Business School Lessons

About the author: Caleb Shaffer joined EPA’s San Francisco office in 2002. For the past three years he worked with southern California tribes on solid waste issues. He is currently manager of the Waste Management Division’s Information Management Office.

For the last three years I have been pursuing a Master of Business Administration from the University of San Francisco. While the mantras of business school such as maximizing profit and creating efficient systems are directly applicable to the business world, they are also valuable lessons to my current job at EPA. Organizing a group of diverse individuals and rallying around a common cause to achieve tangible outcomes are results of successfully applying classroom theories to real life situations.

Photo of trash piles on reservationThe Torres Martinez Reservation in southern California has historically been a magnet for illegal dumping. With rapid development in the area, large migrant worker population, and commercial agricultural operations, the open land of the reservation was seen as an easy place to dump illegally. The problem became so bad that operators on the reservation started collecting money to accept waste on their property, creating environmental and human health hazards from ill-managed and exposed dumps, which often caught on fire. The business school concept of “maximize profit and minimize cost” needed to change to “maximize human health and minimize harm to the environment”.

In April 2006, the Tribe, EPA and the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs formed a collaborative consisting of over 25 federal, state and local agencies. This was the first time these organizations, which have very different missions, came together to recognize a common problem and develop solutions. As an organizer of the collaborative, business school principles I had learned in the classroom, such as group dynamics and organizational development, offered valuable tools to manage a large group of diverse stakeholders. After the first meeting and a very eye-opening tour of the existing dumps on the reservation, members of the collaborative went out of their way to offer the resources needed to solve this unique problem. To date, 24 dumpsites have been shut down and cleaned up, dump fires have been virtually eliminated, and a rigorous outreach campaign and enforcement program has been created. Most importantly, community members have seen a real change in health and an improvement for their environment.

The collaborative has created a model of how federal, state and local agencies can come together to combat a decade long problem. Creating a cohesive group, building trust, and challenging that group to perform are textbook models creating real human health improvements and environmental results. It’s a tangible example of business school lessons playing out in real world situations.