The Sustainable Innovation Review is Back!

This post was written by:

Vanessa Chumbley ’22 
Managing Editor 
Connect with Vanessa on LinkedIn 

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

Welcome to the new Sustainable Innovation Review
After more than a year, The Sustainable Innovation Review is back! The 2021-2022 SI-MBA cohort is in the trenches of this one-year, intensive MBA program, but we chose to take on the added task of breathing new life into the program’s online journal.  

Be prepared for interviews with SI-MBA guest speakers, professors, alumni, and other thought leaders; reflections on students’ unique experiences; and our thoughts on current events and the world around us. 

Meet the SI-MBA Class of 2022
First, we want to introduce you to this years’ cohort. We come from a diverse set of backgrounds – spanning several countries and dozens of industries. Our cohort has experience in marketing, engineering, sustainability, public policy, non-profit work, the performing arts, teaching, food systems, and so much more. Our unique backgrounds bring dynamic conversations to the classroom every single day.  

In discussions with classmates, this thought diversity and breadth of experience consistently comes up as a valuable aspect of the program. We learn from each other in addition to our professors. We are laying the foundation for our future careers and building our networks.  

As SI-MBA student, Josie Brownell, put it:

“I feel really fortunate to be part of a cohort with such wide-ranging backgrounds and interests. Everyone came to SI-MBA for a different reason and holds a different interpretation of how sustainability can inform their career path. Module 1 was overwhelming, exciting, and at times incredibly frustrating, but it was also so fun to learn more about what each member of the cohort brings to the conversation of how to change business for good.” 

Of the 47 cohort members, 40 responded to a short survey. Of those 40: 

  • 52.5% identify as female, 42.5% identify as male, 2.5% identify as non-binary, and  2.5% chose not to answer 
  • 60% are between the ages of 20 – 29, 32.5% are between the ages of 30 – 39,  5% are between the ages of 40 – 49, and 2.5% chose not to include their age 

Prior to coming to SI-MBA, 35% of the cohort had never been to Vermont. Here’s what was keeping us busy: 

  • 2.5% were in the workforce for 16-20 years 
  • 7.5% were in the workforce for 11-15 years 
  • 35% were in the workforce for 6-10 years 
  • 52.5% were in the workforce for 0-5 years 
  • 2.5% were in an undergraduate degree program 

Reflecting on Module 1
As of today, we’ve completed our second week of Module 2. Looking back on Module 1, our cohort braved its way through seven different courses. We honed our financial and analytical skills through courses such as Cost Models for the Transformational Enterprise, Business Economics, and Finance for Innovators I. We gained valuable teamwork skills through Teamwork for Sustained Innovation. We also broadened our perspectives and learned about radical, sustainable innovation through our courses in Entrepreneurial Family Business, Sustainable Brand Marketing and Business Strategy for a Sustainable World. 

We asked the cohort which Module 1 class they predicted would be their favorite at the onset of the Module. The top three predictions were:  

  1. Business Strategy for a Sustainable World 
  2. Sustainable Brand Marketing 
  3. Teamwork for a Sustained Innovation 

We then asked which class actually ended up being their favorite, and the top three were: 

  1. Business Strategy for a Sustainable World 
  2. Sustainable Brand Marketing  
  3. Cost Models for the Transformational Enterprise  

The cohort spent the majority of our time in our three favorite courses – Business Strategy for a Sustainable World, Sustainable Brand Marketing, and Cost Models for the Transformational Enterprise. Marketing, business strategy, and cost modeling are fundamental courses in any MBA program and the SI-MBA program brings a sustainability lens to all three – emphasizing the importance of developing strategies and business models that support a triple bottom line, people, planet, and profit. 

Cost Models for the Transformational Enterprise is a managerial accounting course that will enable us to make informed, strategic financial decisions in any job we take on in the future. Through this course we learned how to perform a breakeven analysis, analyze the profitability of various business units, identify cost drivers, and more. Cost Models equipped us with the skills to ensure that we can run profitable businesses that enable us to make a more scalable impact on people and the planet.  

