UVM’s Sustainable Innovation MBA Ranked No. 1 Best Green MBA in America by ‘The Princeton Review’

This article was written by Jon Reidel and originally appeared at UVM.edu.

Six years ago when Sanjay Sharma took over as dean of the Grossman School of Business, he set his sights on an ambitious goal: to become the top MBA program in the country for sustainable innovation.

On the rise. UVM has been ranked No. 1 on The Princeton Review’s 2018 list of “Best Green MBA” programs. (Photo: Sally McCay)

That dream became reality on Oct. 31 when The Princeton Review ranked the University of Vermont Grossman School of Business’ Sustainable Innovation MBA program No. 1 on its 2018 list of “Best Green MBA” programs. UVM took over the top spot from the University of Oregon, which dropped to No. 4 behind second-place Yale and Portland State, followed by No. 5 Stanford.

The decision to replace a traditional 38-year-old MBA program with the nation’s first one-year AACSB-accredited MBA focused entirely on sustainable innovation seemed risky, but according to Sharma, was perfect timing. A growing demand by companies seeking managers to convert global sustainability challenges into business opportunities for triple bottom line performance – a measure of a company’s financial, social and environmental impact – was undeniable.

“We were fortunate that the Vermont brand and UVM’s strengths and identity resonated with the sustainability ethos,” says Sharma. “While it was a major risk for the school, we decided to take a big leap and go ‘all in’ because we were convinced that the future of business education was to educate managers for tomorrow so that they could develop profitable business solutions to societal needs and demands for the next 50 years.”

The “Best Green MBA” rankings are based on students’ assessments of how well their school is preparing them in environmental/sustainability and social responsibility issues, and for a career in a green job market. The Grossman School of Business’ Sustainable Innovation MBA was also included in The Princeton Review’s list of the 267 Outstanding On-Campus MBA programs. This list was based on data from surveys of 23,000 students attending the schools and of administrators at the graduate schools.

Worldwide practicums with top companies, access to exclusive job network set program apart.

A number of aspects of UVM’s Sustainable Innovation MBA set it apart from other programs. The course curriculum, based entirely on sustainability and innovation, is delivered by world class faculty in this arena under four modules: foundations of management; building a sustainable enterprise; growing a sustainable enterprise; and focusing on sustainability.

Following coursework, students engage in a three-month practicum – a capstone experiential project to address issues such as poverty, climate change, and the environment – with companies like PepsiCo, 1% For the Planet, Philips, Ingersoll Rand, Burton, Keurig, and Facebook. Students traveled to India, Mexico, Ghana, Brazil, Denmark, China, Kenya, and Guatemala to complete practicums, which have led to sustainability and innovation-related jobs at Ben & Jerry’s, King Arthur Flour, Pottery Barn, Seventh Generation and others.

Students also have access to a new career management system called “Launch” designed to propel them into careers in renewable energy, clean tech, affordable health care, inclusive business, entrepreneurship within larger companies, start-ups, and other innovative ventures. The program’s Changemaker Network, composed of more than 125 companies and individuals focused on sustainable business, puts students in direct contact with mentors who help them land jobs within the program’s condensed 12-month format.

“We devote one hundred percent of our energy to creating a robust back end that injects people into an opportunity network that helps students realize their personal and professional dreams,” says professor and Sustainable Innovation MBA co-director Stuart Hart, the world’s leading authority on the implications of environment and poverty for business strategy. “If you are a student interested in figuring out how to use the power of business and enterprise to make a positive impact on the world, that’s all we do.”

The Princeton Review ranking comes on the heels of a No. 8 ranking by Corporate Knights – a Toronto-based media and research company focused on clean capitalism – in its “Better World MBA Rankings.” The UVM program moved up two spots from last year and is now ranked third among U.S. schools, trailing only Duquesne University and MIT’s Sloan School of Management.

Corporate Knights ranks programs based on the number of core courses, institutes and centers, and faculty research produced in the last three years related to sustainability, including corporate responsibility, human rights, and ethics.

