It is May 8 — the last day of classes, and just like every three weeks or so, we have a speaker come to our class and talk to us for the whole morning. This time it is the one and only Professor Stuart Hart, and by now we should know him and his teachings pretty well.
For the ones who do not know, Dr. Hart is the backbone of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program. His research, in conjunction with other experts in the field, such as C.K. Prahalad, and Dean Sanjay Sharma, provide much of the material we study in our classes.
As we know Dr. Hart quite well by now, he decided to base his lecture on where we are now as a society, and where we are headed in the future, as well as some of his current research. After some 500 years of history, he explained the many phases of the most important economic systems the world has been going through— feudalism, mercantilism, industrial capitalism, institutional capitalism, financial capitalism. He finally mentioned the next phase that we are transitioning to— what he called the new sustainable capitalism. Each of phases have been going through a cycle of power and economic distribution that repeats itself, were we keep making the same mistakes, falling on the same bumps, and ending up in the same place, which is not exactly a good one.
We are now in a moment in history haunted by a severe climate crisis, as well as a social one, where inequality is hitting major milestones that are getting close to the point of no return. It is a point where the Milton Freedman’s “increase of shareholder value” corporate objectives, as well as the concept of tying the payment of chief executives and senior leaders to performance, are to be reviewed and thought over.
It not only has led to multinational corporations practicing stock buyback and cut R&D spending as well as operational spending including employee pay, among other strategies to raise the prices of their own stocks, but also focus on quarterly earnings reports and quick fixes to their unsustainable models. The pressure of investors, analysts, and high frequency traders has let these companies forget about the long-term strategies required to sustain their operations, as well as promote the wellbeing of their stakeholders. Shareholder primacy, as noted in the past, is not a legal obligation, but the system as of now is fixed for this purpose.
One of the objectives of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program is to create the new generation of businessmen and businesswomen determined to go about their decision making process taking not only financial, but also environmental and social aspects into account. As a student of this program, and part of this community, I would also like to act as a sustainability enabler, by attempting to contribute to corporate transformation from the inside out. Many of these public multinational corporations need to recognize their identity, strengths, and reason of existence, and use it as a tool to transform and modernize their operations and value propositions to ones that contribute to the wellbeing of the environment and society. By doing so, they secure their long term operations for the future.
Now that we have finished the lecture portion of this program, I am a step closer to become part of The Sustainable Innovation MBA alumni community, the one that is building the business leaders that the world needs. I recommend this experience to anyone that is trying to make an impact, and be part of the transformation we are going through.
The “Pains” of a Sustainable Innovation MBA Student
Capacities of time and energy fill up rather quickly for Sustainable Innovation MBA (SI-MBA) students, especially during finals week (and there are roughly eight finals weeks, or two per module, by my count). During the busiest weeks of SI-MBA, workload quickly outpaces recovery, mental health declines, and so does learning, in my estimation.
Such are the challenges of an
accelerated program. If you want to earn a Master’s degree in a year, then you
ought to make the requisite sacrifices. You have to “pay your dues” so to
speak. Most nights call for hours of reading, most of which a student cannot
complete because he or she simply lacks the reserves of either time, energy, or
attention span (or all three).
Might we be able to reduce a
SI-MBA student’s sacrifices while improving his or her learning outcomes?
A Possible Solution
Hypothetically, let’s replace
three hours of reading per week (across all classes) by three hours of
listening to some form of audio media (primarily podcasts) that covers the same
(or similar) material.
SI-MBA students undergo 33
weeks of full-time course work. This simple intervention could therefore save roughly
one hundred hours over the course of the program, doing the quick math. SI-MBA
students could then apply those hundred hours toward networking, proactive planning,
and restorative activities (sleep, perhaps!).
A few professors of the 2019
cohort assigned podcasts for homework, though only as supplemental materials. Multiple
professors assigned occasional TED Talks as mandatory material, but while videos
may require less mental effort for students to digest, I argue that they
involve most of the same trade-offs as reading.
