Single-Use Plastic: Why Recycling is Not Enough

This post was written by Meg Nadeau ’19

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 positive impact.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Net Impact: Wear-it-Wise Fashion, but Make it Sustainable

This post was written by Alyssa Schuetz ’19

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 about.

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!

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!

5 Ways to Shop Sustainable Fashion

This post was written by Alyssa Schuetz ’19

We as consumers are bombarded with ads every day from the instant we go on social media to the moment we step out our door and walk past an ad on a bus. All these ads are pushing us to consume more goods and products. This cycle of endless consumption not only has a negative impact on the planet, but also on our wallets. So here are a few tips and tricks to shop more sustainably and still make your fashion statement!

1) LESS IS MORE

It is far too tempting to fall victim to fast-fashion retailers such as H&M and Zara, who may have the perfect budget-friendly pieces, but in the long-run end up costing us more since these items quickly wear out. Instead of buying more items at a lower price, opt to invest in your wardrobe! Buy pieces that may cost more in the moment but will last and save you money in the long-run! (Don’t forget to show off your reusable bag when you’re in the store to avoid having to use the store’s plastic bags!)

2) THRIFT

Be unique! Thrift stores are an exciting treasure hunt. You never know what you may find, but whatever it is, it is sure to be unique and utterly perfect for you! No one else will have the same thing and you are sure to set yourself apart from the rest with your vintage finds! (Plus, you can rest assured that the product that you bought didn’t use the same amount of single-use plastic packaging that a big-box retailer would have used!)

3) RENT

For special occasions such as weddings, I understand that we all want to wear something special to mark the night and you most likely do not want to wear the same outfit twice―this is achievable and budget-friendly by renting your evening wear or borrowing from a friend! Just keep in mind the additional time needed for shipping so make sure you don’t wait until the last minute, but in the end the planet will thank you and you will look incredible in your pictures!

4) AVOID TRENDS

Trends, as the name states, come and go, but your wardrobe doesn’t have to! The planet will always be there and as such, your wardrobe should reflect that! Consider creating a capsule collection where all your pieces are neutrals that can mixed-and-matched and do your best to avoid buying into trends for every season (unless its vintage of course)!

5) SHOP BRANDS WHO CARE

Brands who have a focus on sustainability and ethical sourcing are your friend and also a friend of the planet. Look for brands whose production is transparent and traceable so you can check-in to see how they are taking care of their workers and preventing pollution in the manufacturing process. Don’t forget to consider the textiles involved, too! Think organic cotton over synthetics which are plastic-based textiles, such as polyester.

You as a consumer have the power to vote with your dollar. Vote for brands that support the same causes as you and we can directly impact the apparel industry with every purchase we make!

Photo by Fancycrave on Unsplash

Sustainability 3.0

This post was written by Meryl Schneider ’19. The Sustainable Innovation MBA features various Innovators-in-Residence over the academic year.

According to Innovator-in-Residence Dave Stangis, Chief Sustainability Officer at Campbell Soup Company, organizations go through phases when implementing sustainable practices which he called “Sustainability 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0.” Beginning his career at Intel as an Environmental, Health and Safety External Affairs Manager, Stangis’s initial role transformed into Director of Corporate Sustainability where he spearheaded corporate social responsibility and sustainability strategies in response to growing societal concerns of Intel’s environmental, social and economic impact. From there, Stangis’s growing passion for business and sustainability landed him a job at Campbell’s, where he has developed and led the firm’s widely known CSR, ESG and sustainability strategies.

Stangis explained the three evolutions of sustainability, beginning with phase one, where most companies find themselves today. In this initial phase, companies focus on reducing costs through eco-efficiencies, risk reduction, and strive to do less harm via environmental stewardship. In phase two, sustainable corporate strategy is respected but can be siloed from the strategy team. Organizations adopt triple bottom line (financial, social, environmental) considerations when evaluating their performance to create greater business value. Phase three sounded like the “ah hah” moment where firms make strategic sustainable business decisions that are imbedded in business strategy and anticipate sustainability challenges instead of reacting to them. Businesses strive to challenge their model in 3.0 with objectives to solve complex social, economic and environmental problems as a product of the business itself.

