Alumni in Review: Dana Gulley, Class of 2017

Dana Gulley ’17 is a consultant in private practice. She was the valedictorian of the Class of 2017. She was interviewed by Isabel Russell, an undergraduate at UVM

What have you been up to since graduation?

Making a whole new life for myself! I launched my own consulting practice, Third Peak Solutions, and spent much of the fall working from the road while my partner and I traveled around the west (Washington, Oregon, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico) figuring out a new place to call home. In November my partner landed a position at a very cool organization called Adventure Scientists and just after Thanksgiving we moved to Bozeman, Montana. After spending 30 years living in the Northeast, moving to big sky country is a pretty big life change. It’s somewhat terrifying, but mostly thrilling. Now that I’m settling into my new home, I’m focused on defining exactly what Third Peak Solutions does: organizational development consulting with conservation non-profits? Sustainable strategy consulting with for-profits? A little bit of both?

Why did you choose to attend this MBA program?

I’m passionate about environmental conservation and eager to see this work improved by a) building more effective and sustainable non-profits and b) engaging the business community to do their part in innovative and impactful ways. The Sustainable Innovation MBA program has the values that match my own and attracts a community of students, faculty and business partners that we must lean into if this important work is going to gain the momentum it deserves.

What was your favorite part about the experience?

Developing relationships with the people in my cohort academically, professionally and personally. As I work to build my own practice, I’m eager to emphasize team work in the way that The Sustainable Innovation MBA modeled it. Working with a team strengthens work products and makes the experience more rewarding.

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

I’m taking risks, staying true to my desire to transform business as usual, focused on building teams to tackle big problems, and figuring out how to balance an emphasis on non-profits and for-profits.

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

The program is not for everyone. You will not emerge with a clear set of pre-described next steps for making the world a better place. Instead, you will have a mindset, a network, and a toolkit of skills that will enable you to be entrepreneurial in building your own, unique path forward. The Sustainable Innovation MBA will serve you if you’re someone who is committed to keeping your brain switched on to constantly find better ways to make a difference. It’s a degree for movers and shakers.

Getting to Know the Class of 2018: Ben Hastings

Prior to joining The Sustainable Innovation MBA program,  Ben Hastings ’18  worked at Tiffany & Co. as a Global Sustainability Assistant. He was interviewed by Isabel Russell, an undergraduate at UVM. 

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

To work with the best and brightest in the sustainability field.

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

The guest speakers from Vermont companies offering guidance and expertise.

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

1. You will be pushed out of your comfort zone (in a good way).

2. You learn as much from your peers as you do from professors.

3. Be prepared to perform skits!

How has the Sustainable Innovation MBA helped you?

This program is helping to open up my creativity and entrepreneurial spirit!

What Is The Value of Social Capital?

This post was written by John M. Turner and originally appeared on the Grossman School of Business News Page.

Program Alums Diane Abruzzini ’17 and Ben Tacka ’15 Share Experiences With 2018 Cohort

There are many definitions of social capital, but one of our favorites is:

so·cial cap·i·tal

noun

1.   the network of social connections that exist between people, and their shared values and norms of behavior, which enable and encourage mutually advantageous social cooperation.

Capital can take several other forms including natural, human, financial and manufactured, however, for the current Sustainable Innovation MBA cohort, one way the concept of social capital is reinforced in the classroom is with the presence of several program alums.

Recently, as part of Associate Professor and The Steven Grossman Endowed Chair in Entrepreneurship Erik Monsen’s Start-Up Experience Panel, the class was joined by two program alums, Ben Tacka ’15 and Diane Abruzzini ’17.

By returning and sharing their experiences, Ben and Diane, along with the considerable number of other alums who have returned in one capacity or another, surfaced one of the programs great strengths: i.e. the power of the social capital inherent in a common sense of purpose, of community, of collaboration and the network they have now joined. A network devoted to creating profitable and sustainable business opportunities in a world undergoing transformational change.

That’s one reason why our Sustainable Innovation MBA program continues to bolster its growing reputation as one of the nation’s most innovative business programs by climbing to the No. 1 spot on The Princeton Review’s “Best Green MBA” list.

