The State of Sustainable Business 2018

BSR and GlobeScan have released “The State of Sustainable Business 2018,” an interesting insight into the world of sustainable business and identified common perceptions and practices of corporate sustainability professionals.

In addition to measuring shifting priorities and challenges in corporate sustainability, this year’s survey presented a unique opportunity to understand how business is responding to the changing social landscape.

To hone in on actions of companies within the sustainable business community, this year’s data draws from the responses of one sustainability practitioner at each of 152 BSR member companies who participated.

The survey results can be viewed and downloaded here.

Planning for “Launch”

The Sustainable Innovation MBA is a unique program in many ways. Above all, it is reinventing business education to produce leaders who aim to solve the world’s most challenging economic, environmental, and social problems through the lens of enterprise and entrepreneurship.

And, because it’s a one-year accelerated MBA, students begin their career exploration and planning right from the first day, aiming to develop the skills, networks, and insights to “launch” into opportunities post-graduation — just eleven months from now.

Last week, as part of our innovative “Launch” workshop series, students spent an afternoon building the foundations of self-discovery, articulating strengths and weaknesses, and beginning to think about various potential career pathways. Here’s a peek:

Developing an inventory of necessary leadership traits:

Meryl and Matt, building and practicing a personal elevator pitch:

Getting support and encouragement from the cohort’s honorary member:

Finding Tribe

This post was written by Cameron McMahon ’19 and is another valuable insight into the first days of our newest cohort as well as the ethic and mission of the program.

There is a tendency in many “green” and “sustainability” focused groups and conversations to view business as a dirty word. While this seems to be beginning to shift in positive ways it can still be difficult to find others who believe that it is possible to do good in the world while also making a profit. It takes a special sort of crazy to not only think about radically redefining capitalism, but to set about actually doing it.

I chose to join The Sustainable Innovation MBA program for a variety of reasons but one was the desire to find others who share the drive and fire to put their shoulders into the work that desperately needs to be done in the world. It is an odd thing to have the idea for that and then meet people who exceed your expectations. The excitement of being around actual humans with impressive and diverse backgrounds, rather than just concepts that such people exist, has been a pleasant condensation of reality.

“After several years of trudging this path working toward achieving greater sustainability in meaningful ways it is a relief to be surrounded by others on the climb.”

The first week of orientation is over and the class schedule is beginning to resolve as we stretch creaky academic muscles and gear up for the marathon this year will be. I had a platoon sergeant in the Marine Corps who constantly drilled into our heads that, “You don’t matter, the person to your left and your right matter.” As we come to know each other and build teams this has been rattling around in my head. A quote in class yesterday which seemed to echo this sentiment for me was, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” After several years of trudging this path working toward achieving greater sustainability in meaningful ways it is a relief to be surrounded by others on the climb. Here’s to finding tribe.

Here Goes Something

This post was written by Joe Humes ’19. He’s reflecting on his first week in the program at the conclusion of Orientation Week.

It all started on the bus. That familiar feeling of butterflies fluttering through my stomach as Burlington’s #2 bus made its way astutely up Pearl Street. It felt like many first days before it: the first day of high school, the first day of my last new job, etc. but also brought those old nerves to a totally new level. I mean…this is grad school. This is our final step on the journey to a fruitful and meaningful career. We all know objectively what we hope to get out of the program we’re stepping into, so that’s not the scary part.

The truly daunting part of this experience is the slew of intangibles that you don’t prepare for: the people you might meet, the things you might say, or the unexpected things you might learn. I think I speak for much of my cohort when I say that the first steps into Kalkin 110 on Monday were some of the most exciting and terrifying steps of my life.

I don’t know about the rest of my classmates, but as I sat down in the lecture hall on Monday I genuinely thought we were gearing up for the stereotypical Orientation Week. I expected syllabi, icebreaker games, and a few basic conversations about the program. I had no clue that we would be getting a totally different experience.

