“Your Stoke Won’t Save Us”: An Important Message For Businesses, Outdoor Enthusiasts, and Individual Change Makers Alike

This post was written by Dana Gulley ’17, founder and lead consultant of Third Peak Solutions. She can be reached at dana@thirdpeaksolutions.com.

You could say I was stoked when the postal carrier slid the May 14th edition of High Country News through my mail slot last month. The twice-monthly magazine covers conservation issues “for people who care about the West,” and over the last nine months, this New Yorker had become one of those people. Flipping through the pages, “Your stoke won’t save us: the idea that outdoor recreation leads to meaningful conservation rests on a very big ‘if,’” by Ethan Linck, jumped off the page at me.

Since moving to the little city of Bozeman, Montana last fall, my increased focus on rock climbing, mountain biking (photo, left), canoeing and backpacking has brought me closer to the outdoor recreation community, a community that is at the heart of this place and many others like it. That said, I’ve felt strangely further away from my conservation roots. I devoured the article, nodding, admittedly a bit self-righteously, through all 3,000 words. Yes, yes! This is what I have been saying. Outdoor recreation does not solely predict one’s environmental attitudes! While the outdoor recreation industry is willing to make increasingly political statements about protecting our wild places, they’re yet to show they are willing to pay for that protection! And my sustainable business training rushed back: we don’t need to settle for trade-offs! Businesses can do well by doing good.

The euphoria of seeing my opinion in ink was quickly replaced by guilt. Okay, so our environmental issues continue to mount and there’s opportunity being left on the table. What have I done about it? Those petitions I hawked as the outreach director for Riverkeeper, a clean water nonprofit in New York’s Hudson Valley, seemed like a distant memory, even though I spend more time in outdoor places than ever before in my life. And as a strategy consultant, I have found myself focusing on the more familiar world of non-profits as opposed to supporting and promoting sustainable businesses. As stoked as I was to read the article, I felt simultaneously counterfeit. With all the changes in my life, I had somehow lost my tribe: that community that is so essential to having the courage to face a big problem and do something about it. And I knew that tribe must exist here. After all, in 2015 the Montana state legislature was the 29th in the nation to pass a law that allows companies to legally register as benefit corporations.

Later that week, Business for Montana’s Outdoors, a coalition that includes some 180 businesses, hosted a panel discussion, “Tech and the Outdoors: How the ‘Montana Mystique’ is Fueling Business Growth.” In Montana, the tech industry provides 15,000 jobs and $1.03 billion in wages, and it’s growing fast. Panelists from several of Bozeman’s mature tech companies and start-ups focused on the competitive advantage Montana’s outdoors provides in everything from attracting and retaining talent to entertaining clients and customers. Panelists shared countless examples of how their companies were more successful because of Montana’s beautiful and enjoyable natural environment. What they didn’t share, were innovative ideas for how their businesses would ensure the ongoing protection of the outdoors, something they acknowledged was a critical asset.

The research shows that millennials are increasingly interested in being part of companies that they can feel proud of, companies that are actively doing something about the problems we face. And in the age of Patagonia replacing its product homepage with “The President Stole Your Land,” while mounting an aggressive lawsuit to fight the historic removal of public lands in Bear’s Ears National Monument, businesses have more permission than ever to act. Determined to push the envelope and proudly gripping the High Country News magazine, I stood up, and channeled the collective strength of my tribe, my Sustainable Innovation MBA cohort from the University of Vermont.  I hear how Montana’s outdoors helps you, but how will you help the outdoors?

While I was initially frustrated by the lackluster response (some non-profit donations here, a volunteer trail building day there), this experience reminded me of something I had lost sight of: if we are to overcome the momentum of the status quo that pushes businesses to think the same way they always have, then we must each harness our respective tribes and act now. Businesses need our help, as consumers and consultants, to innovate new models of corporate social responsibility that address the world’s problems while helping them thrive. We don’t have to start from scratch. As an outdoor recreator, I can be an ambassador for environmental advocacy in my community, limit my consumption by purchasing used gear or new gear from unparalleled companies like Patagonia, and support organizations like Protect our Winters (POW), a climate advocacy group that organizes outdoor enthusiasts to take action. As a consultant, I can build on the momentum of the 2015 law here in Montana to pursue for-profit clients and develop and share sustainable business best practices.

In case it inspires you to act, too, consider this my call for tribe-members and to recommitting myself to contribute to solutions instead of nodding along vigorously at the problems. And while these actions alone won’t save us, I’m stoked to do my part.

 

Innovator-in-Residence: Donald Reed

This post was written by Kevin Hoskins ’18

As part of the Innovator-in-Residence series, Donald Reed recently visited the 2018 cohort of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program. Reed is currently a managing director in PwC’s (PriceWaterhouseCoopers) sustainable business solutions practice. Reed is also a member of The Sustainable Innovation MBA’s Advisory Board.

Reed got his start in advocacy and grassroots work in Michigan. He discussed the evolution of his thinking from an “us versus them” mentality (environmentalists versus business) to understanding business’s role in society (and the part that sustainability-minded professionals can play).

