Getting to Know the Class of 2018: Kathrin Kaiser

Kathrin Kaiser ’18 left her previous position as EU Associate Category Manager – Business Manager for Wayfair to join The Sustainable Innovation MBA program.  She was interviewed by Isabel Russell, an undergraduate at UVM.

Why did you choose to attend The Sustainable Innovation MBA program?

I always knew I wanted to get an MBA in the U.S. to learn all the necessary skills it takes to be an entrepreneur, but after working in an exclusively profit-driven environment, I wanted to make a career change and use my resources to do “something good.” I felt that The Sustainable Innovation MBA would teach me fundamental business skills and combine them with a sustainable perspective to create profitable businesses that benefit the environment and society — plus Vermont seemed like the perfect environment for a green MBA program.

What has been your favorite part/element of the program thus far?

I really enjoyed the quant classes of the program – we were lucky to have had amazing finance and economics teachers who made learning about numbers really fun. I would say in general, the teachers are the greatest part of the program – they are so enthusiastic, caring, patient and knowledgeable.

The class discussions are also one of my favorite parts – sometimes we completely lost track of time because we had such engaging and interesting discussions and its amazing how much you learn from hearing all the different perspectives from your class mates and their large variety of backgrounds. The level of engagement in our cohort is just amazing!

What are three things someone considering the program should be aware of?

  1. You might not notice the amazing development you and your classmates make throughout the year – suddenly, it will be March and you will look back and compare yourself and your cohort to last summer and realize what amazing progress you all have made together.
  2. Your cohort will be more than just your classmates — your classmates will become a big family that supports, encourages, and empowers each other.
  3. You will become very confident with public speaking.

How has the Sustainable Innovation MBA helped you?

One of the greatest things is the broad network we’ve been building in the program and all the different perspectives we get to hear about — numerous guest speakers, events with the Advisory Board, or just engaging in discussions with my classmates have tremendously broadened my horizon and changed the way I look at things.

Wellington Management Talks About Investing in a Better Future

This post was written by Shari Siegel ’18

According to the Global Impact Investing Network (the “GIIN”), the financial markets will have to provide several trillion dollars annually if the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (“SDGs”) are to be met by 2030.[1]  Thus far, impact investing has been mainly the realm of a small group of institutional and wealthy individual investors, but that situation is now poised for change.  The GIIN’s new framework is calling for impact investing to be “made more accessible by developing new products suited to the needs and preferences of the full spectrum of investors (from retail to institutional) and to accommodate the capital needs of various types of investees.”[2]

The Sustainable Innovation MBA Class of 2018 started Module 4 of its program with a visit from Meredith Joly, Christopher Kaufman, and Quyen Tran from Wellington Management arranged by Professor Charles Schnitzlein.  The Wellington trio came to discuss how the privately held Boston-based investment manager is making impact investing a viable option for a larger pool of investors.

First, A Little Vocabulary.  “Impact investing” differs from “ESG investing.”  ESG investing is a strategy in which investments, usually equity in publicly traded companies, are chosen because the issuers have environmental, social or governance practices that align with the investor’s values; the companies in question may or may not offer products or services that are intended to address social or environmental problems.  (For example, an ice cream manufacturer that is well known for its advocacy of better environmental practices and equality issues may be an ESG investment, but wouldn’t be an impact investment.)  Impact investing is a strategy in which the investor chooses investments with a view to addressing specific social and environmental issues.  The core businesses of the companies that the impact investor invests in are specifically aimed at solving one or more social or environmental problem.  (For example, a healthcare technology company that enables people in remote locations to have “virtual” doctor visits so that they can obtain otherwise unavailable or cost-prohibitive care could be an impact investment.)  The social and environmental issues impact investing usually attempts to address are subsets of the SDGs, including addressing adequate housing, access to education, healthcare, climate, water resources, etc.

Traditionally, impact investing has largely been done through large private investments in private companies.  Such investments would normally be limited to institutional investors or Very or Ultra High Net Worth individual investors (i.e., investors with more than $5 million to invest).  The Wellington team came to talk about how impact investing can be done through selecting publicly traded stocks, bonds and mutual funds, which are much more liquid and have much smaller minimum investment requirements than private equity, thus making such strategies more widely accessible.

The SDGs establish a common language for NGOs (non-governmental organizations), foundations, governments and private investors as they each work in their own ways to solve the world’s most pressing problems.  Supported by its large, centralized research team, Wellington has identified hundreds of publicly traded securities that provide capital for companies and projects whose core businesses and missions address SDGs in one of three impact themes: life essentials (housing, clean water/sanitation, sustainable agriculture/nutrition, and health), human empowerment (education and job training, digital divide and financial inclusion) and environment (alternative energy, resource efficiency and resource stewardship).  As the manager of its own equity and bond funds and subadvisor for third party funds, Wellington monitors and measures not only the financial performance of the securities in its portfolios but also the social and environmental impact the companies and projects are having to ensure that investor goals are being achieved.  This is an example of one more way business is being used as a force for good.

