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.

An Invisible Problem and Unrealized Opportunity

This post was written by Andre Paul ’19

The “Pains” of a Sustainable Innovation MBA Student

Capacities of time and energy fill up rather quickly for Sustainable Innovation MBA (SI-MBA) students, especially during finals week (and there are roughly eight finals weeks, or two per module, by my count). During the busiest weeks of SI-MBA, workload quickly outpaces recovery, mental health declines, and so does learning, in my estimation.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Such are the challenges of an accelerated program. If you want to earn a Master’s degree in a year, then you ought to make the requisite sacrifices. You have to “pay your dues” so to speak. Most nights call for hours of reading, most of which a student cannot complete because he or she simply lacks the reserves of either time, energy, or attention span (or all three).

Might we be able to reduce a SI-MBA student’s sacrifices while improving his or her learning outcomes?

A Possible Solution

Hypothetically, let’s replace three hours of reading per week (across all classes) by three hours of listening to some form of audio media (primarily podcasts) that covers the same (or similar) material.

SI-MBA students undergo 33 weeks of full-time course work. This simple intervention could therefore save roughly one hundred hours over the course of the program, doing the quick math. SI-MBA students could then apply those hundred hours toward networking, proactive planning, and restorative activities (sleep, perhaps!).

A few professors of the 2019 cohort assigned podcasts for homework, though only as supplemental materials. Multiple professors assigned occasional TED Talks as mandatory material, but while videos may require less mental effort for students to digest, I argue that they involve most of the same trade-offs as reading.

To explore this possible “solution”, I’ll walk through three of the main advantages of audio media over reading and video:

Why Podcasts are More Effective Media than Books or E-Readings

  1. Podcasts Allow You to Multi-Task

People have busy lives, which is why very few will read this blog post and even fewer will actually read every word.

Hundreds of pages of reading (assigned on most nights in the SI-MBA program) become quickly exhausting. This is probably why I did not hear a single student claim that he or she read every assigned reading – not even for a single class. Students therefore head into class discussions having absorbed varying breadths and depths of the pre-assigned material, which leads to disparities in discussion.

Podcasts, by allowing students to multi-task (thereby preserving time and energy), could ameliorate such challenges. To illustrate without belaboring this obvious point, here is just a short list of activities that one might perform while listening to a podcast:

  • Driving
  • Walking
  • Cleaning
  • Exercising
  • [Literally anything that consumes time, but leaves mental capacity idle]

In short, by listening to a podcast instead of reading, a student could complete homework while completing housework, commuting to school, or doing a favorite activity.

Continue reading “An Invisible Problem and Unrealized Opportunity”

Learnings from Consensus 2019: Will Blockchain Herald the Web 3.0 Future that Technologists Dream Of?

This post was written by Matt Iacobucci ’19

Author’s Note: In our Sustainable Innovation MBA program, we talk a lot about sustainability! But for the purposes of this post, I’m going to focus the discussion on the “innovation” side of things. After all, in frontier market contexts where the opportunity to “leapfrog” technology exists, sustainability and innovation really do go hand in hand.

The author at Consensus 2019

Last week I had the distinct pleasure of representing The University of Vermont’s Sustainable Innovation MBA program at CoinDesk’s Consensus 2019 Blockchain Conference in NYC. In attendance were founders of blockchain startup companies, software developers, institutional investors, regulatory agencies, blockchain journalists, and academics from around the world. The topics covered by keynote speakers, panelists, and facilitators of hands-on workshops were vast, and I could not help from allowing the imaginative techno-futurist within me dream of the type of social good that could come from a decentralized “Web 3.0.”

Before I lose my audience with heady predictions of a decentralized web future, I suppose I should first share why I attended this 3-day conference in NYC to begin with – that is, to expand my network within the blockchain development community and learn from industry leaders about how this new technology, blockchain (or “distributed ledger technology”), can be used in business to address the social and environmental challenges that exist today, particularly in frontier market contexts. And for what it’s worth, I’ll share with you what I see in my crystal ball later.

Wait Wait, Slow Down…What is Blockchain?