“We are excited to teach and help launch the next generation of innovative leaders who will create the kinds of transformative sustainable business models and strategies that the world demands,” says professor and co-director David Jones. “We are also honored to have our unique MBA program recognized by these organizations after just our third cohort of graduates.”

From the Web: Interface: Now You Can Sequester Carbon in the Carpet

“We have a ton of parking lots. Why?” Erin Meezan, Chief Sustainability Officer at Interface, Inc. asked rhetorically in a recent interview, describing the iterative systems-based approach her company takes to sustainability at their Atlanta, GA headquarters, “We can park on grass.” Grass is, of course, permeable and allows rainwater to soak in, creating a living ecosystem and carbon sink as opposed to storm drains which funnel water, and the trash and debris it picks up along the way, directly out to sea. But I digress. This is just one of dozens of examples Meezan shared with me as she described her company’s efforts to treat the “factory like a forest.”

Interface Inc. — a public company with a $1B market cap — was one of the first companies to take a bold, public stand on climate change. But that doesn’t mean they put sustainability ahead of product. Instead, they use sustainability as a differentiator to push innovation. “There are hard-nosed business people on our board who understand the business value of sustainability,” Meezan explains.

Its founder, Ray Anderson, had a personal epiphany that let him to use his carpet company company as a tool to make the world better. The company is sustainable through and through, and prior to Ray’s death in 2011, he was the perfect spokesperson for the movement. He sold plenty of carpet along the way.

Interface has carried on his mission and continued to innovate with research into new products. Their goal is to prove that business can be a climate positive actor. Meezan explains,”We make stuff. How can the stuff we make serve as a carbon sink?”

Note: Erin Meezan and Interface are on our Advisory Board.

Learn More (via TriplePundit)

I Spent 5 Months Thinking About Climate Change In A New Way, And Why Your Company Should Do The Same

This post was written by Bianca Mohn, SEMBA ’16

When we hear the words “climate change,” so often what comes to mind is negative. Images of dry, barren fields, polar bears desperately clinging to melting ice caps, Donald Trump as he fiercely denies its existence – you get the picture. These associations are well ingrained in our conceptualization of climate change as an overwhelming monster of destruction that we would rather not think about. This mindset carries over to the corporate world with businesses not addressing climate change in their strategic planning, preferring instead to focus on other “more pressing” priorities.

Climate change is terrifying in the big picture. But it does us no good to run away in fear of the changes and to avoid addressing it all together. We need a new way of thinking about climate change, a mindset that recognizes the challenges yet is motivated to act. What if, for instance, climate change was viewed as an opportunity rather than as a threat? What if companies included climate change in their strategic planning as a way to increase their performance and not just as a risk assessment?

Some companies are already embracing this new way of thinking about climate change. For five months I worked as a sustainability strategy consultant for Interface Inc., a global carpet manufacturer headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. Interface has a long history of sustainable thinking that began when the founder Ray Anderson had an epiphany on how business can make a positive impact in 1994. He challenged his company to “Be the first company that, by its deeds, shows the entire world what sustainability is in all its dimensions: people, process, product, place and profits – and in doing so, become restorative through the power of influence.” Since then Interface has been working towards its Mission Zero goals to have a net zero impact on the environment by 2020. Interface is poised to meet its 2020 goals, and is now working on the next chapter of its sustainability agenda.

Here is where the new thinking on climate change comes in. Interface has announced a new initiative called Climate Take Back, an ambitious strategy to work towards reversing climate change by 2050. Climate Take Back has four platforms – “Live Zero” to continue operating with a zero net impact on the environment, “Love Carbon” to use carbon as a resource to build and to create, “Let Nature Cool” to let nature do its job without any interference from the company, and “Lead the Industrial Re-revolution” to inspire other companies to create new business models. As the sustainability strategy consultant, I created frameworks to help Interface identify the goals for each platform, articulate what success looks like for Climate Take Back overall and for the four platforms, and delivered recommendations for key strategies, metrics, timelines, stakeholders, external partners, and how to engage employees. In everything, the question was how climate change will provide opportunities for Interface to improve its products, operations, customer satisfaction, employee engagement, profits, and external relationships.