“This week was like Orientation on steroids”

This week was like Orientation on steroids. We’ve already had hundreds of in-depth conversations about teamwork, sustainable development, renewable energy, and orangutans. We used LIFO to jump inside each other’s personalities for a morning and we got way too close to each other on the UVM ropes course in an afternoon. To top it all off, we’ve already had an utterly fascinating corporate meeting with an executive from Ben and Jerry’s (or Seventh Generation). It all was completely unexpected, and it’s been completely incredible.

I realized something very interesting over the last four days. I usually get to Kalkin a little early and have a few minutes to listen to some Phish and sip coffee as I wait for everyone else to arrive. On Monday, I felt like this group had the potential for chemistry. I noticed above-average chatter and smiles around the classroom. On Tuesday, I noticed the room was slightly louder as everyone switched their seats and met more people. By Wednesday, the room was rumbling like Grand Central Terminal as we greeted each other like lifelong friends. On Thursday, it was so loud I didn’t even try to listen to music.

And that’s when it hit me: this week was about forging us as a unit. The subject matter is what it is and we’ll either learn it or we won’t. It’s the conversations we’ve had this week and the activities we’ve done that will build the unbreakable foundation between us. I realized the true goal of Jones, Hart, and Fusco, the three-headed captain of our cohort’s maiden voyage, was to spark a unified fire between us that will guide us through the wild ride ahead of us. Now, as I sit tranquilly on Thursday night with a Switchback in my hand, I think our entire cohort will agree that they’ve unquestionably succeeded.

“Enjoy the Ride”

Editor’s Note: The Sustainable Innovation MBA Class of 2019 arrived on campus this week for orientation, the beginning of an intensive year of learning, discovery, and shaping of their futures. The following message to the new cohort was written by Kevin Hoskins ’18, reflecting on his own orientation week, his class’s recent graduation, and everything in between.

It’s hard to believe it’s over. It all went by so fast.

Last August, I packed up a van filled with my belonging and headed north, first on I-93 and then on I-89. I had come to Burlington to participate in a one-year, intensive MBA program. I had resisted graduate school and more formal education for a while, but something about this program spoke to me.

I soon found myself in a room surrounded by people that felt the same. We had come from different backgrounds, different work experiences, and from different areas of the country, a few from other nations.

What we soon found out is that we shared a similar feeling: that business-as-usual was no longer working and that it is time to transform and, if necessary, create businesses to respond to society’s challenges in a way that is more sustainable. That is, we need more market-based solutions to the challenges that face the world today.

“It all goes by so fast.”

In fact, it was a year ago today that I first met the other members of my cohort. They are, and remain, some of the most amazing people I’ve met. And I feel honored to have spent a year in a windowless room with them.

We began the year with a quintessential UVM activity: a trip to the university’s ropes course. In the first of many surreal moments this year, we also took turns looking at the solar eclipse that happened to be taking place that day. Then we played games to get to know each other, followed by other trust-building activities on the actual course. As I walked home that evening, reflecting on the experience and the first day of class, I remember thinking, “This is going to be a wild year. Enjoy the ride.”

We began the year studying business foundations: finance, strategy, brand marketing, and organizational behavior. We learned about the sustainability challenges facing the world. But soon enough, we found ourselves exploring topics that get at the heart of those challenges: strategic CSR, entrepreneurship, innovation, supply chain issues, public policy, and community development. And before we knew it, we were applying what we had learned in the classroom with businesses and organizations with real world challenges.

I tried to go into this year with no expectations for the experience. My initial goals were only to work as hard as I could and enjoy every minute of it. We know not if we’ll ever pass this way again…or something like that.

So, my advice, both to this next cohort and anyone that happens to be reading this, is to enjoy every minute of your time here. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Soak up every moment of it. Take advantage of every opportunity. Enjoy the time you have with the people you’re lucky enough to share a room with. Learn from them. And approach it all with a growth mindset: your intelligence and talent got you here, but the world needs more people that also have a love of learning, that communicate effectively, that work well on a team, and that have the resilience to get across the finish line.

