Impact Investors of Tomorrow: The Turner MIINT Program

Written By:

Carly Joos ‘22  
Digital Content Editor 
Connect with Carly on LinkedIn 

Devon Maddux ‘22 
Contributing Writer 
Connect with Devon on LinkedIn 

It was a crisp October afternoon when our team first met. The whiteboard in our meeting room mapped out the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, pulling together themes and ideas on which we could base our investment thesis. One kept catching our attention – “Affordable and Clean Energy.” The energy experts on the team, Ben Foxman and Josh Kriesberg, chimed in with energy-burden metrics while we discussed the realities of climate justice. Quickly, our thesis became clear, “our firm will invest in companies at the nexus of clean technology and accessibility.” We unofficially dubbed ourselves Empathic Ventures and embarked on our journey through the Turner MIINT competition. 

Source: Slide from the UVM MIINT Team’s Final Presentation

Every year the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business pairs up with the Bridges Impact Foundation to host the Turner MBA Impact Investing Network & Training (MIINT) program. This year-long competition is designed to give MBA students a hands-on experience as early-stage impact investors. During the 2021-2022 academic year, 630 students competed from 45 global institutions. The grand prize? A $50,000 investment into an impact-driven startup of the team’s choosing. Along the way, each team was required to develop an investment thesis, source potential investments, conduct due diligence, and ultimately craft an investment memo and pitch their chosen startup.  

This was the second year that students from the University of Vermont’s (UVM) Sustainable Innovation MBA (SI-MBA) program participated in the competition. Two teams competed internally to make it to the semi-finals – our team versus another whose investment thesis focused on women’s healthcare. We felt honored to be chosen to represent UVM in the semi-finals and, ultimately, our team was one of eight that made it to the final competition. We competed in the finals alongside other top business programs including the London School of Economics, MIT Sloan School of Management, the Wharton School, UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, Columbia SIPA, Harvard Business School, and the Yale School of Management. 

In addition to a competition, the Turner MIINT program offers an incredible opportunity to learn the ins and outs of impact investing and venture capital. The program provided a host of resources and asynchronous learning modules that guided our team through the full investment cycle. We attended workshops with industry experts who shared frameworks for analyzing both business performance and social and environmental impact. Participating in this challenge, we were both humbled and inspired by the global scale at which the sustainable revolution is washing over the private equity and venture capital industry. Students from all over the globe were able to have the shared experience of learning what it means to be an impact investor. 

Alongside guidance from the Turner MIINT competition facilitators and partners, the SI-MBA program paired us with faculty advisor Cairn Cross. Cairn is the Co-founder and Managing Director of Fresh Tracks Capital, an early-stage venture capital firm focused on financing businesses in Vermont. Cairn was very generous with his time, scheduling frequent check-ins to help our team understand core topics in venture capital. These topics included: developing an investment thesis, sourcing potential deals, analyzing startup pro-forma financial statements, and more. Cairn also brought in experts from his network to help us through the due diligence process, provide feedback and support, and ultimately judge our investment memo and pitch. These sessions, along with the work required to advance through the competition, often required hours of work each week in addition to our accelerated MBA curriculum. Nevertheless, our team thrived knowing that we could provide catalytic capital to help a potentially world-changing company get its start. 

UVM Turner MIINT Finalists (from left to right) Ben Foxman, Devon Maddux, Tate Moeller, Carly Joos & Josh Kriesberg 

After a rigorous sourcing and due diligence process where we explored over 20 different early-stage ventures, we ultimately recommended investment in Community Energy Labs (CEL). CEL is a woman-founded, woman-run company with a mission to make smart energy management and decarbonization accessible and affordable. The company’s commercial building control solution uses machine learning to monitor, learn, and adjust building energy use to meet client goals. CEL is focused on bringing their affordable solution to schools, universities, and municipalities to help buildings lower energy costs, reduce CO2 emissions, and ultimately prepare for a transition to renewable energy sources. Although our team did not have the opportunity to invest in CEL, we continue to stay close to the company’s founder, Tanya Barham, and are excited to continue supporting its mission as we advance into our post-MBA careers. 

“MIINT opened my eyes to the sustainable change and positive non-financial outcomes created through impact investment,” Tate Moeller reflected about her experience in the program. “In 2021, just 2% of venture capital funds were awarded to female-founded companies. Pitching a woman-owned and led, energy and tech-focused startup in the finals of Wharton’s global competition was one of my proudest accomplishments this year. I am very grateful to have shared it with wonderful classmates and friends.” 

Overall, the Turner MIINT competition provided an incredible experience that left our team with a great network, new skills, and, most importantly, lifelong friendships. In addition to the personal growth we gained through this program, we are humbled to be part of the larger industry shift toward impact investing. We hope to support the increasing momentum that impact investing has in securing a more sustainable future for business. Ultimately, it will be the disruptive entrepreneurs of today that pave the way for the sustainable businesses of tomorrow. 

Local Business Spotlight: The Restock Shop

Written By:
Colleen Miller ‘22
Contributing Writer
Connect with Colleen on LinkedIn

Source: https://www.instagram.com/therestockshopvt/

We live in a time when plastics are ever-present and seemingly unavoidable in our lives. Plastics package our food, medication, and personal care items – and that’s just scratching the surface. Individuals who wish to avoid purchasing items packaged in plastic must go to great lengths to do so, either by purchasing specialty products or DIYing their own.

I was able to speak with Marina McCoy, owner of The Restock Shop – a low-waste store located in Burlington, Vermont. The store aims to solve the problems created by unsustainable packaging and make a low-waste lifestyle more accessible to everyday consumers.

Source: https://www.instagram.com/therestockshopvt/

Since the store opened in 2021, The Restock Shop’s mission has been to help reduce waste and educate the community about low-waste living. Shifting to a low-waste lifestyle can be intimidating. Marina’s advice? Ask the staff questions! All of Restock’s employees champion low-waste lifestyles and are happy to advise low-waste novices. The shop also hosts regular workshops that walk participants through creating their own low-waste products. Past workshops include: Zero Waste 101, DIY Candles, and DIY Lip and Foot Scrubs.