[1]           Global Impact Investing Network, Roadmap for the Future of Impact Investing: Reshaping Financial Markets (March 2018) at 9.

[2]           Id. at 49.

Getting to Know the Class of 2018: Julia Barnes

Julia Barnes ’18 joined The Sustainable Innovation MBA program after spending the past decade working in progressive politics to further access to affordable healthcare, combat income inequality and take on the growing threat of climate change.

Why did you choose to attend The Sustainable Innovation MBA program?

I chose The Sustainable Innovation MBA because I wanted a different MBA experience that approached business and startups from a disruptive, innovative perspective. I don’t feel invested in historical takes on economic growth and was more connected with designing a MBA that connected with my progressive values.

What has been your favorite part/element of the program thus far?

For me, my favorite part is the challenge. We are capturing all of the content and value of traditional business school, but are always pushed to think about with a sustainable, triple-bottom-line approach. In this way, I find our experience is more inline with the reality of what we will face in applying our MBA and less in simple academic recall.

What are three things someone considering the program should be aware of?

1.  The commitment is serious. 7 hours a day of class with double the work load of a normal program means you have to take this seriously.

2.  Value your time with your classmates and lean on them to help you get through. You get to know people really well in our module learning teams and those friendships can really help you succeed.

3.  Explore things you never knew would be important to you. I found a significant draw to marketing and impact investing, which was definitely not what I had expected, but The Sustainable Innovation MBA affords you that exposure instead of tracking you into something that may not be your passion.

How has The Sustainable Innovation MBA helped you?

So far, it’s helped me set aside time in my life to clarify my purpose, to make some great new friends and connections, and to find an environment to have a rigorous business education while staying true to my values.

Anything else?

Burlington is the best place to live in the country. Seriously. There really isn’t a place where you can get whatever you could want in a big city in the most beautiful part of the country with all the attraction of a small town. I love it.

Four Clever Ways Packaging Changes Can Help Companies Can Reduce Their Carbon Footprint

This post was written by Kathrin Kaiser ’18

Sixty-three pounds of plastic, per person, ends up in landfills in the United States. An increased consumer demand for sustainability and the amount of waste coming from disposing packaging makes companies re-think their packaging. They start to incorporate new, sustainable materials and construction methods into their packaging to reduce their impact on the planet. Here’s four clever ideas for companies to reduce their carbon footprint by changing their packaging:

  • Reducing the ink in company logos

Big brands like McDonald’s or Starbucks might be able to save millions of dollars every year and help preserve the planet just by slightly changing their logos. “Ecobranding” is a project by Sylvain Boyer, a French graphic designer, where he demonstrates the impact of this slight change. A simplified version of the logos could save companies 10-39% in ink and result in additional secondary benefits, such as reduced printing costs and a cut in energy consumption.

  • Arekapak

That certain uses of plastic are “evil” is no longer news, not only to environmentalists but also to large corporations. But just banning plastic bags at the register might not be good enough – vegetables and fruits are often shrink-wrapped in plastic, causing tons of landfill. Especially the food industry could benefit from the idea of two female innovators: Arekapak. It is a food packaging alternative, made out of palm leafs and produced with very few water and completely without chemicals. The product is also compostable, heat- and cold-resistant and has a water-resistant surface. And like that wasn’t enough good news, Arekapak packaging serves as a dinner plate, too.

  • Edible Packaging

What if you could eat the packaging off your food instead of sending it to a thousand years of landfill doom? An Indonesia-based start-up called Evoware has developed just that. Evoware is a biodegradable, dissolvable, edible packaging wrap made out of seaweed (which is also packed with vitamins!). The company plans to create several variations of the product for instant coffee, sugar and seasonings – the packaging can then just be dumped into the hot water and dissolves. Another upside is that this product could help seaweed farmers raising their revenue and do something good for the environment: seaweed absorbs a great deal of the carbon dioxide in the sea!

  • Just eliminate packaging completely

“Original Unverpackt” (“original unpacked”) is a Berlin-based supermarket that works without food packaging. Customers just bring their own containers and have those weighed – they only take what they need and the weight of the containers is being subtracted at the register. The entrepreneurial founder- duo wants to reply to the rising demand for more sustainable products and services and alternatives to the “lavish” handling of resources. Similar concepts exist in Austin, Texas (In.Gredients) and London (Unpackaged). Furthermore, Original Unverpackt hopes to make organic food more affordable for people with lower incomes because of the removal of packaging.