The time flies by. Before you know it, you’ll be saying goodbye and moving onto your next opportunity. And if you’re lucky, you’ll be sitting here a year from now being thankful for every single minute that you got to spend with some of your new favorite people. Enjoy the ride. It all goes by so fast.

Students Advocate for Global Aid Policy for CARE International

A group of students* from The Sustainable Innovation MBA Class of 2018 travelled to Washington, D.C. in May to advocate on Capitol Hill on behalf of CARE International. The CARE National Conference, now in its 16th year convening, brings together citizen advocates, corporate responsibility professionals, philanthropists, humanitarians, and international development experts for advocacy training and congressional meetings on Capitol Hill.

Over the course of three days, the students participated in numerous educational sessions, learning about CARE’s impact and outlining the policy and political goals for the year. This year’s theme, “Your Voice, A World of Change” lifts up and celebrates the advocates whose voices help CARE continue to be the leader in creating positive change for women and girls on the global stage. The conference kicked off with prominent figures and speakers in the foreign aid space including Sally Yates, former Acting Attorney General; Helene D. Gayle; Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and multiple CARE and CARE Action! Voices.

Designed for new CARE advocates, the conference hosts a comprehensive introduction to successful advocacy: Advocacy 101, Congress 101, and CARE: Our Story. New advocates leave sessions with enhanced legislative understanding and overviews of this year’s top priorities for CARE.

Prepared with discussion points for the advocacy day on Capitol Hill, The Sustainable Innovation MBA students set out to meet with the offices of Vermont’s Congressional delegation: Representative Peter Welch, Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Patrick Leahy. In the meetings with the Congressional offices, the students advocated for co-sponsorship of the International Violence Against Women’s Act, a bipartisan bill to ensure that gender-based violence is a top U.S. foreign policy priority. This issue is an important priority because an estimated one in three women will face physical, mental or sexual abuse in their lifetimes. Violence against women has an immeasurable impact on women and girls, their families and their communities. IVAWA elevates the importance of these issues and places them at the center of U.S. foreign diplomacy.

The second request made to the Vermont delegation was to support the International Affairs Budget FY 2019 and request a funding increase that returns to the Obama-era funding levels. Proposed budget cuts by the Trump administration would slash funding for critical foreign assistance programs and jeopardize millions of lives around the globe.

Vermonters are lucky to live in a state where all members of the delegation are receptive and engaged in policy to sustain funding for international aid and development. Over the course of the CARE National Conference the students gained great insight into the top priorities for foreign aid policy and how to engage with political leadership to influence change.

*Andria Denome, Camille Fordy, Madeline Brumberg, Julia Lyon, and Kaitlin Sampson

Three Students Become LEED Green Associates, Eye Further LEED Accreditation

This post was written by Samuel Carey ’18

This year three Sustainable Innovation MBA students, ambitiously seeking to foster a greener economy, took on an additional workload outside their already busy schedules to prepare, practice and pass the test to become LEED Green Associates. Samuel Carey, Christopher Norcross, Robert Hacker (in photo, below, left to rightattended a LEED training workshop late in the fall, and spent the spring preparing. The final exam was not easy, but they all did fine. They are even contemplating going after the next level of certification becoming LEED Accredited Professionals, which would allow them to work as auditors.

Today, the importance of LEED is underestimated, and the students believe that it will soon become the norm, becoming part of all building codes. The built environment accounts for more than a third of our total energy usage, as well as an immense amount of fresh water. And buildings take up a lot of space, disrupting natural drainage systems and increasing the urban heat island affect. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a certification system made to create greener buildings and more livable urban environments. It is estimated that people will spend up to 90% of their time indoors, so it makes sense to prioritize both healthier and more environmentally friendly buildings.

Rob: “I like it because it’s making the human built landscape better work with and co-exist with the natural environment.”