If you are ready to use business to change the world, find out more here.

Alumni in Review: Aditi Datta, Class of 2017

Aditi Datta ’17 is an Account Manager at Select Design, a strategic brand consultancy and design agency located in Burlington, Vermont whose clients include Doritos, Mountain Dew, Jim Beam, and Dunkin Donuts. She was interviewed by Isabel Russell, an undergraduate at UVM

Why did you choose to attend this MBA program?

I always knew I wanted to go back to school eventually but I wasn’t exactly sure for what. The Sustainable Innovation MBA program actually fell into my lap (because I was moving to Vermont one way or another) but I ultimately decided to do the program because of the emphasis on looking at things differently. Though I couldn’t articulate it before the program, I’ve learned that I am naturally inclined to solve problems through an atypical lens and encourage my peers/colleagues to do the same. The Sustainable Innovation MBA program was attractive because it seemed to be more focused on perspective and less focused on quantitative jargon, like traditional MBAs.

What was your favorite part about the experience?

I feel like this is a trick question! Above all else, the friends I’ve made through The Sustainable Innovation MBA program (past and present cohorts) are invaluable. Even though we aren’t sitting in the same room all day, every day I know that every person in my cohort has my best interest in mind and genuinely supports me in everything I do. Additionally, it was incredibly unique to be a part of a program — focused on sustainability, innovation, and entrepreneurship — that was actually a startup itself. It was both challenging and rewarding to take an objective look at the program and provide feedback that would continue to enhance the experience for future cohorts.

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

More than anything, I find myself using the vocabulary and tools learned in our various leadership and teamwork classes. Things like “how do I do this on Excel” are easy enough to Google but not everyone is well-equipped to discuss why a certain co-worker is rubbing so many people the wrong way or what actions can be taken to remedy this. Especially in a flat organization like Select Design, I’ve found that everyone is a leader in a sense so I try to offer assistance to my co-workers who are trying to navigate this unusual structure by using tools/skills learned in the program.

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

1.  The year will be over before you know it so take time to get to know your classmates outside of the classroom. They will be your biggest advocates and best “letters of recommendation.”

2.  It’s OK to not know exactly what you want to do after the program is over but don’t wait until August to start introducing yourself to the right people.

3.  Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself; everyone is new and everyone is nervous.

Getting to Know the Class of 2018: Lauren Emenaker

Lauren Emenaker ’18 came to The Sustainable Innovation MBA after spending time in Colorado as a Marketing Manager at the Vail Valley Charitable Fund. She was interviewed by Isabel Russell, an undergraduate at UVM

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

I had been working in marketing roles since undergrad and wanted to learn more about the other aspects of running a business. I was drawn to The Sustainable Innovation MBA program because of its focus on sustainability and entrepreneurship, specifically creating long-lasting businesses that will do good for the community and environment.

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

My favorite part has been learning from our diverse cohort and faculty, both in and out of the classroom. I also really enjoyed hearing from the guest speakers about their experiences in the field and their desires to create a more sustainable world.

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

1. It is an accelerated program so be ready to put lots of time and energy into classwork and team projects.

2. You will form lifelong friendships and connections.

3. That everything takes place in one classroom.

How has the Sustainable Innovation MBA helped you?

The Sustainable Innovation MBA has helped me have more meaningful conversations, think more strategically, question assumptions, and learn the foundations of business and sustainability. This program has helped me to better understand why some companies succeed and some companies fail.

A Few Of My Favorite Things…About The Sustainable Innovation MBA

This post was written by Randy Baron ’18

The Sustainable Innovation MBA program has created an environment where I can become the best version of myself. I am surrounded by a passionate and supportive group of teachers and students that challenge my viewpoints and help me move out of my comfort zone.

There is a diverse group of students in the cohort from many different walks of life. Students of the current cohort have experience in non-profit, law, engineering, science, education, agriculture etc. This diversity allows us to creatively solve problems and attack challenges from different angles. Throughout the program all of our professors have been stressing the importance of living a balanced lifestyle and focusing on mindfulness. This has been key to my personal development so far throughout the program.

