MBA Students Advise Wal-Mart on Greening Supply Chain in Case Challenge

Ten teams of Berkeley MBA students were challenged this month to play an advisory role in what could be the world’s most far-reaching corporate sustainability initiative: Wal-Mart’s efforts to green its massive supply chain.

The second annual Leading for Impact Challenge, held Nov. 9 at Haas, featured a case that centered on Wal-Mart’s well-publicized partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to implement a sustainability index for its suppliers, who account for 90 percent of its environmental impact and serve more than 10,000 stores in 27 different countries.

The competition was sponsored by the Haas chapter of Net Impact, an international nonprofit that focuses on leadership for environmental and social responsibility.  The goal of the competition this year was to tackle a real-world problem, says Will Hewes, MBA 13, who co-organized the event with Katie DeWitt, MBA 12.

“This is the first year that we held a ‘live action’ case competition where we’ll be actually delivering the results to Wal-Mart and EDF to inform their work,” says Hewes, who, through a Walmart Fellowship sponsored by the Center for Responsible Business, traveled to Bentonville, Ark., with DeWitt for a meeting with Wal-Mart buyers in preparation for the case and an ongoing project with the company. “I think these insights will be used, and at the very least start some conversations and send Wal-Mart and EDF down some new paths.”

The winning team included Laura Tilghman, Vietlong Le, Yonathan Shiran, and Eliza Rosenbaum, all MBA 14, who took home $500 for their day’s work. Students were asked to focus on the specific issues faced by Wal-Mart's dairy buyers—high-level managers who make multimillion-dollar decisions about the products that will end up in stores. The buyers are charged with rolling out the sustainability index in a complex industry that includes significant environmental challenges and layers of intermediary businesses.

Shiran said his team took a practical approach to the case, evaluating changes on an impact-versus-feasibility matrix. "The main thing we learned is that even problems that seem huge at first, such as ‘making Wal-Mart's supply chain greener,’ can be tackled efficiently if broken down to smaller, more digestible problems," Shiran says.

Judges included leaders from Wal-Mart and the Environmental Defense Fund;  Jo Mackness, executive director of the Center for Responsible Business; Nora Silver, director of the Center for Nonprofit and Public Leadership; and Tony Kingsbury, former director of the Haas Sustainable Products and Solutions Program and now a consultant focusing on sustainable chemistry.

For more information on Net Impact, visit