On Friday, September 20, 2019, MBA students from UVM’s Sustainable Innovation MBA Class of 2020 joined forces with youth activists, students, and workers around the world to demand a just future free from fossil fuels. These global strikes are happening before the UN Climate Action Summit next week – our goal is to put pressure not just on politicians, but people from all generations. Climate change is a moral issue, it’s happening now, and we have an opportunity to take action.
Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon will all be participating in strikes across the country. Locally in Burlington, SI-MBA students followed in the footsteps of Burton Snowboards, Ben & Jerry’s, Seventh Generation, and environmentally focused non-profits such as 350 Burlington, VPIRG, Climate Disobedience Center, and Sunrise Movement.
We as the Sustainable-Innovation MBA Class of 2020 have also teamed up with some inspiring alumni to march for climate justice! I talked with Brodie O’Brien ’14 and now Digital Marketing Manager at Ben & Jerry’s.
“Here at Ben & Jerry’s, we see our opportunity as
providing people with an onramp first-step into engaging in large-scale issues
that may feel insurmountable. Climate change is a big, scary topic that’s too
big for one person to address alone: we think that the power of collective
action can change the system. That’s why we’re here at the Burlington Climate
Strike scooping today – we want to celebrate our fans who are already involved
with Climate Action, and provide a fun way for new people to get excited about
creating real collective positive change.” Brodie also noted that “we use our
digital channels to raise awareness of movements amongst fans, it goes beyond
just showing up physically at events.”
Climate change is truly a world crisis: we have an
obligation to create sustainable business solutions that meet the needs of the
present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their
EDITOR’S NOTE: As part of Orientation Week, the Class of 2020 visited iconic, mission-driven companies here in Vermont for conversations about sustainability, innovation, and Business 2.0 with executives. We asked Albert Kittell ’20 about his take-away from a visit to Ben & Jerry’s headquarters.
“After visiting Ben & Jerry’s South Burlington offices it became very clear to me, a native Burlingtonian, that the scope of the company’s influence was much greater than I realized. Ben & Jerry’s, since middle of the 1980s, have put in place innovative and lasting initiatives that often were the first, or among the first, in the world. These included “Shared Prosperity,” social, and economic equality, and environmental issues. If an ice cream company can do all of that, then any business headed by similar type thinkers can help strike change in industry.”
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.
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!
Row upon row of solar panels reflect the Zambian sky while
they silently and cleanly produce enough electricity to power over fifty
thousand homes. Walking the solar plant that covers almost 50 hectares in the
special economic zone outside the capital city, I am exhausted but filled with
hope. Renewable energy is no longer a niche technology that “serious” business
people don’t even consider but the preferred source of electrical energy for most
I am at the Bangweulu Solar plant where I have been contracted as the commissioning engineer to ensure that the project can be handed over to the client and be ready to be brought online at an inauguration ceremony that will be attended by the president, US ambassador and other dignitaries.
This is grueling work, and the timeline is stressful, I only had four hours of sleep after flying in from Vermont before I had to be onsite for a planning meeting and hit the ground running. However, I know that this project marks a significant time for me and the company I am working worth. This project is about more than handing over yet another installation successfully to our client, it’s about capacity building and developing skills to make Zambia’s energy infrastructure more sustainable. The Bangweulu project was made possible by a financing structure that brought development partners and private business together.
This belief in the idea that value can be created at the confluence of social development and business enterprise is what brought me to The Sustainable Innovation MBA program at UVM.
A 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.
A few weeks ago, during our Driving Sustainable Change course, my classmates and I were fortunate enough to chat with Andy Ruben, co-founder and CEO of Yerdle. Yerdle is a “circular economy powerhouse” driving change in the recommerce market by partnering with brands in a way that benefits consumers, companies, and the planet. For someone who came into this program looking to gain new skill sets and tools that would support me in my quest to change the fashion and retail industry for the better, it was exciting to have the opportunity to hear first-hand how Yerdle is disrupting the retail landscape.
Currently, the fashion industry produces upwards of 100 billion pieces of clothing per year despite there being just under 8 million people on the planet. On average, we consume 400x more clothing than we did 20 years ago. Clearly, we have a consumption problem. However, we also have a lack of use problem. As Andy highlighted in our conversation, a large portion of perfectly wearable clothing in the world today sits unused in people’s drawers and closets. That doesn’t even take into account the 10.5 million tons of clothes tossed into landfills each year in the United States alone when people decide it is finally time to purge. So how do we address the growing mountains of clothing taking over the planet? Extending the life of our clothing by keeping pieces in circulation longer is definitely a key piece to this puzzle.
Now, keeping clothing in use by passing it along is by no means a novel idea. Passing along hand-me-downs and buying from and selling to thrift stores are examples of ways people have long been extending the life of their clothing. However, if we are truly to stop the current systems of production, consumption, and disposal that currently define the retail landscape and result in wasted resources, then we need to innovate and expand on our current re-sale systems.
