Global Opportunities Conference explores sustainable business


The Appalachian Online

Carrie Hall

Aiming to explore the possibilities that innovative business can create from environmental and social problems, the Walker College of Business focused on how companies can be a force for sustainable good at this year’s Global Opportunities Conference.

The day included a luncheon panel discussion and presentations from pioneers of sustainable business and Appalachian students who had stories to tell about their personal experiences with sustainable innovation.

The Global Opportunities Conference has always focused on making the world a better place, but this year’s theme concentrated more specifically on how businesses can be champions for sustainable change both environmentally and socially.

Martin Meznar, the associate dean for international programs in the Walker College of Business, said that the conference is intended to spur both business people and students to think of ways in which, “business can help fix the mess as opposed to making it worse.”

“Business shouldn’t just be about making money,” Olivia Reed, a senior business management major who was one of the student presenters, said. “It should be about solving problems.”

Meznar explained that the conference prompts students to look at environmental and social issues from global perspectives, as opposed to simply the domestic or local angles with which these issues are usually viewed.

“We want people to think not only about the issues that affect us, but also about the issues that affect our planet, our only planet,” Meznar said.

The 2016 keynote speaker was Erin Meezan, the vice president of sustainability at Interface, the third highest-ranking company on the 2014 Sustainability Leaders Report.

Interface, a carpet company, has reduced its waste to landfill by 91 percent since the company changed its vision in 1994. As vice president of sustainability, Meezan was a perfect fit for the conference.

Meezan spoke about Interface’s sustainable initiatives, such as their goal to source 100 percent of energy needs from renewable sources by 2020.

“I think it’s incredible, I’m just so inspired,” Reed said about Interface’s mission. “I think it’s what all companies should be striving to do, because if they can do it, why can’t everyone?”

Amy Birner, an App State graduate student with a concentration in sustainability, was one of the students who presented at the conference.

The presentation recapped her experience in Costa Rica, where she studied the supply chain of coffee “from beans to brew.” She and Savannah Burns, another graduate student who went on the trip, spoke about the problems within each step of the supply chain and then discussed the solutions businesses can adopt to fix those problems.

Birner’s goal was to compel students to ask themselves how sustainability affects them, and she did this by exposing the issues involved with the supply chain of something that thousands of Appalachian students use on a daily basis.

“We explained the problems in the supply chain of coffee, something that’s relevant to everyone,” Birner said.

Meredith Pipes, the international programs coordinator for the Walker College of Business and the director and organizer of the conference, said that she hopes it encourages people to get more involved.

“We’re trying to create a call to action,” Pipes said.

The conference started as an event primarily for Walker College of Business, but has evolved into an impressive affair, attracting around 250 people each year.

While the Global Opportunities Conference is presented by the Walker College of Business, the event was also the collaborative effort of QEP, the University College, the Goodnight Family Sustainable Development Department, James E. Holshouser Ethics and other individuals and groups who assisted in the planning and execution of this event.

Story by Carrie Hall, News Reporter