Customers at The Restock Shop will find a variety of refillable personal care and cleaning products that can be refilled at stations using either containers brought from home, or  “borrowed” from Restock’s jar library. When asked what some of her favorite products are in the shop, Marina excitedly mentioned the shop’s intimate products, tongue scraper, and earwax pick. According to Marina, an earwax pick is one of those things you didn’t know you needed.

Source: https://www.instagram.com/therestockshopvt/

The shop works hard to ensure that its suppliers share its mission and vision and Marina and her team strive to sell products from underrepresented communities. Their vendor qualifications include: 1% for the Planet members, Certified Zero Waste, BIPOC-Owned, Asian-Owned, Woman-Owned, and organizations that donate profits to LGBTQ+ charities. Marina recognized Queer Candle and Kind Laundry as two great supplier partners.

Source: https://www.instagram.com/therestockshopvt/

One of the first things that a customer will notice when walking into the shop is its bright and cheery color scheme. When asked about the inspiration for the shop’s design, Marina shared, “I love the 90s. The shop has a 90s theme because we are trying to reclaim the 90s which is when unsustainable packaging took over. I don’t like how whitewashed the zero-waste movement became and want to take that out with fun colors,”

Marina studied sustainability in college and says that she used to be judgmental of how much waste others produced until she realized how hypocritical that attitude can be. For example, when reflecting on her own lifestyle, Marina noted, “I’m not going to give up my CSA [Community Supported Agriculture] because it sometimes contains a plastic bag.” She now focuses on trying to reduce overall consumption rather than enforcing a strict zero-waste regime.

Marina brings her welcoming, non-judgmental attitude into the store every day. When asked about her aspirations for Restock’s future, Marina said she hopes the store can become a community center where vendors can connect with the local community. In the future she hopes to expand the shop to have a presence at local CSAs and farmers markets to make a low-waste lifestyle available to even more people.

The Restock Shop is located at 230 College Street, Burlington Vermont.

Live Your Values: How to Eat Sustainably

Live Your Values: How to Eat Sustainably

Written By:
Lindsay Jarrett ‘22
Contributing Writer
Connect with Lindsay on LinkedIn

Like many college students, I find relaxation and creativity in cooking and trying new recipes. However, with a busy schedule, I must plan out meals in advance and try to stick to a reasonable budget. Before I go to the grocery store, I look through my fridge and pantry to see which ingredients I already have to include in the week’s recipe to decrease food waste and extend my dollar .

Today I found:

  • Castelvetrano Olives (open jar in fridge)
  • French Green Lentils (pantry)
  • Olive Oil
  • Red Pepper Flakes

I do not subscribe to a specific diet, but I typically do not include meat in the lunches I bring to school. I often look for a recipe that will make enough servings for the week, will keep me full through our 1:30-4:30 pm class, and is easy to take to school in a glass Tupperware. This week, I decided on Sarah Jampel’s Just-Keeps-Getting-Better Lentil Salad, published on Bon Appetit.

Burlington’s local Co-op, City Market, is a great option for shopping locally and sustainably. My experience has taught me that if you’re strategic when shopping, you can stick to a budget and minimize waste. For this recipe, I put together my grocery list, gathered my reusable shopping and food storage containers and headed to the market.

Here’s what I bought:

  • Organic Tuscan Kale $3.29
    • TIP: No need to put in a plastic or compostable bag! Just straight into my basket.
  • Raw Almonds $1.75 (on sale)
  • Organic Scallions $1.99
  • Garlic $0.96
  • Lemon $0.69
  • Cumin Seeds (from bulk bin) $0.16
  • Feta Cheese $4.99
  • French Green Lentils $1.21
    • TIP: I measured out my lentils before I left, and I did not have enough for the recipe. I emptied the bag into a bowl and used the same bag in the bulk section to purchase the remaining amount needed.

TOTAL: $15.04

City Market curates seasonal produce from local farms in Vermont; however, the winter season means most of the current produce is procured from other regions in the United States or abroad. The feta I purchased is local from Maplebrook Farm in North Bennington, VT.

Next, I laid out all ingredients for the recipe and began preparing. I followed the recipe exactly as written.

In the end, the recipe filled one large Tupperware and one small Tupperware. This created  about 4-6 servings, a perfect amount for the week and brought the price per serving between $2.50 to $3.76.

As a sustainability student, I am also conscious of the waste I produce when cooking. This recipe left me with the following:

COMPOST: Burlington has a mandatory compost law, so food waste must be discared properly through pick-up services, local drop-offs, or personal composting practices.

  • Kale stems
  • Garlic skins
  • Lemon
  • Olive pits

RECYCLING or REUSE:

  • Glass Olive Jar – Wash and recycle or use as a jar for bulk shopping in future
  • Small paper bag used to purchase cumin seeds from bulk bin – can be used again in store

WASTE: It’s difficult to eliminate packaging when purchasing produce from the grocery store, but mindful shopping habits and recipe choices help reduce waste.

  • Wire and tag from kale bunch
  • Rubber band and tag from scallion bunch
  • Sticker from lemon
  • Paper towel used in recipe

Many recipes will not use the entire amount of your purchased ingredients, so I view meal planning as an iterative process. I consider what I have leftover, and base my next meals off of any remaining ingredients. Here are a few recommendations based off the recipe above:

  • Scallions
  • Feta
    • Scrambled eggs, or top the salad with a bit more throughout the week
  • Raw Almonds
    • Snacks!

Winter in the Northeast means produce often travels far to reach our plates, but through mindful grocery shopping we can reduce our impact and still be creative in the kitchen. We are lucky to have amazing growers in the area, and the Burlington Farmer’s Market will open on May 7, 2022. I look forward to cooking with local produce this summer, and not only shopping sustainably, but also supporting local businesses!