Getting to Know the Class of 2018: Arielle Tatar

Arielle Tatar ’18  left her previous position as Aquatics Director at the YMCA Southcoast to join The Sustainable Innovation MBA program.  She was interviewed by Isabel Russell, an undergraduate at UVM.

Image result for Arielle Tatar Why did you choose to attend The Sustainable Innovation MBA program?

I studied business in college and found it extremely interesting and applicable in daily life. I grew up in a sustainable household where the values of The Sustainable Innovation MBA were lived every day, so it’s always been important to me. Attending this program was a way to bring these two passions together!

What has been your favorite part/element of the program thus far?

Although brief, our “Marketing Under Uncertainty” class was extremely interesting to me as I am very interested in marketing. Also, the field trips we have taken to Ben & Jerry’s and Rhino Foods, among other places, offer a real opportunity to see what we learn in action.

What are three things someone considering the program should be aware of?

1. Be aware of the weekly time commitment. You’re fitting a lot of information into a short period of time, so you’re going to work a lot of hours every week.

2. The faculty are experts in their fields and really want you to succeed. Realize that this program is top notch and take advantage of the opportunities that it gives you.

3. The relationships you build here are strong and with amazing people. I get to go to class every day with some of the smartest and most influential people I’ve ever met and I get to learn and grow from them. We are not a traditional MBA where we compete with each other to survive. We are a family that helps and raises each other up.

How has The Sustainable Innovation MBA helped you?

It has given me so many opportunities to connect with influential business people, as well as learn from top professors. It has also helped me to better understand the issues we face in the sustainability sector and how I can create change.

For Leaders, Feedback Is The Breakfast of Champions

This post was written by Liz Ford ’18

Feedback is the breakfast of champions. Feedback is a gift. Without feedback, leaders are cut off from the lifeblood of an organization and their ideas and abilities will wither and die. These are the words of Joe Fusco, Chair of The Sustainable Innovation MBA Advisory Board and leadership coach to our cohort.

Every other week we meet with Joe for the program’s Leadership Seminar, and even though it’s an optional supplement to our other rigorous coursework, everyone shows up ready to listen.

We spend a lot of time in the program filling our minds with financial equations, S.W.O.T. analyses and Organizational Behavior terminology – preparing to be the executives of the organizations of tomorrow. The leadership seminar is different: Joe helps us go beyond our textbooks to look at what true leadership really means.

Joe helps us to examine what our heads, hearts and hands are doing on a daily basis and how these cognitive, emotional and physical practices and abilities are impacting others. Impact is the key. It doesn’t matter our intentions: what matters is the effect that our actions have on others.

The best way to assess our impact is to be open to receiving feedback. Feedback allows us to see the difference between our intents and impacts, and work on closing the gap.

However, being open to feedback isn’t easy and it means addressing the natural — and sometimes quite strong — defensiveness that can pop up when hearing things about ourselves that don’t jibe with our own internal assessments.

Leadership Seminar has no grades and no required homework, which makes what we volunteered to do for Joe even more striking. He challenged us to complete two difficult assignments. One: come up with a list of 25 strengths and 25 weaknesses that we bring to the table as leaders. Two: ask someone who knows us well to create the same list for us, and then sit with them while they read it out loud.

The impact? As scary as this assignment seemed, it made each and every one us more receptive to learning about the behaviors and skills we need to work on in order to become more effective leaders. This lies at the heart of what we all came to The Sustainable Innovation MBA to learn.

Wake up every morning and get hungry for a big bowl of feedback, folks. It’s the breakfast of champions.

Getting to Know the Class of 2018: Robert Hacker

Robert Hacker ’18 joined The Sustainable Innovation MBA program upon completing his undergraduate degree from James Madison University.  He was interviewed by Isabel Russell, an undergraduate at UVM.

Why did you choose to attend The Sustainable Innovation MBA program?

I chose to attend The Sustainable Innovation MBA program to gain the tools necessary to make an impact on the world. More specifically, I attended this program because I wanted to learn how I could use business as a tool to increase the impact I could have with my environmental biology degree.

What has been your favorite part/element of the program thus far?

My favorite part of the program thus far is my practicum project and my classmates. My practicum project is with Propagate Ventures, an alumni-founded (Editor’s note: Harrison Greene ’16) agroforestry and permaculture start-up, which allows me to use my biology background and my newly gained skills from The Sustainable Innovation MBA. This cohort is a great gathering of people with diverse backgrounds with a similar impact oriented mindset, which is a awesome environment to be a part of every day!

What are three things someone considering the program should be aware of?