Members of the Class of 2018 working together on a UVM Adventure Ropes Course challenge

One of my favorite aspects of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program is the collaborative nature. We get to work with four different groups of 3 to 4 students throughout the year. I find this valuable because it allows me to gain experience working with different types of people, network with my fellow classmates, and practice my leadership skills. Traditional MBA programs are more competitive and don’t encourage as much collaboration. In addition to collaboration with students there is also collaboration with thought leaders and change agents from all over the globe. This world-wide network is what makes The Sustainable Innovation MBA program the #1 Green MBA in America.

Another aspect of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program that I really enjoy is the focus on finding and developing passion. In our Leadership Seminar class with Joe Fusco we have learned that passion is one of the keys to great leadership. Life is filled with problems and, instead of fighting them and fearing them, we need to embrace them. Leaders love problems. A person needs to find problems that they enjoy solving every day. Another key aspect of leadership is being committed. A leader should be so passionate about their job that they wouldn’t quit even if they won the lottery. In order to find and develop this passion The Sustainable Innovation MBA program has created a career launch program where we get to listen to successful CEO’s, set SMART goals, refine our mission and vision, job shadow, attend career counseling sessions as well as attend conferences about sustainability.

I feel lucky and happy every single day to be a part of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program. I find learning about entrepreneurship, sustainability, and innovation fascinating. During one of the Sustainability Toolkit sessions we had the privilege of listening to Sherwood Smith, the Senior Executive Director for Engagement & Professional Development at UVM, talk to us about privilege/bias. This Toolkit Session inspired me to refine my personal vision. My vision is to see people of all ages and cultures come together unified and empowered by sharing the belief that they hold the power to solve the world’s greatest social and environmental problems on an individual level.

Tech Start-Up Helps Farmers Grow More, Waste Less

This article was written by Margaret Arzon ’17 and originally appeared at PYXERAGlobal.org. Margaret is currently a Business Strategy Consultant.

Accessing Information through Mobile Technology Gives Smallholder Farmers Much-Needed Support

Walking through the streets of India, it’s hard not to notice the plethora of fresh fruits and vegetables that line the sidewalks, pretty much everywhere you go. Just a short 30-minute drive out of the city center lands you in acres of cultivated fields where many of these crops originate.

Roughly 50 percent of India’s workforce is devoted to agriculture. This demographic is common in many other emerging and frontier countries where a dominant proportion of the population relies on farming for its livelihood. Smallholder farmer is a title given to people who own less than five acres of arable land. The vast majority of smallholder farmers live in a cyclical pattern of poverty as they struggle to access markets and sell their products at the best price. Lack of market access means that farmers often lose money, even in a high growth season, and a perfectly good harvest goes to waste. With such a fragmented system in rural areas, it is extremely challenging for farmers to generate a profit to support themselves and their families.

Lack of market access means that farmers often lose money, even in a high growth season, and a perfectly good harvest goes to waste. With such a fragmented system in rural areas, it is extremely challenging for farmers to generate a profit to support themselves and their families.

Smallholder farmers are not insignificant. Collectively, they represent 500 million farms around the world and employ approximately 2 billion people. They are responsible for about 80 percent of the food consumed in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. As the global population size charges toward an estimated 9 billion by 2050, the demand on smallholder farmers to increase crop yield will only continue to rise, along with the critical need to mitigate post-harvest losses. Analysts predict that food access will need to increase by 70 percent to feed 2 billion additional people on the planet, and production in developing countries would need to almost double. Food security is a global issue, and one that requires partnerships across all sectors to solve.

Continue reading “Tech Start-Up Helps Farmers Grow More, Waste Less”

UVM’s Sustainable Innovation MBA Ranked No. 1 Best Green MBA in America by ‘The Princeton Review’

This article was written by Jon Reidel and originally appeared at UVM.edu.

Six years ago when Sanjay Sharma took over as dean of the Grossman School of Business, he set his sights on an ambitious goal: to become the top MBA program in the country for sustainable innovation.