The students were impressed by the organization and stages of development of a LEED project. They saw significant overlap amongst topics and core concepts from their SI-MBA course work. LEED projects start with stakeholder engagement and cross-functional team planning in a process called a Charrette. There, they must decide what characteristics the design will prioritize, and in which LEED categories it will receive points (i.e. Energy, Water, Sustainable Sites, Transportation, Materials and Resources, etc.). There are certain prerequisites that all LEED certified buildings must adhere to, but the remaining points are awarded as credits from a list of many. This enables the design team some flexibility and creativity. LEED awards more points for certain aspects based on overall priorities. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is the highest priority goal, so more credits are awarded for implementing energy efficiency, benign refrigerants and renewable energy.

Chris: “It’s awesome that they’ve been able to standardize sustainability in building infrastructure.”

Overall the LEED GA certification was an incredibly rich learning experience. The students think that some LEED training should probably be integrated into the SI-MBA program as the concepts and strategies are indeed incredibly impactful to continue transforming today’s businesses and creating tomorrow’s ventures!

Sam: “The fact that LEED certified buildings deliver on the triple bottom line really proves the case for sustainable business.”

“Your Stoke Won’t Save Us”: An Important Message For Businesses, Outdoor Enthusiasts, and Individual Change Makers Alike

This post was written by Dana Gulley ’17, founder and lead consultant of Third Peak Solutions. She can be reached at dana@thirdpeaksolutions.com.

You could say I was stoked when the postal carrier slid the May 14th edition of High Country News through my mail slot last month. The twice-monthly magazine covers conservation issues “for people who care about the West,” and over the last nine months, this New Yorker had become one of those people. Flipping through the pages, “Your stoke won’t save us: the idea that outdoor recreation leads to meaningful conservation rests on a very big ‘if,’” by Ethan Linck, jumped off the page at me.

Since moving to the little city of Bozeman, Montana last fall, my increased focus on rock climbing, mountain biking (photo, left), canoeing and backpacking has brought me closer to the outdoor recreation community, a community that is at the heart of this place and many others like it. That said, I’ve felt strangely further away from my conservation roots. I devoured the article, nodding, admittedly a bit self-righteously, through all 3,000 words. Yes, yes! This is what I have been saying. Outdoor recreation does not solely predict one’s environmental attitudes! While the outdoor recreation industry is willing to make increasingly political statements about protecting our wild places, they’re yet to show they are willing to pay for that protection! And my sustainable business training rushed back: we don’t need to settle for trade-offs! Businesses can do well by doing good.

The euphoria of seeing my opinion in ink was quickly replaced by guilt. Okay, so our environmental issues continue to mount and there’s opportunity being left on the table. What have I done about it? Those petitions I hawked as the outreach director for Riverkeeper, a clean water nonprofit in New York’s Hudson Valley, seemed like a distant memory, even though I spend more time in outdoor places than ever before in my life. And as a strategy consultant, I have found myself focusing on the more familiar world of non-profits as opposed to supporting and promoting sustainable businesses. As stoked as I was to read the article, I felt simultaneously counterfeit. With all the changes in my life, I had somehow lost my tribe: that community that is so essential to having the courage to face a big problem and do something about it. And I knew that tribe must exist here. After all, in 2015 the Montana state legislature was the 29th in the nation to pass a law that allows companies to legally register as benefit corporations.

Later that week, Business for Montana’s Outdoors, a coalition that includes some 180 businesses, hosted a panel discussion, “Tech and the Outdoors: How the ‘Montana Mystique’ is Fueling Business Growth.” In Montana, the tech industry provides 15,000 jobs and $1.03 billion in wages, and it’s growing fast. Panelists from several of Bozeman’s mature tech companies and start-ups focused on the competitive advantage Montana’s outdoors provides in everything from attracting and retaining talent to entertaining clients and customers. Panelists shared countless examples of how their companies were more successful because of Montana’s beautiful and enjoyable natural environment. What they didn’t share, were innovative ideas for how their businesses would ensure the ongoing protection of the outdoors, something they acknowledged was a critical asset.