Reed then worked on economically-targeted investing focused on creating market-rate return investments that created housing opportunities for health care workers. He stressed to the cohort the need to “not be bound by what’s already been done and what other people tell you is possible.”

In order to better understand the world of finance, Reed then went back to school, getting his MBA in finance from the Stern School at New York University. He subsequently went to work for the World Resources Institute, a think tank, where he felt he had found “his people.” That experience led Reed to ask questions of himself that he posed of the class: “how do I see myself and how do I explain to others what I’m interested in and the capabilities I bring to bear on that?”

“Don’t be bound by what’s already been done and what other people tell you is possible.”

Reed is extremely well-read and stressed the importance of integrative thinking, tying these seemingly disparate frameworks that you learn throughout your life in a way that you can understand other people’s perspectives and translate them to a new area. There may always be someone with deeper expertise on a topic than you, but it’s important to understand enough of it that you can converse intelligently on the topic at hand.

Reed also discussed his role as a consultant, becoming a trusted advisor to numerous large organizations. He described the challenges of consultants face: to understand enough to analyze the situation at hand, identify the key drivers and distill that down, but then engage your clients by listening and becoming trusted, in order to help the organizations change.

His previous company, Sustainable Finance Ltd. was eventually acquired by PwC. In his current role, Reed and his team focus on what they call “Sustainability Strategy through Execution.”  They are currently focused on four main areas: cities of the future, social determinants of health, the future of reporting, and total impact and measurement.

Getting to Know the Class of 2018: Kevin Hoskins

Kevin Hoskins  brings management and leadership experience in the music business and creative industries to The Sustainable Innovation MBA program. He was interviewed by Isabel Russell, an undergraduate at UVM.

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

I came back to Vermont because I craved the community and the spirit of entrepreneurship that seems to be part of the state’s DNA. I chose this program because I wanted to learn frameworks and strategies to better integrate my leadership, management, and entrepreneurial experience with the program’s sustainability and innovation focus. The Sustainable Innovation MBA program at UVM speaks to my goals and values: resisting business-as-usual, having the optimism to see challenges as opportunities, and needing to develop new business models (and market-based solutions) that incorporate sustainability and future-oriented thinking.

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

My favorite part of the program is the people: my cohort, the professors, and the greater community that surrounds this program. Every day, I’m grateful for the opportunity to spend eight hours in a room learning from people that want to get creative about solving challenging problems.

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

First, be willing to listen…and embrace collaboration. You’ll be put in situations where teamwork is essential to achieving your goals. Remember to listen to your teammates and be willing to collaborate to achieve something greater.

Second, follow the threads that interest you. The year goes by quickly and there’s a lot of information coming your way. It’s easy to fall behind if you don’t stay on top of the work. But don’t forget that you can always dive deeper on the subjects that you’re passionate about. Adopt a learning mindset. And stay curious.

Lastly, be prepared to challenge yourself. Be willing to re-frame your mental models. Ask questions. Be flexible. And get comfortable with uncertainty. It’ll serve you well in the program, but also in your future work.

How has the Sustainable Innovation MBA helped you?

The Sustainable Innovation MBA has helped me learn analytical tools and financial models to help improve and thus transform businesses. This program is a great reminder that people are not only the greatest asset of any business, they’re our greatest tool for innovation and our greatest opportunity to build a better world.

Anything else?

Vermont is a unique place. And this is a unique program. Embrace the magic. And if you’d like to know more about the program, I’m happy to talk. I can be reached via www.kevinhoskins.net

Getting to Know the Class of 2018: Madeline Brumberg

Prior to joining The Sustainable Innovation MBA program, Madeline Brumberg ’18  spent her career in the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) field and worked as an analyst for both the private and the public sector.

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

I chose to attend The Sustainable Innovation MBA program because I want to find real-world solutions for the social and environmental issues we face today. I see deficiencies in the private, public and NGO worlds that are preventing each of these sectors from properly addressing these issues. I think that business has the most opportunity to transform itself to become an engine for change in the world. I hope to be a change agent in the business world to leverage its power for good.

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

I have loved the leadership and teamwork component of this program. I was not expecting this to be such a big focus of the program but I am eternally grateful that it is. I am so excited by it because companies are nothing without their employees so to make the best companies, you need to make your employees the best. I am excited to be gaining the skill set to help employees reach their full potential.

What are three things someone considering the program should be aware of?
1. There is a huge focus on leadership and you will learn more about yourself than you knew was possible.
2. This program is not greenwashing. Sustainability is truly at the heart of the program and we are reminded of it at every turn.
3. Community is a central tenant of this program and it will serve you well. You will be supported by your classmates and you will support them throughout the year. It will be frustrating at times but ultimately you will be in it together.
How has the Sustainable Innovation MBA helped you?
The Sustainable Innovation MBA program has helped me to see a future in business that is meaningful and has impact. It is a very fuzzy path that I am beginning to see but it is a path.

Getting to Know the Class of 2018: Ariella Pasackow

Ariella Pasackow ’18 left her previous position as Program Officer for RefugePoint to join The Sustainable Innovation MBA program.  She was interviewed by Isabel Russell, an undergraduate at UVM.