On the rise. UVM has been ranked No. 1 on The Princeton Review’s 2018 list of “Best Green MBA” programs. (Photo: Sally McCay)

That dream became reality on Oct. 31 when The Princeton Review ranked the University of Vermont Grossman School of Business’ Sustainable Innovation MBA program No. 1 on its 2018 list of “Best Green MBA” programs. UVM took over the top spot from the University of Oregon, which dropped to No. 4 behind second-place Yale and Portland State, followed by No. 5 Stanford.

The decision to replace a traditional 38-year-old MBA program with the nation’s first one-year AACSB-accredited MBA focused entirely on sustainable innovation seemed risky, but according to Sharma, was perfect timing. A growing demand by companies seeking managers to convert global sustainability challenges into business opportunities for triple bottom line performance – a measure of a company’s financial, social and environmental impact – was undeniable.

“We were fortunate that the Vermont brand and UVM’s strengths and identity resonated with the sustainability ethos,” says Sharma. “While it was a major risk for the school, we decided to take a big leap and go ‘all in’ because we were convinced that the future of business education was to educate managers for tomorrow so that they could develop profitable business solutions to societal needs and demands for the next 50 years.”

The “Best Green MBA” rankings are based on students’ assessments of how well their school is preparing them in environmental/sustainability and social responsibility issues, and for a career in a green job market. The Grossman School of Business’ Sustainable Innovation MBA was also included in The Princeton Review’s list of the 267 Outstanding On-Campus MBA programs. This list was based on data from surveys of 23,000 students attending the schools and of administrators at the graduate schools.

Worldwide practicums with top companies, access to exclusive job network set program apart.

A number of aspects of UVM’s Sustainable Innovation MBA set it apart from other programs. The course curriculum, based entirely on sustainability and innovation, is delivered by world class faculty in this arena under four modules: foundations of management; building a sustainable enterprise; growing a sustainable enterprise; and focusing on sustainability.

Following coursework, students engage in a three-month practicum – a capstone experiential project to address issues such as poverty, climate change, and the environment – with companies like PepsiCo, 1% For the Planet, Philips, Ingersoll Rand, Burton, Keurig, and Facebook. Students traveled to India, Mexico, Ghana, Brazil, Denmark, China, Kenya, and Guatemala to complete practicums, which have led to sustainability and innovation-related jobs at Ben & Jerry’s, King Arthur Flour, Pottery Barn, Seventh Generation and others.

Students also have access to a new career management system called “Launch” designed to propel them into careers in renewable energy, clean tech, affordable health care, inclusive business, entrepreneurship within larger companies, start-ups, and other innovative ventures. The program’s Changemaker Network, composed of more than 125 companies and individuals focused on sustainable business, puts students in direct contact with mentors who help them land jobs within the program’s condensed 12-month format.

“We devote one hundred percent of our energy to creating a robust back end that injects people into an opportunity network that helps students realize their personal and professional dreams,” says professor and Sustainable Innovation MBA co-director Stuart Hart, the world’s leading authority on the implications of environment and poverty for business strategy. “If you are a student interested in figuring out how to use the power of business and enterprise to make a positive impact on the world, that’s all we do.”

The Princeton Review ranking comes on the heels of a No. 8 ranking by Corporate Knights – a Toronto-based media and research company focused on clean capitalism – in its “Better World MBA Rankings.” The UVM program moved up two spots from last year and is now ranked third among U.S. schools, trailing only Duquesne University and MIT’s Sloan School of Management.

Corporate Knights ranks programs based on the number of core courses, institutes and centers, and faculty research produced in the last three years related to sustainability, including corporate responsibility, human rights, and ethics.

“We are excited to teach and help launch the next generation of innovative leaders who will create the kinds of transformative sustainable business models and strategies that the world demands,” says professor and co-director David Jones. “We are also honored to have our unique MBA program recognized by these organizations after just our third cohort of graduates.”

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.