What I learned through this experience is that there are so many opportunities around climate change that other companies are overlooking. Take carbon, for instance. The rhetoric around carbon emissions is usually focused on the increasingly dangerous levels of CO2 and the rising global temperatures. The Scientific American featured an article by Scott Waldman in March 2017 which featured the headline “Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Hits Record Levels” followed by “It marks five consecutive years of CO2 increases of at least 2 parts per million, an unprecedented rate of growth.” Fear is a natural reaction to reading this, followed by a sense that the problem is too enormous to even begin to tackle. Intimidating as these facts may be, we need the science and facts, particularly in the post-fact world that we seem to be living in. But we also need hope, creativity, and resourcefulness. We need more companies like Interface who look at rising CO2 levels and resolve to make their products out of carbon neutral and carbon negative materials by 2050. We need business leaders to recognize that social and environmental effects of climate change will inevitably impact their businesses, and that now is the time to innovate around the challenges and opportunities that climate change will bring.

We also need to educate future business leaders to look at climate change through the lens of opportunity. I graduated with a MBA focused in sustainability from the University of Vermont’s Sustainable Entrepreneurship MBA (SEMBA) program. The program integrated sustainability into every class, from marketing to finance to operations. This program teaches students how to look at world issues such as climate change, poverty, inequality and ethics, and to see how business can make a positive impact. This mindset should not be exclusive to niche educational experiences, but instead the type of thinking that all business students should be trained in. Companies should then be eager to recruit and hire these types of thinkers to form creative and innovative teams.

At the end of the day, climate change is the future and context of opportunity. What is needed is less of “climate change is not my problem and I can’t do anything to fix it” thinking and more of “what can I do and what can my company do to maximize the opportunities from climate change by making a positive impact?” When individuals and companies redefine a threat as an opportunity, it makes space for innovation, creativity, problem-solving, collaboration, and connection. If we can work towards this with climate change, then our world will be a healthier and happier place to be.

Sustainable Business — A Catalyst of Innovation and Investment Returns

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This post was written by Robert Zulkoski, Chairman, Vermont Works Management Company, LLC; Member, Board of Advisors, SEMBA at the University of Vermont; Member of the Board of Directors, BTV Ignite; and Chairman, Greenlots

The integration of environment, social and governance factors (ES&G) into corporate and investment decision making has been gathering momentum over the last decade. Several well-researched reports highlight one of the key drivers underpinning this shift: sustainability and financial performance are linked.

A multitude of constituencies – governments, public companies, impact investment intermediaries, opinion leaders and investors – have contributed to the development of the global social impact investment market. A movement is afoot that represents a significant opportunity for businesses and markets to drive improved social value. By allocating assets towards products, services, and companies that generate positive social impact, the movement toward “impact investing” has the potential to create real value for both investors and for society.

Continue reading “Sustainable Business — A Catalyst of Innovation and Investment Returns”

Impact Investing from Burlington to Botswana

The SEMBA curriculum involves the study of finance through the lens of sustainability, and is supplemented by workshops that include the exploration and discussion of impact investing. This post was written by SEMBA Advisory Board member Rob Morier, Managing Director, Head of North America at Global Evolution.

robInstitutions and individuals, from the trading desk to the university classroom, are rapidly adopting impact investing. The proliferation of funds and research has been a welcome revolution in the asset management industry. Investors have more options and information available to them than ever before as asset management companies and investors hurry to catch a rising tide of opportunity. As defined by the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN), impact investments are investments made into companies, organizations, and funds, with the intention to generate social and environmental impact alongside a financial return. While traditional business practices may perpetuate the idea that an organization must choose between doing good and making money, impact investments don’t carry the weight of that trade off, as the intention is to do both.

Although public and private equity markets have been the primary focus for impact investors and asset managers as they set their strategic investment goals pertaining to their mission or value related investments, fixed income has slowly moved from a minor to major player in terms of impact opportunities, despite being a cornerstone of traditional asset allocation models.

Continue reading “Impact Investing from Burlington to Botswana”