Row upon row of solar panels reflect the Zambian sky while
they silently and cleanly produce enough electricity to power over fifty
thousand homes. Walking the solar plant that covers almost 50 hectares in the
special economic zone outside the capital city, I am exhausted but filled with
hope. Renewable energy is no longer a niche technology that “serious” business
people don’t even consider but the preferred source of electrical energy for most
I am at the Bangweulu Solar plant where I have been contracted as the commissioning engineer to ensure that the project can be handed over to the client and be ready to be brought online at an inauguration ceremony that will be attended by the president, US ambassador and other dignitaries.
This is grueling work, and the timeline is stressful, I only had four hours of sleep after flying in from Vermont before I had to be onsite for a planning meeting and hit the ground running. However, I know that this project marks a significant time for me and the company I am working worth. This project is about more than handing over yet another installation successfully to our client, it’s about capacity building and developing skills to make Zambia’s energy infrastructure more sustainable. The Bangweulu project was made possible by a financing structure that brought development partners and private business together.
This belief in the idea that value can be created at the confluence of social development and business enterprise is what brought me to The Sustainable Innovation MBA program at UVM.
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.
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.
During a recent Driving Sustainable Change class, we
implemented the methods of Design Thinking to try to answer the difficult
question, “How might we reduce the consumption of single-use products at UVM?”
This is a question I have tried to answer for myself on many occasions: How can I change my behavior so that I can reduce my consumption of single-use products? By single-use products I mean any product designed specifically to be used once, then discarded, simply to be replaced by another single-use product.
I used to believe that as long as I recycled the plastic I
was using, I was doing my part. However, I have realized that recycling is not
enough. There is a reason why the phrase goes reduce, reuse, and recycle.
Reducing and reusing come before recycling because that is how to make the most
Recycling is better than not recycling, don’t get me wrong, but the current recycling process has many inefficiencies. First, containers must be clean of contaminants. In a full bin of recycling, items that are not recyclable — contamination — weaken the marketability of that material, and those items wind up in a landfill anyway. If the plastic does end up going to a recycling facility, it takes large amounts of energy and resources to transform it into a product that can be used again. Monitoring and collection, transportation, and the recycling manufacturing process itself all contribute to this energy and resource consumption.
The molecular makeup of plastics makes it very difficult for it to be broken down and transformed back to its original product, like a water bottle being turned back into a water bottle. Instead, recycled plastic is usually used for secondary reprocessing which turns the recycled plastic into a plastic product that cannot be recycled. This repurposing of plastic is better than just throwing it in landfills, but its footprint should not be minimized. There must also be demand for the recycled material for this process to really be effective. Many recycling programs are operating at a cash loss on a regular basis, which is not sustainable for the long-term.
So, what is the solution to this? Recycling used to be seen
as the solution for all of our waste. But, that is just not enough if we plan
on saving the planet. The real solution is to not create the need to recycle in
the first place. Reduce your consumption of single-use plastics, or better yet,
don’t use single-use plastic at all. Nobody is perfect, so if you do buy
plastic try to reuse the item as many times as you can. Get creative with it! How
many new uses can you get out of a plastic product? But, since the goal of this
post is to reduce the consumption of single-use products, I am going to leave
you with some tips that have helped me.
The Grocery Store: Single-use products are
everywhere here, from lettuce wrapped in plastic, to eggs in plastic casings,
to meat packed in plastic bags. Become mindful of your purchases at the grocery
store. Start your grocery shopping the right way by remembering to bring your
own shopping bags- this will set you up for a successful grocery shopping trip
right from the start! Put your produce in these reusable bags instead of
putting them into the small plastic produce bags and try to buy produce that is
not already wrapped in plastic. Choose cardboard over plastic whenever
possible. Cardboard is generally easier to recycle and tends to biodegrade more
easily. So go for the eggs in the cardboard casing, or the pasta in a box
instead of in a bag, or detergent in a box instead of a bottle.
The Bathroom: Look in your shower and count how
many plastic containers are in there. Is there a way you can change your
purchasing behavior to find products that don’t come in plastic? Can you refill
glass containers with shampoo, conditioner, and body wash? There are companies,
like Lush, that are selling solid shampoos and body washes that do not have to
be contained in a bottle at all. Instead of buying disposable razors, try
switching to a razor that lets you replace the blade or, even better, get a
straight razor. Instead of shaving cream, try coconut oil. And if you really
want to commit to a sustainable shaving experience, don’t shave at all! There
are many alternatives to your plastic toothbrush, as well. Try going with a
wooden toothbrush, one that you can just throw in the fire when it is time to
get a new one. While we are on the topic of teeth, have you ever tried tooth
powder? You can make your own at home with baking powder, salt, and essential
oils for flavoring. You can also buy pre-made tooth powder from brands like
Uncle Harry or Aquarian Bath.
