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Joe Garrison MBA’13 Bolsters a Mission of Sustainability

by Linda Lenhoff,

Joe Garrison MBA’13 places sustainability at the forefront of every decision he makes. As a Sustainability Manager at Cisco Systems, his philosophy—honed at the Atkinson Graduate School of Management—argues that sustainability is an essential concern for all organizations. Garrison envisions the future of humankind as a sustainable enterprise, where ethics and social responsibility are crucial to a company’s—and the world’s—success.

Joe Garrison MBA’13, Sustainability Manager at Cisco Systems

“My team works to ensure and promote ethical and responsible operations throughout our entire global supply chain, which is a commitment to the environment and a commitment to workers,” says Garrison. “This commitment is a competitive advantage for Cisco, which they use to differentiate themselves from other technology companies.”

Like Garrison’s beliefs, the Atkinson Sustainability Program’s approach integrates ecological sustainability with social responsibility. At Cisco, Garrison works with numerous areas within the organization, focusing on how workers are treated and paid, limiting worker exposure to harmful chemicals, and utilizing data to build sustainability standards into new areas of the business.

“We have all these programs that do amazing things, then we ask: How do we leverage that data to really streamline and improve our goals? How do we use that data to understand where some of our risks or opportunities are to drive forward our mission of sustainability?” Garrison says.

Cisco’s slogan reflects these efforts: “The way things are made matters.” Garrison says, “It’s a driving force for what we do.”

Early in his career, Garrison held a sales job and found himself questioning whether his company properly considered environmental concerns. The Atkinson School’s commitment to social justice perfectly fit Garrison’s interests. “It’s going past that it’s the right thing to do, or being a good citizen, to learning how to integrate these principles into our operations to make that commitment to the environment and human rights a competitive advantage,” Garrison says.

Garrison now gets to ask the big questions: “How do you run your company in a way that you’re sustainable not only for today, but in the long term? How are you treating your natural resources, including your people? How are you ensuring that you're going to be in a position to serve and attract customers year after year? These are some of the things that I learned in the MBA program,” Garrison says, especially crediting the Sustainability Program under Professor Elliot Maltz.

Willamette’s motto, “Not unto ourselves are we born,” and the emphasis on sustainability resonated with Garrison. “You learn business operations, but you also learn to ask, How does it fit into the community?” Garrison says.

“Having exposure in the MBA Program through not just a traditional business lens but through the nonprofit and government pieces helped prepare me for this type of field,” he adds. “Sustainability looks much more critically at what the bottom line is and tries to extend that value across many disciplines. At Willamette, you learn things from a lot of different lenses and viewpoints, and I found that to be extremely useful in my career.”

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