The research shows that millennials are increasingly interested in being part of companies that they can feel proud of, companies that are actively doing something about the problems we face. And in the age of Patagonia replacing its product homepage with “The President Stole Your Land,” while mounting an aggressive lawsuit to fight the historic removal of public lands in Bear’s Ears National Monument, businesses have more permission than ever to act. Determined to push the envelope and proudly gripping the High Country News magazine, I stood up, and channeled the collective strength of my tribe, my Sustainable Innovation MBA cohort from the University of Vermont.  I hear how Montana’s outdoors helps you, but how will you help the outdoors?

While I was initially frustrated by the lackluster response (some non-profit donations here, a volunteer trail building day there), this experience reminded me of something I had lost sight of: if we are to overcome the momentum of the status quo that pushes businesses to think the same way they always have, then we must each harness our respective tribes and act now. Businesses need our help, as consumers and consultants, to innovate new models of corporate social responsibility that address the world’s problems while helping them thrive. We don’t have to start from scratch. As an outdoor recreator, I can be an ambassador for environmental advocacy in my community, limit my consumption by purchasing used gear or new gear from unparalleled companies like Patagonia, and support organizations like Protect our Winters (POW), a climate advocacy group that organizes outdoor enthusiasts to take action. As a consultant, I can build on the momentum of the 2015 law here in Montana to pursue for-profit clients and develop and share sustainable business best practices.

In case it inspires you to act, too, consider this my call for tribe-members and to recommitting myself to contribute to solutions instead of nodding along vigorously at the problems. And while these actions alone won’t save us, I’m stoked to do my part.

 

Alumnus-Founded Sap! Beverages Takes Top Honors at Food Pitch Competition

Sap! Beverages, which makes sparkling superfood beverages out of maple and birch tree sap, took the judges’ “Highly Commendable Award” at the recent FoodBytes pitch competition in Montreal.

Read more here.

Sap! was co-founded by The Sustainable Innovation MBA alumnus Chas Smith ’15 (left, in photo) and has been on a hot-streak in 2018, appearing on the ABC pitch show “Shark Tank” and being named a product trend to watch by Whole Foods Market.

FoodBytes! is a next-generation pitch competition that aims to discover the most ground-breaking food and agriculture (F&A) startups and provide them the mentorship and connections they need to grow. Since launching in 2015, 190 startups have pitched on the FoodBytes! stage, 1,250 startups have applied from 35 countries and more than 3,000 people have attended events in North America, Europe and Australia.

Using Design Thinking to Build A Better World

This post was written by Ian Dechow ’18 and Randy Baron ’18

Entering Kalkin 110 on a particular mid-April day was unlike any day before it; a lively if not curious environment awaited inside the classroom.

Against the auditorium style seating a table was set up and laid out with what could be confused as the tools from Dexter’s laboratory, a motley assortment of pliers, saws, metal files, and safety goggles were spread over a black tarp. On a second look around the room you notice a type of pinball style launching devices affixed to the front desk, a ping pong ball loaded into its cartridge, aimed at narrow vertical strip of peg board. On the ground in front of the desk beyond the pegboard barrier were two lines of tape outlining what we would come to learn was a landing strip of sorts. We were not sure what to think of this odd display as we took our seats, but were quickly informed by the excited and jovial explanation from Mike Rosen, our guest lecturer for the day.

Mike, an engineer and Research Associate Professor at University of Vermont, had come to the Grossman School of Business to teach a workshop on Design Thinking for The Sustainable Innovation MBA 2018 cohort. Mike, after telling us a little about his background, passed out an eclectic set of supplies to the pre-divided teams and told use what the challenge for the class would be. Using the launcher at the front of the room, the tools, and materials provided: pegboard, small metal sheets, PVC piping, ping-pong paddles, and various other connector type elements, we were to construct a device to divert a ping-pong ball around, over, or through the vertical pegboard barrier and land within the landing strip on the ground designated by red tape. Each team after understanding the challenge would get opportunity to ideate, prototype and test a device in order to achieve the unconventional task.

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