How does Sustainability 3.0 impact Campbell’s and the food industry? For Stangis and Campbell’s, he is undoubtedly striving to be a Sustainability 3.0 company as a major player in the food industry. Stangis argued that ethical and environmental considerations no longer “just” feed into the Campbell’s strategy but are becoming the company’s strategy. As he put it, the potential challenges the food industry is facing are daunting. Climate change is affecting global food systems while the world population is growing at an accelerated rate. Stangis painted the picture for the future of food and how Campbell’s will ultimately predict, adapt, and strategize their business model into evolving into a 3.0 firm. He explained that by utilizing technology, finding long-term resiliency in regenerative agriculture, and by aligning business objectives with the United Nations Sustainable development goals, a company like Campbells will continue to evolve and innovate as the competition for resources intensifies. Stangis embraces the unknown and ultimately understands that disruptive forces are looming. It is how companies choose to react and grow sustainably from the disruption that will count.

“Hunter is disruptive…”

This post was written by Henry Vogt ’19

“Hunter is disruptive” is the phrase we first saw as we walked into our second guest lecturer of the semester.

Earlier this Fall we had the pleasure of hosting guest speaker Hunter Lovins. Suffice it to say, she knocked our socks off. I had heard Hunter’s name before, but wasn’t very familiar with her work or legacy. It became apparent right away that we were in for a unique and inspiring experience.

Hunter’s body of work in sustainability and climate justice is prolific: from starting numerous influential non-profits, creating successful sustainable MBA programs from scratch, authoring best selling books, founding impact investing firms, and consulting with some of the largest corporations in the world including Unilever and Walmart, Hunter’s influence is extensive. This is augmented by her down-to-earth, Colorado ranch-style demeanor. She tells it like it is, passionately, in an inspirational way. She’s the type of person that understands that solving world problems is best facilitated over a whiskey, face-to-face. Hunter also owns a beautiful ranch in Colorado, where she easily could spend all of her time but instead chooses to be on the move, committed to her mission.

I asked Hunter how she envisions American capitalism evolving and whether she believes it has the capacity to solve the massive challenges facing our planet under current frameworks. She answered by giving a prediction from economist Tony Sebens: “Within 10 years, economics will dictate that the world will be 100 percent renewable. For this to happen, the world’s economy will be disrupted. This will be the ‘Mother of all disruptions.’ In other words, to save the climate we have to crash the global economy.”

If this is, in fact, the case, then the next decade will be tumultuous to say the least. This led our class session to focus on the question of what’s next and how do we collectively begin to prepare for this disruption. While this notion and idea can admittedly be not very uplifting, it was encouraging to hear suggestions from many of my classmates on how we may leverage our global economy and invest in Base of the Pyramid projects to find solutions and begin to strategize on how we may “soften the landing” from major global disruption.

Overall, having Hunter present to us was inspiring and eye-opening. While there are massive challenges ahead, having individuals like Hunter who are disruptive, driven, and committed to finding solutions to these challenges provides hope for the future.

From the Lab to the Marketplace: Using Sustainable Innovation MBA Classes to Advance UVM Tech Development

This post was written by Steven Micetic ‘19

From solar power to vitamin D fortification, universities are a fundamental source of innovation that advances humanity’s ability to live healthy, sustainable lives. And yet research funding, though it often translates into exciting, new intellectual property, typically doesn’t result in innovations that make it to market and drive impact.

Many of UVM’s 13 colleges and schools are at the forefront in their respective fields of research. In 2016, UVM received $138m in outside research funding alone. Much of this funding goes to efforts that align with the ethos of the Grossman School’s Sustainable Innovation MBA program: mitigate agricultural runoff, improve the efficiency of renewable energy generation, and advance access to care and treatment of chronic diseases.

It is within this context that The Sustainable Innovation MBA offers a unique opportunity to young professionals seeking to translate innovation into impact. In the initial weeks of our classes, I reached out to Associate Professor and Steven Grossman Endowed Chair in Entrepreneurship Erik Monsen because I wanted to learn more about the technologies under development at UVM. Within days, Erik and I were meeting with Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Dr. Appala Raju Badireddy. Dr. Badireddy and his team are developing a filter technology that can extract elements from wastewater previously thought impossible or cost-prohibitive to extract.

Initial conversations with Dr. Badireddy led to a group of Sustainable Innovation MBA students addressing one of the key questions in the technology’s underlying business model. Integrating this work into the Entrepreneurial Business Model class, the team spent eight weeks evaluating markets for captured phosphorous. Beyond making for a rich classroom experience, our work may have real-world application as Dr. Badireddy takes this work from the university to the marketplace.

As we move into the latter half of the program and acquire new skills through the our courses, the prospect of continuing to support the success of green technologies like Dr. Badireddy’s filter technology is an exciting one. Perhaps the next great green technology may come from the laboratories of UVM, and perhaps its success may be supported by one of my fellow students.