Put simply, blockchain, or “distributed ledger technology”, is a type of distributed database stored on a continuous ledger. Participants in a blockchain network can securely store their data on the continuous ledger such that no central authority or administrator can tamper with that data, adding the qualities of both transparency and immutability. This is where blockchain differs from a traditional database. At the end of the day, the real value that blockchain technology offers is trust.

Applied Learnings from Consensus to Practicum

This summer, I will be working with classmates Esteban Echeverria and Henry Vogt on a practicum project with local consulting firm Resonance Global. With a global presence in over 60+ countries, Resonance assists clients in deploying market-based solutions to unlock opportunity in frontier markets. My practicum team’s task for the summer is to develop a proprietary analytical framework for assisting Resonance’s clients to make better decisions about when and how to use blockchain technology in areas relevant to their work, and then expanding that framework to identify greater client opportunities for Resonance. As such, my attention during Consensus was primarily focused on seeking practical business use cases for blockchain technology as they might apply to solving problems in developing economies around the world.

The vibe of Consensus 2019 differed from last year in that there were “more suits and fewer costumes” among attendees (more on that here). Blockchain consultants from Deloitte, IBM, Tata, and Microsoft all had exhibit booths and lounges showcasing the practical applications of blockchain technology for industry. This year’s Consensus Magazine was titled “From ‘Crypto Winter’ to #DeFi: A Year of Loss, BUIDLing, and Opportunity”. While the ICO boom of 2017-2018 brought a lot of enthusiasm and startup capital into the blockchain and cryptocurrency space, it was clear that 2019 was to be the year of fundamental development, where applications for real business use cases will be piloted and scaled. As things turn out, this was great for me, one of the “suits” in attendance with an academic badge seeking to cut through the hype and learn!

I picked up a signed copy of “Blockchain for Business: Discover How Blockchain Networks Are Transforming Companies, Driving Growth, and Creating New Business Models” from Jerry Cuomo, IBM Fellow and VP Blockchain Technologies, where he penned “Matt – It’s a Team Sport!” I watched a luncheon video by Accenture showcasing its Tech4Good program, featuring its work with Grameen Foundation in economically empowering women at the BoP, among many other technology-driven projects for social good. I learned how ChainLink’s blockchain middleware application solves the smart contract connectivity problem by securely entering real world events onto the blockchain for seamless payments processing. I listened to Deloitte’s approach to advising clients on deploying blockchain projects from ideation to fundraising, structuring, building, and operating. I built my own simulated blockchain network on Amazon Web Services hosting platform in a 2-hour workshop session. Most importantly, I connected with several knowledgeable blockchain industry players with whom I can contact over the summer as my practicum team seeks the expertise needed to develop our blockchain framework for Resonance.

Crystal Ball Time: Blockchain and “Web 3.0”

Let’s take a brief walk through internet history. Remember when Al Gore invented the internet? Me too…(just kidding). Today, we can now look back on the internet era of the search engine, originally used for the sharing and distribution of academic papers, as “Web 1.0”: the Googles, Microsofts, and Apples of the world. Then came Mark Zuckerburg with “the Facebook” – insert “Web 2.0”, an internet driven by user-generated content, data collection, and digital marketing targeted towards an ever-more differentiated consumer who relinquishes data privacy in exchange for the service of algorithms directing her to exactly the right product or service in an increasingly mass-customization-driven market.

In a captivating panel discussion, futurist, economist, and writer George Gilder identified two key crises that represent an existential threat to continued prosperity: the collapse of internet security, and “the scandal of money” (I would personally argue for the climate change crisis to take precedent, but for the sake of carrying this conversation forward, we’ll keep the focus on “innovation” here). He epitomizes these two crises with the examples of the Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal that undermined the power of democratic institutions in 2016, and the 2008 financial crisis where central banks intervened with monetary policy measures that arguably prevented a world economic collapse and maintained the status quo of power politics, respectively. All of a sudden, we realize the need for a new, decentralized digital architecture for the secure transfer and ownership of assets. Enter the “decentralized web”.