To explore this possible
“solution”, I’ll walk through three of the main advantages of audio media over
reading and video:
Why Podcasts are More Effective Media than Books or
Podcasts Allow You to Multi-Task
People have busy lives, which
is why very few will read this blog post and even fewer will actually read
Hundreds of pages of reading
(assigned on most nights in the SI-MBA program) become quickly exhausting. This
is probably why I did not hear a single student claim that he or she read every
assigned reading – not even for a single class. Students therefore head into
class discussions having absorbed varying breadths and depths of the
pre-assigned material, which leads to disparities in discussion.
Podcasts, by allowing students
to multi-task (thereby preserving time and energy), could ameliorate such
challenges. To illustrate without belaboring this obvious point, here is just a
short list of activities that one might perform while listening to a podcast:
[Literally anything that consumes time, but leaves mental
In short, by listening to a
podcast instead of reading, a student could complete homework while completing
housework, commuting to school, or doing a favorite activity.
Author’s Note: In our Sustainable Innovation MBA program, we talk a lot about sustainability! But for the purposes of this post, I’m going to focus the discussion on the “innovation” side of things. After all, in frontier market contexts where the opportunity to “leapfrog” technology exists, sustainability and innovation really do go hand in hand.
Last week I had the distinct pleasure of representing The University of Vermont’s Sustainable Innovation MBA program at CoinDesk’s Consensus 2019 Blockchain Conference in NYC. In attendance were founders of blockchain startup companies, software developers, institutional investors, regulatory agencies, blockchain journalists, and academics from around the world. The topics covered by keynote speakers, panelists, and facilitators of hands-on workshops were vast, and I could not help from allowing the imaginative techno-futurist within me dream of the type of social good that could come from a decentralized “Web 3.0.”
Before I lose my audience with
heady predictions of a decentralized web future, I suppose I should first share
why I attended this 3-day conference in NYC to begin with – that is, to expand
my network within the blockchain development community and learn from industry
leaders about how this new technology, blockchain (or “distributed ledger
technology”), can be used in business to address the social and environmental
challenges that exist today, particularly in frontier market contexts. And for
what it’s worth, I’ll share with you what I see in my crystal ball later.
Wait Wait, Slow Down…What is Blockchain?
Put simply, blockchain, or “distributed ledger technology”, is a type of distributed database stored on a continuous ledger. Participants in a blockchain network can securely store their data on the continuous ledger such that no central authority or administrator can tamper with that data, adding the qualities of both transparency and immutability. This is where blockchain differs from a traditional database. At the end of the day, the real value that blockchain technology offers is trust.
Applied Learnings from Consensus to Practicum
This summer, I will be working with
classmates Esteban Echeverria and Henry Vogt on a practicum project with local
consulting firm Resonance Global. With a global presence in over 60+ countries,
Resonance assists clients in deploying market-based solutions to unlock
opportunity in frontier markets. My practicum team’s task for the summer is to develop
a proprietary analytical framework for assisting Resonance’s clients to make
better decisions about when and how to use blockchain technology in areas
relevant to their work, and then expanding that framework to identify greater
client opportunities for Resonance. As such, my attention during Consensus was primarily
focused on seeking practical business use cases for blockchain technology as
they might apply to solving problems in developing economies around the world.
The vibe of Consensus 2019 differed from last year in that there were “more suits and fewer costumes” among attendees (more on that here). Blockchain consultants from Deloitte, IBM, Tata, and Microsoft all had exhibit booths and lounges showcasing the practical applications of blockchain technology for industry. This year’s Consensus Magazine was titled “From ‘Crypto Winter’ to #DeFi: A Year of Loss, BUIDLing, and Opportunity”. While the ICO boom of 2017-2018 brought a lot of enthusiasm and startup capital into the blockchain and cryptocurrency space, it was clear that 2019 was to be the year of fundamental development, where applications for real business use cases will be piloted and scaled. As things turn out, this was great for me, one of the “suits” in attendance with an academic badge seeking to cut through the hype and learn!
