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Yale Team Is Runner-Up in Patagonia Eco Innovation Business Case Competition

A team of Yale graduate students recently placed second in a nation-wide business case competition for outdoor apparel company Patagonia. The winners were announced at the competition’s final round, which was held at the University of California, Berkeley Haas School of Business on April 22.

The Yale Eco Innovation team with Patagonia Executives at University of California, Berkeley

The Yale team consisted of Nitesh Kumar ’17, Laurene Petitjean FES ’19, Jon Powell ENG ’18, Serena Pozza MEM ’17, and Ranran Wang FES ’16. More than 100 graduate student teams from 30 universities across the U.S. submitted proposals to develop environmentally sustainable water repellents for the apparel industry. Currently-used repellents are typically fluorine-based and have been measured in water bodies across the world, raising concerns about potential toxic effects to humans and sensitive ecosystems. 

The Yale team leveraged their multi-disciplinary expertise in green chemistry and engineering, corporate social responsibility, systems modeling, and sustainability strategy to develop a five-step solution that addresses the water repellent issue and beyond.

Patagonia selected eight finalists and invited the teams to UC Berkeley to pitch their idea and answer questions from a panel of Patagonia executives. The evaluation criteria included innovation, feasibility, and alignment with Patagonia’s mission to be a thought leader in sustainable business practices. The Yale team was joined by the University of North Carolina, Duke University, Stanford University, MIT, University of Virginia, University of Michigan, and UC Berkeley.

“The invitation to attend the final round of the competition was thrilling for us, as our team spent a great deal of time developing an integrated solution that Patagonia can actually implement,” said Jon Powell.  “Having the attention of Patagonia’s CEO, COO, and several other of the company’s executives for an entire day is an honor and a testament to their commitment to address some of the most intractable challenges the company is facing.” Powell also noted that the team’s travel was generously supported by the departments of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, Forestry and Environmental Studies, and Yale School of Management, and attributed much of the team’s success to advice they received from several Yale faculty and staff.  

In addition to a $5,000 prize, the Yale team’s proposal will live beyond the competition. The top three proposals will be developed into a business case study written by the California Management Review and will be taught in MBA classrooms to enhance sustainability curriculum. The team also hopes to work with Patagonia to incorporate their proposed solutions into the company’s business strategy in the coming months.