Alumni in Review: Kaitlin Sampson ’18

Kaitlin Sampson is a member of the Class of 2018. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Where are you currently working, and what is your role?

I’m a Communications & Programs Associate at the Sustainable Food Lab.

Why did you choose to attend The Sustainable Innovation MBA program? What were you doing before?

I worked in the hospitality industry and was looking for a career pivot that focused on sustainability and allowed me to use my skills for a good cause.

What was your favorite part about the MBA program experience?

The curriculum and the vast network that The Sustainable Innovation MBA provides.

How are you applying the tools/skills you learned in the program, post-MBA?

The Food Lab was created by systems thinkers so I feel very fortunate to work with others to think about agricultural production in a system everyday. One of my recent projects has been collaborating with cocoa farmers to increase incomes through women-led diversification. Having base-of-the-pyramid experience from The Sustainable Innovation MBA has been very helpful.

What would you tell someone who is considering The Sustainable Innovation MBA?

That the program has a lot of diversity and a wide network which will allow you to explore different interests. Within just a year you’ll learn a lot about yourself and you’ll come away with concrete skills.

The Value of Soft Skills in an Increasingly Automated Workforce

This post was written by Kate Barry ’20. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

How do you stay competitive in a job market that is becoming increasingly more automated? This is a question on many people’s minds in all areas of the workforce today. Tiger Tyagarjan attempts to answer this daunting question in his article from the Harvard Business Review, “To Prepare for Automation, Stay Curious and Don’t Stop Learning.”  Tyagarajan cites a number of possibilities for workers to stay ahead of the curve when faced with an increasing automated workforce, a concept we have talked about in depth in our Sustainable Brand Marketing class this module.

When first faced with the uncertainty of job security in the future, one may have a knee-jerk reaction to fight against the development of artificial intelligence, or maybe try to out-smart it, by developing more highly-technical skills. Both of these options, I believe, will eventually be losing battles as technological advancement will roar on whether or not we are fully ready for it. Perhaps, as Tyagarjan suggests in his piece, instead of fighting the advancement of artificial intelligence, humans can differentiate themselves by embracing their “humanness” through the development of soft skills.

Soft skills are the tools someone uses to interact with others in an effective manner, a concept entirely dependent on self-awareness. They include one’s emotional intelligence, their level of empathy, ability to work in a team, etc. These are the skills that will differentiate humans from artificial intelligence in the workforce moving forward.

Thus far in The Sustainable Innovation MBA program, there has been a large emphasis on the development of soft-skills between our Teamwork for Sustained Innovation class, The Leadership Seminar, and copious amounts of group work. Some of the hesitation in regard to entering into a non-traditional MBA is the larger mix of skills learned beyond the traditional aspects of a business education.  While I have gained a great deal of value and personal development through our work so far, it’s hard to know what the business world is looking for when hiring. It is reassuring to see that the business community values the importance of soft skills, and their many applications in the workplace.

So, how do you stay competitive in a job market that is constantly becoming more automated? Lean into your humanness, strengthen your self and other-awareness, and in the words of Joe Fusco, “have a love affair with the truth.”

Photo by Owen Beard on Unsplash

Getting to Know the Class of 2020: Jared Alvord

Jared graduated from the University of Vermont in 2010 with a degree in Environmental Studies. He has been in the solar industry since then, working on projects ranging from residential to utility scale. In 2017, Jared founded Mad River Solar, a small utility scale solar and battery storage development company. Jared lives in the Mad River Valley of Vermont with his wife Emma, and dog Maggie. He is an officer on the local volunteer fire department, and a member of the towns Development Review Board. Jared is an avid outdoorsman, and loves to hike, ski, fish and hunt. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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

The Sustainable Innovation MBA fit directly into my vision for the type of business leader I wanted to be. I needed a program that would teach me the invaluable MBA skills needed to scale my solar business, while bringing along with it an innovative new way of thinking about the future of business.

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

The program is tailored to bring you the skills of tomorrow, while giving you the base that every business leader needs to succeed.

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

1) The program is intense being focused into one year, so plan for this. 2) While the program brings you innovative and disruptive skills surrounding sustainability, you still gain those base MBA skills needed to succeed. 3) Burlington, Vermont is cold and snowy in the winter, so bring your skis!

How has The Sustainable Innovation MBA benefitted you so far?

I have already taken some of the skills learned in the program back to the solar company that I own. This program has direct real world value.