I picked up a signed copy of “Blockchain for Business: Discover How Blockchain Networks Are Transforming Companies, Driving Growth, and Creating New Business Models” from Jerry Cuomo, IBM Fellow and VP Blockchain Technologies, where he penned “Matt – It’s a Team Sport!” I watched a luncheon video by Accenture showcasing its Tech4Good program, featuring its work with Grameen Foundation in economically empowering women at the BoP, among many other technology-driven projects for social good. I learned how ChainLink’s blockchain middleware application solves the smart contract connectivity problem by securely entering real world events onto the blockchain for seamless payments processing. I listened to Deloitte’s approach to advising clients on deploying blockchain projects from ideation to fundraising, structuring, building, and operating. I built my own simulated blockchain network on Amazon Web Services hosting platform in a 2-hour workshop session. Most importantly, I connected with several knowledgeable blockchain industry players with whom I can contact over the summer as my practicum team seeks the expertise needed to develop our blockchain framework for Resonance.
Crystal Ball Time: Blockchain and “Web 3.0”
Let’s take a brief walk through internet history. Remember when Al Gore invented the internet? Me too…(just kidding). Today, we can now look back on the internet era of the search engine, originally used for the sharing and distribution of academic papers, as “Web 1.0”: the Googles, Microsofts, and Apples of the world. Then came Mark Zuckerburg with “the Facebook” – insert “Web 2.0”, an internet driven by user-generated content, data collection, and digital marketing targeted towards an ever-more differentiated consumer who relinquishes data privacy in exchange for the service of algorithms directing her to exactly the right product or service in an increasingly mass-customization-driven market.
In a captivating panel discussion, futurist, economist, and writer George Gilder identified two key crises that represent an existential threat to continued prosperity: the collapse of internet security, and “the scandal of money” (I would personally argue for the climate change crisis to take precedent, but for the sake of carrying this conversation forward, we’ll keep the focus on “innovation” here). He epitomizes these two crises with the examples of the Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal that undermined the power of democratic institutions in 2016, and the 2008 financial crisis where central banks intervened with monetary policy measures that arguably prevented a world economic collapse and maintained the status quo of power politics, respectively. All of a sudden, we realize the need for a new, decentralized digital architecture for the secure transfer and ownership of assets. Enter the “decentralized web”.
Bitcoin has captured the world’s
imagination over the last 10 years in that it has made many of us rethink the
very idea of money. While Bitcoin itself does not adequately meet any of the
three requirements for money – a store of value, medium of exchange, and unit
of account – it offers a new platform for value transfer in an increasingly
digitized world. As Ethereum co-founder and founder of ConsenSys Joseph Lubin
points out, the currency of the future is likely to be reduced to two things:
data, and human attention. Lubin believes through this understanding that “we
are going to change the nature of value”. The innovation that could bring this
new conceptualization of currency into reality? Tokenization. Lubin points out
that unlike Web 2.0, Web 3.0 will likely consist of several interacting,
decentralized protocols on top of which more agile application layers will
So, what does the future hold? Is
this whole cryptocurrency and tokenization thing just a fad? Can we digitize
real world assets to fundamentally change how we perceive peer-to-peer value
transfer? Will Bitcoin ever return to its 2017 high of $19,665? The heck if I
know the answers to any of these questions, but after attending Consensus 2019,
I am well convinced that blockchain technology will likely play a pivotal role
in the evolution of technology towards a more secure and decentralized future,
and the implications for social good to come of that future would be boundless.
On May 10 I walked into Kalkin Hall, mentally rehearsing the practicum pitch I would present that afternoon. As I entered the building that had been my second home for the last nine months, it dawned on me that this was the end of nine-month, 45 credit-hours, academic sprint, most of which was spent this building. My nerves quieted and I felt deep appreciation for what I had accomplished up to that point. It’s hard to overstate the amount of time, effort, and determination that was required to get to where my classmates and I now stood. Looking around the room, I saw people that not so long ago had been strangers. But that day I saw 40 friends that shared a common bond born of shared struggle, successes, personal and professional growth, and way too many hours together. These are the kinds of people you want on your team and I’d support them in any way possible in the years ahead. And the best part, I knew the feeling was mutual.