Sustainable Brand Marketing and Business Strategy for a Sustainable World challenged us to think critically about serving the other two elements of the triple bottom line approach – people and the planet. Both of these courses allowed us to explore real case studies about the challenges that companies such as Unilever, Boeing, Dow Chemical, and Novelis have faced on their quests to become more sustainable enterprises. Both courses also included group projects that lasted the entire module and encouraged us to think critically about real-world problems that businesses and society are facing in 2021.  

Beyond our coursework, many of us have already been participating in case competitions and other extracurricular activities, and more of us will do so as we get further into the program. We’re excited to share all of this with you as we go, and we look forward to you getting to know us better throughout the year. 

Stay connected with us by following SI-MBA on Instagram and checking this blog regularly. Thank you for joining us on this journey! 

Adapting to Online Learning and Off-Grid Living

This post was written by Cody Semmelrock ’20. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

These times are unprecedented for our generation — that goes without question. I knew this year was going to be about change, about growth, and about perspective, but what I, and so many others in the program, didn’t know was exactly how this change would manifest itself.

I wrote recently about the need for industries to adopt some of the lessons in adaptability that I had learned earlier in the program and I would like to build on that sentiment by offering up an example of my existence these past few months.

Disclaimer: this post is grounded in the gravity of this pandemic. It has exposed some of my own vulnerabilities, but I recognize that I am writing this from a place of privilege. I have the current luxury of financial security, higher education and a solid support network. I recognize that many do not have this same level of privilege, yet I think the sentiment remains for many.

In the beginning of March, rumblings of the COVID crisis were underway. I had been following the stories coming out of Wuhan, but they were distant, geographically and mentally. We were rounding out final module projects and preparing for spring break. I could feel anxiety mounting as I began worrying about friends and family traveling abroad. I grew hesitant of taking trips to the Harvest Cafe for lunch. This invisible enemy, if anywhere in Burlington, would be at the medical center. But it was not until I read an article that Harvard was closing their doors for the remainder of the spring semester that I recognized there would be a new normal for the foreseeable future.

From the outside, I seem like a healthy and fit 28 year-old man. Relatively low risk for complications due to this virus and subsequent disease. I am, however, an asthmatic. I take multiple medications a day to help maintain a healthy respiratory system and this is the first time in my life I have felt vulnerable. I racked my brain on what I should do once the program officially went remote.

My communal off-campus student housing apartment was feeling less safe every day. Especially given the lack of information regarding virus transmission. I felt like I should not go home to my parents in Connecticut, as they each are also in high risk categories with underlying asthma and other pre-existing conditions.  

So, I upgraded my Verizon hotspot plan, stocked up and headed to an off-grid family cabin far removed from powerlines and public spaces. I took with me my valuables, all the essential learning materials I would need and began thinking through how I could manage completing this accelerated MBA program, preparing for my remote capstone project this summer and contemplating a job search in what is going to probably be the worst job market since the Great Depression. Not exactly the most rejuvenating of spring breaks.

What resulted have been lessons I hope to carry with me through my life. Lessons around long-term sustainable and biodynamic living, around balancing what I want and what I need and keeping myself connected to a low-impact lifestyle. And again, lessons in the human capacity to adapt. All of which, I believe, lend insight for my personal and professional life.

Lessons in resiliency and sustainability learned through the first few months of the COVID crisis should begin with a walk through of a day in the life at the cabin:

Most mornings I wake up to the chill of the Vermont spring air and have to get the woodstove fired up. Not a particularly difficult task, and one that has created a familiar and comforting rhythm. Some mornings I am confronted with the decision of either brewing a much-needed hot cup of coffee, getting the fire started or doing some last-minute reading before online classes begin, all of which seem essential. I’ve spent plenty of time camping, and am familiar with spending time outdoors, but this experience has placed a new appreciation on accessibility to heat and insulated shelter as an important element of energy equity and justice. Sitting in on lectures discussing the energy accessibility inequities at the Base of the Pyramid in both our Driving Innovation and Energy Policy and Sustainable Technology courses would not have been nearly as visceral had it not been for those mornings spent breaking sticks and stoking the woodstove.

