California’s Solar Shift: Progress, and Some Challenges

This post was written by Ben Hastings ’18

Arguably, California is the country’s leader in climate action, with an ambitious goal of deriving 50 percent of the state’s energy from renewable sources by 2030. The state is on its way to achieving 33 percent by 2020 and just made a huge step toward making its goal a reality.

In 2 years, all new homes built in the state will be mandated to either have solar panels installed or be hooked up to shared solar panels that power a grouping of the new homes. New home buyers will have the option to purchase the panels outright where they are included in the price of the home or can be leased. The increasing amount of solar energy to be included in the energy mix is sure to help achieve the state’s aforementioned energy goals, but the requirement for new home owners to purchase rooftop solar has the potential to surface unintended consequences.

The requirement is expected to add $8,000 to $12,000 to the cost of a home. In a state where affordable housing is hard to come by, this mandate certainly would not help that issue. What about those who can’t afford solar?  It’s an interesting problem, as moving towards a renewable energy future is critical, but yet some will not be able to contribute to this shift. Companies like Tesla have acknowledged this issue and made it clear that they are working to make their products affordable for all but say that they must achieve adequate economies of scale before that dream can become a reality.

“…the requirement for new home owners to purchase rooftop solar has the potential to surface unintended consequences.”

Also, households that don’t have access to smart energy technology in the state could potentially be left in the dust once the new rate structure hits the state next year. Utilities will charge energy customers based on what time of day they use electricity, making it difficult for those without access to this information to know if they are using their electricity most efficiently. The energy supply does not equal demand at many points in the day, and those that have batteries, like the Tesla Powerwall, will be able to store energy until when it could be most effectively utilized. Until these technologies are affordable enough to become a part of more households, consumers may not be seeing the full savings possible from solar. Is now the time for a mandate such as this one, or should technologies that further enhance solar efficiently be developed further?

For further reading:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/09/business/energy-environment/california-solar-power.html

https://www.tesla.com/blog/master-plan-part-deux

Practicum Scope Pitch Day!

The Sustainable Innovation MBA Class of 2018 is entering the home stretch.

On May 11, the cohort, faculty, and sponsoring companies gathered on UVM’s campus for what has become an inspiring demonstration of how the students have “put it all together.” Students spent the day “pitching” the scope and framework of their practicum projects — a capstone of The Sustainable Innovation MBA experience. Practicums call upon all the skills, insights, experiences, and learning the students have acquired over the past nine months.

The three-month practicum project is a full-time, hands-on experiential engagement with either existing companies or new ventures from the US and around the world focused on real challenges and opportunities in sustainable entrepreneurship. Practicum projects are composed of teams of 2-3 Sustainable Innovation MBA students each. Projects run from May until August, and culminate in a final report and presentation right before graduation.

Students pitched scoping for projects at companies such as Keurig Green Mountain, Griffith Foods, Essilor, Seventh Generation, and Caterpillar.

The deliverable for the practicum is a detailed and comprehensive business/action plan for the host organization.

Wishcycling: What Really Happens To The Stuff In The Blue Bin

This post was written by Sarah Healey ’18

What happened to that plastic bottle you threw in the recycling? Do you really have to rinse out that milk jug before putting it into the recycling? A little left-over yogurt doesn’t make a difference? Can you recycle plastic bags?

If you are like a lot of people you probably don’t, and you hope or wish that the items you put in the bin get recycled. But this “wishcycling” can actually do more harm than just throwing contaminated or non-recyclable items away. On a recent site visit to Casella Waste Systems‘ Charlestown recycling facility in Massachusetts, I learned a lot about what happens to products after they go into the blue bin.

At the recycling facility we visited, contamination was visible throughout our entire tour. Film plastic bags clogged the machines, small items fell through the cracks, and foreign metal objects damaged equipment. All of these items are not allowed in the zero sort recycling bins, but still manage to find their way in and wreak havoc.