Yerdle is doing just that. By
partnering with brands to help them take control of their resale market and
extract value from it in the form of profits and customer acquisition, Yerdle
ensures that all stakeholders (including the brands) benefit. A key theme woven
throughout our coursework in this program is the importance of expanding the
pie. In other words, for a solution to be truly sustainable and innovative, it
cannot simply redistribute the value created to different groupings of stakeholders.
Rather, it needs to expand the pie to increase the value captured by all.
Understandably, finding a solution
that truly expands the pie is easier said than done which is why listening to
Andy was such a valuable experience. Ultimately, by making retail companies
part of their solution and beneficiaries of it, Yerdle has created a solution
that other brands would want to be part of because the expanded value created
extends to them. This makes integrating recommence into their businesses seem
like the smarter, more profitable option.
One of my biggest takeaways from the conversation is that as my cohort and I move out into the world and start trying to tackle these big issues, we need to remember the importance of crafting solutions that reduce friction and do not force people to make trade-offs. The fact is, we are all passionate about different things and not everyone is going to care about or be willing and able to sacrifice something for the sake of sustainability. Nor should they necessarily be expected to. Thus, building a solution that requires stakeholders (businesses or consumers) to make a sacrifice of something they value in order embrace the greener option, is simply not a realistic and scalable alternative. Instead, businesses, particularly those in retail, need to embrace and develop strategies that make things easier and better for all. Yerdle is one example of a company doing just that.
With so much focus throughout The Sustainable Innovation MBA curriculum on the complex, pressing sustainability challenges across the globe it can start to feel claustrophobic and overwhelming to think about how to address these issues from as individual in terms of personal consumer behaviors. One place I have been trying to minimize my own ecological impact is by reducing my consumption of single-use and disposable consumer plastics products wherever I can. These attempts have made it clearer than ever how hard it is to break up with plastic, it is so ubiquitous in most of the products we all use on a daily basis. Fortunately this is an issue gaining traction, highlighted by Burlington’s recent vote on Town Hall Meeting Day to ban single-use-plastic bags, and with higher scrutiny towards how prevalent these products are in our lives there is a broadening new market for more sustainable substitutes to help tamper plastic use.
By looking at the plastic products I use most frequently I have been able to identify some
good alternative products to replace those, allowing me to reduce my reliance on them. One
source of plastic waste that might not immediately jump to front of mind is plastic toothbrushes,
but with their daily use they tend to be replaced fairly regularly and over one’s lifetime
toothbrushes can account for a significant amount of plastic waste. Many companies have sought
to offer a more sustainable option, with biodegradable bamboo toothbrushes being a common
alternative. Bamboo is a very low agriculturally intensive crop, requiring relatively little land
surface area for cultivation and no fertilizer use. However, not all bamboo is created equal and
with the rising popularity of the crop for myriad uses it can take a bit of digging to verify
whether or not a bamboo toothbrush (or any product made with the eco-fiber) is actually
sustainably grown or rather being greenwashed as a more eco-friendly option.
Another area of single-use plastics that can be reduced through investing in more
eco-friendly substitutes is produce bags. While it has become pretty common practice for many
to bring reusable grocery bags to the store, many of us still rely on plastic produce bags for
packaging our perishable fruits and vegetables. However, there are many alternative, reusable
mesh bags that can be easily used to replace the flimsy plastic ones so ubiquitous in grocery
stores. These also make for a relatively simple addition to any already ingrained reusable bag
habits. While the need for more substantive, paradigmatic shift in the way we as a society views
the use and disposal of plastics remains a daunting and pressing concern, there are many ways at
the individual level to curb your consumption and make small but meaningful changes. Investing
your dollar votes in sustainable products that provide longer term solutions instead of reaching
for single use plastics when convenient is one way we can all contribute to the larger, collective
groundswell of change.
During a recent Driving Sustainable Change class, we
implemented the methods of Design Thinking to try to answer the difficult
question, “How might we reduce the consumption of single-use products at UVM?”
This is a question I have tried to answer for myself on many occasions: How can I change my behavior so that I can reduce my consumption of single-use products? By single-use products I mean any product designed specifically to be used once, then discarded, simply to be replaced by another single-use product.
I used to believe that as long as I recycled the plastic I
was using, I was doing my part. However, I have realized that recycling is not
enough. There is a reason why the phrase goes reduce, reuse, and recycle.
Reducing and reusing come before recycling because that is how to make the most
Recycling is better than not recycling, don’t get me wrong, but the current recycling process has many inefficiencies. First, containers must be clean of contaminants. In a full bin of recycling, items that are not recyclable — contamination — weaken the marketability of that material, and those items wind up in a landfill anyway. If the plastic does end up going to a recycling facility, it takes large amounts of energy and resources to transform it into a product that can be used again. Monitoring and collection, transportation, and the recycling manufacturing process itself all contribute to this energy and resource consumption.
