Left: The panel on Philanthropy and Social Entrepreneurship included Dan Crisafulli, Skoll Foundation; Kris Prendergrast, Social Enterprise Alliance; Lisa Hall, Calvert Social Investment Foundation; and peggy Reid, Lemelson Foundation. Right: By sorting conference refuse, Net Impact volunteers went beyond recycling to compost biodegradable waste otherwise destined for landfills.

Sustainability took center stage at the 2008 Net Impact North America Conference at Wharton last November, where more than 2,000 people came to hear corporate leaders including John Brock, CEO of Coca-Cola Enterprises; Carter Roberts, president and CEO of World Wildlife Fund; Matt Kistler, Senior Vice President of Sustainability at Wal-Mart; and Kate Roberts, Founder of YouthAIDS.

The student-run event had a 400-name waitlist, breaking attendance records and shattering notions that corporate social responsibility is a passing trend. “If you’re a professor these days, especially in finance, you can’t walk into the classroom and deliver your usual lecture without addressing the events of the last few months,” said Wharton Dean Thomas Robertson.

The conference drew 250-plus panelists around the theme “The Sustainable Advantage: Creating Social and Environmental Value.” With 129 speaker panels, keynote addresses, breakout sessions, a career expo, and social events — it was a valuable learning and networking opportunity for students, professionals, and corporations alike.

“We are working with NGOs as partners, when five years ago none of us would have been caught in the same room together. We are all committed to the same end result. There are some disagreements over how we get there, but sustainability has become the core of everything we do,” said Coca-Cola’s Brock in his keynote address.