Opinion: SEC’s ESG disclosure proposal is a steppingstone, not a solution

Written By:
Carly Joos ’22
Digital Content Editor
Connect with Carly on LinkedIn

A new wave of capitalism may be looming as the latest proposal from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) directly ties the future of business to environmental and social impact. On March 21st, the SEC proposed new rules for reporting on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) metrics. These rules would require public companies to disclose their contributions to global warming, such as greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and evaluate the threats that climate change poses to their operations. This proposal is an essential step in compelling corporations to think critically about their impact on our planet and society, but is not a silver bullet to bring about true disruptive and systemic change. 

Many companies, both public and private, already voluntarily disclose their social and environmental impacts. KPMG’s 2020 Survey of Sustainability Reporting indicated that 80% of N1001 companies worldwide, and more than 90% in North America, report on sustainability[1]. So, if companies are already reporting on sustainability and ESG metrics, why is the SEC proposing new rules?

1The N100 refers to a worldwide sample of 5,200 companies. It includes the top 100 companies by revenue in each of the 52 countries and jurisdictions researched in this study. These N100 statistics provide a broad-based snapshot of sustainability reporting among large and mid-cap firms around the world.

Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash

A major problem in ESG reporting today is that companies lack clear guidelines on how to actually do it. There are countless reporting frameworks that companies can use, including the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), and many more. Each framework varies in scope, for example focusing exclusively on environmental impacts such as GHG emissions, or financial impacts of climate change, or a broad range of ESG topics. Sometimes companies elect to use more than one framework, but often they choose only one, omitting critical information that their stakeholders may want to see. This makes it difficult for investors to compare ESG risks across companies. The SEC’s proposal solves for this problem by offering consistent guidelines that all publicly traded US companies will be required to use.

You might be wondering why the SEC, which focuses on informing and protecting investors, is proposing ESG reporting rules rather than another governing body like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), whose mission is to protect human health and the environment. The EPA carries out their mission by sponsoring and conducting research and developing and enforcing environmental regulations. While these activities are critical for supporting climate science, the EPA does not shape financial policy. Investors have begun to realize the threat that climate change poses to the future success of business and are increasingly demanding insight into the non-financial performance of their investments. This comes as a new generation of employees and consumers, Millennials and Gen Z, are more inclined to align their employment and their purchases with their values. These generational trends also threaten businesses that don’t begin taking climate change seriously.

Photo by Markus Spiske: https://www.pexels.com/photo/people-walking-on-street-2990647/

The SEC’s proposal is an important steppingstone for the sustainability community. We can predict and hope that as companies begin disclosing their ESG metrics and climate risks, those who perform poorly will suffer from drops in share price and inhibited access to capital. But this is precisely why the proposal is not a silver bullet – there is no guarantee that ESG disclosures will force companies to actually transform their operations to be more sustainable.

“This proposal is long overdue (we are playing catch-up with Europe).  It would provide valuable information to investors and the public at-large, and would help inform the development of public policy,” commented Charles Schnitzlein, UVM’s Grossman Endowed Chair in Finance, and Academic Director of the Sustainable Innovation MBA program. “Nevertheless, critics of the proposal abound, and if the rule is enacted, it will surely face legal challenges from the usual suspects (right-wing think tanks, the fossil fuel industry, and politicians from coal and oil producing states).”

Already the proposal is receiving critical feedback from industry groups protesting that the new rules will drive up compliance costs and impact company profitability[2]. If companies aren’t willing to spend money to report on what they already do, then they certainly won’t be willing to invest in more environmentally sustainable practices. Meanwhile, environmentalists argue that the new rules won’t require all companies to report on Scope 3 GHG emissions due to various exemptions. Scope 3 emissions are those that are generated outside the walls of the company, such as by suppliers or consumers, and are often much greater than Scope 1 and 2 emissions combined.

The reality is that traditional business leaders and environmentalists are unlikely to agree on the role of business in the fight against climate change. We are in a race against time as we work to limit the impacts of global warming and must accept and celebrate small steppingstones, like the SEC’s proposal, as wins. “There is scientific consensus that there is a rapidly closing window to prevent catastrophic climate change.  This proposal would help. Let’s hope it is enacted!” Professor Schnitzlein concluded hopefully.

When it comes to climate change, the widely debated quote “you can’t manage what you can’t measure” reigns true – businesses must begin quantifying their impact on the planet to begin reducing it. The SEC’s proposal lays the foundation for exactly that. From there, we can continue to advocate for systemic change and support businesses as they transition to truly sustainable operations.


The opinions expressed in this article are my own, and do not represent the views of UVM or the Sustainable Innovation Review editorial team.


[1] Threlfall, Richard, Jennifer Shulman, Adrian King, and Wim Bartels. “The KPMG Survey of Sustainability Reporting 2020.” KPMG, December 2020.

[2] Kiernan, Paul. “SEC Floats Mandatory Disclosure of Climate-Change Risks, Emissions.” The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, March 22, 2022. https://www.wsj.com/articles/sec-to-float-mandatory-disclosure-of-climate-change-risks-emissions-11647874814.

New Belgium Brews for a Cleaner Future

Written By:
Zoe Kurtz ’22
Contributing Writer
Connect with Zoe on LinkedIn

At the beginning of March, I joined five other students and traveled to Asheville, North Carolina to enjoy spring break, which included a meeting with the New Belgium sustainability team. As a SI-MBA student with a particular affection for breweries, I was fully supportive of the school-inspired detour. We were particularly interested in meeting Sarah Fraser, New Belgium’s sustainability specialist. New Belgium rides ahead of their competition as the proud brewer of Fat Tire, the first carbon neutral beer to be distributed in the US. This means that both the brewing and the sourcing of Fat Tire contributes no net carbon to the atmosphere. That’s right, something that is delicious for you is also delicious for the planet.

SI-MBA students at the New Belgium Liquid Center in Asheville, NC

New Belgium’s story is novel in the industry but becoming increasingly popular as more breweries experiment with innovative sustainable techniques to brew ever more delicious beer. Traditionally, the brewing process consumes large amounts of energy and water, both in sourcing the ingredients and transforming those grains into the beverage we are all expecting. While these challenges present massive hurdles to overcome for breweries trying to reduce their environmental footprint, New Belgium is not shying away.