Bitcoin has captured the world’s imagination over the last 10 years in that it has made many of us rethink the very idea of money. While Bitcoin itself does not adequately meet any of the three requirements for money – a store of value, medium of exchange, and unit of account – it offers a new platform for value transfer in an increasingly digitized world. As Ethereum co-founder and founder of ConsenSys Joseph Lubin points out, the currency of the future is likely to be reduced to two things: data, and human attention. Lubin believes through this understanding that “we are going to change the nature of value”. The innovation that could bring this new conceptualization of currency into reality? Tokenization. Lubin points out that unlike Web 2.0, Web 3.0 will likely consist of several interacting, decentralized protocols on top of which more agile application layers will thrive.

So, what does the future hold? Is this whole cryptocurrency and tokenization thing just a fad? Can we digitize real world assets to fundamentally change how we perceive peer-to-peer value transfer? Will Bitcoin ever return to its 2017 high of $19,665? The heck if I know the answers to any of these questions, but after attending Consensus 2019, I am well convinced that blockchain technology will likely play a pivotal role in the evolution of technology towards a more secure and decentralized future, and the implications for social good to come of that future would be boundless.

Reflections on Practicum Scope Presentation Day

This post was written by Keil Corey ’19

On May 10 I walked into Kalkin Hall, mentally rehearsing the practicum pitch I would present that afternoon. As I entered the building that had been my second home for the last nine months, it dawned on me that this was the end of nine-month, 45 credit-hours, academic sprint, most of which was spent this building. My nerves quieted and I felt deep appreciation for what I had accomplished up to that point. It’s hard to overstate the amount of time, effort, and determination that was required to get to where my classmates and I now stood. Looking around the room, I saw people that not so long ago had been strangers. But that day I saw 40 friends that shared a common bond born of shared struggle, successes, personal and professional growth, and way too many hours together. These are the kinds of people you want on your team and I’d support them in any way possible in the years ahead. And the best part, I knew the feeling was mutual.

Keil, left, and practicum partner Tor Dworshak.

With my presentation scheduled for later in the afternoon, I took a mental note to really take in the day and be present for my classmates’ presentations, something easily forgotten when you’ve seen the same people collectively present around 100 times. And boy I’m glad I did. Kicking off the day, the Ashoka team presented their plan to turn support services for social entrepreneurs into a financially sustainable business model. And with that we were off and running.

With not a small amount of jealously, I listened to my classmates present plans to address an array of complex issues: using cover cropping to address pollution and financial challenges associated with Vermont’s dairy industry with Ben & Jerry’s; creating a closed-loop business model for Burton’s soft goods; addressing legal and environmental implications of 3D printing with the Environmental Law Institute; transforming Interface into a carbon negative company; creating an emerging market strategy to help Just Foods address malnutrition; building the business plan and securing financing for Green Man Acres, a regenerative, diversified student-owned Vermont farm; reducing the environmental footprint of the outdoor adventure travel industry with REI; building niche market demand for artisanal Manchaha rugs through storytelling with Jaipur Rugs; creating a business tool to identify blockchain applications with Resonance; developing policies and strategy to incorporate environmental, social, and governance criteria into the investing strategy of the FIS Group; developing a smart phone application for checking the environmental footprint of consumer purchases through a student-designed entrepreneurial venture called Karma Score; and removing plastic packaging from packaged goods at Seventh Generation. As my turn to present got closer, as usual, I had to turn up the mental pep talk to prepare myself to meet the high bar set by this intrepid cohort of MBAs. To that end, my partner and I presented our plan to develop an emerging market strategy to drive demand for mobile network services in rural areas, working with Vanu in Rwanda.

With the day drawing to a close, a bittersweet relief settled in. Our coursework was done, but so was our time all together. There’s no doubt the bonds that have been forged this year will remain far into the future. I feel lucky to have spent these last nine months with these extraordinary individuals and can’t wait to see the final results of these projects in August, and the accomplishments, successes, and positive impacts this cohort will have as they embark on their careers after graduation. Now, let the practicum work begin!

Reflections on Winning The Total Impact Portfolio Challenge

This post was written by Alyssa Stankiewicz ’19, and co-written by Andrew Mallory ’19

EDITOR’S NOTE: A team of five students from The Sustainable Innovation MBA program recently took first place in the Wharton-sponsored Total Impact Portfolio Challenge, beating a field of finalists from Yale, Columbia, Fordham, and Boston University. Read more here.

