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.

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.

How I Learned to Love Business

This post was written by Ally Polla ’20. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Halfway through my junior year in college, the reality of graduating with a business degree planted a pit in my stomach that manifested until I found The Sustainable Innovation MBA. Looking at what others did with a business degree, I could not see myself having any of their career trajectories or lifestyles. At that time, I truly believed that all businesses operated at the bottom line and I dreaded becoming part of that system. Hearing about the vast success of major corporations, I had little interest in their monetary successes, but thought about their carbon footprint, their employees, and how resource intensive they were. I wondered if anyone else in the business world felt the same way and why no one was doing anything more. 

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

 I was aware of fair trade and individual sustainability practices at the time but still was unaware of the positive impact businesses can  have. A few months before graduation, I desperately began to research fair trade and B corporations to find a career path that I could hopefully see myself in. This research ultimately led me to the University of Vermont and The Sustainable Innovation MBA. It felt like all the tension between what my life was and what I wanted it to be had fallen away and everything finally connected. I started my application, scheduled my GRE, and couldn’t see my future looking any other way. 

I  wanted to attend the University of Vermont for my undergraduate degree for civil engineering but upon getting accepted, I realized I wanted to stay closer to my family and home. This led to me attending Manhattan College, enrolling in civil engineering, switching to the school of business freshman year, transferring to Marist to study human resource management for 1 semester, transferring back to Manhattan College, graduating from Manhattan College with a business degree, only to lead me back to the University of Vermont for my MBA.  I never planned on getting a business degree, let alone an MBA. Being in this program has solidified my business knowledge from my undergraduate studies as well as changing my perspective about the problems in the world and ways to solve them through business. The pit in my stomach about business that I once had, has been shaped into motivation that pushes me to be a positive force in the world through business everyday.

Family Business, Entrepreneurship and the Base of the Pyramid

This post was written by Ruchi Nadkarni ’20. Connect with Ruchi on LinkedIn.

“Family Business,” I thought – sounded like just another core course in the laundry list of core courses that we needed to know about. I wasn’t inspired or even intrigued at the notion of it. I had committed the very first faux pas that the class instructor warned all of us about – our A’s – our assumptions. However, my postulations were quickly checked when a poised woman, world renown Family Business scholar Pramodita Sharma entered the class and shook me to my very core, with the inspiration that followed the notion of Family Business.

As if I wasn’t already excited to be learning about concepts that spoke to my very essence, I became deeply fascinated with the promise of family business in the first thirty minutes of the class. I was captivated. As someone that grew up in India, I had a picture of what family business in my mind. It was a common occurrence growing up for me to have come across several family members and friends who were in variously sized family businesses around me. Family business was close knit, small and seemingly inconsequential to me from what I had observed. It seemed to be just another way of making a living, and I concurred with the popular opinion of it as being rather minor-league. Interestingly, I was very aware of the top 1% of my country’s wealth as being in the hands of some of the wealthiest in the world from the Tatas, Ambanis and Birlas! I again erroneously assumed that they were a small minority to the rule.

The various advantages and disadvantages peculiar of family businesses started to familiarize me with the telenovela that is family business! From high passion to high drama, it seemed to have it all. I wasn’t surprised to read the first reason why I was always averse to the idea of family business – its Achille’s heel mixing family and business together. My aspirations to work with the base of the pyramid were augmented further when I read about household enterprises in developing countries. As a more privileged member of society, privy to the lives of the base of the pyramid, I have intimately seen the struggles, lives and phenomenal resourcefulness that resides within it. My nonprofit work took me deep into the slums of Mumbai, and I was honored to have made it into their circles, as these communities are usually very wary of outsiders.

In my working with the community, I happened to also have a chance to observe the enterprises run by them, leaving me fascinated and inspired to bring more to them. It was heartening to read about the resilience of these populations and how their close knit, family-oriented values created informal micro-enterprises that helped void marginalization for them. These societies internalized institutional theory without even realizing it with each member of the family contributing to the household in these enterprises to combat poverty. Their norms, solidarity, values and beliefs in forming these institutions despite being marginalized from resource rich networks was always something of a feat to me as I have admired them all my life. In the US, I recently learned of at-risk neighborhoods and how, the law enforcement and broken system keep them in an inescapable cycle of abjection. Despite the challenges the socio-emotional wealth as an economic consideration was comforting to read about. They subsist where opportunities do not exist.