I was giddy walking into New Belgium’s Liquid Center in Asheville to meet Sarah. The Liquid Center is a paradise for beer lovers. The bar inside is colorful and welcoming, and the outdoor space overlooks the French Broad River, which plays host to the tasting room and brewery. As we walked in, we could see the current construction to install solar panels on the brewhouse underway: another investment New Belgium is making towards their sustainability goals. As we sat outside, absorbing the southern sun and sipping our beers, we spoke with Sarah about everything from their carbon neutrality goals, supply chain issues, their relationship with the local Asheville brewery scene, and different exciting innovations they are exploring. The experience was both surreal and validating as I saw classroom discussions transition so seamlessly into real life application in an industry I love.

Entrance to the Liquid Center in Asheville, NC. Photo Courtesy of Sarah Fraser, New Belgium Brewing

Our conversation with Sarah left me with two major impressions: 1) to help achieve their sustainability goals, New Belgium’s operations could benefit from a more dedicated focus on the collection and analysis of data, and 2) the brewing industry is better positioned than most to successfully make the transition to carbon neutrality.

New Belgium is already tracking their brewery’s utilities and operational data, as well as their greenhouse gas emissions data, choosing to self-report across three defined scopes: Scope 1 emissions are all direct emissions from owned or controlled sources (such as in-building heating equipment); Scope 2 emissions are all indirect emissions from purchased electricity; and Scope 3 emissions are all indirect emissions (not included in Scope 2) that occur along the entire value chain (Greenhouse Gas Protocol). New Belgium is going the extra mile to track Scope 3 emissions – a strategic decision that exemplifies their robust commitment to sustainability. The sustainability office at New Belgium is an interdepartmental team of passionate employees. They are tasked with the collection and use of this data to help New Belgium move closer to their 2030 climate commitments. However, not having a full-time team of dedicated sustainability analysts limits the power of the data New Belgium collects.

The true power of data analytics is in how it provides companies the flexibility and creativity to experiment with innovative new approaches to their processes without investing significant capital. This process takes intention, know-how, and most importantly, time. Sarah did speak about how New Belgium is shifting the way they use their data: she highlighted some projects that use data to help estimate potential emissions reductions from changes to recipes or production processes. This shift could uncover new innovations that push New Belgium closer to their sustainability goals.

Innovation is only as valuable as it is scalable. Sarah reflects on how the industry competes for shelf space but collaborates in every other way. This is evidenced by the formation of the Brewers Association, an organizing body that allows for the space to share ideas, innovations, and best practices with fellow brewers. New Belgium is a proud member of the Brewers Association and cofounder of the Association’s sustainability subcommittee.  New Belgium even took an additional step towards transparency by creating an independently run Carbon Neutral Toolkit. This website is their “How-To”, aimed at helping other small brewers reach their carbon neutrality goals. Their commitment to sharing best practices is emblematic of the camaraderie in the industry: New Belgium embraces information sharing as a way to create a more sustainable industry, rather than gatekeeping their knowledge to retain their competitive advantage.

Brewery patrons enjoying the view of the French Broad River from the Tasting Center. Photo Courtesy of Sarah Fraser, New Belgium Brewing

There was something sublime about sitting outdoors next to the river, listening to the water rush past, and feeling the winter Asheville sun that made our drinks taste even better. Sarah, at one point, reflected: brewing consumes so much water and energy that those who brew understand and feel how their work is pulling those resources from the Earth. The brewing process truly connects the heart of the brewer and the soul of sustainability, encouraging the innovation we see in the brewing atmosphere in the hopes of a more environmentally friendly beverage. Connection and innovation are at the core of the brewing industry, allowing for a unique advantage to adapt to a new way of life as we all rush against the deadline of climate change.

Global Village Foods: “The way we’d make it for you, if you came to dinner”

Written By:

Nancy Demuth ‘22
Creative Director
Connect with Nancy on LinkedIn

Tahagod Mohamed ‘22
Contributing Writer
Connect with Tahagod on LinkedIn

Global Village Foods’ range of frozen meals. Credit: Global Village Foods

As busy SI-MBA students, frozen food has become a staple of our diets this year. Luckily for us, few frozen food options are tastier, or healthier, than those made by Global Village Foods – a Vermont-based family business whose delicious meals are readily available in Burlington.

Global Village Foods’ founders Damaris and Mel Hall – from Kenya and Memphis, respectively – are on a mission to make delicious, nutritious, allergen-free African food accessible to everyone. Currently a first-generation family business, the second generation is already getting involved, with the couple’s daughter, Wangene, making an impact as Director of Marketing.

To hear the story behind the delicious meals we’ve been enjoying throughout the year, we spoke with Damaris and Mel to hear more about their business’ unique story and philosophy.

What’s the story of Global Village Foods so far?

Damaris: When I moved to Vermont 30 years ago, I found it very difficult to adjust to the food. I missed African and Kenyan food, but ethnic foods were difficult to find back then. In my moments of desperation, I would ask my mother to ship 50-pound bags of millet to me from Kenya! Eventually, we were able to source US-grown millet and teff from a local co-op, and started cooking African food at home. Then we started catering at small events, because we wanted to introduce our delicious food to Americans, too.

Mel: We realized our food is best when we make it ourselves, the way we would make it for you, if you came for dinner – that’s the energy we bring to it. Fast forwarding to 2022, we’ve done everything imaginable in food service, including running a 68-seat full-service restaurant. That was too difficult to manage with our young family, so we switched to selling prepared meals to local co-ops. Our frozen meals and snacks have been stocked in Whole Foods since 2017 and we’re now in all 42 stores of the entire Northeast region, as well as about 180 other specialty food stores.

Damaris and Mel Hall holding their 2021 NEXTY Award. Credit: Global Village Foods

Why did you start focusing on allergen-free food?

Damaris: Along the journey, we had a son who developed food allergies. We found he did much better eating our food because it contained fewer allergens.

Mel: Most of our offering is dairy, egg, nut, soy, sesame, seafood, and gluten-free. This has made us attractive to college environments, where you have to be really aware of students with food allergies. We’ve actually just started servicing the dining halls at UVM, and will be rolling out to a number of other schools in the Boston area.