What business, sector, or issue would you like to have an impact on after the program?

The energy industry through the deployment of renewable energy.

Anything else?

One of the best parts of the program is the diverse and ambitious class. Our class has become very close friends in a short period of time.

Sustainable Innovation MBA Students Strike for Climate Change

This post was written by Jackson Berman ‘20

On Friday, September 20, 2019, MBA students from UVM’s Sustainable Innovation MBA Class of 2020 joined forces with youth activists, students, and workers around the world to demand a just future free from fossil fuels. These global strikes are happening before the UN Climate Action Summit next week – our goal is to put pressure not just on politicians, but people from all generations. Climate change is a moral issue, it’s happening now, and we have an opportunity to take action.

Students from the Class of 2020 at the Burlington, VT Climate Strike on September 20, 2019.

Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon will all be participating in strikes across the country. Locally in Burlington, SI-MBA students followed in the footsteps of Burton Snowboards, Ben & Jerry’s, Seventh Generation, and environmentally focused non-profits such as 350 Burlington, VPIRG, Climate Disobedience Center, and Sunrise Movement.

Students from the Class of 2020 at the Burlington, VT Climate Strike on September 20, 2019.

We as the Sustainable-Innovation MBA Class of 2020 have also teamed up with some inspiring alumni to march for climate justice! I talked with Brodie O’Brien ’14 and now Digital Marketing Manager at Ben & Jerry’s.

“Here at Ben & Jerry’s, we see our opportunity as providing people with an onramp first-step into engaging in large-scale issues that may feel insurmountable. Climate change is a big, scary topic that’s too big for one person to address alone: we think that the power of collective action can change the system. That’s why we’re here at the Burlington Climate Strike scooping today – we want to celebrate our fans who are already involved with Climate Action, and provide a fun way for new people to get excited about creating real collective positive change.” Brodie also noted that “we use our digital channels to raise awareness of movements amongst fans, it goes beyond just showing up physically at events.”

Brodie O’Brien ’15 (right), Digital Marketing Manager at Ben & Jerry’s

Climate change is truly a world crisis: we have an obligation to create sustainable business solutions that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.  

Insight: Albert Kittell ’20

EDITOR’S NOTE: As part of Orientation Week, the Class of 2020 visited iconic, mission-driven companies here in Vermont for conversations about sustainability, innovation, and Business 2.0 with executives. We asked Albert Kittell ’20 about his take-away from a visit to Ben & Jerry’s headquarters.

Albert Kittell ’20

“After visiting Ben & Jerry’s South Burlington offices it became very clear to me, a native Burlingtonian, that the scope of the company’s influence was much greater than I realized. Ben & Jerry’s, since middle of the 1980s, have put in place innovative and lasting initiatives that often were the first, or among the first, in the world.  These included “Shared Prosperity,” social, and economic equality, and environmental issues. If an ice cream company can do all of that, then any business headed by similar type thinkers can help strike change in industry.”

Finding Impact in Public Market Investments

This post was written by Peter Seltzer ’19

Impact investing is the hottest trend in finance right now with now over $12 trillion in assets invested. Over the course of the last year I have spent a significant amount of time studying the industry, including being on the winning team of the Wharton Total Impact Portfolio Challenge (TIPC). Throughout the year, I have looked for the best ways to generate impact through public market investments and below is summary of my conclusions.

Invest in Companies with Embedded Sustainability Practices

In the TIPC my team encountered the question, how do you pick the best ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) or SRI (Socially Responsible Investing) fund to invest in? In our corporate social responsibility course, we learned that the companies with the most successful sustainability efforts are those that embed these sustainability practices into their core business practices. To maximize the collective impact of a public equity investment, you should invest in funds that hold companies that are embedding sustainability into their core business practices.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

To determine how well a company is embedding sustainability we used a framework developed by the Sustainable Accounting Standards Board (SASB) to determine what the most material sustainability issues are for the companies being held by a fund. If a company wants to embed sustainability into their core business, then they must perform well on the sustainability issues that are most material to their industry. Based on a scoring system we developed, we were able to quantify this embeddedness for public equity funds.

Balance Long-Term and Short-Term Needs

Public market impact investments are focused on the long-term collective changes that need to happen to create a more sustainable world. It is extremely important that these investments continue to occur. However, while we invest for the long-term, we cannot overlook the people who are suffering right now. It is great to invest in companies that are creating cheap renewable energy, but that does not immediately help the family that cannot pay their heating bill during these cold Vermont winters. Investors need to harness the financial power that is generated through their long-term investments to help address the short-term needs that are so often overlooked.

