Institute for Sustainable Development

Our Sustainable Future - CSU, Chico

With SEED, Sustainability Gets Down to Business

Taylor Bass Wins $10,000 Jack Rawlins Environmental Award

December 2006

A junior honors student at California State University, Chico is the first recipient of the $10,000 Jack Rawlins Environmental Award, recognition and support intended to foster a lifelong commitment to environmental activism.

Business administration major Taylor Bass’s winning two-year project will establish Social Entrepreneurs Emerging with new Direction, or SEED, a student-run hub for social entrepreneurship that focuses on pressing social problems closely related to the environment.

"The selection committee is very pleased to honor Taylor with this award,” says James Pushnik, Rawlins Professor of Environmental Literacy at CSU, Chico. “His plan of creating social entrepreneurs is based on a large vision. It reflects Jack Rawlins’ own large view of environmental problems and solutions. Taylor’s project sets the bar high for these awards."

What exactly are social entrepreneurs?

Quoting the international social entrepreneurship organization Ashoka, Bass explains that “social entrepreneurs are individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems. They are ambitious and persistent, tackling major social issues and offering new ideas for wide-scale change.”

Just as energetic entrepreneurs transform the nature of business, social entrepreneurs act as “change agents for society,” recognizing opportunities others miss to improve systems, invent new approaches, and create solutions that change society for the better. Business entrepreneurs might create entirely new industries, and social entrepreneurs come up with new solutions to social problems and then implement them on a large scale.

Noted American social entrepreneurs, according to Ashoka, include Susan B. Anthony, who fought for women’s rights, and naturalist John Muir, instrumental in establishing the U.S. national park system and founder of the Sierra Club.

Taylor Bass is thinking big, though not quite that big—yet. Once SEED is well-established, however, Bass believes his project can be “plant the seed” for similar programs at other universities, ultimately creating a network of social entrepreneurs who are experienced in devising environmental solutions and effecting social change.

In the meantime, Bass will spend SEED’s first year developing a comprehensive business plan and consulting with “civically engaged” student organizations including Community Action Volunteers in Education (CAVE), the Environmental Action Research Center (EARC), and Students In Free Enterprise (SIFE). During the program’s second year he will recruit the program’s first students and launch SEED.

“This will be a student organization, one that relies on student energy, student ideas, and student drive,” the 20-year-old Bass says. He envisions SEED as an “anchor program” on campus, one largely unaffected by the annual leadership changes that hamper other student projects. An ongoing advisory board will steady the program’s focus yet also support innovation and necessary change.

The “environmental impact” of SEED will be two-fold, Bass explains. The first level of impact will be local, while the program’s students are still supported by SEED in their personal and skills development and in the growth of their environmental projects. Most of these students will boast solid business backgrounds along with visionary approaches to solving environmental problems, and will have come to SEED to start testing their ideas. A logical program focus will be serving the local business community.

Bass sees SEED as a “mini-consulting firm in the business of finding solutions,” one that offers a variety of reasonably priced services—from sustainability audits to environmental problem solving. Fees for services the program provides to local businesses will help SEED cultivate still more student projects.

Almost more important is what these seasoned environmental problem-solvers will do once they graduate from CSU, Chico and move out into the working world. Bass would like to see the social entrepreneurs his SEED program “grows” here in Chico take this “investment in intellectual and social capital” and infuse private industry with new ideas and practical innovations.

It seems fitting that Taylor Bass is the first student to receive the Jack Rawlins Environmental Award, given his interests in both entrepreneurship and sustainability. Jack Rawlins was himself an entrepreneur before retirement. According to current plans, the Rawlins award will be given to two students per academic year, with one winner in the spring and another in the fall starting in 2007.

In addition to his commitment to sustainable business practices, Bass has worked on environmental projects for Provost Scott McNall and is currently a student assistant for the Bidwell Environmental Institute. He helped develop CSU, Chico’s “Our Sustainable Future” Web site, and initiated two environmentally related programs through CAVE. He also led interactive workshops on volunteerism at both sustainability conferences held on campus last year.

Taylor Bass

Bass’s two-year project will establish Social Entrepreneurs Emerging with new Direction (SEED), a student-run hub for social entrepreneurship that focuses on pressing social problems closely related to the environment.