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

I grew up in Vermont, but built my career out-of-state and overseas, so The Sustainable Innovation MBA was the perfect bridge to return home and grow my professional network in Burlington. With a background in nonprofit administration and international development, I wanted to gain business tools and frameworks for growing sustainable enterprises and inclusive company cultures. I am passionate about social justice issues, gender equity, and refugee resettlement in Vermont, and plan to work in greater Burlington for the foreseeable future.

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

I have learned just as much from my peers as I have from my professors, and am so grateful for my cohort community. Unlike more traditional MBAs, we have cultivated an incredibly supportive learning environment, where all different types of learners can thrive. By building trust, respect, and strong interpersonal relationships, we have been able to communicate effectively through periods of stress, confusion, and anxiety. We cheered each other on before tests and presentations, and made sure to keep the the classroom energy high despite too many hours indoors.

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

REST. Do whatever you need to do to take time off before the program starts, and allow yourself the time and space to transition. Classes start Day 1, and orientation is no breeze! Whether you are coming from undergrad or a career, moving across the country, or commuting from down the street, take time to rest and rejuvenate before the program starts. You will be nonstop for twelve months.

REFLECT. Taking one year out of your career to be a full-time student is an incredible privilege and opportunity. Don’t let the weeks slip away bogged down in the daily grind without reminding yourself why you are here, what you want to learn, and where you want to put your energy. You can’t do everything, but you can commit to prioritize, plan, and proactively work towards your personal and professional goals. The Sustainable Innovation MBA students have shared values, but often very different expectations for during and after the program. Celebrate this, and learn from each other.

PRIORITIZE TEAMS. Every module, you will be assigned a small group to work with for eight weeks on every class assignment and deliverable. Teamwork is both the most challenging and most rewarding part of The Sustainable Innovation MBA experience. It will be fun, frustrating, time consuming, and hilarious. You will design and create products you would never think of alone, and test processes and procedures on how to best work together, designate roles, delegate, and download. You will learn how to brainstorm without judgement, make decisions under stress, and maximize the quantity and quality of your work despite minimal time and resources. Individual assignments are few and far between, and readings can always wait until later. Your grad school success is dependent upon the success of your team. Cherish them.

How has the Sustainable Innovation MBA helped you?

The Sustainable Innovation MBA has introduced me to more people, ideas, and resources in the last eight months than I could have ever imagined. I have gained a vocabulary and confidence to ask questions and solve problems I had only thought about through a nonprofit lens. It has shown me the immense value of my previous work experience, and the endless possibilities for leadership, growth, and opportunities in sustainable business with a triple bottom line approach (people, profit, planet).  The Sustainable Innovation MBA could have not come at a better time in my life as I seek to pivot into for profit ventures and social entrepreneurship. I am immensely grateful for my peers, professors, and alumni network that has grown to create a true community.

Getting to Know the Class of 2018: Julia Lyon

Julia Lyon left her previous position as an Internal Communications Manager  for Enel Green Power to join The Sustainable Innovation MBA program. She was interviewed by Isabel Russell, an undergraduate at UVM.

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

When I was an undergraduate student at UVM and took my first course on corporate social responsibility (CSR), I had an epiphany. I knew that I wanted to create environmental and social good using the power of business and that earning an MBA was likely in my future. I chose to attend The Sustainable Innovation MBA for several reasons. I was drawn to the one-year accelerated program, the program’s holistic approach to incorporating sustainability in all coursework, and the opportunity to return to beautiful Vermont.

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

My favorite part of the program has been getting to know my peers. We’re a group with a diverse set of backgrounds and interests and I find that I’m continuously learning from my classmates. With the amount of team assignments required throughout the coursework (there are a lot!), you get to know your classmates very quickly.

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

  1. The leadership component of The Sustainable Innovation MBA curriculum. If developing strong leadership capabilities is of interest to a potential student – I recommend this program. We have multiple leadership-focused courses, a year-long leadership seminar, and many opportunities to connect with local business leaders to learn from their experiences.
  2. The amount of team collaboration that’s involved. At various points in the program you’ll have as many of three different teams that you complete projects and coursework with. This is a great opportunity to learn from one another that really develops your time management, communication, and collaboration skills.
  3. Practicum projects. These summer consulting projects are a way to apply the skills you’ve developed over the year, so it’s important to explore early on what you’re looking to gain from your practicum experience.

How has The Sustainable Innovation MBA helped you?

The Sustainable Innovation MBA has helped me explore my quantitative skills in finance and accounting and made me realize that I do really enjoy finance. The leadership component of the program has also helped me understand the importance of leadership of any business and think more about my future impact as a leader.

Getting to Know the Class of 2018: Kathrin Kaiser

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How has the Sustainable Innovation MBA helped you?

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

Wellington Management Talks About Investing in a Better Future

This post was written by Shari Siegel ’18

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

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

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

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

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

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

[2]           Id. at 49.

Getting to Know the Class of 2018: Julia Barnes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How has The Sustainable Innovation MBA helped you?

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

Anything else?

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

Getting to Know the Class of 2018: Arielle Tatar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How has The Sustainable Innovation MBA helped you?

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