Why Vermont, and what is it like being part of the Vermont business ecosystem?

Damaris: We didn’t choose Vermont – Vermont chose us! The food we cook is mostly vegetarian, with a very limited amount of meat, and Vermonters were really receptive to that. One of the first events we served our food at was the Vermont Reggae Festival – most of that crowd was actually vegetarian and they really enjoyed it. There’s also the element of introducing people to my culture. I’m really passionate about food, and I believe that people should eat good food that is going to do them good. My grandmother lived to be 92 and my grandfather 104, and I think that has a lot to do with eating food in its natural state, the way it was meant to be.

What’s your sustainability philosophy at Global Village Foods?

Mel: Damaris and I actually met in an Environmental Studies program when I was in Kenya, so sustainability has always been a point of interest for us. Living in Vermont, there’s a whole sensibility around giving back, not just to the environment, but also to the community. One of the great things about doing frozen food, too, is that it eliminates waste. We also reduce food waste as much as possible in our kitchen, as well as our paper and cardboard output.

Damaris: I think we just like to use the common sense method. We ask ourselves: “What are we feeding our customers, and is it sustainable?” We work with local farmers to source locally-grown produce. We also use a lot of millet, not just because we eat a lot of it in Kenya, but because it’s a crop with a very small environmental impact. As a business, we follow the principle of “people first”, because if you care about the people and the environment, the results will always be beautiful.

The full range of Global Village Foods’ delicious meals. Credit: Global Village Foods

Are there any sustainability projects you’re working on currently?

Mel: One of the environmental pain points I would love to resolve is our packaging – we currently pack our meals in a black plastic tray. We attempted to switch to a compostable film tray, which unfortunately could not sustain various conditions in the marketplace. For example, if you thawed the meal out, the tray could completely fall apart. I would love for someone to invent a really solid, truly recyclable, bio-compostable tray.

What’s it like being a Black-owned business in Vermont?

Mel: Being in Vermont has been liberating of preconceived notions, in the sense that people are more interested in your product’s quality than it being made by a Black-owned business. What has driven our growth is people finding our food culturally different, nutritionally balanced, and tasty! Now, the flip side is that in America, minority-owned businesses do not all enjoy the same level of growth and success because of systematic barriers. Financial markets here do not account for the imbalanced starting point that minority businesses come with compared to their white counterparts. Having said that, if anyone is going to make a progressive move to recalibrate, it will be Vermont!

Damaris: What I experienced is that when we are dealing with individuals, they are more understanding about diversity. However, when you are talking about institutions, the inclusive language does not translate to purposeful funding for minority businesses. The criterion for judging is still set at fairly high standards compared to the reality experienced by these minority businesses. The institutional brick wall does exist and while there are programs intended to help small businesses, the message gets lost in translation once it reaches banks.

Global Village Foods’ samosa bowl. Credit: Global Village Foods

What is next for Global Village Foods?

Damaris: Our hope and dream is to make Global Village mainstream so that people know what African families eat, which is the same food you eat at home, but spiced differently. We want to make African food a staple cuisine that is just as well-known as Chinese, Korean, and American cuisines. In terms of engaging the next generation, we want to see our children carry on the business if they are interested. Our children have been fortunate to see our business through all its stages and most importantly, they see the wonderful work culture we built for our employees. That is something we value and hope to continue seeing in the future.

Mel: Our goal is to distribute African food from Vermont to the rest of the country.  We want to develop a solid system that operates at the efficiency of a corporation, but with Vermont’s ethos of social responsibility. Of course, we intend to do that while still incorporating sustainability into our supply chain. As a family business, we also hope to expose our children to the strategic business planning and logistics needed to get us there. Our eldest daughter has already brought a lot of growth as Director of Marketing. 

What is your advice to our SI-MBA class, or any aspiring business owners?

Damaris: Understand that business is a language, so seek help and surround yourself with people who know more than you to accelerate your growth. Find something you are passionate about, because that is what will give you meaning when you are faced with hard times. And as you make the profits, do something with them that will be beneficial to humanity.

Mel: Know your why, and don’t restrict your why. There will be times when the “what” and “how” put a lump in your throat and a pit in your stomach. The passion you develop for your work will get you through those hard times.

To learn more about Global Village Foods, check out their website or find a distributor near you. (UVM students can also find Global Village Foods products at the dining hall!)


This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

People, Planet, Profit: Austrian Hospitality Enables Sustainability in Vermont’s Green Mountains

Written By:
Riley Nelson ’22
Contributing Writer
Connect with Riley on LinkedIn

This article from the Graduate Family Business Sustainability Club focuses on the von Trapp family and the Trapp Family Lodge. Four current SI-MBA students traveled to Stowe, Vermont and spoke with Kristina von Trapp and Walter Frame about the family business and the importance of sustainability.

Etched into Vermont’s horizon, the Green Mountains lure those far and wide with their humble magic. For the von Trapp family, they provided a new home while evoking reminiscent feelings of their Austrian past. Take a journey to the hills of Stowe, Vermont, and you’ll discover how the Trapp Family Lodge seamlessly blends Austrian hospitality with values rooted in creating a sustainable future—or as the family says, “A Little of Austria…a Lot of Vermont®!”

In 1950 Maria von Trapp created what became a 2,500-acre hospitality sanctuary. Maria’s son Johannes is now president and, at 82, remains highly involved in the lodge’s day-to-day operations. Johannes lives on the property with his wife, Lynne. Their two children, Kristina and Sam, each built homes for their families down the road from where they grew up and are co-owners and operators of the family business, along with Kristina’s husband, Walter Frame.

Image courtesy of: Allyson Rigutto, SI-MBA ’22

The Trapp Family Lodge recently celebrated 70 years of business, with sustainability at its core from the start. Protecting and caring for the land is both a fundamental value and essential business practice for the family. As a founding member, Johannes set aside roughly 1,500 of the family’s 2,500 acres for conservation under the Stowe Land Trust. Guests are encouraged to explore the property’s 60 miles of ski, bike, and hiking trails and contribute to conservation with a $1-per-night trust donation built into each reservation. The land also supports a maple sugaring operation and rotating timber harvests to create a healthy forest and provide wood to heat the lodge.