During our tour of the recycling facility we learned more about the challenges that recycling facilities face. One of the major challenges is food contamination in the recycling stream. This can range from unwashed containers to cans still full of food. This has a massive impact on a recycling facility because items are sorted using all sorts of gadgets. To sort plastics the facility uses optic readers that read the type of plastic and send out puff of air to sort plastic. Other parts of the facility use things like magnets to sort material. Because so much of this system is automated and is carefully calibrated to deal with clean materials contaminated items don’t make it through the system.

When non-recyclable items don’t make it through the system they are sent to the landfill or to an incinerator. This includes all of those small plastics, random pieces of metal, plastic bags, and more. This is why it is really important to check with your local recycler to see what products they take in the blue bin and which have special instructions.

The trouble with recycling doesn’t stop at the facility though. The bundles produced by recycling facilities still have some level of contamination. The largest buyer of recycling was China, but they have closed their doors to recycling with contamination levels above 0.5%, which is beyond the technological capability of any recycling facility today.

Biomimicry: Learning from Nature’s Innovation

This post was written by Julia Lyon ’18

On a day in April, The Sustainable Innovation MBA students started a particular morning considering the question: What is your favorite organism? With answers ranging from sea turtles to willow trees, to ants and fungus, we began to explore the organisms in nature that intrigue and inspire us.

Mike Dupee, Lecturer in The Sustainable Innovation MBA program and a Certified Biomimicry Professional, introduced us to biomimicry, which is the innovation approach centered on the “conscious emulation of nature’s genius.” As humans strive towards innovation – doing things faster, better, more creatively, and at lower cost – looking more closely at the natural world around us shows that this is one of the oldest processes on the planet. The plants, animals, and microbes that have survived the 3.8 billion years of our planet are the ultimate innovators and as businesses seek to solve problems and develop new strategies, there is much that can be learned from them.

“There are three core concepts of biomimicry: Emulate, Reconnect, and Ethos.”

There are three core concepts of biomimicry: Emulate, Reconnect, and Ethos. Emulation means that biomimicry is centered on learning from nature, not just copying it. Nature’s design can be learned from and adapted, and biomimicry is not simply using an exact design copy as found in nature. Reconnecting is based on the notion that biomimicry in practice will be better if you have a connection with nature and a relationship with the environment. Ethos asks the simple question: what kind of work is worth doing? This is our respect for the environment and the responsibility to our fellow species. Biomimicry in practice also centers on six central life principles that are lessons from nature based on design. These range from being resource efficient to adapting to changing conditions.

There are many fascinating examples of how businesses have used biomimicry to create innovative designs. One such example is Sharket Technologies, which was created when the U.S. Navy was in search of a solution to prevent aquatic life from attaching to ship hulls; the only solution that had been found thus far was a toxic paint. It was realized, however, that sharks do not have the same problem of organisms attaching to their skin and researchers took a closer look at sharkskin under a microscope. It was found that the shape and pattern of sharkskin made it resistant to algae and barnacles attaching themselves. This insight was developed into a special material that has been used to create a commercial coating for boats as well as sterile surfaces for hospitals and laboratories that reduce bacteria growth.

During the workshop, student groups were given different organisms with innovative features to examine and design potential commercial uses. With organisms like the nautilus, red pine, and the abalone, and students designed eco-friendly adhesives for snowboard manufacturing, fire-retardant clothing, and sturdier bike helmets.

Though biomimicry is not a new concept, its approach can be applied to help solve sustainability challenges and improve life on our planet for generations to come.

Innovator-in-Residence: Donald Reed

This post was written by Kevin Hoskins ’18

As part of the Innovator-in-Residence series, Donald Reed recently visited the 2018 cohort of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program. Reed is currently a managing director in PwC’s (PriceWaterhouseCoopers) sustainable business solutions practice. Reed is also a member of The Sustainable Innovation MBA’s Advisory Board.

Reed got his start in advocacy and grassroots work in Michigan. He discussed the evolution of his thinking from an “us versus them” mentality (environmentalists versus business) to understanding business’s role in society (and the part that sustainability-minded professionals can play).

Reed then worked on economically-targeted investing focused on creating market-rate return investments that created housing opportunities for health care workers. He stressed to the cohort the need to “not be bound by what’s already been done and what other people tell you is possible.”