Fortunately, the cabin has an entirely self-sufficient energy system. The solar panels and partnered battery storage allow for a few lights, small refrigerator, running water and charges for my laptop and cell phone. With a live display of kw being generated at any given time, as well as feedback on current draw and remaining levels of the battery, fun games have emerged gambling with myself on whether or not it is worthwhile to run the electric tea-kettle when I know that my laptop will probably require a few more charges to survive all the Zoom lectures before the sun pokes through the rain clouds. Inevitably, I open the fridge less and do not run the water excessively while doing the dishes. Both are simple behavior changes which have not detracted from my quality of life. I am now simply remembering the contents of the fridge and realizing that this serves the same purpose that staring hopefully into the depths that my favorite snack will somehow emerge from thin air. Watching the battery levels drop and rise with each action or inaction has helped to ground my understanding of my impact in same way a Prius owner plays games with gas efficiency from the dashboard display. If only this impact of consumption could be better distilled, displayed and understood by the greater population of individuals and businesses – simplicity here is undoubtedly the key.

Having the space for an herb garden and my own compost pile has been another activity stemming from the cabin lifestyle. Granted, this would not have been possible had the curriculum been forced to go virtual. But this virtual world may be here to stay for many in the professional landscape. Some companies are realizing they can still accomplish just as much from home as they can from having and office and have been able to navigate this transition. In forcing many professionals to adopt this platform, I hope there will be greater flexibility for younger professionals to adopt lifestyles that are more in line with their personal values.

But it is not my hope that next year’s cohort will be forced to begin the year virtually, because so many unique elements of the program simply will not be the same. In recognizing this possibility, however, it is important for potential and committed SI-MBA students to embrace the unknown and remain open to the lessons that being a part of this program and the greater Vermont community helps to facilitate. SI-MBA has proven itself adaptable and resilient in the face of this uncertainty, embodying essential elements of sustainability. I had no idea I would be learning these lessons in sustainable living, but by remaining positive and adaptable I have been able to cope with the COVID crisis and find invaluable lessons for future personal and business leadership, all of which have been framed and encouraged by SI-MBA’s core values and curriculum. I am optimistic that future leaders will continue to emerge from our nimble and disruptive program.

Life as an MBA Student During COVID-19

This post was written by Prakriti Timsina ’20. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Each month we have had Sustainable Innovation MBA (SI-MBA) Meetups where we, the current cohort, get to network and catch up with the SI-MBA alumni and professors. It was during one of the events where we often got asked how our cohort was handling the current COVID-19 situation. That prompted me to write this blog to share my educational experience during this unprecedented time.

Before I start off, I want to say that I understand that for many people, this has been a tough few months and that people are going through a lot. Often, when I listen to the news, it is heartbreaking to see everything going on in the world. Despite that, I try to be appreciative of the positive things in my life that keep me going. I am grateful and fortunate that the problems I am about to describe are minuscule and I’m happy to be safe and healthy and able to continue my master’s program without any major obstacles.

When the stay at home order first started, I was amazed that the SI-MBA faculty and staff were able swiftly to transition to online classes in a short amount of time, all while updating our cohort on what’s going on. Initially, we were using multiple platforms for our meetings and calendars—Microsoft teams for some classes and Zoom for others. For our class calendar, we were using both the Outlook Calendar and Google Calendar, which were sometimes out of sync with each other. Although that caused some confusion in the beginning, our class leaders were able to talk to the SI-MBA program directors and decided to use Zoom and Google Calendar, given the ease of use, familiarity, and performance.

Two of the challenges were figuring out how to work together remotely and trying to figure out how to present as a group. We went from having one group in module one to having four different groups in module four, and coordinating various groups was a challenge on its own. Given the complexity and our busy schedules, most of the time we tried to plan our school schedule in advance. If there was a conflict of schedule, we tried to be accommodating and understanding of our classmate’s situation. To get ready for our presentations, we met a few times via Zoom to complete the presentation and practice. During the practice session, we decided on who would share their screen and when to switch slides.

It’s hard to be productive when you are stuck in your home. I found that having a set routine to follow was really helpful. I also created a task list of things I had to accomplish each day. This may not be the case for everyone, but personally, it helped to get dressed for the day as if I was heading into Kalkin Hall. I know it’s extremely tempting to do your work from the coziness of your warm bed; however, I noticed I wasn’t as productive as I could be from it. I set up multiple workstations in my place that I could use during school hours. During this time, it’s easy to have our days blur in one, but It helped to switch rooms every so often. When the weather was warm and sunny, I attended my class outside.