The most efficient way to create the direct impacts needed to address these short-term problems is through charitable donations. I know! Charity is a dirty word in finance, especially in impact investing. It certainly has its flaws, but it is the most direct way to balance long-term and short-term needs.

Behavioral economics will suggest that those that invest responsibly will be more likely to suffer from the effects of moral self-licensing, which in turn makes them less likely to donate to charity. I propose that those that participate in SRI or ESG investing, allocate a portion of the dividends they receive through these investments to charitable causes that support short-term needs. Typically, dividends will automatically be reinvested back into shares of the fund that distributed them, so this money never enters the metal accounts of an investor. Thus, allocating a portion of their dividends to charity will have no effect on a person’s mental accounting and eliminate any moral self-licensing effects of responsible investing.

In summary, the best way to create impact through a public market investment is to balance the long-term changes needed, by investing in companies that embed sustainability into their core business practices, with the short-term needs of today, by allocating a portion of a portfolio or fund’s dividends to charity.

Blockchain for sustainable business: new technology & culture in sustainable enterprise management

This post was written by Henry Vogt ’19

As corporations have begun to understand the necessity of embedding sustainability into their core strategy and competencies it has become apparent that holistic management of operations must be done in an intentional and transparent way. It’s increasingly clear that all aspects of an organization – from product design, operations, marketing, HR & more – must collaborate transparently to effectively manage a sustainable enterprise and realize ROI from their initiatives. Companies can promote growth, reduce risk and increase returns though processes that provide clear, concise and trusted information across all departments.  

Photo by Clint Adair on Unsplash

There is no doubt that a robust technological management system is the backbone for implementing a holistic sustainability management program – a system which allows for transparency and trust across all departments. Many organizations are positioned to take advantage of cutting-edge technological systems to give them a sustainable competitive advantage – as long as there is a strong aligned company culture.

Enter Blockchain. Often when Blockchain is mentioned a reaction is one of eyes glazing over, a chuckle and some skepticism due to the mysterious, undoubtably complex connotations that surround this technology. This is understandable. Yet, the reality is that the concept of blockchain is relatively simple. Instead of a central authority verifying a transaction or data set, the verification is distributed and decentralized across a network. The verifications are on a ledger (think accounting), where changes and additions are append only – you can’t go back and change it. Therefore, the transactions become transparent, immutable and tamper proof. Implemented correctly, the potential applications spanning public and private sectors are almost categorically endless.

Has this created a hype bubble around blockchain? Undoubtably, yes. However, as the technology progresses and use cases and applications evolve, the hype around blockchain seems to be looking less like a bubble and more like a paradigm shift. With the possibility to make blockchains customizable – private, permissioned or public – companies can choose from an ever-growing panacea of platforms that can meet their needs. Additionally, companies must approach blockchain by first understanding the problem – then assessing why blockchain could be an effective solution. Just like any technology, blockchain is not a silver bullet solution. It must be asked – “Can this be solved by a traditional database, and does the need for transparency, decentralization, trust and immutability warrant a blockchain solution?”

While blockchain can incentivize effective management through transparency of operations, it is also essential that it be complimented by continuing to invest in human capital – the culture – of the company. Transparency can create accountability, competition and innovation – but the technology itself must not be the crutch. The culture and the affective commitment of the people in the organization will always be at the heart of a profitable, sustainable organization. While technology can be a powerful tool to implement solutions, the investment in human capital cannot be lost.

New technologies hold vast potential to disrupt and improve business and society – but without a mutually inclusive investment in culture any initiative will not reach its potential or may even cause inverse, negative externalities. When culture and values are complemented with decentralized, transparent technologies such blockchain, the future of managing successful sustainable enterprises holds immense potential.

Julie Keck, Class of 2019 Class Speaker

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Sustainable Innovation MBA Class of 2019 was celebrated at their program-end Inauguration ceremony on August 17, 2019 at the Royall Tyler Theater on the campus of the University of Vermont. Julie Keck ’19 was chosen by her cohort to deliver the Class Speaker address. The text of her remarks is below.

Before I get started, it’s important to point out that this event is taking place on traditional Abenaki and Wabanaki land, and it is a privilege to have been educated on – and to now graduate within – the land that they have stewarded.