Johannes defines sustainability as, “Working off the land, getting what you could from close by, and reusing everything you could.” Ingredients sourced directly from the property create a farm-to-table experience for guests. In addition to fresh produce, the family raises numerous animals including layer-egg chickens, pigs, cows, and sheep. Longstanding composting practices are intended to both reduce inputs into local dumps and enrich soil for more abundant crops and livestock. The von Trapp Brewing launch in 2010 was an important test of sustainable expansion. Today, von Trapp beer is sold in 10 states, and the byproducts of the beer-making process are spread across the acreage.

An aerial view of the Trapp Family Lodge property (Photo courtesy of Trapp Family Lodge)

For the von Trapps, sustainability extends beyond respecting the planet. The family believes in “Gemütlichkeit,” the German term meaning cozy, unpretentious, and professional hospitality. This value of care is extended to both guests and the community. The von Trapps engage in various philanthropic initiatives in the greater Stowe area, including afterschool fitness and recreation programs. With approximately 300 employees on payroll today, the von Trapps understand that supporting peoples’ livelihoods is an integral part of success. Providing employees with stable, well-paying, and purpose-driven jobs is key to the business’s resilience and growth during challenging times.

As for the traditional bottom line, embracing all facets of sustainability enabled the Trapp Family Lodge to have its most profitable year to date, despite a global pandemic. The von Trapp family is a pillar of success in the greater Vermont community because they keep people and planet at their core, showcasing what it truly means to be a sustainable family business.

Kristina von Trapp accepting the 2019 Multi-Gen Family Enterprise award at the Grossman School of Business’s Family Business Awards

Sustainable Business: A Centuries-Old Concept

Written By:
Nancy Demuth ’22
Creative Director
Connect with Nancy on LinkedIn

‘Acanthus’, a naturalistic wallpaper design by 19th century entrepreneur William Morris. Credit: Birmingham Museums Trust https://unsplash.com/photos/v15kmerLWcA

Many of us tend to think of sustainable business as a recent phenomenon. It’s certainly true that in the last few decades, the climate crisis has compelled a new wave of companies to benefit both people and planet through their everyday operations. But in the wise words of American poet and civil rights activist Audre Lorde: ‘There are no new ideas. There are only new ways of making them felt.’[1]

In Professor Dita Sharma’s Entrepreneurial Family Business class, we learned that notions of “sustainability” have evolved over time. While the world’s most pressing concern today is the climate crisis, previous generations have also harnessed the power of business to tackle various social and environmental problems. They might not have used the word “sustainability”, but the concept of protecting people and planet would have been familiar to them.

I joined the SI-MBA program as an international student from the UK, a country with a rich history of sustainable business pioneers determined to change the status quo. Many of them worked against the backdrop of the Industrial Revolution, which began in the 18th century and had a brutal impact on the poorest people in society. For centuries, millions of working-class people labored for twelve to sixteen hours each day for little pay in dirty, cramped and extremely dangerous conditions. Workers’ rights were virtually non-existent, employers were often cruel and dictatorial, and child labor was a common and accepted reality.

Child labour in dangerous factory conditions became commonplace during the Industrial Revolution. Source: WikiImages from Pixabay https://pixabay.com/photos/child-labour-south-carolina-62922/?download

This was the world that Welsh factory owner Robert Owen (1771-1858) grew up in. In 1799, Owen purchased the New Lanark cotton mill from his father-in-law David Dale. While Dale was already considered a generous employer for the time, conditions at the mill were still, objectively, brutal. As a first step, Owen immediately banned corporal punishment for children, stopped accepting child workers from the local poor house, and raised the minimum age of employment to ten.

Eventually, Owen phased out the hiring of children completely and sent his remaining child workers to a purpose-built school. He also made many other decisions which, at the time, were nothing less than revolutionary: from implementing measures to increase his workers’ autonomy and motivation in the workplace, to improving workers’ housing, to opening an adult night school for his workers (commonly credited as the first in the world)[2].

In 1807, President Jefferson passed the Embargo Act, which put American cotton exports to Britain on hold. In response, most British cotton mills began laying off their workers. Owen, however, made the highly unusual decision to keep his workers on at full pay, earning him even more respect and loyalty from his employees. His approach reminds me of Dan Price, the tech CEO who in 2015 famously took a pay cut to pay all his employees a minimum salary of $70,000.

Owen is often remembered today as a philanthropist. However, this characterization glosses over the fact that his social initiatives could always be justified on economic grounds. The social improvements he pioneered weren’t simply acts of charity, but considered business decisions – and under his management, the factory became exceptionally profitable, with returns of over 50% on investment.

Textile designer William Morris (1834-1896) was another sustainability-minded entrepreneur whose ideas were far ahead of his time. Morris’ designs, famously inspired by the forms and shapes of the natural world, are as popular in British homes today as they were over a century ago. But fewer people are aware of the activism that accompanied his business acumen.

‘Kennet’, one of Morris’ nature-inspired designs. Credit: Birmingham Museums Trust/Unsplash https://unsplash.com/photos/-KfLa4I4eTo

A committed environmentalist and campaigner, Morris was infuriated by the effects of industrial waste and pollution on the natural environment. He eschewed industrial production methods, instead opting to use small-scale, artisan production at his furnishings company, Morris & Co. He revived obsolete, artisanal production techniques, insisted on the use of high-quality raw materials, and used almost exclusively natural dyes[3]. He was also socially progressive, proving himself lightyears ahead of his time by hiring women as decorators in an era when this was far from considered a suitably “feminine” profession[4]. Even today, CEOs in male-dominated sectors tend to be far less proactive in this respect.