Apart from my classes, there were a few activities I did to stay sane during this time. Every day, I made an effort to be active in some way, whether it was working out or joining in on online dance classes. We have had a few game nights and movie nights to de-stress, catch up, and see each other outside of the online class setting. A few times a week, I would check in with my friends to see how they were holding up.

Throughout this whole process, I admire SI-MBA’s willingness to continually adapt based on our feedback. Every week, we have zoom SI-MBA check-ins where program directors can share any relevant information, get market, and medical updates. This is also the time where we get to share any concerns and provide feedback on how to make this program better in this uncertain time. I want to thank the professors for their understanding and adaptability. It feels amazing to be part of a community where we have so much say and have the opportunity to have our voices heard.

Geography and the Environment to the World of Business

This post was written by Dana Stewart ’20

Jaws dropped to the floor when I first told my friends and family that I was going to business school. Apart from my complete and utter lack of business attire, everyone was just really shocked and thought I was drastically pivoting. When I told them about the sustainability theme of the MBA their doubts softened, but still they were struggling to identify the connections between my undergraduate degree and the business degree I was about to pursue. I had no such struggles. 

Photo by USGS on Unsplash

I double majored in environmental studies and geography at Villanova University. The first two years of my education were heavily science based and focused on the challenges and opportunities we face as a result of world trends, environmental shifts and anthropogenic forces. I was taking classes like Environmental Chemistry, Global Changes in Local Places, Geo-techniques, Natural Resources, and Environmental Justice. I can pinpoint connections to the coursework of this MBA and those first two science-heavy years at Villanova even though, to the untrained eye, the two may be totally separate worlds. The environmental and business connections continued to grow through the second half of undergrad and are even clearer as I look back on the courses I took in my junior and senior years.

One of my favorite classes was Geographic Information Systems (GIS). GIS is all about capturing, analyzing, storing, managing, and presenting all kinds of data and layers on top of geographic locations. GIS actually has really strong ties to the world of business and economics. We did projects that examined elements that make certain areas more appealing for commerce. We would even calculate the actual amounts and fluctuation of attention a business could expect to attract depending on what direction it’s storefront faced and the foot-traffic and other characteristics associated with an area. We also looked at degrees of economic success against all kinds of variables in order to draw out possible conclusions or connections.

Although there are huge differences between my undergraduate degree and this MBA, I’m finding more and more ways to thread them together. I hope in years to come this kind of “pivot” will become less dramatic. It is my hope that it even becomes commonplace for people from my academic background or any background that seemingly contrasts to slide into the business realm and begin a paradigm shift. If you are passionate and  determined to cultivate a connection from where you are coming from to this program, you can make this MBA work for you.

We’ve Been Wrong About Millennial Entitlement… and 4 Other Hot Takes from Diane Abruzzini ’17

This post was written by Kate Barry ’20 and Taran Catania ‘20

In a recent interview with Kathleen Burns Kingsbury in the Breaking Money Silence® podcast, Diane Abruzzini ‘17 gave us a handful of fresh insights on impact investing, millennial entitlement, recession-driven entrepreneurship, and how women do money and business differently. We’ve collected five of our most favorite “hot takes” below:

1. We’ve Been Wrong About Millennial Entitlement

Diane is quick to point out that the concept of “millennial entitlement” on its own is a half-baked concept: “It’s a funny thing to call anyone entitled because there’s more to that sentence — you’re entitled to something.” The stereotype of millennial entitlement to money is not actually engaging with who millennials are. “What might be a truer statement is that millennials are entitled, but they’re entitled to different things. They’re entitled to [the] ethos that we were raised with… of transparency, of equity, of equal access to resources.”

And as Diane puts it — what if this entitlement is a good thing? And what if it’s something businesses can use to help reach and engage millennials, and not simply to dismiss them (as the world makes continuous jokes about the things millennials have “killed”)? The truth is, millennials’ preferences are making big changes in the business world. “And if you want to be able to connect with millennials,” Diane notes, “you’re going to have to be able to reach them in helping them create the world that they want to live in.”

2. Recessions Produce Entrepreneurs

In light of recent events, we have our eyes on the job market and the economy at large as we prepare for our graduation in August. Diane graduated from college during the 2008 recession, which made landing a conventional post-graduation job for her and her peers more difficult than usual. Because of this, many, including herself, turned towards non-traditional and entrepreneurial ventures.

