Students learn what sustainability means to Denver Broncos, Patagonia, others

The triple bottom line of people, profit and planet — the cornerstones of sustainable business practices — can mean different things to different organizations. And Colorado State University students heard from a wide range of successful executives on what sustainability means to their businesses during the 37th annual Business Day on April 16.

Patagonia Philosophy CEO Vincent Stanley concentrated on the “planet” part of the equation, as befits a company whose products are designed to get consumers into the outdoors.

Tom Vogl, a serial entrepreneur formerly with REI and now with Barn2Door, a platform that connects consumers with growers of sustainable food, engaged his audience to think about how all three elements work together to create a sustainable marketplace system.

And Joe Ellis, president and CEO of the Denver Broncos, redefined “profit.”

“In sports, it’s not important how much money you make,” he told the capacity crowd in the Lory Student Center Theatre. “The real bottom line is how many games you win.”

That brought Ellis back to the “people” – the incredibly passionate, dedicated fans of the Denver Broncos who, in his opinion, are the real owners of the team.

“You are the ones who are buying the tickets, and it’s up to us to provide you with the very best game day experience possible, so coming to Sports Authority Field is more attractive than your couch, your refrigerator and your 52-inch TV,” he said.

Game day experience and more

The Broncos’ recent multi-million dollar upgrade at Sports Authority Field has not only added an energy-efficient scoreboard complete with fantasy football stats and wireless connectivity for fans who want to follow other games or just share the experience on social media, it has also made an impact on the other “P” – the planet.

The Broncos have worked to improve their environmental impact, according to Ellis, by switching from paper printouts to playbooks on iPads, which also allow players to review them anywhere. Stadium-wide recycling and waste-reduction initiatives have diverted more than 1,200 tons of waste from landfills, produced over 130 tons of compost, recycled more than 250 tons of cardboard, and saved more than 8.5 million gallons of water since 2007.

A key to these sustainable successes, Ellis said, is the Broncos’ hiring philosophy: “Hire people who are smarter than you about what they do, and then let them do their jobs.”

He told the students that the Broncos organization looks to hire people with energy, enthusiasm, intelligence and humility.

“Young people can get caught up in what Mr. B. (Broncos’ owner Pat Bowlen) calls the ‘quasi-celebrity status’ of working for an NFL team,” Ellis said. “If they don’t remember that everyone makes mistakes, it can end up badly.”

One more “P” — partnership

To help create a career path for students serious about a career in the sport industry, CSU and the Broncos have partnered on the Denver Broncos Sports Management Institute. Faculty and administrators are in the process of selecting the first 40 students to take the interdisciplinary minor course of study in the fall.

“We just started the partnership with CSU this past year and I think it’s got great promise. We’re in our infancy stages and to participate in this day, this Business Day here, I think we’ll hopefully add some value,” Ellis said. “I think I can speak on behalf of the Broncos and let everybody know how excited we are to have this sponsorship doing some events with them, not just today but in the past and the future and our connections will enable students to grow and heighten their outlooks in terms of what their career opportunities will be in the world of sports, not just in football but all throughout the world of sports.”

Ajay Menon, tdean of the College of Business, said that with a leader from such a influential and iconic Colorado institution to speak to students finding their career paths, Ellis’ presence offers helpful insight into a sector many are interested in.

“Our students have always thought about the Denver Broncos as being the brand that they have chosen for part of their football interest, and as a result, what you find is we bring in an iconic leader like Joe Ellis who has the reputation for integrity, the reputation for steely leadership in steering their favorite franchise to the top of the NFL heap,” Menon said. “These are students looking to see what leadership is like in a sector of the industry or a sector of their workforce that they never get a chance to see. So having Joe Ellis is one of the big highlights of this day’s program for our students here.

“It’s about paying forward, it’s about developing young talent further,” Menon added. “All of these aspects that impart to what life might be in corporate America. And so there is a huge synergy between the Denver Broncos operations and what these students might face in other parts of the business sectors that we have.”