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.

The Future of Sustainability is Female

This post was written by Emily Klein ’19

EDITOR’S NOTE: The MBA Women for Change, a student-founded and managed group, is about to conclude its first year of existence, and scored a number of significant accomplishments in 2018-2019 aimed at bringing the issue of gender equality in the workplace to the forefront.

As a woman in my mid-twenties, I am constantly thinking about my future—crafting my next move, creating my career path, and navigating the opportunity costs of personal and professional decisions. My decision to attend business school solidified my personal statement of purpose: I am capable, confident, and powerful, and I will bring about meaningful change in the world. For me, business school was intimidating and, to be honest, sometimes I felt like an imposter; however, if there is one thing I’ll take away from the SIMBA program, it is  the idea that challenges bring about great opportunities.

We started the MBA Women for Change group to actively promote women in business leadership roles. Female leaders are and will be key drivers of sustainability efforts around the world; we see great opportunity in recognizing and capitalizing on the unique perspectives of women as we pursue sustainability and innovation in business.

MBA Women for Change has three goals in mind for our short year together: spurring deeper conversations around women in leadership and sustainability roles; organizing professional development opportunities; and building networks of support within the university and in the Vermont business community. In our first semester, we have accomplished quite a lot in pursuit of these goals:

Conversations around women in business: Serving as a support group and forum for women in the current cohort, Women for Change has encouraged discussions on topics ranging from Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” to communication and confrontation. The group has also facilitated cohort-wide conversations around gender, identity, and leadership.

Professional development: Women for Change has hosted several professional development workshops, including a session on power and leadership in conjunction with the UVM Women’s Center, lunch with guest speaker Lori Smith on organizational wellbeing, and an interactive situations workshop with our own Alexa Steiner.

Outreach: Coordinating with the Alumni MBA Women’s Group and women on the SIMBA Advisory Board, Women for Change is working to create a more tight-knit SIMBA community of female leaders. Group members have also attended community networking events with Vermont Womenpreneurs, Vermont Women’s Fund, and the New England Women’s Investor Network, and have connected with local businesses such as Generator, a makerspace in Burlington.

In pursuit of these goals, we have sparked deeper discussions, forged stronger connections, and created a more supportive and inclusive learning space. Our hope is these conversations, interactions, and networks empower women to take the lead toward a more sustainable future. By growing the pipeline of female leaders in the sustainability space, UVM and others are effecting long-term change. As many before me have said: this is not a women’s issue, it’s a human issue.

They say to be the change you wish to see in the world. The MBA Women for Change group envisions a more sustainable and equitable future; our cumulative individual efforts power a driving force within our program and beyond to achieve this vision. For the twelve months we have together in the SIMBA program, we work to change the conversation around female MBA students and leaders.

Come August 2019, we will have a powerful network of women behind us as we move into corporations and create our own companies. From finance and marketing to supply chain and social responsibility, we are the leaders we wish to see in the world. I am proud to study alongside tenacious women and supportive men – together, the 41 of us are a force to be reckoned with.

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

Women for Change: A Lesson in Determination and Perseverance

This post was written by Lauren Masters, Emily Klein, Meryl Schneider, Caitlyn Kenney, Maggie Robinson, and Alyssa Schuetz of the Class of 2019

What started as an idea in September turned into the first formal public event hosted by The Sustainable Innovation MBA (SI-MBA) program’s Women for Change group. Seven months ago, Lauren Masters, a current student of the SI-MBA program said, “I think Holly Dowling would be a great speaker to catalyze and legitimize our group within UVM’s Grossman School of Business and the greater Burlington community.”

With this goal in mind, a group of six women combined their skills, experiences, and minimal free time to jumpstart a new endeavor. The event planning committee included current MBA students Emily Klein, Lauren Masters, Caitlyn Kenney, Alyssa Schuetz, Meryl Schneider, and Maggie Robinson. Little did they know the amount of grit, determination, and perseverance that would be needed to legitimize the Women for Change’s first event held for the Greater Burlington community.

Throughout this process, students learned valuable lessons on how to navigate the world of fundraising, legitimize a club on campus, and overcome challenges that arose in unexpected places. As time passed and checklists seemed to grow, the planning proved to be difficult as students juggled their full-time schedules. There were even moments when they questioned whether, or not they would be able to pull-off the event.  Ultimately, the cumulative shared values of the planning committee proved to be enough as the group banned together until the very end.

On March 21st, over 50 young professionals, business leaders, and SI-MBA students alike were able to see this event come to fruition. Henry Vogt, a SI-MBA student said, “I found the Holly Dowling event to be fun, exciting and inspiring. Not only was it a great networking opportunity, but it was also exciting and thought-provoking. When Holly presented it felt like she was speaking directly to members of the audience. She offered perspective and inspiration on how to be successful, depicted personal stories of how she persevered through adversity, and gave tips on how to live a more fulfilling life. Additionally, it was very impressive that this event was organized by a passionate group of women MBA students, who put in a massive amount of work to successfully fundraise and organize an excellent event.”

As the adrenaline wore off, this small group of women looked at this event as one of the many highs of their overall SI-MBA experience.  Grad student Lauren Masters adds, “We knew we were all working towards a bigger picture of empowering female leaders not only within our cohort but also the greater Burlington community area and beyond. We hope that some of the key insights gained from this event will stick with attendees throughout their careers.”

For more information on the specifics of this event, please check out the following article: Leaning In

MBA Women for Change Hosts Holly Dowling

This post was written by John Turner, Marketing & Media Relations Specialist at the Grossman School of Business.