Because of this, Diane is not surprised that millennials are more entrepreneurial than past generations—we live in economically volatile times where flexibility and creativity are key for a savvy millennial. Diane claims, looking at the history books, those who often become entrepreneurs are “people who are usually boxed out of traditional well-paying sustaining jobs.” This list includes immigrants, women, and people who aren’t able to find what they are looking for because they don’t fit mainstream demographics. Millennials, women in particular, are simply doing what they have to out of necessity, to shape a world that works for them moving forward.

3. Female Entrepreneurs are Having a Moment

Historically, women-owned businesses have not been able to pull in venture capital funds at the same rates as their male-owned counterparts. However, as Diane notes, “anytime there’s a group of individuals that have been overlooked, there is untapped potential.”

Luckily, certain firms are catching on that women-owned businesses are offering products that the male-dominated financial world has missed. Diane gives the great example of Burlington-based Mamava – a women-led business that designs lactation suites for breastfeeding moms on the go. While this might sound like a simple idea, as Diane says, “it’s never been done before because no one has taken that design perspective for the young mother consumer.”

Simply put, because women are half the population, products made with them in mind resonate with a significant customer base (duh). So it’s long overdue (in our humble opinion) for Diane’s declaration: “female entrepreneurs are having a moment.”

4. Women Invest Differently

We’re glad Diane doesn’t shy away from this one: “The language in traditional financial services is super male.” Even the way investing is framed semantically is competitive (“outperform”) and individualistic (“winner-takes-all”). But generally speaking, women and millennials alike tend to look towards our own goals: we may not have a goal of a 9% return in the stock market, but we have a goal of paying off our student loans or saving up for a home. So as Diane explains, if millennials and women “can’t connect to the [financial] advice that’s been given to us, …then they’re not going to seek that out.”

Diane wants to change how people view the connection between their personal goals and their finances. “Being able to use your money and your power to fund what’s important to you… [is] really powerful. If more women, [regardless of generation], understood that you can invest according to your goals, there might be a little bit more excitement around investing and using financial power.”

5. Money is Power

Diane cites a shift in finance towards impact investment as her reason for pivoting her career. She, along with many others, see the power of the capital market to instill lasting, sustainable change, and the financial world is starting to shift accordingly. Diane says “The more we can divert capital and money into the future that we want to believe in, then the more emphasis and the more strength is going to be behind that movement.”

And we couldn’t agree more. This is what makes us so excited to take part in the shift to impact investing for VENTURE.co with our practicum project this summer. The private equity market is uniquely positioned to allow investors to make direct impact by supporting growth-stage businesses with social and environmental missions. And the research from our practicum project will do just that for VENTURE.co and its clients.

And one final thought…

If you like the sound of our VENTURE.co practicum project, you can read more about it (and check out all this year’s Sustainable Innovation MBA practicum projects) here.

Trane Technologies: Building Resilience and Adaptability

This post was written by Jay Kulkarni ’20. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

It is said that businesses don’t compete, supply chains do. Trane Technologies, a climate-innovation company with such heavyweight brands as Trane® and Thermo King® in its portfolio, has a multi-tiered global supply chain that will be put under enormous strain by ‘black swan’ events like the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 presents an unprecedented challenge precisely because it affects suppliers across multiple tiers, with no regard for revenue, size, or location. How can large corporations like Trane Technologies make their supply chains more resilient to disruptions and accomplish their long-term goals of creating a circular closed-loop economy?

Photo by Štěpán Vraný on Unsplash

A global footprint necessitates that Trane Technologies use a digital supply chain management (SCM) tool to map its suppliers, reduce logistics costs, create long-term forecasts, communicate with suppliers, and maintain visibility over inventory and turnover. The company’s Oracle SCM portal allows their factories to put in requests for materials, and shows suppliers what materials are in transit, inventory already at the manufacturing plant, consumption patterns, and overall performance (such as shipping delays).

However, though Trane Technologies may have oversight over its suppliers, it’s likely that COVID-19 will create supply chain issues with their suppliers’ suppliers. Their subcontractors are smaller and typically wouldn’t have the resources to weather long disruptions, and their failure will negatively impact the company’s manufacturing operations and its push towards a circular economy.