With my presentation scheduled for later in the afternoon, I took a mental note to really take in the day and be present for my classmates’ presentations, something easily forgotten when you’ve seen the same people collectively present around 100 times. And boy I’m glad I did. Kicking off the day, the Ashoka team presented their plan to turn support services for social entrepreneurs into a financially sustainable business model. And with that we were off and running.
With not a small amount of
jealously, I listened to my classmates present plans to address an array of
complex issues: using cover cropping to address pollution and financial
challenges associated with Vermont’s dairy industry with Ben & Jerry’s; creating
a closed-loop business model for Burton’s soft goods; addressing legal and
environmental implications of 3D printing with the Environmental Law Institute;
transforming Interface into a carbon negative company; creating an emerging
market strategy to help Just Foods address malnutrition; building the business
plan and securing financing for Green Man Acres, a regenerative, diversified student-owned
Vermont farm; reducing the environmental footprint of the outdoor adventure travel
industry with REI; building niche market demand for artisanal Manchaha rugs
through storytelling with Jaipur Rugs; creating a business tool to identify blockchain
applications with Resonance; developing policies and strategy to incorporate
environmental, social, and governance criteria into the investing strategy of
the FIS Group; developing a smart phone application for checking the
environmental footprint of consumer purchases through a student-designed
entrepreneurial venture called Karma Score; and removing plastic packaging from
packaged goods at Seventh Generation. As my turn to present got closer, as usual,
I had to turn up the mental pep talk to prepare myself to meet the high bar set
by this intrepid cohort of MBAs. To that end, my partner and I presented our
plan to develop an emerging market strategy to drive demand for mobile network
services in rural areas, working with Vanu in Rwanda.
With the day drawing to a close, a bittersweet relief settled in. Our coursework was done, but so was our time all together. There’s no doubt the bonds that have been forged this year will remain far into the future. I feel lucky to have spent these last nine months with these extraordinary individuals and can’t wait to see the final results of these projects in August, and the accomplishments, successes, and positive impacts this cohort will have as they embark on their careers after graduation. Now, let the practicum work begin!
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!
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!
This post was written by Adam Figuieredo ’19. See a wonderful offer at the bottom of the article
A lot of
people will be talking about time management. You know how the game is played. Be
efficient and don’t overlook the low-hanging fruit. Your commute is the best
place to start. I recommend searching for a place near the business school ASAP.
5-minute walk is not something I think about often at this point in the
program. I have to remind myself of my deliberate/proactive approach, as well
as my good fortune, or else I’d take it for granted. I’m confident the value-add
in convenience is worth any additional cost.
relax as I prepare for morning classes and get ready for the day, knowing I can
“turn-up”… eat, shower, dress, go… at a rapid fire pace. It’s also easier to
meet with your team(s) before morning classes in preparation for presentations.
If I’m having
trouble studying, I can quickly escape the funk with a brisk walk to school. It’s
probably not surprising that the ability to focus on academic problems is easier
in academic environments. This is especially true for the occasional late-night
grind. There’s something mystical about burning the midnight oil in Kalkin 110.
You could even
diversify your income through charging your classmates for parking pass
privileges (or just rack up the IOU-coffees). Yet the best perk may simply be
the ability go home for lunch, make a homemade meal, and rest for a few
Finally, I extend an invitation… I plan on
moving out of my apartment by the end of the summer. For those interested in living
on Fletcher Place, please reach out and I’ll be happy to provide more
information. I’ve spoken with my landlord about this potential arrangement and
he’s all for it. This is a wonderful program and I’d love to help anybody in
the next generation transition to life on campus. I feel like I’m achieving my
goal of becoming a more sophisticated entrepreneur. Now it’s your turn to
pursue whatever it is you’re pursuing.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.