The business of environmental advocacy

March 3, 2020

Joe Foye, an undergraduate student majoring in environmental studies at the Nelson Institute and marketing at the Wisconsin School of Business (WSB), found his passion for environmental advocacy while working to raise money for trips with his Boy Scout troop. During his childhood, Foye participated in several fundraising initiatives which allowed him to draw a connection between business and the environment, later inspiring him to pursue his current majors. Now, a junior at UW–Madison, Foye works to educate and inspire diversity in the community while exploring the outdoors.

Foye understands that his choice of majors is uncommon because there is little overlap between them, but he is hopeful that will change.

“I’ve recognized a pattern of business and the environment going in diverging directions,” Foye said. “My combination of majors is not popular, but I’d like to change that and create convergence to move business in a more sustainable direction.”

Foye acts as both the Alumni Outreach Chair and Backpacking Chair for Hoofers, a student organization on campus aimed at offering opportunities for students to participate in outdoor activities including hiking, camping, skiing, sailing, and even diving. They organize outings throughout the country to encourage students to forge a stronger connection to the environment. In particular, Foye enjoys leading student trips such as backpacking, canoeing, kayaking, and biking.

“Really anything I can do get outside and teach others,” he said.

Additionally, Foye worked as a backpacking guide in New Mexico, and a canoeing guide in the Boundary Waters in past summers. Through these experiences, he noticed a lack of diversity in those participating in outdoor activities. After this realization, Foye decided to focus his time on informing others and encouraging them to build a connection with outdoor spaces. He explained that most of the people currently advocating for the environment are those with the resources to make outdoor activities part of their leisure time, which leaves out a large portion of the population.

 “I’m trying to get as many people of all different identities outdoors as possible and give them an enjoyable outdoor experience so that they can also become advocates for protecting outdoor spaces. That’s something that’s become really important to me,” Foye said.

During his time in the Boundary Waters, Foye saw his passions come to life. Through his guide work, he was able to educate many of the scout groups about threats to the Boundary Waters and what that could mean for the future. He also informed them on ways they could take action.

“With that work of education, taking people outside, and notifying them of the threats to the area, I’m able to create new advocates for the outdoors. People who then want to take their kids back to the same place,” he said.

In his academics, Foye is also working to promote environmental learning within the WSB. He noticed the topic of sustainability was rarely mentioned in his classes. As a result, he joined Social and Environmental Business Advocates (SEBA), a student organization that promotes a stronger environmental focus within the WSB. Foye noted that the organization was started in the Fall 2019 semester and is currently aimed at creating partnerships with other student organizations on campus and promoting awareness for environmental change in the WSB. Thus far, SEBA has created a petition, with over 1,000 signatures, that they plan to use in future meetings with WSB staff and faculty to showcase the need for “curriculum, programming, and a culture, that emphasize the following values: 1) Sustainability, Environment, and Climate Change; 2) Diversity, Inclusion, and Social Justice; and 3) Triple Bottom Line and Business Models that Serve All Stakeholders.

Foye credits the Nelson Institute with promoting student involvement in environmental action. “They recognize that relationship and partnership is really important moving forward for business and the environment,” he said.

In the future, Foye hopes to continue leading outdoor trips to educate others. He also recognizes the importance education has had on his outdoor experiences and has recently completed a wilderness first responder course offered in Madison this winter. After graduation, Foye hopes to find a job that combines his interest in environmental marketing or advertising.

Whatever the future may hold, Foye wants to encourage people to take as many opportunities as they can to have memorable experiences outdoors, whether it’s at a local park or across the world. “Wherever you want to go, find yourself by losing yourself,” he said.

Photo courtesy of Joe Foye