So, what is to be done?

In the near-term, the company should analyse all tiers of their supply chain and communicate with key suppliers to ensure that supply continues without disruption. If needed, supply chain executives should attempt to secure alternate sources of supply, logistics, or manufacturing capacity in case vulnerable supply chain partners fail, even though Trane Technologies will have to pay a premium for these resources. To prepare its supply chain and stakeholders for future disruptions, the company should look to forecasting technology to model for and mitigate supply chain risk.

The first step in modelling is to map your supply chain digitally, including all tiers of supply chain partners. Once the nodes are mapped out, the supply chain risk management team can carry out discrete-event simulations to understand how the supply chain reacts to stimuli such as risk events or business initiatives[1]. Another long-term strategy is to shorten or regionalize supply chains; although it smacks of protectionism and anti-globalism, co-located suppliers can act as a supply chain safety mechanism in case international trade is restricted or impossible. Toyota has successfully implemented just such a strategy with its Kentucky operations, which rely on 350 suppliers all based in the US.

Trane Technologies’ ambitious 2030 Commitments include the Gigaton Challenge (reducing not only its own, but also its customers’ carbon emissions by one billion tons); carbon-neutral and zero-landfill operations; and the Opportunity for All initiative that focuses on diversity in leadership positions. Supply chain risk-mitigating strategies make Trane Technologies more resilient to disruptions and better positioned to achieve its strategic and environmental goals.


[1] Supply chain modelling software is a close cousin to the parametric design software used in architecture and aerospace. Both allow designers to see the link between design intention and design response.

Sustainability Summit: 50th Anniversary of Earth Day + The Impact of UVM Research & Teaching on Sustainability

Gund Institute + Sustainable Innovation MBA

This post was written by Jackson Berman ‘20. Connect with him on Linkedin

The Sustainable Innovation MBA Class of 2020 will be hosting a virtual Sustainability Summit on April 22, 2020 in collaboration with The Gund Institute for Environment. This summit, organized by SI-MBA students themselves, is a golden opportunity to apply Appreciative Inquiry (AI) and World Café tools learned in Professor Dr. Ante Glavas’s course, Driving Sustainable Change. The Sustainability Summit will kick-off with opening remarks from Sanjay Sharma, Dean of the Grossman School of Business, and include keynote speakers Taylor Ricketts, Director of the Gund Institute, and Patty Prelock, University of Vermont Provost.

I had the opportunity to chat (virtually) with Ante and ask him the story of how this summit came to be. “The Gund Institute for Environment and I realized the 50th Anniversary of Earth day this year was a perfect opportunity for SI-MBA students to organize a summit centered around creating lasting sustainable change and solving environmental issues.”

The Sustainability Summit will take a bottom-up approach to build cross-sector stakeholder-led initiatives which will contribute to the future of sustainability at UVM. We will measure UVM’s strengths in the sustainability space and co-create scalable strategies for driving future change.

Ante mentioned that “students are able to apply the tool of Appreciative Inquiry to map techniques for creating lasting sustainable impacts.” The summit will feature workshops and world café-style breakout groups to tap into the collective wisdom of all summit participants. 

In this new time of COVID-19 and social distancing, SI-MBA students have truly gone the extra mile, stepping up to quickly transition the summit into a virtual experience. Although originally Ante feared the summit would be canceled, the overwhelming feedback was that now more than ever is a crucial time for people to connect. “SI-MBA students recognize the importance of preserving a bottom-up, co-creative environment,” Ante said. Hosting this Sustainability Summit despite the new virtual learning circumstances provides such an opportunity to contribute towards building a better, more collaborative, and more sustainable future together.

Follow on Linkedin here and on social media using #EarthDay_Summit

Than Moore ’20 is on a Mission to Protect Healthcare Workers

This post was written, and the interview conducted, by Taran Catania ’20.

In the fight against COVID-19, medical facilities worldwide are lacking personal protective equipment (PPE). But The Sustainable Innovation MBA’s very own Than Moore ‘20 has teamed up with several classmates to launch a new initiative, Gowns4Good, to get graduation gowns in the hands of healthcare providers who desperately need PPE.