When I came to this program in August 2018, I had never even heard the term “impact investing.” I planned to focus my learnings on innovations in social justice and sustainable agriculture. I dreamed of founding a self-sustaining weaving center that provided support and reflection to folks through art therapy. While this is still an eventual dream of mine (stay tuned!), I realized that what really motivated me about this dream was the opportunity to help people.

The mission of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program is using business as a force for good in the world, also described as “doing well by doing good.”  Through the mentorship and encouragement I received from Dr. Chuck Schnitzlein, I began to realize that not only does the world of Finance provide this same opportunity, but I possess a natural knack for the work involved. He presented us with two extracurricular opportunities to test and demonstrate our skills and studies. The first project revolved around developing an impact strategy for the UVM Endowment (for more on that, see this article), and the second was a Wharton-sponsored impact investing competition called the Total Impact Portfolio Challenge.

The competition was stacked, to say the least. 26 teams from 19 business schools including Yale, Columbia, Booth (Chicago), and Wharton (Penn) entered the competition, and with this being just the 5th cohort of our Sustainable Innovation MBA program, our team was ecstatic to find out in March that we’d been selected as Finalists. We had spent months taking extra classes with Dr. Schnitzlein in Portfolio Management and Evaluation, researching the companies who achieved “best in class” accolades, and developing our investment philosophy and strategy in our copious free time (“copious” might be an exaggeration). When they announced we won at the live competition in Philadelphia on May 1, we were completely over the moon.

We like to think that we had a competitive advantage because each of our professors integrates sustainability holistically into every single course. We learned about Entrepreneurial Business Design, Systems Thinking, and Cost Models from a sustainability perspective, so we were more fully prepared to incorporate sustainability into every piece of our portfolio.

The Total Impact Portfolio Challenge provided us with two fictitious investor profiles from which to choose, and our team selected a Family Office who wanted to achieve multi-generational wealth and sustainable impact in line with five themes, which we matched to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Our team took a unique and bold approach: we successfully invested the entire portfolio in companies and funds that are going beyond minimizing the bad; instead, each of our investments contributes to developing solutions for the greater good. We highlighted the innovations of Mary Powell at Green Mountain Power and the Reinvestment Fund’s success in the City Mission Project. We developed methods for measuring impact and adapted our findings to the unique characteristics of the various asset classes. Peter Seltzer even coined the SI-MBA Score, which goes beyond traditional ESG scoring systems to incorporate materiality. This is because, as we learned in our Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility course (and which was affirmed in this study written by Khan, Serafeim, & Yoon), companies that focus on the sustainability issues that are most material to their business actually see improved financial performance over the long term.

Where do we go from here?

I personally want to find ways to help accredited and non-accredited investors deploy their finances in ways that are more meaningful to them. I have a passion for efforts to democratize investment opportunities, and I’m working on an idea that incorporates my Linguistics background with my Finance interests to create a more effective system for financial literacy education. I look forward to exploring opportunities in place-based investing and community funding models as avenues to strengthen the resilience of local economies. Find me on LinkedIn!

Photo credit: Chris Kendig

Emily came to The Sustainable Innovation MBA program passionate about opening up venture capital investment to women and other underrepresented founders. Through projects studying everything from community capital initiatives to equity crowdfunding policy to this challenge on integrating materiality into ESG scores, she sees increasing opportunities to promote a more sustainable form of capitalism for investors and entrepreneurs. After the program, she is seeking a career in impact investing and hopes her involvement can promote responsible investment opportunities in the industry.

For Andrew, this challenge was a perfect blend of his two professional passions: finance and sustainability. Coming from a traditional finance background, he sees how important it is for impact investing and ESG integration to continue to evolve and grow, and he is encouraged by how many financial institutions are now incorporating ESG into their strategies. After graduation, Andrew is interested in pursuing public and private equity research, specifically analyzing companies who are embedding sustainability initiatives into their core operations to see how impact alpha can mitigate risk and provide long-term growth.

