Ripcurl Environmental Officer On Riding The MBA Wave
Eric Dargent hopes to introduce more sustainability initiatives into business
Frenchman Eric Dargent left his job as an environmental officer at surfing firm Ripcurl to study for his MBA at Exeter University in the UK.
The Exeter One Planet MBA has a focus on sustainability, which fits in with Eric’s plans to bring “biomimicry” to the masses. More on this later...
Eric studied business at undergraduate level at Paris Dauphine University but says he was “too immature and didn’t make the most of it. It was too conceptual and I couldn’t refer to any business experience as I didn’t have any”. He says it would come as a surprise to his younger self that he was back at university and studying for an MBA.
The decision to take an MBA came about after Eric was looking for a course in innovative sustainable design. He came across the Exeter One Planet MBA and was told that it was a new programme which was reinventing the traditional MBA programme to incorporate sustainability as much as possible. He was excited by the prospect of “students being involved in the core creation of the curriculum”.
Eric has played an important role in shaping the course. As class president he has acted as the go-between for students and faculty; offering ideas for improvement and feedback on courses which is exactly what had appealed to him about this innovative MBA.
I asked Eric if he could profile the typical Exeter One Planet MBA student, and he said this was an impossible challenge. “The diversity of people on the course is mind-blowing! We have 40 students from 22 countries, aged from 23 to 37; I have never been in such a diverse group. People have backgrounds in forestry management, pharmaceuticals, defence, engineering, law, hotel management: you name it someone has done it!”
Everyone on the MBA was not perhaps initially as passionate about the environment as Eric, as it was the transition year. Some students had signed on for the classic MBA and it was interesting to see “how the two groups played out”, says Eric. “It was fascinating to see how the new curriculum could be relevant to people who were not sustainability minded.”
Eric believes that Exeter’s One Planet MBA is extremely socially relevant and “shows a cutting-edge way of doing business. If it was too disconnected from current business practices then it would not be an MBA. It is still an accessible course for those who perhaps are not as environmentally-minded”.
Lectures on the program have been a mixture of those given by the more traditional business lecturers, and guest speakers organised by WWF (who sponsor the programme) and the business school itself.
I spoke to Eric on the evening before the hand-in for his final project which was about biomimicry, a “new science that studies nature's models and then uses these designs and processes to solve human problemsbusiness inspired by nature”, according to the wesbite biomimicray.net.
“It is taking the idea of biomimicry which has been used before to help design products and some business processes and I wanted to find out if nature could inform business management. My findings are that frameworks that come from biology can relate to that framework, particularly when looking at the structure of organisations and their networks.”
Eric’s work at RipCurl all began with a chance encounter with the CEO at a fair; “I just had a chat with this guy I didn’t know and said I was looking for a job and I told him how I had been working in the organic, fair trade fashion sector. He then told me about the role of environmental officer that he was creating” and it all went from there. Eric’s role was to “intitate and coordinate a company wide initiative”.
He worked primarily for Ripcurl Europe and then RipCurl international. “Ripcurl Europe were leading the way, took huge steps forward which were disconnected with the rest of the group and perhaps even the rest of the market.
“I question how much of the policy was sustainable. Policy went global so the ambitions had to be reduced after economic crisis.”
Eric wants to take some time out after he graduates to take stock of his situation, figure out his next project and “discover if I am an entrepreneur”. He knows he wants to continue focusing on biomimicry and use it as a philosophy with which to guide businesses.
“I want to create new projects, new processes and new models all inspired by nature. We are facing a huge sustainability challenge and business has to react. Biomimicry is an idea, a set of behaviours, that maybe we have no choice but to implement”.
Having travelled the world and lived all over France, Eric hopes to move back to be near his friends and family. Even though Exeter is not that far from France the year has been “so intense that I could rarely return home. You realise it is important to be close to your friends and family”.
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