Now part of the Gowns4Good team myself, I sat down with Than to ask him more about his mission to protect healthcare heroes on the front lines of COVID-19.

Than, before we dive into the Gowns4Good origin story, tell us a little more about yourself.

My name is Nathaniel Moore, but I go by Than. I’ve been practicing as an emergency medicine physician assistant at the University of Vermont (UVM) Medical Center for the past five years. I’m also a current Sustainable Innovation MBA student at UVM and will begin medical school at the Larner College of Medicine in the fall.

What made you first think of the idea for Gowns4Good?

As a single medical provider, I see a finite number of patients per shift. I so value my efforts to uphold the highest quality of care for my patients, but I felt like I had more to offer. There are so many individuals worldwide suffering tremendously from the effects of COVID-19. Reading countless headlines about this devastating disease, I was struck by the image of healthcare workers lacking PPE and wearing black trash bags as makeshift gowns.

While this news simmered in the back of my mind, I was also heartbroken for all the graduating seniors whose commencement ceremonies were being postponed or canceled to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Then, it clicked that there could be a helpful connection here.

So wait, graduation gowns work as PPE?

Compared to trash bags or other alternative forms of PPE, graduation gowns are more effective given their length, sleeves, and easy donning with zippered access. Although efforts are being made to increase PPE production, worldwide demand is increasing too quickly. There are so many new gowns that will go unworn as graduations are being canceled and used gowns collecting dust in people’s closets. Why not put these gowns to better use? There is no better way to honor your senior or your alma mater than to donate to desperate healthcare workers.

How did you go from this graduation gown idea to the full-fledged Gowns4Good project?

Well, it helps that I’m currently in a business school that emphasizes sustainable innovation. Like any successful project, it is only as good as your teammates. I bounced the idea off of a few medical colleagues and then turned to my classmates who shared my similar excitement. It was incredible to watch them utilize the tools from our curriculum and apply them in this real world situation. I am so impressed by their collaborative efforts and am thankful to be surrounded by a team of such talented friends. In two days, we went from a hypothetical idea to a fully functioning organization making national headlines helping those in need.

As a medical provider yourself, can you describe the significance of helping someone else have access to PPE in the fight against COVID-19?

It is scary enough for me to care for a panel of COVID patients with adequate protection, and I am devastated to imagine my colleagues practicing without proper PPE. I do not wish for anyone to feel unsupported through this pandemic. It is hard on families, friends, and strangers near and far. We are all in this together. I hope to do all I can to make an impact both within my community and beyond to provide support for those on the front lines.

Gowns4Good is just another way we can support each other. To all of the people who have believed in us and contributed to Gowns4Good thus far, we are forever grateful. Thank you for supporting our healthcare heroes. In the meantime, stay home, stay healthy, and stay safe.

To donate gowns, please go to gowns4good.net/donate-gowns. You can also support Gowns4Good by making a contribution to offset shipping costs or by recruiting your school. For any inquiries, please reach out to Gowns4Good@gmail.com. Find them on Gowns4Good.net or with #Gowns4Good on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Embedding: Co-Creating the Future

This post was written by Jay Kulkarni ’20. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

I am interested in the ethical issues around climate change mitigation strategies. I found similar themes in our class examples of base-of-pyramid (BoP) settings – underserved communities around the globe have disproportionately greater vulnerability to a changing environment. This was memorably illustrated by the Tamil fisher Ezhil, who lamented that local fishing knowledge passed down from his antecedents didn’t seem to be much use anymore; shifting migration patterns and ranges of fish species, as well as the vagaries of a changing climate, threatened poor fishing communities that didn’t have the economic resilience to bear the shock. Ezhil’s story also highlighted the intersection of many sources of disadvantage found in BoP communities. In his case, Ezhil’s low level of education, coupled with his geographically-marginalised position as a coastal dweller, surely contributed to the hopelessness and pathos in his words. It’s also hard to imagine that caste did not play a role in his marginalization and the limited roles easily available to him and his descendants.

