From the Web: Interface: Now You Can Sequester Carbon in the Carpet

“We have a ton of parking lots. Why?” Erin Meezan, Chief Sustainability Officer at Interface, Inc. asked rhetorically in a recent interview, describing the iterative systems-based approach her company takes to sustainability at their Atlanta, GA headquarters, “We can park on grass.” Grass is, of course, permeable and allows rainwater to soak in, creating a living ecosystem and carbon sink as opposed to storm drains which funnel water, and the trash and debris it picks up along the way, directly out to sea. But I digress. This is just one of dozens of examples Meezan shared with me as she described her company’s efforts to treat the “factory like a forest.”

Interface Inc. — a public company with a $1B market cap — was one of the first companies to take a bold, public stand on climate change. But that doesn’t mean they put sustainability ahead of product. Instead, they use sustainability as a differentiator to push innovation. “There are hard-nosed business people on our board who understand the business value of sustainability,” Meezan explains.

Its founder, Ray Anderson, had a personal epiphany that let him to use his carpet company company as a tool to make the world better. The company is sustainable through and through, and prior to Ray’s death in 2011, he was the perfect spokesperson for the movement. He sold plenty of carpet along the way.

Interface has carried on his mission and continued to innovate with research into new products. Their goal is to prove that business can be a climate positive actor. Meezan explains,”We make stuff. How can the stuff we make serve as a carbon sink?”

Note: Erin Meezan and Interface are on our Advisory Board.

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Iqbal Quadir: Increasing Productivity through Connectivity

This post was written by Brett Spusta, SEMBA ’17

“Connectivity is productivity,” a mantra which has guided entrepreneur Iqbal Quadir to put cell phones in the hands of over 100 million Bangladeshi people. A country once thought to be synonymous with poverty is now seeing unprecedented economic growth due, in part, to the success of Iqbal Quadir and his venture, Grameen Phone, a micro-loan based company which allows those at the base of the pyramid access to modern communication. Iqbal, who is a SEMBA advisory board member, visited the SEMBA class as part of the Entrepreneur in Residence series. He proved to be a model of the disruptive and visionary values that SEMBA represents. He demonstrated that capital is not the source of innovation and development; rather, development is the source for capital.

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Soft Skills Needed to Support your Sustainability Efforts

This post was written by Aditi Datta, SEMBA ’17, and former student editor of “The SEMBA Review.”

Erin Meezan

Erin Meezan,Vice-President of Sustainability at Interface, Inc. and member of the SEMBA Advisory Board, offered her insights and tips for success with the SEMBA class through the program’s Executive in Residence speaker series, in which leading-edge practitioners share their personal stories and perspectives with students.

Environmentally-friendly carpet manufacturer Interface is a progressive, innovative organization that leads the industry in its full commitment to sustainability. Yet, Erin Meezan still faces resistance and apprehension each day. Meezan’s specific tools, tips and skills are valuable assets to utilize in any career that challenges the status quo, and are especially relevant to SEMBA students.

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Sustainable Business — A Catalyst of Innovation and Investment Returns

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This post was written by Robert Zulkoski, Chairman, Vermont Works Management Company, LLC; Member, Board of Advisors, SEMBA at the University of Vermont; Member of the Board of Directors, BTV Ignite; and Chairman, Greenlots

The integration of environment, social and governance factors (ES&G) into corporate and investment decision making has been gathering momentum over the last decade. Several well-researched reports highlight one of the key drivers underpinning this shift: sustainability and financial performance are linked.

A multitude of constituencies – governments, public companies, impact investment intermediaries, opinion leaders and investors – have contributed to the development of the global social impact investment market. A movement is afoot that represents a significant opportunity for businesses and markets to drive improved social value. By allocating assets towards products, services, and companies that generate positive social impact, the movement toward “impact investing” has the potential to create real value for both investors and for society.

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Impact Investing from Burlington to Botswana

The SEMBA curriculum involves the study of finance through the lens of sustainability, and is supplemented by workshops that include the exploration and discussion of impact investing. This post was written by SEMBA Advisory Board member Rob Morier, Managing Director, Head of North America at Global Evolution.

robInstitutions and individuals, from the trading desk to the university classroom, are rapidly adopting impact investing. The proliferation of funds and research has been a welcome revolution in the asset management industry. Investors have more options and information available to them than ever before as asset management companies and investors hurry to catch a rising tide of opportunity. As defined by the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN), impact investments are investments made into companies, organizations, and funds, with the intention to generate social and environmental impact alongside a financial return. While traditional business practices may perpetuate the idea that an organization must choose between doing good and making money, impact investments don’t carry the weight of that trade off, as the intention is to do both.

Although public and private equity markets have been the primary focus for impact investors and asset managers as they set their strategic investment goals pertaining to their mission or value related investments, fixed income has slowly moved from a minor to major player in terms of impact opportunities, despite being a cornerstone of traditional asset allocation models.

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