Julie Keck

I have the honor of speaking to you today because my peers voted for me. I suspect those who clicked on my name either thought I would say something funny, say something touching, or politely ‘stick it to the man.’ Those hoping for any of these three things will be satisfied. 

If you have gone through this Sustainable Innovation MBA program at the University of Vermont – or if you love us, teach us, or support us in any way – you’ll know that we completed many, many, many presentations in this program. While public speaking can be stressful for some, it was no secret in our classroom that I love a good microphone. For me, the only problem was that I had to share my presentation time with my lovely classmates.

But now – finally – the microphone’s all mine. And I Have Some Things to Say.

But first more about me: when I was little, and I was super cute when I was little, my dad would sometimes ask me a question, and I’d respond with: “Let me sing you about it.” Those who’ve come to live-band karaoke with me at Sweet Melissa’s over the past year will be relieved to know I’m not actually going to do that.

Another response I sometimes had to questions was: “I can’t know that yet.” 

I like that better than “I don’t know,” don’t you? It conveys that one might not *currently* have the knowledge to answer a question, but that the knowledge is surely on the horizon. Four-year-old ME had some insights that adult ME had lost in the ensuing years. I like to think I regained some of that intellectual optimism this past year. 

However, to be totally honest, and I consider you all my best friends, so I will always be honest with you, my pessimistic side almost kept me from applying to business school at all…

Because I’m not supposed to be here. For a few reasons.

Julie Keck, right, and partner Jess King

First, I am a woman. 

This year, there were more women on the Fortune 500 list of CEOs than ever before. Sounds like progress, right? Wanna know what the number was? 33. 33 out of 500. Let me make that clearer. Out of 500 CEOs on that list, 467 were men, and 33 were women. That’s 6.6%. That’s appalling.

A Very Special “Innovator-in-Residence:” Stuart Hart

This post was written by Esteban Echeverria ’19

It is May 8 — the last day of classes, and just like every three weeks or so, we have a speaker come to our class and talk to us for the whole morning. This time it is the one and only Professor Stuart Hart, and by now we should know him and his teachings pretty well.

Professor Stu Hart

For the ones who do not know, Dr. Hart is the backbone of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program. His research, in conjunction with other experts in the field, such as C.K. Prahalad, and Dean Sanjay Sharma, provide much of the material we study in our classes.

As we know Dr. Hart quite well by now, he decided to base his lecture on where we are now as a society, and where we are headed in the future, as well as some of his current research. After some 500 years of history, he explained the many phases of the most important economic systems the world has been going through— feudalism, mercantilism, industrial capitalism, institutional capitalism, financial capitalism. He finally mentioned the next phase that we are transitioning to— what he called the new sustainable capitalism. Each of phases have been going through a cycle of power and economic distribution that repeats itself, were we keep making the same mistakes, falling on the same bumps, and ending up in the same place, which is not exactly a good one.

We are now in a moment in history haunted by a severe climate crisis, as well as a social one, where inequality is hitting major milestones that are getting close to the point of no return. It is a point where the Milton Freedman’s “increase of shareholder value” corporate objectives, as well as the concept of tying the payment of chief executives and senior leaders to performance, are to be reviewed and thought over. 

It not only has led to multinational corporations practicing stock buyback and cut R&D spending as well as operational spending including employee pay, among other strategies to raise the prices of their own stocks, but also focus on quarterly earnings reports and quick fixes to their unsustainable models. The pressure of investors, analysts, and high frequency traders has let these companies forget about the long-term strategies required to sustain their operations, as well as promote the wellbeing of their stakeholders. Shareholder primacy, as noted in the past, is not a legal obligation, but the system as of now is fixed for this purpose. 

One of the objectives of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program is to create the new generation of businessmen and businesswomen determined to go about their decision making process taking not only financial, but also environmental and social aspects into account. As a student of this program, and part of this community, I would also like to act as a sustainability enabler, by attempting to contribute to corporate transformation from the inside out. Many of these public multinational corporations need to recognize their identity, strengths, and reason of existence, and use it as a tool to transform and modernize their operations and value propositions to ones that contribute to the wellbeing of the environment and society. By doing so, they secure their long term operations for the future.

Now that we have finished the lecture portion of this program, I am a step closer to become part of The Sustainable Innovation MBA alumni community, the one that is building the business leaders that the world needs. I recommend this experience to anyone that is trying to make an impact, and be part of the transformation we are going through.