As an egalitarian and a committed socialist, the fact that only affluent households could afford Morris’ products was deeply troubling to him. While he never fully resolved this problem, his tactic was to educate consumers into making fewer purchases of higher quality. Today, many purpose-driven businesses still grapple with the very same issue: like Patagonia, whose striking “Don’t Buy This Jacket” campaign encouraged customers to buy less, but buy better. Morris’ message, then, seems more likely to resonate with customers in the 2020s than it was in the 1870s (at least, for those of us who constantly struggle to stop buying things we don’t need and achieve Marie Kondo levels of minimalism).

Morris’ childhood home in Walthamstow, north east London, is now the William Morris Gallery. Credit: Kenny Orr/Unsplash
https://unsplash.com/photos/aQSZqWzzjg4

A century later, in 1976, trailblazing entrepreneur and activist Anita Roddick (1942-2007) opened the first Body Shop in Brighton on the south coast of England. This was an era long before the advent of Fairtrade certification, the trend for zero-waste stores, and the boom in natural and vegan cosmetics. But Roddick was already travelling across the Global South to buy directly from farmer groups, asking customers to use refillable bottles, and campaigning against animal testing[5]. In the profit-obsessed, Thatcherite 1980s, Roddick was seemingly the antithesis of everything a CEO should be.

Roddick was no stranger to controversy, and her decision to take the business public in 1984 angered many who felt she had compromised her principles (and she did live to regret her decision). But few would deny that Roddick truly broke the business mold and paved a path for others – particularly women – to follow. Before anyone had coined the phrase ‘B Corporation’, ‘social enterprise’, or ‘Triple Bottom Line’, Roddick had already succeeded at growing a purpose-driven, activist enterprise in an extremely unforgiving and profit-obsessed business ecosystem.

Started in 1977, in 2022 there are now approximately 3,000 Body Shop stores worldwide – including this branch in Burlington, VT. Credit: Nancy Demuth

Though the world has changed dramatically since Owen, Morris, and even Roddick’s time, the problems they railed against still exist in some form today. As sustainable business students, we tend to constantly look ahead to the future at the potential of the latest technological advances to drive positive change. But more often than not, there’s also a great deal of inspiration to be found from the ingenious ideas of the past.

The opinions expressed in this article are my own, and do not represent the views of UVM or the Sustainable Innovation Review editorial team.


[1] Popova, M. (2022, January 28). Audre Lorde on poetry as an instrument of change and the courage to feel as an antidote to fear, a portal to power and possibility, and a fulcrum of action. The Marginalian. Retrieved February 4, 2022, from https://www.themarginalian.org/2020/10/18/poetry-is-not-a-luxury-audre-lorde/#:~:text=Poetry%20is%20not%20a%20luxury.,then%20into%20more%20tangible%20action.

[2] British Library. (n.d.). Robert Owen. British Library. Retrieved February 4, 2022, from https://www.bl.uk/people/robert-owen

[3] Barber, J. (n.d.). Bringing the garden indoors: How nature inspired William Morris. National Trust. Retrieved February 4, 2022, from https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/bringing-the-garden-indoors-how-nature-inspired-william-morris

[4] Watson, A. (2019, September 9). The first eco-warrior of design. BBC Culture. Retrieved February 4, 2022, from https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20190909-the-first-eco-warrior-of-design

[5] Horwell, V. (2007, September 12). Obituary: Dame Anita Roddick. The Guardian. Retrieved February 4, 2022, from https://www.theguardian.com/news/2007/sep/12/guardianobituaries.business

SI-MBA Practicum Projects: It Begins!

Written By:
Vanessa Chumbley ’22
Managing Editor
Connect with Vanessa on LinkedIn

It felt like waking up to learn school is cancelled for a snow day. It was December 22nd and SI-MBA students finally received something we’d been waiting for with bated breath for weeks – our Practicum Project assignments.

The Practicum Projects are the capstone experience of the SI-MBA program. They are a full-time, hands-on, consulting project with an organization seeking to advance sustainable business within their own organization or their industry. These organizations may be entrepreneurial ventures, B corporations, NGOs (non-governmental organizations, or non-profits), or large, international corporations. Projects focus on a range of issues – from supply chain, to impact investing, to sustainable business strategy, to measurement and reporting of GHG emissions, to affecting sustainable behavior change through media and entertainment content.

Teams of two to four students are paired with a host organization before the new year, and once January rolls around, the preliminary research begins. This is where our cohort is now – holding kickoff meetings with host organizations and beginning to wrap our minds around the scope of our projects. It’s a very exciting time, as we’re able to start applying what we’ve been learning in the classroom to solve real-world problems. What is even more exciting, the organizations we are engaged with – which include Microsoft, Burton, Clorox, SAS, and a consortium of film and TV companies including HBO and Disney – may actually implement the ideas we come up with. While the Practicum is not job placement, these projects open doors to industries of interest and provide critical networking opportunities and practical experience which, who knows, could lead to a job offer in the future. Here are some common questions about Practicum Projects:

Are the host organizations the same every year?

No – while SI-MBA has relationships with several companies that do repeatedly host Practicum Projects, it is not always the same organizations from one year to the next. As the program grows, expands its reach, and makes new connections, new host organizations become part of the UVM network.

Additionally, students are able to build their own connections with specific organizations of interest in the hopes of setting up a Practicum Project. This is great for the student if they have a specific goal or organization in mind and it is great for the program, as it expands their network.

How does the selection process work?

The SI-MBA administration and faculty advisors work hard throughout the fall semester cultivating Practicum Projects. Interested host organizations submit Practicum proposals with a brief description of the project. Then, before the new year, the cohort receives the full list of proposals. We then rank our top three choices, and it’s almost guaranteed that we will be placed in either our first or second choice. Because students are placed in teams of two to four people, many projects do not get chosen, so it can be a competitive process for the host organizations.

Does the Practicum happen at the same time as coursework?

Yes and no – the bulk of the Practicum work takes place from mid-May through July, once our core coursework has been completed. This is when we are expected to be working full-time on the project. However, we are expected to conduct research and fully scope the project from January through mid-May on a part-time basis.  

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Do students get paid for their work on the Practicum projects?

No – students receive course credit for the Practicum and do not get paid. However, these projects provide invaluable networking opportunities, practical experience, and resume content.