 Peter came to the program as a CPA with ten years of experience. Throughout his career, he has gravitated towards opportunities to support social causes, including serving on the boards of two non-profits and working for three years at The Food Trust, a Philadelphia based non-profit. While here, he discovered a passion for the Sustainable Accounting Standards Board (SASB) and began a certificate program in the fundamentals of sustainable accounting. The group utilized his research in developing the SI-MBA Score, which was a differentiating factor in our presentation. After graduation, he is pursuing opportunities where he can incorporate his SASB knowledge to help investors generate greater impact with their investments.

Maura, coming from the client services and business development side of the investment industry, saw the demand for responsible investment solutions from young investors and European clients. She hopes to use the skills developed during her SI-MBA experience and her involvement in the Total Impact Portfolio Challenge to re-enter the field and meet the needs and wants of the industry demand. Planting roots in Vermont, she looks forward to growing the responsible investing industry presence in the state.

We had great support from all of our classmates, but special acknowledgement (in no particular order) goes out to Andrew Oliveri, Alyssa Schuetz, Ryan Forman, Elissa Eggers, Caitlyn Kenney, Esteban Echeverría Fernández, Alexa Steiner, Emily Foster, Jeffrey Lue, Matt Iacobucci, and Keil Corey. In the spirit of The Sustainable Innovation MBA, this was truly a collaborative effort, and I believe that’s what ultimately gave us the competitive advantage. I’m personally looking forward to seeing where we go from here, and I wish good luck to next year’s cohort!

For other publications on this challenge and our approach, please see the initial post in the SI-MBA Review, as well as articles in CNBC, UVM, Poets & Quants, Forbes, and the Wharton Social Impact Initiative.

Breaking News: Sustainable Innovation MBA Team Wins Wharton’s Total Impact Portfolio Challenge

A team of Sustainable Innovation MBA students has emerged from an elite group of finalists as the winners of the Total Impact Portfolio Challenge, sponsored by the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. The team was comprised of Class of 2019 students Alyssa Stankiewicz, Pete Seltzer, Emily Klein, Maura Kalil, and Andrew Mallory. Their faculty advisor and coach was Prof. Chuck Schnitzlein.

More: Read CNBC’s coverage of the Challenge, featuring our team

The Total Impact Portfolio Challenge involved creating and analyzing a portfolio that met risk, return and ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) impact investing objectives. The team presented their work in Philadelphia on May 1 and 2.

The other finalists in the competition included Yale, Columbia, Fordham, and Boston University. Our group was named one of the “Final Five” back in late-March from an strong field of 25 teams that included entrants from the University of Chicago, Cornell, Georgetown, NYU, Wharton, MIT, and Northwestern.

This is a significant accomplishment, and an important milestone in the history of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program.

Beginning third from left, Emily Klein, Alyssa Stankewicz, Andrew Mallory, Maura Kalil, and Peter Setzer.

Value for All!

This post was written by Elissa Eggers ’19

A few weeks ago, during our Driving Sustainable Change course, my classmates and I were fortunate enough to chat with Andy Ruben, co-founder and CEO of Yerdle. Yerdle is a “circular economy powerhouse” driving change in the recommerce market by partnering with brands in a way that benefits consumers, companies, and the planet. For someone who came into this program looking to gain new skill sets and tools that would support me in my quest to change the fashion and retail industry for the better, it was exciting to have the opportunity to hear first-hand how Yerdle is disrupting the retail landscape.

Currently, the fashion industry produces upwards of 100 billion pieces of clothing per year despite there being just under 8 million people on the planet. On average, we consume 400x more clothing than we did 20 years ago. Clearly, we have a consumption problem. However, we also have a lack of use problem. As Andy highlighted in our conversation, a large portion of perfectly wearable clothing in the world today sits unused in people’s drawers and closets. That doesn’t even take into account the 10.5 million tons of clothes tossed into landfills each year in the United States alone when people decide it is finally time to purge. So how do we address the growing mountains of clothing taking over the planet? Extending the life of our clothing by keeping pieces in circulation longer is definitely a key piece to this puzzle.

Now, keeping clothing in use by passing it along is by no means a novel idea. Passing along hand-me-downs and buying from and selling to thrift stores are examples of ways people have long been extending the life of their clothing.  However, if we are truly to stop the current systems of production, consumption, and disposal that currently define the retail landscape and result in wasted resources, then we need to innovate and expand on our current re-sale systems.