1. This will be one of the busiest, most informative years of your life.

2. Good time management skills are so important in this program.

3. You may never want to leave Vermont after the program.

How has the Sustainable Innovation MBA helped you?

I have learned so much in the past months, from financial skills to people skills. My classmates have taught me just as much as my professors, and I am lucky to be able to learn so much from my them, since I am one of the younger members of the class.

Reflections: Spring Break Edition

This post was written by Michael Krulin ’18. Students will be enjoying the rest and renewal of Spring Break from March 12 to March 16.

As the Class of 2018 is in the homestretch of The Sustainable Innovation MBA experience and most of us are eyeing the start of our welcome spring break, I can’t help but reflect on the program thus far and try to leave some insights for next year’s cohort.

Let it Settle

The opportunity that comes with a one-year program is that there is going to be more information coming at you then you can take in. There is a purposeful design to push the limits of the students in both materials covered and mental strain that comes with trying to fit more into a day than seems possible.  Allow yourself the space to be ok with not getting it all the first time through. You will be amazed at how it will tend to bubble back up and come back to you when you are ready.

Holding Space

To say that you will have emotions about the program is an understatement. What I have come to realize is that allowing myself to feel overwhelmed, frustrated, enlightened, or confused was part of my process figuring out my way of dealing with all the highs and lows of the program. You or one of you teammates is going to have an off day or two. My recommendation is to recognize where you are on that day, allow yourself the space to be with that emotion or feeling, and in doing so, you give validity to that emotion. Taking time at the beginning of the day to check in with yourself and go over the head, heart, and hands that represent your mental state, emotional state, and physical state will at the very least inform you of where you are starting the day.

Be Active

This one seems so obvious but when you start to have those long weeks and it never feels like there is enough time to do everything, make sure that you are getting into whatever activity you need. Move your body to allow your mind some time to absorb the information you have received that day.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Walter Isaacson’s biography about Albert Einstein:

“A new idea comes suddenly and in a rather intuitive way,” Einstein once said, “but intuition is nothing but the outcome of earlier intellectual experience.”

Allow yourself the time and space to have the new information mix with what you are bringing to the program and allow the creative process to happen.  

Good luck, it’s going to be great!

The Business of Health Care Delivery: The Social Determinants of Health

This post was written by Gregory Paylor ’18

In the US, health insurance coverage was broadened and expanded under The Affordable Care Act.  While this reduced the total uninsured population, cost per unit of care went unaddressed and the model of healthcare delivery has remained largely unchanged.  Only recently have we begun to see payment model initiatives attempting to address healthcare payment reform and improvement to patient outcomes.  Because of this, insurers have been looking for other ways to reduce downstream healthcare spending.  This is where the Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) come into play.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines SDOH as “the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age. These circumstances are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national and local levels. The social determinants of health are mostly responsible for health inequities – the unfair and avoidable differences in health status seen within and between countries.”  Examples of SDOH include: safe housing, food availability, segregation, exposure to crime, presence of trash, transportation options, and the natural environment.

Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Utah, and Vermont are all “testing strategies not only to link Medicaid and social services, but also to use Medicaid funds to actually deliver supportive services that affect social determinants of health. These value-based delivery system reforms include the creation of accountable care organizations, health homes, community health teams, and accountable communities for health.”

Rather than waiting for patients to come into the ER or be seen when a problem manifests, developing a network of community partners to proactively engage healthcare consumers is a preventative strategy that is important to take note of.  Insurers are making a point to positively influence the social conditions of its members as a way to save money on medical bills that could potentially occur.  This type of upfront investment has the potential to bring down healthcare spending while improving the health of underserved and vulnerable patient populations.   

Getting to Know the Class of 2018: Sarah Healey

Sarah Healey ’18 comes to The Sustainable Innovation MBA after a career in retail management. She was interviewed by Isabel Russell, an undergraduate at UVM.

Why did you choose to attend The Sustainable Innovation MBA program?

I chose to attend The Sustainable Innovation MBA program because I wanted to gain the skills necessary to have a productive role in my family’s business. The program drew my attention because of its small size and focus on sustainability and entrepreneurship.

What has been your favorite part/element of the program thus far?

My favorite element is the cohort itself. I really enjoy getting to spend five days a week in class with people who have similar interests to me. I feel like the cohort really allows you to develop strong relationships.

What are three things someone considering the program should be aware of?

1) it is very accelerated! but definitely doable. 2) there are so many support systems in place to help you through the challenging parts of the program. 3) Even when it is busy it is so much fun.

How has The Sustainable Innovation MBA helped you?

The program has helped me in ways I never imagined. It has greatly improved my emotional intelligence and provided me the toolkit to continue to improve  into the future.