Photo by Louis Reed on Unsplash

In The News: Our Class in Entrepreneurial Business Models

“Across the Fence,” a long-running news program on WCAX here in Vermont, recently profiled The Sustainable Innovation MBA program.

The focus was on Professor Erik Monsen’s “Crafting the Entrepreneurial Business Model” course, the highlight of which is a business trade show featuring the students’ ideas for new, disruptive business models.

Shake it Up

This post was written by Elissa Eggers ’19

“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”

I first encountered this quote by Gandhi on Pinterest last fall, when I was beginning the grad school application process. I found it to be a comforting reminder that although my aspirations were large (telling people you want to save the planet can result in a lot of blank stares), I could find a way to make an impact on my own terms. While, I’ve never been a particularly loud or forceful person, I’ve never lacked conviction. Ultimately, I knew that because I would probably never be the person leading a protest or going door-to-door, I needed to find the avenue that best allowed me to use my interests and abilities to bring about change. This is what drew me to The Sustainable Innovation MBA. I knew it would hone my current skill-sets, provide me with the tools needed to make an impact, and expose me to avenues for change I didn’t yet know existed. In this regard, the program has most certainly not disappointed.

All of our choices have an impact. The key is figuring out in what ways, whether big or small, you can make an impact that is authentic to you.

In the mere 3 months (could it really have only be 3 months?) I’ve been in the program, I’ve met an incredible collection of human beings and been exposed to a plethora of new ideas and viewpoints. The real trick though, I’m learning, is remembering to look up and maintain perspective while trying to take in all this new information coming at you. This program is, without question, fast moving and its relentless pace can cause you to become stuck in the weeds as you focus on checking off the ever-growing collection of deliverables on your to-do list. I’ll admit, this has been me for the past few weeks. I’ve fallen down the rabbit-hole of cost models, business plans, and organizational behavior. However, my drive home from Burlington for the holidays mixed with the magic of Pinterest in periodically resurrecting old, previously viewed pins, provided me with some much-needed perspective.

My background is in retail management and I came into this program to learn more about how the product life cycle (specifically related to clothing) can become more circular as well as how to shift consumer behavior. With Black Friday and the holiday shopping season soundly upon us, I can’t think of better time to reground in why I started along this journey in the first place. What we buy matters, and how we use it can matter even more. All of our choices have an impact. The key is figuring out in what ways, whether big or small, you can make an impact that is authentic to you.

So, my question for you this holiday season and beyond, is how will you shake the world?

Photo by Fancycrave on Unsplash

The Cost of Disruption — Loss of Community?

This post was written by Travis Smith ’19

Improving efficiency for consumers through digitization is one of the main sources of disruption and innovation within the marketplace. The goal – reduce the amount of time waiting for something or reduce the need to go somewhere for something. I believe this is rooted in a positive notion of improving the convenience of people’s’ lives so they can go about their day in a fashion they so choose. However, it may be time to look at what we are streamlining in order to make life more convenient – community. Losing those small conversations with strangers at the store might make life more streamlined, but the loss may also have the unintended consequence of chipping away at community.

It’s never been easier to order goods, food/groceries and socialize without ever leaving one’s home. As a society, we are moving more towards a world where we don’t have to do anything or go anywhere that we do not want to. Yet, according to the Washington Post, the US has consistently fallen in world happiness rankings and currently sits at 18th place. Furthermore, Americans are losing touch with their communities. Pew Research found that only 24% of urban residents know all or most of their neighbors; this is alarming as our society becomes more urbanized. Here we find a paradox. We are more connected and life is more convenient than ever, but somehow, we know less people directly around us and our happiness levels are falling.

The question should be asked, are there diminishing returns on efficiency as there are with wealth? What will we do with the extra time gained? Yes, our society went through a similar transition with the rise of big box retailers, but at least we were still going to a physical place to interact with physical people. Now there is no store with people, but a website with a chatbot.

One surprising example of a community oriented disruptive technology is Pokemon Go. The technology of augmented reality has upended the mobile gaming industry. Yet, Pokemon Go uses the augmented reality tech to bring gamers together in a physical space as users must make friends and interact with others in order to advance in the game – thus, building community. The game even has a once a month “community day” where users are encouraged to meet up at public parks for several hours and play together.

There doesn’t need to be a binary choice between technology and community, but As entrepreneurs and future business leaders we should ask ourselves – will my product or service help build community or chip away at it? As consumers, will we replace our time spent at a post office, grocery store, or restaurant with other time spent building community?