All our simultaneous classes and lectures pointed out to the most opportunity for business and sustainability for all stakeholders was in the bottom of the pyramid. When we shifted gears to alter that notion and understand that opportunity also resided in the top of the pyramid which consisted of family businesses in a big part because of their legacy oriented outlooks, it was almost like a eureka moment for me. The idea of sustainable innovation can sound insipid to a lot of businesses primarily concerned with the bottom line, but when the bottom line can be tied into this idea, a golden bridge is created where it suddenly all makes sense. This bridge I thought, was that of family business.

Growing up as I went through the various stages of academia, and many of my decisions were usually influenced by my parents or by society and I always had an entrepreneurial streak. I was a natural risk-taker and even have a black book full of business ideas that can change the world. As my non-profit venture progressed, as I became familiar with the pains of entrepreneurship my rose-tinted glasses slowly came off. That combined with the severe strain that my nonprofit put on my work-life balance and my family relationships made me more averse to entrepreneurship than ever before.

Outside of these challenges, being in the non-profit industry for ten years and pure science academic background before that, through my academia and career I was always convinced that ‘entrepreneurship’ is a bad word. Even still, as I ponder about being an entrepreneur I am absolutely terrified of the notion. The lack of resources, loneliness and stress are concepts that I am all too familiar with, being a nonprofit owner. As we spoke of various family businesses that our professor studied over the years, and how passionately she felt about them being contributors to the sustainability and business future of the planet, my fears were slowly dissipating. Every day in this program as we are convinced of becoming entrepreneurs, I can see the silver lining and feel like I am gaining my starry-eyed wonder that I harbored before life’s many challenges bogged me down. I was all at once reminded of the dividends of entrepreneurship, as well as family business as a route to solve the world’s sustainability challenges. I was overwhelmed with gratitude and reminded to be completely in that moment even as I was churning several ideas for the future.

Because the truth is, that we only have the present moment, and to be completely immersed in it is the true joy of life. So even as I drew grandiose plans with my learnings from this class and this program, I truly enjoyed being right there, just in that moment.

Sustainability and the Craft Brewing Industry

This post was written by Dan Versace ’20. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

Since the craft beer boom of 2012 started, many brewers across the country have found it hard to differentiate themselves from their competitors.  Many have tried to create new and inventive brews and invest in a tap room where customers can come to the brewery and learn more about how the process is done while sampling the products.

Photo by Elevate on Unsplash

But, in recent years the focus has shifted from inventive and innovative products and experiences to differentiation through the process by which the beers are made, with many breweries investing in the sustainability of their product and manufacturing lines. They can do this in a multitude of ways as complex as installing a device called an anaerobic digester to recycle wastewater that the brewery produces, or as simple as working with local farms to use their spent grain as food for a variety of livestock. Some breweries in the UK have even experimented with using stale bread from local bakers as a starter for their beers, limiting the amount of barley or hops that is needed.

With that being said, there is still room for innovation when it comes to the energy used in the brewing process along with the distribution and supply chains linked with the operation of the brewery. Many large scale consultancies such as SustainaBrew are working to refine a sustainability plan that works with the nuances that are inherent with brewing and selling beer, as laws and regulations differ from state to state,  limiting the amount of barley or hops that is needed.

Environmental sustainability isn’t everything though; social responsibility has seen large growth in the brewing sector as well. Take Switchback Brewing for example. They recently shifted from a single ownership model to being 100% employee owned, allowing every single one of their employees to have a meaningful say in how the business operates and what decisions are made on a day to day basis. This has led to a company that operates like a family where everyone is vales and each person employed by the brewery is committed to seeing it succeed.

While it may seem like a no brainer to some, many others are still very wary of implementing these strategies for sustainability as they do run quite a high upfront cost, and can take a lot of resources and time to implement, with no guaranteed pay off.  However,  in a recent study produced by NPR it was shown that consumer’s willingness to pay increases when the breweries they are purchasing from are utilizing sustainable practices, something that is not necessarily true for other products in the marketplace. What is it about the brewing business that lends itself to this outcome? I believe that it is the client base and the values that they hold. The craft brewing industry has grown through, and is held up by the purchasing power of the millennial generation, a young consumer base that has sustainability at its heart and chooses to make purchasing decisions based on their values.

