Like many institutions of its class, Emory University has its fair share of outstanding alumni: A U.S. Vice President, a Supreme Court justice, a generous spread of U.S. senators and representatives, even Pulitzer Prize winners. But the university also numbers educators, entrepreneurs and philanthropists among its storied alumnus — and that’s a tradition that’s unlikely to change any time soon. “I think we’ve always done a good job supporting our entrepreneurs from the business school, but we’re now developing resources to support those students from liberal arts and from other areas of the college,” explains Eric Bymaster, Associate Vice President Finance & Administration Campus Life at Emory University, who also serves on the executive committee of the Emory Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Living Lab.
Part of that initiative at Emory has led to the creation the Emory Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Living Lab Speaker Series, a program designed to highlight the issues student entrepreneurs care most about, from business planning to marketing. And, most recently, sustainability.
As part of the guest speaker series, the group invited Barnes & Noble College’s, Vice President of General Merchandise and Store & Design Construction, Joel Friedman, to talk about a sustainability issue he’s particularly familiar with — sourcing and procurement. “What Joel presented to the students was a pretty detailed explanation of Barnes & Noble’s corporate social responsibility and, in particular, the care the company takes in the sourcing of its products,” Bymaster explains.
A long-time passionate believer in sustainability practices, Friedman believes it is simply good business to source materials and merchandise in ethical ways. “It’s not a story that’s often told in the context of supply chain management,” he says. “But it’s an important one to tell. We want to make sure we’re making good purchasing decisions — and the merchandise sold in our stores is made under the proper work conditions. It’s simply good business — for the right reasons,” he says.
While it’s a topic that definitely is of interest to Emory students, it’s a theme that Bymaster believes has resonance nationwide. “It’s a broad positive message that I’m always hearing from students — they want to be successful, but they also want to do well by doing good,” he says.
Bymaster refers to corporate programs as diverse as those by Tom’s shoes or Starbucks’ Ethos® Water, which have particularly captured the interest of his students. ‘It’s those kinds of initiatives that resonate with them and where they can see businesses really making a contribution to the community,” he adds.
Manager of the Emory University Bookstore, Leah Antoniazzi, also attended the lecture, and clearly understood how the subject captured the mindset of the young entrepreneurs. “They were really engaged and asked a lot of questions, which gave Joel the opportunity to explain how we source our products. And he also gave a behind-the-scenes account of the kinds of standards we hold our vendors to,” she says.
As a member of the Fair Labor Association (FLA) since 1998, Barnes & Noble College requires all vendors to sign the FLA’s Code of Conduct, which requires strict adherence to worker’s rights. By requiring every vendor to sign the code of conduct, applied throughout the global supply chain, the campus bookstore can deliver public good.
That public good is important to students, and their awareness is reflected in the kinds of buying decisions they gravitate to at the campus bookstore. Antoniazzi points to the popularity of Alta Gracia, whose products sustain a living wage for their workers, or the messaging behind the recycled fiber in some Champion sports apparel as initiatives her customers notice. “The proper treatment of employees is a huge issue here on campus, and it really interested the students to hear how much we ask of our vendors and the community building that goes on at some of their factory sites,” she says.
As the entrepreneurial enterprise expands at Emory, it’s already making its mark. Emory student Kaeya Majmundar recently appeared on ABC’s entrepreneurial show Shark Tank and successfully obtained funding for her BZbox system of collapsible, origami-inspired storage boxes. Bymaster says Majmundar’s success is a reason Emory’s support platform is being built with more resources, mentoring and product development under the university’s Emory Entrepreneurship Ecosystem (E3) umbrella.
With their interest in how their success will impact the world, and the knowledge they have gained from speakers like Barnes & Noble College’s Friedman, Emory’s young entrepreneurs will be leading the challenge of Emory’s eighth president, Atticus Haygood, whose words are chiseled onto the front gate of the Atlanta campus: “Let us stand by what is good and try to make it better.”