Do students work remotely or travel to the host organization?

This is largely up to the host organization, who will cover the costs of any travel if it is deemed necessary. For the most part, work is done remotely as this greatly increases the breadth of potential host organizations, from local Vermont companies, to US-based and international organizations.

As the year progresses, we will be sharing more information about our Practicum Projects and the work we are doing. Additionally, be on the lookout for this years’ list of Practicum Project descriptions on the SI-MBA website, coming soon!

Opinion: Robinhood Isn’t the Hero We Need Right Now

Written By: 
Taylor R. Smith ‘22 
Editor, Finance 
Connect with Taylor on LinkedIn 

“It’s hard to find a job you can retire on.” The sentiment runs deep. As I sat with writer’s block in my cramped Burlington apartment, my roommates bustled in the kitchen making lunch and small talk. Katy, a soil scientist with the Franklin County Natural Resources Conservation District, had recently been on a field assignment to meet with a farmer in snowy northern Vermont. In the hours spent passing paperwork around a kitchen table, the conversation touched on retirement. The offhand comment, from a dairy farmer aged about 60, is reflective of the fact that retirement readiness is a serious challenge – a unifying anxiety across generations of American workers.

For many, the simplest way to start investing for the future is through an employer-sponsored retirement plan. Dairy farmers in rural Vermont don’t have that luxury. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports only 67% of workers in private industry had access to an employer retirement plan in 2020. The distribution of those retirement plans follows a predictable and troubling pattern, with high earners far more likely to have access; only 39% of part-time workers have an employer-sponsored plan.

A secure retirement can feel especially remote for people without access to a plan through their workplace. For starters, sparing a few dollars is no small feat. Between student loans, rising rents, and (not-so-transitory) inflation, times are feeling very tight indeed. If you can ration the funds, it may still be difficult to cross the starting line. In a pandemic that feels more and more like a never-ending airline delay, it’s tough to muster the mental energy to explore investment options and dive in.

For those ready to take the plunge, the investment marketplace can be scary. Many individuals aren’t inclined to trust the financial services industry, as Wall Street’s reputation continues to recover from the 2008 financial crisis. Faced with the multitude of investment options and complex-sounding terms, I’ve seen “analysis paralysis” stop potential investors in their tracks. What brokerage firm should I choose? Do I need an advisor? When it comes to fees, how high is too high? What the heck is an ETF?! As Ryan Gosling quips in The Big Short,

It’s pretty confusing right? Does it make you feel bored? Or stupid? Well, it is supposed to. Wall Street loves to use terms to make you think only they can do what they do.” 

Ryan Gosling, The Big Short
Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Enter Robinhood. Established in 2013, the investing app has seen its popularity explode in the past few years, with huge user growth between 2020 and 2021. Granted, Robinhood doesn’t bill itself as a retirement service, but it may be the most accessible option for new investors – at least for now. Robinhood’s website proudly states: “We’re on a mission to democratize finance for all.” That’s a mission I can get behind, but critiques aren’t hard to find. Selections from Vice and NBC News touch on a few common criticisms, from Robinhood’s gamification of investing (complete with casino style graphics and confetti) to their sale of user order flow1. Robinhood also allows advanced investment techniques typically reserved for seasoned investors and professionals.

1A substantial portion of Robinhood’s revenue is derived from their sale of order flow. When you make a trade on Robinhood, the app sells your order to a larger investment firm for final execution. Your order is sold to the highest bidder, not to the firm that will complete the trade most quickly. Robinhood gets paid a fee, the outside firm gains a slight advantage on the open market, and the user pays a price.

A core tenet of finance is the relationship between risk and return. Riskier investments demand a higher expected return to justify their potential downside. It’s an open question whether apps like Robinhood shift this relationship out of balance for the at-home retail investor. The meteoric rise of Robinhood coincides with a period of strong economic growth following the Covid-crash of March 2020. Many retail investors cashed in, and new investors flocked into the market. A recent survey by Charles Schwab suggests 15% of stock market investors got their start in 2020. But what does the future hold during a downturn? Have inexperienced users been conditioned to take outsized risks, and if so, can these habits be reined in? 

Financial Technology (Fintech) companies are rising to meet the soaring demand for retail financial services. While it’s still early in the game, I’m interested to see which companies can profitably occupy a middle ground between the jargon-heavy multinational corporations of the past and the gamified trading apps led by Robinhood. We need a platform that is accessible to new investors but encourages stable portfolios geared for the long term.

Photo by Firmbee.com on Unsplash

The right platform could fill the needs of a large segment of American workers that have been historically passed over by the financial services industry. I’m advocating for a new service that forgoes the frequent dopamine hits of Robinhood and lacks the intimidating interface of a legacy firm. In other words, a platform that’s not too hot, and not too cold. Just right.

Acorns and Greenlight offer two intriguing models. Both startups seem to put a larger emphasis on education and financial literacy (based on my informal review of their online platforms and messaging). Acorns facilitates micro-investing into diversified portfolios by rounding up daily purchases and investing the so-called “spare change.” Acorns does not currently allow trading of individual stocks, though according to Bloomberg this feature could be added in a limited capacity down the line. Greenlight focuses on a young audience (with parental controls in place), allowing money earned from chores and allowances to be invested into stocks and ETFs. In their words, they hope to “…empower parents to raise financially-smart kids.” 

These offerings from Acorns and Greenlight are promising, and more options will surely rise in the coming years. There’s little time to waste. The mathematics of compounding interest are compelling – an early start can make all the difference for an investor. I hope these services, and others, can bring more inclusion to a retirement industry that has typically catered to an affluent customer base. Our country will be more prosperous and secure if its workers are better positioned for a stable future. It’s also the right thing to do.

In the folktales, Robin Hood is the hero, stealing from the rich for the benefit of the poor. But the winners and losers aren’t so clear in the rapidly changing world of Fintech. Buyer beware, Robin Hood was also a master of disguise.


The opinions expressed in this article are my own, and do not represent the views of UVM or the Sustainable Innovation Review editorial team. This is not an endorsement of any investment product or service.