Learn More (via TriplePundit)

I Spent 5 Months Thinking About Climate Change In A New Way, And Why Your Company Should Do The Same

This post was written by Bianca Mohn, SEMBA ’16

When we hear the words “climate change,” so often what comes to mind is negative. Images of dry, barren fields, polar bears desperately clinging to melting ice caps, Donald Trump as he fiercely denies its existence – you get the picture. These associations are well ingrained in our conceptualization of climate change as an overwhelming monster of destruction that we would rather not think about. This mindset carries over to the corporate world with businesses not addressing climate change in their strategic planning, preferring instead to focus on other “more pressing” priorities.

Climate change is terrifying in the big picture. But it does us no good to run away in fear of the changes and to avoid addressing it all together. We need a new way of thinking about climate change, a mindset that recognizes the challenges yet is motivated to act. What if, for instance, climate change was viewed as an opportunity rather than as a threat? What if companies included climate change in their strategic planning as a way to increase their performance and not just as a risk assessment?

Some companies are already embracing this new way of thinking about climate change. For five months I worked as a sustainability strategy consultant for Interface Inc., a global carpet manufacturer headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. Interface has a long history of sustainable thinking that began when the founder Ray Anderson had an epiphany on how business can make a positive impact in 1994. He challenged his company to “Be the first company that, by its deeds, shows the entire world what sustainability is in all its dimensions: people, process, product, place and profits – and in doing so, become restorative through the power of influence.” Since then Interface has been working towards its Mission Zero goals to have a net zero impact on the environment by 2020. Interface is poised to meet its 2020 goals, and is now working on the next chapter of its sustainability agenda.

Here is where the new thinking on climate change comes in. Interface has announced a new initiative called Climate Take Back, an ambitious strategy to work towards reversing climate change by 2050. Climate Take Back has four platforms – “Live Zero” to continue operating with a zero net impact on the environment, “Love Carbon” to use carbon as a resource to build and to create, “Let Nature Cool” to let nature do its job without any interference from the company, and “Lead the Industrial Re-revolution” to inspire other companies to create new business models. As the sustainability strategy consultant, I created frameworks to help Interface identify the goals for each platform, articulate what success looks like for Climate Take Back overall and for the four platforms, and delivered recommendations for key strategies, metrics, timelines, stakeholders, external partners, and how to engage employees. In everything, the question was how climate change will provide opportunities for Interface to improve its products, operations, customer satisfaction, employee engagement, profits, and external relationships.

What I learned through this experience is that there are so many opportunities around climate change that other companies are overlooking. Take carbon, for instance. The rhetoric around carbon emissions is usually focused on the increasingly dangerous levels of CO2 and the rising global temperatures. The Scientific American featured an article by Scott Waldman in March 2017 which featured the headline “Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Hits Record Levels” followed by “It marks five consecutive years of CO2 increases of at least 2 parts per million, an unprecedented rate of growth.” Fear is a natural reaction to reading this, followed by a sense that the problem is too enormous to even begin to tackle. Intimidating as these facts may be, we need the science and facts, particularly in the post-fact world that we seem to be living in. But we also need hope, creativity, and resourcefulness. We need more companies like Interface who look at rising CO2 levels and resolve to make their products out of carbon neutral and carbon negative materials by 2050. We need business leaders to recognize that social and environmental effects of climate change will inevitably impact their businesses, and that now is the time to innovate around the challenges and opportunities that climate change will bring.

We also need to educate future business leaders to look at climate change through the lens of opportunity. I graduated with a MBA focused in sustainability from the University of Vermont’s Sustainable Entrepreneurship MBA (SEMBA) program. The program integrated sustainability into every class, from marketing to finance to operations. This program teaches students how to look at world issues such as climate change, poverty, inequality and ethics, and to see how business can make a positive impact. This mindset should not be exclusive to niche educational experiences, but instead the type of thinking that all business students should be trained in. Companies should then be eager to recruit and hire these types of thinkers to form creative and innovative teams.

At the end of the day, climate change is the future and context of opportunity. What is needed is less of “climate change is not my problem and I can’t do anything to fix it” thinking and more of “what can I do and what can my company do to maximize the opportunities from climate change by making a positive impact?” When individuals and companies redefine a threat as an opportunity, it makes space for innovation, creativity, problem-solving, collaboration, and connection. If we can work towards this with climate change, then our world will be a healthier and happier place to be.