In a recent study of women in the workplace by McKinsey & Company, the consulting group reported that while for the last four years, companies have reported that they are highly committed to gender diversity, that commitment has not translated into meaningful progress. Women continue to be vastly underrepresented at every level, and only about one in five senior leaders is a woman.

With that as the backdrop, the role and empowerment of women in the workplace was addressed by globally renowned leadership speaker Holly Dowling recently at a special event in Burlington.

Hosted by the MBA Women for Change, a student group of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program at the Grossman School of Business, and Westport Hospitality, guest speaker and change management and leadership expert Holly Dowling led a spirited conversation about women in leadership at the Courtyard Marriott in Burlington.

The event was the brainchild of the MBA Women for Change, a group started in the fall of 2018 to promote and advocate for gender issues in the workplace within The Sustainable Innovation MBA program.

The idea for the event gelled when a personal connection to Holly Dowling surfaced, and the group saw the opportunity to host an event that not only started a conversation around these issues, but was an appropriate way to widen the discussion out into the community, strengthen relationships with other organizations such as the Vermont Women’s Fund, as well as raise the profile and awareness of the program itself.

“Holly was a perfect speaker for us, having an aligned focus and goals of getting women into leadership as a conversation and she gave us this gift with her time and energy to be able to come here,” said organizing committee member Emily Klein ’19.

Meryl Schneider ’19, another committee member said,“it was great to be able to invite other women from all over the community, friends and family, and men, to this event to take part in something like this.”

The event also provided a platform to build bridges, extending the network and encouraging collaboration. Alyssa Schuetz ’19 noted, “it was great being able to establish relationships with other community groups like the Vermont Women’s Fund, the Burton’s women’s group as well as with our donors, to further connect and establish lines of communication.”

She continued, “We deliberately invited men and asked Holly to tailor the conversation so that it was inclusive to all genders, so everyone could get the benefit. Because we know that it’s not just the women who have to make a change, men are a huge part in this. We wanted to make it as open and accessible to as many people as possible.”

Emily continued, “I liked Holly’s message that companies are letting go of diversity and inclusion and are now only talking about inclusion. Because how far are we going to get if there’s all these separate interest groups with all these separate conversations? Acknowledging diversity and creating pockets within an organization is not fully solving the issue.”

Meg Smith, Director of the Vermont Women’s Fund, a nonprofit organization that provides support for women’s economic self-sufficiency, entrepreneurship and an event sponsor said, “this event that brings people together to have a conversation is important as everyone gains strength from one another. The realization that by collaborating, the sum is greater than the parts. There is an ongoing need for women in the workforce, and to create an inclusive, friendly workplace. My organization is focused on positive change for women, but it cannot happen in a vacuum, you cannot do it alone.”

With the success of this initial event, the group hope to continue their work including hosting guest speakers from the Women’s Center and an International Women’s Forum dinner with PhD students and the dean from UVM’s Rubenstein School. The group also realize that with The Sustainable Innovation MBA program being just one year, it’s a challenge to maintain momentum from cohort to cohort.

They plan to stay involved after graduation and provide assistance wherever possible, as some from previous cohorts have done, and hope that future cohorts will continue to build out the work of the group, and keep advocating and pushing for gender issues and equality.

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!

The Mission, and The Team

This post was written by Cameron McMahon ’19.Cameron served 4 years active duty in the US Marine Corps infantry, deploying twice.

There is a lot of discussion about mission-driven businesses and millennials being attracted to working for them.  Along with this come conversations about how to build up your people and create teams that are greater than the sum of their parts. This has been causing me to reflect on my time in the U.S. Marine Corps infantry and how we built and managed teams.  Shared hardship tended to be the element which rapidly allowed the willingness to form for us to perform well together.  As I am working on starting my farm business and considering best practices for finding and hiring people to help build the business, I am trying to think deeply about the type of culture I want to create. 

In the USMC the mission was always provided to us and there was a clear rank structure and roles within that which existed for eliminating uniqueness. There were jobs to be performed and the expectation was that you performed your role and anything else simply wasn’t an option. Extremely high rates of burnout are the norm for junior ranks with this treatment.  However, we accomplished the mission and pushed our limits far beyond what we had previously thought possible. We as a human community are facing grave threats in the next several decades that will decide whether or not we are able to continue living on this planet. It is difficult to find the language in a civilian setting to pull the best lessons from the USMC. How to translate the brutal methods and speech for rapidly binding teams together who are willing to work through pain, exhaustion, and fear to run through calf- deep mud filled with mines toward the multiple machine guns firing at you and your friends to a business setting?

I don’t pretend to have any firm answers to these questions. In the process of trying to figure it out though, some things have been clarifying. Motivation is encouraged when people are able to feel a sense of ownership over the process as well as the results.  Having a sense that you are part of something larger than yourself and working toward a common goal that serves humanity in useful ways helps to make the day to day tasks required for job performance gain deeper meaning and purpose. Hope works better than fear for motivating people to perform at a consistently high level over time. 

Facing the myriad challenges from threats such as climate change cannot be done effectively if people don’t feel as if a better future is possible and their actions matter in creating it. Just as there is no place for cowardice on the battlefield and those who are unable to push through their natural hesitation to endanger themselves are removed from roles where they will get others killed; it is necessary to identify those in an organization who are not bought into the mission and cull them from the team. To create a culture of willing high performance there should be rewards for the victories and the failures in order to encourage everyone to stretch themselves and not fear failure. Great ideas won’t come out if people are afraid of the consequences of failing.  An organization, culture or person who is unwilling to change is more of a problem than a solution.  As Darwin said, “The species best able to adapt is the most likely to survive.” and as we say in the Corps, “Improvise, adapt and overcome.”

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!