Photo by Rajesh Ram on Unsplash

A frequent theme across the readings was the necessity of ecosystem thinking; communities lower on the socioeconomic ladder each have a unique context that present considerable challenges to business creation. I think Simanis’ discussion of market creation was the first time I really considered that the free market’s failure to provide opportunities at the BoP was damning, because, if the market didn’t make it happen, no-one else would do it. I was less enthused with his three-step prescription to follow to develop new BoP markets. If such market creation is as complex as Simanis, Vishwanathan and others say, any sweeping solution is unlikely to be successful in every BoP context. For example, Simanis recommends growing a BoP business by expanding upon a base of personally-vested customers. Would this step happen in exactly this way in a more individualistic society, or one with different geographic challenges, or a different economic context?            

Rather than only consider successful ventures such as Essilor’s low-cost glasses or Padman’s sanitary pads, I think it would be useful to consider promising BoP ventures that failed. The obvious failures that couldn’t bring all stakeholders in to the creative process or fully consider the local context are less interesting than those where all the stars seemed to align but tangible results failed to materialize.

An Industry in Shake-Out Mode

This post was written by Juan Adorno ’20. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

All I’m saying is simply this: that all life is interrelated, that somehow we’re caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny.” — Martin Luther King Jr.

From Carhart’s landmark 1997 study on mutual funds that found evidence of lack of skills across fund managers[1], to the 2008 Global Great Recession that rattled people’s pockets around the globe, driving historical levels of mistrust in institutions, (particularly government and financial services!), add on the clear signs of the times of the retail investments business: extreme pricing pressures, oversupply, commoditization, and overall industry consolidation, and what we have is — an industry at a crossroads, an industry in shake-out mode! The Active Retail Investments Business is at a turning point! I’d be remiss not to fully disclose that the recent Franklin Templeton acquisition of Legg Mason Asset Management sparked my motivation to free flow some industry thoughts, provided I spent most of the past decade bringing myself up in the business from inside those walls.

In describing the signs of the times, future business history textbooks will reference Larry Fink’s letter to CEOs, A Fundamental Reshaping of Finance [2], as a demarcation point toward a twisty-turny long-winded path toward Sustainable Capitalism. The letter promotes the ideas of long-term value creation and sense of purpose: climate risk as investment risk; the importance of transparency and accountability; and, improved disclosures for shareholders. That “awareness is rapidly changing, and […] we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance.”[2]

Ubiquitous in nature, in the same way that sustainable investing has emerged as a major trend in the investments space, renewable energies will continue to increase their share of the energy mix [4] as electric vehicles will increasingly make their way on roads [5], and healthier foods will increasingly take share of dinner plates[6]—all interconnected developments that are a part of a wave of consciousness: A Great Awakening. Albeit nature works slowly, demographics, globalization and technology have seemingly spurred an emphatic spark in humanity [3].

“Sustainability,” (in the broadest sense of the word) is a thread that binds the retail investments business with the whole of humanity: a truth best channeled as unlocked blue ocean opportunities for long-term, multi-dimensional value creation. An idea to stimulate the inherent social purpose for corporations. Like concepts such as money and capitalism, it all starts with an idea, like that which says that we are inextricably interconnected to each other and this one planet we all call home. In this spirit, and in tribute to Black History Month, I’ll conclude with words from Martin Luther King Jr.: Commencement address to Oberlin College in June 1965

“All I’m saying is simply this: that all life is interrelated, that somehow we’re caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.T his is the interrelated structure of reality.”

Works Cited

[1] Carhart, Mark. On Persistance in Mutual Fund Performance. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/j.1540-6261.1997.tb03808.x (1997)

[2] Fink, Larry. A Fundamental Reshaping of Finance. https://www.blackrock.com/corporate/investor-relations/larry-fink-ceo-letter (2020)

[3] Rifkin, Jeremy. The Emphatic Civilization. https://www.ted.com/talks/jeremy_rifkin_the_empathic_civilization (2010)

[4] Nyquist, Scott; Manyika, James. Renewable Energy: Evolution, not revolution. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/oil-and-gas/our-insights/renewable-energy-evolution-not-revolution (2016)

[5] DiChristopher Tom. Electric Vehicles will grow from 3M to 125M by 2030, International Energy Agency Forecasts. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/05/30/electric-vehicles-will-grow-from-3-million-to-125-million-by-2030-iea.html (2018)

[6] Renner, Barb; Ringquist, Jack. Capitalizing on the shifting consumer value equation. https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/consumer-business/articles/us-food-industry-consumer-trends-report.html (2015)