Starting over is nothing new for Libba and Gifford Pinchot. In the course of their life together, they've had several careers — from organic dairy farmers to corporate consultants. Along the way, they also picked up several graduate degrees.
Ten years ago, the couple combined their love of education and interest in the environment to start a graduate school that integrates a traditional business education with environmental and social responsibility. Located in Washington state, the Bainbridge Graduate Institute trains students in sustainable business practices. We asked the 68-year-olds more about their endeavor.
Q. You've been married for 50 years; how did you first meet?
We met in 1961 when Libba was dating my college roommate. We went our separate ways, but stayed in touch. After 11 years of friendship we became a couple. Our different ways of thinking about the world make us an almost perfect balance.
Q. I understand that a commitment to conservation runs in your family, Gifford.
Yes. I grew up, as they say, sheep dipped in the issue of conservation and it's always been a part of my life. It started with my grandfather, who worked with Teddy Roosevelt to establish the national forest and lands used for national parks. Roosevelt brought the term "conservation" into general use to mean environmental responsibility, and helped set aside millions of acres for parks and national forests.
Q. What motivated you to start an educational program?
We realized that businesses were calling the shots in our society, and yet business leaders were ignoring broader responsibility for the environment and the future. With greater power comes greater responsibility. We saw the need to incorporate environmental responsibility into business education.
Q. Sounds like a huge undertaking. Has it been difficult?
It is almost impossible to start a new business school from scratch without many millions of dollars, which we did not have nor know anyone who did. The alternative could be to create a sustainable business program inside an existing academic institution, but faculty in existing business schools who believe in sustainability warned us to not to try that. Faculty politics, they told us, would kill it. So we attempted the impossible. We had to attract students to a school with no track record, and ultimately to get accredited, which turned out to be a far longer process than we had imagined.