Yerdle is doing just that. By partnering with brands to help them take control of their resale market and extract value from it in the form of profits and customer acquisition, Yerdle ensures that all stakeholders (including the brands) benefit. A key theme woven throughout our coursework in this program is the importance of expanding the pie. In other words, for a solution to be truly sustainable and innovative, it cannot simply redistribute the value created to different groupings of stakeholders. Rather, it needs to expand the pie to increase the value captured by all.

Understandably, finding a solution that truly expands the pie is easier said than done which is why listening to Andy was such a valuable experience. Ultimately, by making retail companies part of their solution and beneficiaries of it, Yerdle has created a solution that other brands would want to be part of because the expanded value created extends to them. This makes integrating recommence into their businesses seem like the smarter, more profitable option.

One of my biggest takeaways from the conversation is that as my cohort and I move out into the world and start trying to tackle these big issues, we need to remember the importance of crafting solutions that reduce friction and do not force people to make trade-offs. The fact is, we are all passionate about different things and not everyone is going to care about or be willing and able to sacrifice something for the sake of sustainability. Nor should they necessarily be expected to. Thus, building a solution that requires stakeholders (businesses or consumers) to make a sacrifice of something they value in order embrace the greener option, is simply not a realistic and scalable alternative. Instead, businesses, particularly those in retail, need to embrace and develop strategies that make things easier and better for all. Yerdle is one example of a company doing just that.

Photo by Artificial Photography on Unsplash

How to Decrease the Single-Use Plastics in Your Life

This post was written by Shea Mahoney ’19

With so much focus throughout The Sustainable Innovation MBA curriculum on the complex, pressing sustainability challenges across the globe it can start to feel claustrophobic and overwhelming to think about how to address these issues from as individual in terms of personal consumer behaviors. One place I have been trying to minimize my own ecological impact is by reducing my consumption of single-use and disposable consumer plastics products wherever I can. These attempts have made it clearer than ever how hard it is to break up with plastic, it is so ubiquitous in most of the products we all use on a daily basis. Fortunately this is an issue gaining traction, highlighted by Burlington’s recent vote on Town Hall Meeting Day to ban single-use-plastic bags, and with higher scrutiny towards how prevalent these products are in our lives there is a broadening new market for more sustainable substitutes to help tamper plastic use.

By looking at the plastic products I use most frequently I have been able to identify some good alternative products to replace those, allowing me to reduce my reliance on them. One source of plastic waste that might not immediately jump to front of mind is plastic toothbrushes, but with their daily use they tend to be replaced fairly regularly and over one’s lifetime toothbrushes can account for a significant amount of plastic waste. Many companies have sought to offer a more sustainable option, with biodegradable bamboo toothbrushes being a common alternative. Bamboo is a very low agriculturally intensive crop, requiring relatively little land surface area for cultivation and no fertilizer use. However, not all bamboo is created equal and with the rising popularity of the crop for myriad uses it can take a bit of digging to verify whether or not a bamboo toothbrush (or any product made with the eco-fiber) is actually sustainably grown or rather being greenwashed as a more eco-friendly option.

Another area of single-use plastics that can be reduced through investing in more eco-friendly substitutes is produce bags. While it has become pretty common practice for many to bring reusable grocery bags to the store, many of us still rely on plastic produce bags for packaging our perishable fruits and vegetables. However, there are many alternative, reusable mesh bags that can be easily used to replace the flimsy plastic ones so ubiquitous in grocery stores. These also make for a relatively simple addition to any already ingrained reusable bag habits. While the need for more substantive, paradigmatic shift in the way we as a society views the use and disposal of plastics remains a daunting and pressing concern, there are many ways at the individual level to curb your consumption and make small but meaningful changes. Investing your dollar votes in sustainable products that provide longer term solutions instead of reaching for single use plastics when convenient is one way we can all contribute to the larger, collective groundswell of change.

Sources:

https://goodonyou.eco/bamboo-fabric-sustainable/ https://www.wcax.com/content/news/Move-to-ban-single-use-plastic-bags-gaining-momentum-5 06765721.html

Photo by Patricia Valério on Unsplash

We’ve Reached the Summit!

