it exacerbates inequality while still entering corporate spaces and challenging the systems in place. She is interested in working in philanthropy, international development, hunger relief, and poverty alleviation. At Haas, she has learned that there is a serious lack of education on how to provoke change despite the defining principle of “Question the Status Quo.” Victoria believes that in order to build a better future for business, Haas students need an education that directly addresses the pressing social issues of our world.
Elizabeth Reyes is a senior from Bakersfield, CA majoring in Society and Environment and Business Administration. Even before her “official” academic environmental education, Elizabeth learned from her own experiences in her hometown about the inequities of environmental impact that plague communities of color. She saw the adverse effects of industrial agriculture and poor infrastructure of the water supply in her community. Elizabeth experienced environmental injustices firsthand throughout her upbringing, witnessing the economic and racial disparities that are tied to the commodification of resources-- a rude awakening was learning that the tap water in Berkeley is drinkable-- unlike how it was growing up in Bakersfield. Coming to Berkeley, Elizabeth quickly picked up the anti- capitalist mindset in the College of Natural Resources. While she understood the history and extractive nature of capitalism in the U.S., she also acknowledged that a world without capitalism won't exist in the near future and she could have a real tangible impact in the environmental sector through business. In applying to Haas, Elizabeth was critical of the role that large corporations had in getting the world to this point of greenhouse gas emissions and contamination. After arriving at Haas, she found that Haas really lacked environmental education. Even with her strong environmental justice focus, finding an environmental class at Haas required research and initiative on her end, something the average Haas student might not do, and as a result, never find classes that address the intersection of business and the environment. Her involvement in SERC, the Student Environmental Resource Center, gave her the community Haas couldn’t: a thriving cohort of students who prioritized the environmental movement as high as she did. She also took part in a POC environmental mentorship program where she was able to have dialogue with POC in the predominantly white environmental space. Looking forward, Elizabeth wants to teach community college and help students get their dream job. She also sees herself doing international work and pursuing a masters degree at the intersection of business and the environment. Elizabeth believes that the creation of a simultaneous degree program would provide the necessary resource for more students to learn about business and the environment. Throughout her Haas journey, she has never used Haas advisors and when pursuing a simultaneous degree, it is critical to have an advisor who understands both the CNR curriculum as well as the Haas degree requirements. This person could also serve as a professional and academic advisor. This program is also important because she was shocked at how surface level UGBA 107 was given that it was the only requirement for undergrads that even scratched the surface of environmental issues.
Dylan Alcantara is a senior majoring in Environmental Economics & Policy and Business Administration and minoring in Food Systems. His journey to Haas started in the spring of his freshman year in UGBA 10, Principles of Business, where he learned about the operations side of business and sustainability from Omar Romero- Hernandez. After talking with Prof. Romero Hernandez, Dylan started taking classes like EnvEcon 100, Microeconomic Theory with Application to Natural Resources, and UGBA 107, The Social, Ethical, and Political Environment of Business, where he was able to explore the intersection of business and environmentalism. Outside of classes, Dylan found community in Berkeley Model United Nations (BMUN) and the Haas Business School Association’s Sustainability Committee. In BMUN, Dylan was able to focus on environmental issues including ocean acidification and illicit trafficking of animals and on the HBSA sustainability committee, he was able to host events like Zero Waste Haastober and Renewable Energy Career Panels. In the future, he plans to pursue a career in marketing with a long term goal of working within CSR programs. His current post-grad career is working at Ebay in marketing and eventually shifting to work in sustainable operations. He hopes to have an impact in renewable energy through increasing solar farms, residential solar use, and solar cars. If he were to give advice to any prospective Haas students, Dylan would encourage them to find something to pair sustainability with, whether its marketing or finance. He found a solid environmental education in his Environmental Economic and Policy major that led to fostered his passion for sustainability and found Haas helpful in establishing connections and creating a path of how to get to his goals.
About the Author
Madeleine Wong – UGBA and Environmental Economics & Policy ’22
Madeleine is a third year pursuing simultaneous degrees in Business Administration at Haas and Environmental Economics and Policy at the College of Natural Resources. She currently serves on the CRB Student Advisory Board and is interested in learning about how businesses can truly be sustainable in a capitalistic society by exploring system level change. Outside of her formal education, this 20 year old is continuing to work on her personal journey of understanding her individual impact and intersectional environmentalism.