The proof is in the pudding (or perhaps beer in this case). Sustainability efforts in the brewing industry has positive effects on the world, the people who buy the product and work in companies, and, finally, the bottom line. There is only more to come in the future.

A Sustainable Innovation MBA Disrupts The Medicine Vortex

This post was written by Than Moore ’20. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

Before matriculating to business school, I worked full time as an emergency medicine physician assistant at the University of Vermont Medical Center. I, along with my colleagues, was solely focused on maximizing patient care. My responsibilities included diagnosing and treating patients of all ages and acuity levels. The clinical world became my home. Putting on scrubs every day to go into the hospital, I join the hundreds of other employees working towards a similar mission of delivering the highest level of patient care. The ability to practice and treat members in my community is a privilege. It is one of the greatest accomplishments with which I can relate. However, it can also monopolize your life, and is forever demanding. It becomes nearly impossible to pause and observe the system in which we operate. The pursuit of my MBA disrupted the traditional linear trajectory of my medical career and provided the time and space to refocus the lens in which I viewed the world.       

Photo by JC Gellidon on Unsplash

Medicine is a vortex. To become a doctor, one must dedicate years of commitment to the craft. You must first complete prerequisite coursework before donating countless years toward schooling, residency, and fellowship. By demonstrating academic and clinical excellence and passing more tests than one could imagine, it then becomes time to start your clinical practice. The journey is arduous, but the reward to grant another breath to a gasping loved one is worth all the effort. Medicine becomes an addiction. We are slaves to the system to glean all the knowledge we can to optimize our performance. It monopolizes our lives with long days, demanding call schedules, and tragic cases that keep us up at night. However, I was granted the opportunity to take a sabbatical from my clinical responsibilities and observe the field from the outside. 

I first learned of The Sustainable Innovation MBA (SI-MBA) program at UVM from a friend who knew of my love of academia and solving problems. Sustainable business became the perfect blend of my undergraduate analytical mathematical degree, my medical background, and my passion for the environment and society as a whole. Embedded in the curriculum are quantitative business skills such as finance, accounting, and economics, but there are also fundamental organizational skills taught through courses on corporate social responsibility, sustainable leadership, and teamwork. The focus of the coursework is to optimize a sustainable enterprise by maximizing the triple bottom line: people, profit and the planet. 

The beauty of the SI-MBA program is that one can personalize their education to incorporate individual interests. For example, I am fortunate to tailor my business research and projects towards medicine. Subsequently, I wish to highlight ways in which the triple bottom line educational model has broadened my perspective to incorporate sustainability into fundamental daily operations in both the medical community and greater society. 

People:

To begin, people are at the core of all operating systems. Our world revolves around successful human interactions. The ability to collaborate with one another stems from leadership and teamwork skills. Group work is a fundamental component in the SI-MBA curriculum. During each of the module terms, every student is designated a team. The team is responsible to execute all projects, presentations, and assignments together. Rarely, do you see employees working alone, so why should academics reflect that?

Medicine, in particular, revolves around team collaboration. With the blending of specialties and skills to navigate different disease processes, we are constantly reliant on our colleagues for their expertise. If a trauma victim presents requiring extensive resources, multiple hands are needed to gain IV access, deliver medications, perform diagnostic studies, and make life altering decisions. One could not operate alone in such a high stress environment. By maximizing team collaboration, executing impeccable leadership qualities, and maximizing the potential of all skilled team members, a team can perform at its highest capability. Medical schools are paying more attention to these traits by focusing efforts on team based learning; however, the ability to acquire these skills outside of medicine through my coursework and integrate them back into the clinic will become a critical asset in my performance as a provider. 

Continue reading “A Sustainable Innovation MBA Disrupts The Medicine Vortex”

Why I Left the Nonprofit Sector (and It’s Not the Reason You Might Think)

This post was written by Taran Catania ’20. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Whether I was working in field research for a local conservation group or serving as a legislative representative for a national environmental organization, I loved my time in the nonprofit sector. No matter where I was, I was surrounded by mission-driven people, my work gave me a sense of purpose, and I was always proud to answer the standard icebreaker “so what do you do?”