In order to better understand the world of finance, Reed then went back to school, getting his MBA in finance from the Stern School at New York University. He subsequently went to work for the World Resources Institute, a think tank, where he felt he had found “his people.” That experience led Reed to ask questions of himself that he posed of the class: “how do I see myself and how do I explain to others what I’m interested in and the capabilities I bring to bear on that?”

“Don’t be bound by what’s already been done and what other people tell you is possible.”

Reed is extremely well-read and stressed the importance of integrative thinking, tying these seemingly disparate frameworks that you learn throughout your life in a way that you can understand other people’s perspectives and translate them to a new area. There may always be someone with deeper expertise on a topic than you, but it’s important to understand enough of it that you can converse intelligently on the topic at hand.

Reed also discussed his role as a consultant, becoming a trusted advisor to numerous large organizations. He described the challenges of consultants face: to understand enough to analyze the situation at hand, identify the key drivers and distill that down, but then engage your clients by listening and becoming trusted, in order to help the organizations change.

His previous company, Sustainable Finance Ltd. was eventually acquired by PwC. In his current role, Reed and his team focus on what they call “Sustainability Strategy through Execution.”  They are currently focused on four main areas: cities of the future, social determinants of health, the future of reporting, and total impact and measurement.

Ecosystem Services: The Unsung Hero of the Natural World

This post was written by Robert Hacker ’18

Do you ever find yourself enjoying a glass of water, a meal, or maybe even breathing fresh air?

If you answered yes to any of the three activities above, then you may want to thank ecosystem services.

A service is the action of helping or doing work for someone.

An ecosystem is a community of interacting organisms and their environment.

Therefore, an ecosystem service can be described as a community of interacting organisms and their environment that helps to get work done. There are four categories of ecosystem services which are provisioning, regulating, cultural, and supporting services.

I will begin by explaining provisioning services. These services provide a benefit that humans extract from nature such as water, timber, fossil fuels, food and medicine. All of the provisioning services are essential for the survival of human populations and will see negative impacts as a result of climate change.

Next, regulating services provide benefits as a result of an ecosystem process that moderates a natural phenomenon. Some examples are water filtration/purification, pollination, decomposition and carbon storage. Humans have been altering the rates at which these ecosystems are able to operate, therefore increasing the rate of climate change and natural resource depletion.

Third, cultural services are non-material benefits that contribute to the development of people. Some examples include nature-based art, tourism, and recreation. Many indigenous communities have lost these services due to environmental degradation, or development of their once sacred land. Also threatened are many of the outdoor activities all people enjoy such as hiking, swimming or even skiing!

The final type of ecosystem services is supporting services and are classified as a benefit from an ecosystem process that moderates a natural phenomenon. These are arguably the most important because all life could not survive with-out them. Supporting services include photosynthesis, nutrient cycling and soil formation. The second two along with many other services have been altered and degraded since the industrial revolution.

All of these types of services are essential to the survival of human life as we currently know it. Climate change poses a threat to these important services that humans and all other species depend on. We need to begin to take care of our home, Earth!

In Our Own Backyard: The Invention2Venture Conference

This post was written by Lauren Emenaker ’18

On April 5th, 2018 the University of Vermont hosted the 13th annual Invention2Venture Conference for entrepreneurs, inventors and students alike. The conference focused on how to finance, protect and commercialize inventions, as well as how to thrive in the New England tech world.

The conference kicked off with Dr. Richard Galbriath, Vice President for Research at UVM, and Corine Farewell, Director of UVM Innovations, presenting awards to a number of university innovators. Eleven patents were issued in the past year from an improved cardiac pacemaker to an energy transfer system. It was exciting to see what technology is being created on our own campus!