The Kitchen: Plastic has inundated our kitchens
in the form of plastic baggies, plastic wrap, and plastic storage containers. Instead
of using plastic wrap, use jars or glass containers. There are also some
innovative companies, like Bee’s Wrap, that are coming out with reusable food
storage solutions. Instead of plastic baggies or plastic containers, why not
use a glass or stainless steel bento box? If you’re feeling extra brave, bring
these out with you when you know there will be leftovers. Instead of relying on
a restaurant to provide you with a single-use container to-go, complete with a
plastic bag, opt to put the food in your own container that can be reused over
and over again. Try switching to wash cloths instead of paper towels. Paper
towels come wrapped in plastic and can only be used to clean up one mess. Wash
cloths can be used over and over again and just get thrown in with the rest of
the dirty laundry when they need to be washed.
I may only be 23 years old, but I know exactly what I want to do with my life. I want to change the fashion industry for the better. My bachelor’s degree is in Design & Merchandising which translates loosely into the business-side of the fashion industry. After working in product development in sports apparel, I saw the shortcomings of retail and knew that I couldn’t enter the industry knowing that I would be part of the problem. I am determined to be part of the solution and create a positive impact on the industry.
When I joined The Sustainable Innovation MBA program, I knew my direction was always going to be about fashion.
I just wasn’t sure which form that would take until I came across the non-profit organization Net Impact. Turns out, they have a specific program dedicated to promoting sustainable fashion called Wear it Wise. I immediately reached out to the program because I knew I had to be involved.
As a grad student, I knew this would be a huge
opportunity for me to share what I am passionate about on a larger platform.
This program is sponsored by Levi’s, Colombia Sportswear Company, and Eileen
Fischer. Knowing that these brands are innovators and already making a
difference in the sustainability space, I knew that this platform would provide
me with more skills and tools to further a cause that I was already passionate
After being accepted into the Wear It Wise program, I started crafting my social media campaign to give people an inside look as to how they can shop more sustainably. My goal throughout this campaign has been to empower the consumer. In my experience, the fashion industry is at a crossroads where the industry is aware of sustainability and knows that it will eventually have to become greener, but it’s still lacking that final push to implement change. I believe that we as consumers carry immense power to vote with our dollar with every purchase we make. We have the power to be this push that retailers need in order to convert to more sustainable practices.
I’m excited with the power we have to wear our values and make our impact in the retail industry. Please follow along my journey on social media as I continue to share my passion with all of you and inspire you to make your own impact!
We as consumers are bombarded with ads every day from the instant we go on social media to the moment we step out our door and walk past an ad on a bus. All these ads are pushing us to consume more goods and products. This cycle of endless consumption not only has a negative impact on the planet, but also on our wallets. So here are a few tips and tricks to shop more sustainably and still make your fashion statement!
1) LESS IS MORE
It is far too tempting to fall victim to fast-fashion retailers such as H&M and Zara, who may have the perfect budget-friendly pieces, but in the long-run end up costing us more since these items quickly wear out. Instead of buying more items at a lower price, opt to invest in your wardrobe! Buy pieces that may cost more in the moment but will last and save you money in the long-run! (Don’t forget to show off your reusable bag when you’re in the store to avoid having to use the store’s plastic bags!)
Be unique! Thrift stores are an exciting treasure hunt. You never know what you may find, but whatever it is, it is sure to be unique and utterly perfect for you! No one else will have the same thing and you are sure to set yourself apart from the rest with your vintage finds! (Plus, you can rest assured that the product that you bought didn’t use the same amount of single-use plastic packaging that a big-box retailer would have used!)
For special occasions such as weddings, I understand that we all want to wear something special to mark the night and you most likely do not want to wear the same outfit twice―this is achievable and budget-friendly by renting your evening wear or borrowing from a friend! Just keep in mind the additional time needed for shipping so make sure you don’t wait until the last minute, but in the end the planet will thank you and you will look incredible in your pictures!
4) AVOID TRENDS
Trends, as the name states, come and go, but your wardrobe doesn’t have to! The planet will always be there and as such, your wardrobe should reflect that! Consider creating a capsule collection where all your pieces are neutrals that can mixed-and-matched and do your best to avoid buying into trends for every season (unless its vintage of course)!
5) SHOP BRANDS WHO CARE
Brands who have a focus on sustainability and ethical sourcing are your friend and also a friend of the planet. Look for brands whose production is transparent and traceable so you can check-in to see how they are taking care of their workers and preventing pollution in the manufacturing process. Don’t forget to consider the textiles involved, too! Think organic cotton over synthetics which are plastic-based textiles, such as polyester.