The molecular makeup of plastics makes it very difficult for it to be broken down and transformed back to its original product, like a water bottle being turned back into a water bottle. Instead, recycled plastic is usually used for secondary reprocessing which turns the recycled plastic into a plastic product that cannot be recycled. This repurposing of plastic is better than just throwing it in landfills, but its footprint should not be minimized. There must also be demand for the recycled material for this process to really be effective. Many recycling programs are operating at a cash loss on a regular basis, which is not sustainable for the long-term.
So, what is the solution to this? Recycling used to be seen
as the solution for all of our waste. But, that is just not enough if we plan
on saving the planet. The real solution is to not create the need to recycle in
the first place. Reduce your consumption of single-use plastics, or better yet,
don’t use single-use plastic at all. Nobody is perfect, so if you do buy
plastic try to reuse the item as many times as you can. Get creative with it! How
many new uses can you get out of a plastic product? But, since the goal of this
post is to reduce the consumption of single-use products, I am going to leave
you with some tips that have helped me.
The Grocery Store: Single-use products are
everywhere here, from lettuce wrapped in plastic, to eggs in plastic casings,
to meat packed in plastic bags. Become mindful of your purchases at the grocery
store. Start your grocery shopping the right way by remembering to bring your
own shopping bags- this will set you up for a successful grocery shopping trip
right from the start! Put your produce in these reusable bags instead of
putting them into the small plastic produce bags and try to buy produce that is
not already wrapped in plastic. Choose cardboard over plastic whenever
possible. Cardboard is generally easier to recycle and tends to biodegrade more
easily. So go for the eggs in the cardboard casing, or the pasta in a box
instead of in a bag, or detergent in a box instead of a bottle.
The Bathroom: Look in your shower and count how
many plastic containers are in there. Is there a way you can change your
purchasing behavior to find products that don’t come in plastic? Can you refill
glass containers with shampoo, conditioner, and body wash? There are companies,
like Lush, that are selling solid shampoos and body washes that do not have to
be contained in a bottle at all. Instead of buying disposable razors, try
switching to a razor that lets you replace the blade or, even better, get a
straight razor. Instead of shaving cream, try coconut oil. And if you really
want to commit to a sustainable shaving experience, don’t shave at all! There
are many alternatives to your plastic toothbrush, as well. Try going with a
wooden toothbrush, one that you can just throw in the fire when it is time to
get a new one. While we are on the topic of teeth, have you ever tried tooth
powder? You can make your own at home with baking powder, salt, and essential
oils for flavoring. You can also buy pre-made tooth powder from brands like
Uncle Harry or Aquarian Bath.
The Kitchen: Plastic has inundated our kitchens
in the form of plastic baggies, plastic wrap, and plastic storage containers. Instead
of using plastic wrap, use jars or glass containers. There are also some
innovative companies, like Bee’s Wrap, that are coming out with reusable food
storage solutions. Instead of plastic baggies or plastic containers, why not
use a glass or stainless steel bento box? If you’re feeling extra brave, bring
these out with you when you know there will be leftovers. Instead of relying on
a restaurant to provide you with a single-use container to-go, complete with a
plastic bag, opt to put the food in your own container that can be reused over
and over again. Try switching to wash cloths instead of paper towels. Paper
towels come wrapped in plastic and can only be used to clean up one mess. Wash
cloths can be used over and over again and just get thrown in with the rest of
the dirty laundry when they need to be washed.
I may only be 23 years old, but I know exactly what I want to do with my life. I want to change the fashion industry for the better. My bachelor’s degree is in Design & Merchandising which translates loosely into the business-side of the fashion industry. After working in product development in sports apparel, I saw the shortcomings of retail and knew that I couldn’t enter the industry knowing that I would be part of the problem. I am determined to be part of the solution and create a positive impact on the industry.
When I joined The Sustainable Innovation MBA program, I knew my direction was always going to be about fashion.
I just wasn’t sure which form that would take until I came across the non-profit organization Net Impact. Turns out, they have a specific program dedicated to promoting sustainable fashion called Wear it Wise. I immediately reached out to the program because I knew I had to be involved.
As a grad student, I knew this would be a huge
opportunity for me to share what I am passionate about on a larger platform.
This program is sponsored by Levi’s, Colombia Sportswear Company, and Eileen
Fischer. Knowing that these brands are innovators and already making a
difference in the sustainability space, I knew that this platform would provide
me with more skills and tools to further a cause that I was already passionate
After being accepted into the Wear It Wise program, I started crafting my social media campaign to give people an inside look as to how they can shop more sustainably. My goal throughout this campaign has been to empower the consumer. In my experience, the fashion industry is at a crossroads where the industry is aware of sustainability and knows that it will eventually have to become greener, but it’s still lacking that final push to implement change. I believe that we as consumers carry immense power to vote with our dollar with every purchase we make. We have the power to be this push that retailers need in order to convert to more sustainable practices.
I’m excited with the power we have to wear our values and make our impact in the retail industry. Please follow along my journey on social media as I continue to share my passion with all of you and inspire you to make your own impact!