A closer look at the Appreciative Inquiry Summit hosted by the Class of 2019

This post was written by Tor Dworshak, Maura Kalil, Billy Rivellini, and Alexa Steiner of the Class of 2019

Tuesday, April 16th saw the culmination of significant learning and hard work in our Driving Sustainable Change class with Professor Ante Glavas. The Class of 2019 hosted an Appreciative Inquiry (AI) Summit on the topic of creating high quality post-Sustainable Innovation MBA experiences for alumni of the program. Participants included the current cohort, numerous alumni, and faculty.

Planned and executed by our cohort, the summit was a lesson in leadership, facilitation, event management, and the AI model. AI is a stakeholder engagement model to facilitate strengths based understanding of change management opportunities that exist in an organization. Each of the learning teams were given one of ten tasks to execute that day, and if we may say so ourselves, our classmates crushed it! As we will become alumni of the program in the coming months, the topic of the day was extremely relevant and important to all of us.

The day began with an explanation of the “chaordic” space we were all about to occupy. What is “chaordic”? It is the combination of chaos and order; a space that allows for creativity and experimentation within the boundaries of some structure. With an emphasis on strengths and opportunity, the AI summit was organized into four phases, each of which consisted of different thought-provoking questions, innovative challenges, and creative activities. The Discovery phase of AI is about appreciating and focuses on the best of what is. The Dream phase is about envisioning, with an emphasis on results and impact. The Design phase is about co-creation and co-construction. Finally, the Destiny phase is about sustaining, and how to empower, learn and improvise. Each team played their part, fulfilled their role, and contributed to the overall positive experience that day. We received incredible feedback about the positive and productive nature of the conversations. The day also gave the current cohort and alumni a chance to really work together, getting especially creative with the prototyping of ideas in the afternoon’s Design phase.

“It was really cool to see how the students took what Ante had taught them and within a few short weeks, were running an appreciative inquiry summit themselves”, said Erik Monsen, professor in The Sustainable Innovation MBA program. “They demonstrated how clear their learning had been because they were able to teach the rest of us and guide us through the AI process that day.”

“I was delighted by the creativity and the power to generate ideas demonstrated by everybody in the room during all of the phases,” said Joe Fusco, Director of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program. “The format of the summit and the AI process really highlighted the potential in the program’s existing strengths.”

The Sustainable Innovation MBA network is truly special. With a focus on cohesion and collaboration, there isn’t much room for competition, though there was definitely some friendly competition during the summit’s Design phase. There was so much creativity and warmth in the Keller room that day and we, the Class of 2019, are grateful to Ante for giving us the opportunity to put our learnings into practice and lead this summit. With only a few weeks of classes left, the Class of 2019 has also reached the summit of our year in the program. So with that, we want to thank everyone who participated this year and wish the best of luck to the class of 2020 in their future summit planning!

Impact Investing for a Greener UVM

This post was written by Peter Seltzer ’19, Andrew Oliveri ’19, Maura Kalil ’19, and Matt Iacobucci ’19

At the beginning of the academic year, Finance professor Dr. Chuck Schnitzlein introduced an opportunity for us all to spearhead the first Sustainable Innovation MBA impact investing project. The goal of the project was to show the University of Vermont Treasurer’s office how to build a short-duration fixed income impact portfolio that meets its fiduciary and financial constraints.

Given these parameters, our challenge was to build a portfolio comprised of socially and environmentally responsible fixed-income investments that would contribute to making a positive global impact in the areas of our choosing. A group of thirteen Sustainable Innovation MBA students* have been working collaboratively to come up with investment criteria to build out this potential portfolio of bonds for consideration. Through working closely with Chuck, the Sustainable and Responsible Investing Advisory Council (SRIAC), and the UVM Treasurer’s Office, we are now positioned to make our recommendations to the investment manager to implement this strategy.