Next, Dawn Berry, CEO and president of Luna DNA and UVM alum ‘96, gave an inspiring keynote entitled “The DNA of Authentic Leadership.” She detailed three qualities that leaders need: credibility, logic and emotion. Credibility is necessary to show trustworthiness and integrity. Logic is necessary to show strategic thinking and reasoning. Emotion is necessary to show that someone is human — full of excitement, anxiety and confidence. Berry then went on to explain her view of authentic leaders. They are genuine and have strong sense of self. They lead with their hearts and show empathy towards others. They are mission driven and focused on results that will change the world for the better. Authentic leadership fosters diversity which in turn enhances businesses and their practices. She argued that someone cannot call themselves a leader; only other people can call that person a leader.

Finally, Barry shared her own experiences with the audience, including her latest start-up venture. In 2017, she co-founded Luna DNA, “the first and only genomic and medical research database that is owned by its community.” Based on the belief that people should be treated as research partners and not just data subjects, the platform allows for the public to share their genomic information to further medical research. Established as a public benefit corporation, LunaDNA hopes to enable the medical community.

Participants of the conference were then given the opportunity to attend three round table discussions of their choosing. Discussions were held about prototyping, financing, pitching, legal resources, biomedical technologies and lessons learnt from start-ups in Vermont. I had the pleasure of attending the following three sessions: Concept to Prototype, Corporate Legal Necessities for Your Start-Up, and Intellectual Property Primer. The following themes emerged in my discussions:

  • Try and fail often
  • Run the company like you are going to sell it later
  • Protect your intellectual property
  • Do what you enjoy, hire someone else to do the pieces you don’t enjoy

After the final round table session, attendees were encouraged to network with those they had met throughout the afternoon. Advice was given, business cards were exchanged, and ideas were sparked. From the presentation of UVM research awards to networking over drinks and appetizers, I felt fortunate to be a part of such a forward-thinking community. This is an event you won’t want to miss in 2019.

CEO Magazine Ranks The Sustainable Innovation MBA Among World’s Best

This post was written by Jon Reidel, University Communications, and first appeared on uvm.edu.

The University of Vermont’s Sustainable Innovation MBA in the Grossman School of Business continues to gain international recognition by earning top-tier status in CEO Magazine’s 2018 Global MBA rankings.

The Tier I ranking by the London-based business publication places UVM’s Sustainable Innovation MBA among the top 116 programs worldwide. It was also listed among the top 71 Top Tier programs in North America, with both rankings focusing on programs that combine exceptional quality with great return on investment.

“This is an important ranking for us because most other rankings are for MBA programs that specialize in sustainability/green business and this is a global ranking of the top MBA programs regardless of area of specialization,” said Sanjay Sharma, dean of the Grossman School of Business.

The 2018 rankings were based on 11 weighted criteria using data provided by more than 270 business schools from across North America, Europe, New Zealand, Australia and the BRICS. Quality of faculty was given the most weight (34.95 percent), followed by international diversity, class size, accreditation, faculty-student ratio, price, international exposure, work experience, professional development, gender parity and delivery methods.

“The Tier One status of the University of Vermont’s AACSB-accredited Sustainable Innovation MBA program is well deserved,” said Alexander Skinner, group editor-in-chief of CEO Magazine. “Individuals enrolling in the Grossman School of Business’s one-year MBA will benefit from small classes with other experienced professionals, great access to highly-qualified faculty, and opportunities for international travel via the program’s summer practicum project. Bringing together students and industry leaders, the program equips graduates with the knowledge, skills and experience required to directly impact positive, sustainable change, post-graduation.”

The third consecutive Tier I ranking by CEO Magazine comes on the heels of being named the No. 1 “Best Green MBA” program in the U.S. by The Princeton Review. Corporate Knights also included the program in its top 10 “Better World MBA Ranking.”

Four Clever Ways Packaging Changes Can Help Companies Can Reduce Their Carbon Footprint

This post was written by Kathrin Kaiser ’18

Sixty-three pounds of plastic, per person, ends up in landfills in the United States. An increased consumer demand for sustainability and the amount of waste coming from disposing packaging makes companies re-think their packaging. They start to incorporate new, sustainable materials and construction methods into their packaging to reduce their impact on the planet. Here’s four clever ideas for companies to reduce their carbon footprint by changing their packaging:

  • Reducing the ink in company logos

Big brands like McDonald’s or Starbucks might be able to save millions of dollars every year and help preserve the planet just by slightly changing their logos. “Ecobranding” is a project by Sylvain Boyer, a French graphic designer, where he demonstrates the impact of this slight change. A simplified version of the logos could save companies 10-39% in ink and result in additional secondary benefits, such as reduced printing costs and a cut in energy consumption.