You as a consumer have the power to vote with your dollar. Vote for brands that support the same causes as you and we can directly impact the apparel industry with every purchase we make!
“Hunter is disruptive” is the phrase we first saw as we walked into our second guest lecturer of the semester.
Earlier this Fall we had the pleasure of hosting guest speaker Hunter Lovins. Suffice it to say, she knocked our socks off. I had heard Hunter’s name before, but wasn’t very familiar with her work or legacy. It became apparent right away that we were in for a unique and inspiring experience.
Hunter’s body of work in sustainability and climate justice is prolific: from starting numerous influential non-profits, creating successful sustainable MBA programs from scratch, authoring best selling books, founding impact investing firms, and consulting with some of the largest corporations in the world including Unilever and Walmart, Hunter’s influence is extensive. This is augmented by her down-to-earth, Colorado ranch-style demeanor. She tells it like it is, passionately, in an inspirational way. She’s the type of person that understands that solving world problems is best facilitated over a whiskey, face-to-face. Hunter also owns a beautiful ranch in Colorado, where she easily could spend all of her time but instead chooses to be on the move, committed to her mission.
I asked Hunter how she envisions American capitalism evolving and whether she believes it has the capacity to solve the massive challenges facing our planet under current frameworks. She answered by giving a prediction from economist Tony Sebens: “Within 10 years, economics will dictate that the world will be 100 percent renewable. For this to happen, the world’s economy will be disrupted. This will be the ‘Mother of all disruptions.’ In other words, to save the climate we have to crash the global economy.”
If this is, in fact, the case, then the next decade will be tumultuous to say the least. This led our class session to focus on the question of what’s next and how do we collectively begin to prepare for this disruption. While this notion and idea can admittedly be not very uplifting, it was encouraging to hear suggestions from many of my classmates on how we may leverage our global economy and invest in Base of the Pyramid projects to find solutions and begin to strategize on how we may “soften the landing” from major global disruption.
Overall, having Hunter present to us was inspiring and eye-opening. While there are massive challenges ahead, having individuals like Hunter who are disruptive, driven, and committed to finding solutions to these challenges provides hope for the future.
It’s a rare condition, this day and age, to find emphasis being placed on the importance of family businesses. But at the Family Business Awards in early October, the Grossman School of Business and supporting community has the opportunity to acknowledge family businesses who are leaders in their respective industries. This year, we celebrated Lake Champlain Chocolates, Curtis Packaging, and Foster Brothers Farm / Vermont Natural Ag Products Inc. for their innovation and commitment to sustainability.
Hearing the stories of the three 2018 winners and their 2017 counterparts were a beautiful example of love and tradition of the grand design. Since 1983, Lake Champlain Chocolates has been aspired to providing extraordinary chocolate moments. In addition to creating wonderful chocolates, LCC has demonstrated their commitment to sustainable business practices with their certifications (B Corps, Fair Trade) and community service.
It’s impressive enough to find a business in operation since 1845, but some people say it’s even harder to find one with the vision to incorporate environmental stewardship into its core competencies after all those years. Curtis Packaging achieved both accolades, becoming the first packaging company in North America to use 100% renewable energy, be carbon neutral, and a zero-waste-to-landfill facility.
What’s the secret to the success of these small businesses? Well there must be some magic clue inside these gentle walls in the new dairy barn at Foster Brothers Farm. This fifth-generation farm has innovation engrained in their DNA. They built one of the first of New England’s methane digesters back in the early ’80s, expanded their portfolio to include an organic line of compost (MOO), and recently implemented a heat recovery system designed to capture and repurpose the heat created during the aerobic composting process.
These families are an inspiration of how business should be done. At today’s ceremony, there was real love burstin’ out of every seam of Ifshin Hall, and it was clear to see that it’s the bigger love of the family that will keep these businesses going strong. Congratulations again to all the 2018 winners!
The University of Vermont has again been named a Top 50 Green School by the Princeton Review, climbing to the #3 spot this year, up from #4 last year.
This annual ranking of the 399 most environmentally responsible colleges takes stock of the efforts schools are making to adopt sustainable policies,prepare students for citizenship and careers in a world defined by climate concerns, and provide a healthy and sustainable environment on campus.
Companies sourcing renewable electricity outperform their rivals financially, according to a new report released Tuesday from RE100, the initiative from the Climate Group that encourages firms to commit to using 100 percent renewable power.
At the recent Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) in San Francisco, 21 companies, including Bloomberg, Cisco, Hewlett Packard, Lyft and Salesforce, announced the launch of the “Step Up Declaration,” a new alliance dedicated to harnessing the power of emerging technologies to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions across all economic sectors.