*Andrew Mallory, Andrew Oliveri, Alyssa Schuetz, Alyssa Stankiewicz, Esteban Echeverria-Fernandez, Emily Klein, Keil Corey, Maura Kalil, Matt Iacobucci, Noelle Nyirenda, Peter Seltzer, Ryan Forman, Tor Dworshak (in no particular order — EDITOR)

Coming into The Sustainable Innovation MBA program, many of us were novices to the emerging field of impact investing. To build our knowledge and immerse ourselves in this new subject, we began organizing and attending weekly learning sessions. Our resources have included articles and research tools, but most significantly, the book The Impact Investor by Jed Emerson, a prominent leader in this field. These resources provided the foundation for our impact investing toolkit that has aided us in determining our impact objectives and screening criteria for the project. Next, we had to learn the tools that investors use to search for and make judgments on assets in real-time.

We trained ourselves to use the Bloomberg terminal, a powerful tool for investors in providing access to real-time financial data. Each member of the impact investing team completed the built-in Bloomberg Market Concepts digital learning tutorial, with particular attention focused on fixed income securities to build out our general investing toolkit. While identifying whether each bond under consideration held the financial metrics needed to fulfill the fiduciary obligations required of the portfolio for the University, we also used the ESG terminal function to help objectively measure the non-financial impact that each bond holds. The ESG function provides non-financial Environmental, Social, and Governance metrics for companies and bonds, which proved to be an invaluable tool for our research process.

While the whole impact investing team was expected to have a solid understanding the “impact” side of the equation, a subgroup of the team has been taking additional advanced finance classes with Chuck on fixed income investing and portfolio management to master the “investing” side. There, this subgroup has been learning key concepts to help the whole team take the next steps towards building a portfolio that is financially sound and well up to the University’s investing standards. This diversification within our team allows for an overall focus on portfolio impact, while the more specialized subgroup could also incorporate the principles of a financially successful portfolio that was consistent with the investment policy statement and integrated impacted criteria.

During our early coursework in The Sustainable Innovation MBA, we learned how many companies have been aligning their business models and sustainability initiatives with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Thus, we wanted to incorporate the concept of impact learned through the program’s curriculum to maximize our portfolio’s impact. As a group, we brainstormed SDGs that were not only important to us but those in which we saw the most potential for global impact. From that list, we selected three SDGs that we determined were best aligned with UVM’s mission and brand image: Clean Water & Sanitation, Affordable & Clean Energy, and Gender Equality.

The first SDG we focused on was ensuring the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. We looked to find issuers who not only decreased their water usage relative to competitors but also considered the ‘usage relative to revenue’, which was found to be a helpful feature of the Bloomberg terminal. Similarly, it was important for us to find issuers who not only were mitigating negative impacts but rather having a positive impact with regard to clean water stewardship efforts. With a number of UVM students intimately connected to Lake Champlain and its surrounding ecosystems, we realize clean water to be a paramount goal of our investment council.

The second SDG we focused on was ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. We determined that impact within this goal can be derived from companies producing sources of clean, affordable and renewable energy, as well as companies sourcing their energy from renewable providers. Companies that our investment council considers for investing need to be making investments in clean technology and energy efficiency, or investments in affordable energy storage technology. In addition, a company meets our criteria if they have a large green power purchase agreement, or is in a contract to source a majority of their energy from a clean, renewable energy source.

The third and final SDG we focused on was achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls. This SDG was particularly important to our group as many of our group members are part of The Sustainable Innovation MBA Women For Change group on campus. The team developed the following three objective criteria that the corporations offering the bonds should meet for portfolio consideration: female representation in senior management (at least 33%), proven efforts to create equal opportunity for female employee advancement, and women in leadership (CEO, Founder, Chair of the Board).

The thirteen of us have learned much through the process of working on this project, and we are grateful for Chuck, SRIAC, and the UVM Treasurer’s Office for the opportunity. This was a completely voluntarily effort outside of the regular class schedule and curriculum of our academic program. We are fortunate to acknowledge that the dedication of time and effort towards this project has rewarded the members of our team with a new degree of fluency in the field of impact investing and perhaps even more rewarding, a feeling of accomplishment for having the potential to make an impact in alignment with the SDGs and UVM.

We look forward to taking the next steps with this project and seeing how the recommendations of our team might be utilized by the University and beyond. As we have with this project, we are excited to continue finding new ways to incorporate our learning from each and every subject we are exposed to here in The Sustainable Innovation MBA program, building out our sustainable innovation toolkit even further as we progress into the new year.

Onward!