  • Arekapak

That certain uses of plastic are “evil” is no longer news, not only to environmentalists but also to large corporations. But just banning plastic bags at the register might not be good enough – vegetables and fruits are often shrink-wrapped in plastic, causing tons of landfill. Especially the food industry could benefit from the idea of two female innovators: Arekapak. It is a food packaging alternative, made out of palm leafs and produced with very few water and completely without chemicals. The product is also compostable, heat- and cold-resistant and has a water-resistant surface. And like that wasn’t enough good news, Arekapak packaging serves as a dinner plate, too.

  • Edible Packaging

What if you could eat the packaging off your food instead of sending it to a thousand years of landfill doom? An Indonesia-based start-up called Evoware has developed just that. Evoware is a biodegradable, dissolvable, edible packaging wrap made out of seaweed (which is also packed with vitamins!). The company plans to create several variations of the product for instant coffee, sugar and seasonings – the packaging can then just be dumped into the hot water and dissolves. Another upside is that this product could help seaweed farmers raising their revenue and do something good for the environment: seaweed absorbs a great deal of the carbon dioxide in the sea!

  • Just eliminate packaging completely

“Original Unverpackt” (“original unpacked”) is a Berlin-based supermarket that works without food packaging. Customers just bring their own containers and have those weighed – they only take what they need and the weight of the containers is being subtracted at the register. The entrepreneurial founder- duo wants to reply to the rising demand for more sustainable products and services and alternatives to the “lavish” handling of resources. Similar concepts exist in Austin, Texas (In.Gredients) and London (Unpackaged). Furthermore, Original Unverpackt hopes to make organic food more affordable for people with lower incomes because of the removal of packaging.

For Leaders, Feedback Is The Breakfast of Champions

This post was written by Liz Ford ’18

Feedback is the breakfast of champions. Feedback is a gift. Without feedback, leaders are cut off from the lifeblood of an organization and their ideas and abilities will wither and die. These are the words of Joe Fusco, Chair of The Sustainable Innovation MBA Advisory Board and leadership coach to our cohort.

Every other week we meet with Joe for the program’s Leadership Seminar, and even though it’s an optional supplement to our other rigorous coursework, everyone shows up ready to listen.

We spend a lot of time in the program filling our minds with financial equations, S.W.O.T. analyses and Organizational Behavior terminology – preparing to be the executives of the organizations of tomorrow. The leadership seminar is different: Joe helps us go beyond our textbooks to look at what true leadership really means.

Joe helps us to examine what our heads, hearts and hands are doing on a daily basis and how these cognitive, emotional and physical practices and abilities are impacting others. Impact is the key. It doesn’t matter our intentions: what matters is the effect that our actions have on others.

The best way to assess our impact is to be open to receiving feedback. Feedback allows us to see the difference between our intents and impacts, and work on closing the gap.

However, being open to feedback isn’t easy and it means addressing the natural — and sometimes quite strong — defensiveness that can pop up when hearing things about ourselves that don’t jibe with our own internal assessments.

Leadership Seminar has no grades and no required homework, which makes what we volunteered to do for Joe even more striking. He challenged us to complete two difficult assignments. One: come up with a list of 25 strengths and 25 weaknesses that we bring to the table as leaders. Two: ask someone who knows us well to create the same list for us, and then sit with them while they read it out loud.

The impact? As scary as this assignment seemed, it made each and every one us more receptive to learning about the behaviors and skills we need to work on in order to become more effective leaders. This lies at the heart of what we all came to The Sustainable Innovation MBA to learn.

Wake up every morning and get hungry for a big bowl of feedback, folks. It’s the breakfast of champions.