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Outdoor Industry MBA Program Promotes Corporate Sustainability

Outdoor industry MBA

Students, Faculty Promote Corporate Sustainability in Gunnison, Beyond

Western Colorado University’s Outdoor Industry MBA is a first-of-its-kind program for graduate students who want to make their mark in the business world with the aid of an industry-specific degree.

Unlike a generic MBA, students in this program take a deep dive into the specifics of the outdoor business industry through online classes, participating in immersion experiences and completing a final capstone project based on their personal interests. Program graduates leave Western with the skills and knowledge they need to pursue (or continue pursuing) a fulfilling career in the outdoor- or recreation-focused business sectors.

Director of the Outdoor Industry MBA program Scott Borden, Ph.D. expressed that one focus of the program is to provide students with practical experience making an impact in the business world before they graduate from Western. This sets them a step ahead of their peers from other institutions who may only have textbook knowledge and prepares them to think critically to devise innovative solutions for current problems in the business world.

“We want our students to be empowered to be exceptional business leaders. The biggest need for students coming out of a program like this is a need to add meaningful value for an organization. Other MBA programs focus on theory, while our program also [immerses] our students in real-world application. We do not have a thesis, and instead, students complete a project with an organization, anywhere in the world, to add value,” Borden said.

In order to craft a project with the ability to contribute positive, notable change, students in the Outdoor Industry MBA program are introduced to the fact that as the business world evolves, it will face issues, both new and ongoing, that demand solutions. One key dilemma the Outdoor Industry MBA analyzes through a variety of lenses is the excessive waste and byproducts many corporations produce worldwide. The program includes a specialized focus on promoting corporate sustainability and keeping waste products to a minimum while simultaneously helping a business grow.

Borden explained specifically how the Outdoor Industry MBA program educates students on corporate sustainability and what tools they’re given to integrate this focus into their professional roles.

“Sustainability is a vital issue in the outdoor industry. It has commonly been the theme of the Outdoor Retailer Show and studies have shown that consumers of outdoor goods have a higher desire for sustainable goods. It is, therefore, a central theme in all of our classes,” Borden said.

“We offer two sustainability scholarships where students are provided the opportunity to work on sustainability initiatives in the outdoor industry. For example this year, our students are focusing on auditing our program and reducing our environmental footprints during our immersion experiences,” he said.

The Outdoor Industry MBA also offers a variety of classes aimed toward educating students on the subject of corporate sustainability such as Sustainable Finance, Sustainability Accounting, and Sustainable Outdoor Product Development and Material Sourcing.

One recently developed course that launched this semester is titled “Science-Driven Innovation for the Circular Economy.” Designed by Western alumna and Outdoor Industry MBA faculty member Taryn Mead, Ph.D., this cross-disciplinary course combines the fields of business, and environment and sustainability to generate solutions for local companies dealing with excessive waste.

Students begin the course by learning the principles composing a circular economy and analyzing how local businesses currently manage the waste they produce. The course concludes with students pitching their own practical solutions for these companies to reuse, recycle or outcycle waste materials.

Mead secured a grant to make one or two students’ sustainability visions into reality through Western’s ICELab Incubator Program. If selected to participate, students will enter into the Incubator Program with a concept and rough prototype of what they hope to create. They will work on their designs until they have a final product that can be implemented in a real business setting.

“Solution-Oriented” Tools

Mead commented on her reasoning behind creating such a course and what attitudes she hopes students take away from it:

“I think the outdoor industry is uniquely positioned to lead the way to corporate sustainability. The outdoor industry is savvy to these ideas and their clientele is willing to pay for it.… In terms of entering the work force with so much destruction, [students] need some tools and approaches that are very solution-oriented to give them hope. We have to have a vision of how a sustainable future could exist.”

By putting textbook information into hands-on practice, Outdoor Industry MBA students get the experience they need to jump start their careers promoting ethics and sustainability in addition to traditional business practices.

Mead explained, “If you look at the statistics around what makes this generation of college students tick, they want meaningful engagement in real-world challenges. They’re not that excited about hypothetical learning and hypothetical situations. They’re more excited about digging in and getting something done.”

Through Mead’s course and others like it, the Outdoor Industry MBA at Western proves it isn’t just about teaching students how to make profits and climb the corporate ladder. It instead focuses on paving a path to a future where corporations, both large and small, consider their impact on the natural world and create and implement solutions to minimize these effects.

While the business world currently faces significant problems, Western’s ability and aptitude for shaping students into leaders will be evident in the sustainability solutions graduates develop and integrate in their careers in the outdoor business industry, both within the Gunnison community and worldwide.


Author Credit: Katie Lyons ’19
Photo Credit: Carley Clegg

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