Nonprofit technician in the field: Taran Catania ’20 flags a Semipalmated Sandpiper as part of ongoing endangered shorebird research for New Jersey Audubon.

But then I left the nonprofit world – and not for the reasons you might think. The assumption when people leave the nonprofit sector to go to business school is that person wants to make more money. Now, don’t get me wrong: there are extremely good reasons the nonprofit sector should stop undervaluing and underinvesting in staff. But the short answer is no, I did not leave for that reason.

The real reason is: I was tired of fighting for change, but not seeing an obvious plan for its impact or scalability. I was tired of “doing good” by rules that limited how much good we could do. I wanted the chance to take risks for something I believed in.

During Dr. Erik Monsen’s Crafting the Entrepreneurial Business Model class, I was introduced to a TED Talk by activist and fundraiser Dan Pallotta called “The way we think about charity is dead wrong.” As Pallotta points out, nonprofits are rewarded more for not acting like businesses (such as severely restricting overhead spending – “For every dollar donated, 83 cents go to the cause!”) than for what impact they have. From inherent rules limiting nonprofits’ ability to competitively compensate staff, market and advertise to generate revenue, or access capital markets to spur growth, the nonprofit sector is at a disadvantage to the business world in almost every way.

To add further limitation, nonprofits are systematically discouraged from taking risks. Risk, which always carries some chance of failure, is a generally unacceptable use of charitable dollars. And as Pallotta puts simply: “When you prohibit failure, you kill innovation.”

In other words, there is a reason there is no “venture capital” of the nonprofit world. No one is looking to make large donations to a nonprofit that wants to take chances, invest in its own growth, and pursue unexplored, better ways to make and scale change.

But as we can tell from the growing list of Certified B Corps and the increasing buzz around Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), the business world is evolving to pick up where the nonprofit sector leaves off. And it’s doing so with some creative, innovative risk-taking.

So until we can foster a nonprofit sector that operates under fewer limitations, fighting for social and environmental change from a business angle may offer greater opportunities to create positive, scalable impacts. (That is, as long as businesses commit to doing so meaningfully.)

In the meantime, I’ll be here reading anything written by Vu Le at Nonprofit AF, bicycle commuting in my Allbirds sneakers, and pursuing a Sustainable Innovation MBA to be a part of this business evolution.

An Innovation Story? Bear With Us…

We found this story of a beekeeper and his wonderful attitude toward turning a big problem into an innovation — and a business advantage — just delightful. How can you think differently about problems, and opportunities, as foundations of innovation?

Beekeeper turns honey stealing bears into taste testers

Beekeeper Ibrahim Sedef

Blockchain for sustainable business: new technology & culture in sustainable enterprise management

This post was written by Henry Vogt ’19

As corporations have begun to understand the necessity of embedding sustainability into their core strategy and competencies it has become apparent that holistic management of operations must be done in an intentional and transparent way. It’s increasingly clear that all aspects of an organization – from product design, operations, marketing, HR & more – must collaborate transparently to effectively manage a sustainable enterprise and realize ROI from their initiatives. Companies can promote growth, reduce risk and increase returns though processes that provide clear, concise and trusted information across all departments.  

Photo by Clint Adair on Unsplash

There is no doubt that a robust technological management system is the backbone for implementing a holistic sustainability management program – a system which allows for transparency and trust across all departments. Many organizations are positioned to take advantage of cutting-edge technological systems to give them a sustainable competitive advantage – as long as there is a strong aligned company culture.

Enter Blockchain. Often when Blockchain is mentioned a reaction is one of eyes glazing over, a chuckle and some skepticism due to the mysterious, undoubtably complex connotations that surround this technology. This is understandable. Yet, the reality is that the concept of blockchain is relatively simple. Instead of a central authority verifying a transaction or data set, the verification is distributed and decentralized across a network. The verifications are on a ledger (think accounting), where changes and additions are append only – you can’t go back and change it. Therefore, the transactions become transparent, immutable and tamper proof. Implemented correctly, the potential applications spanning public and private sectors are almost categorically endless.

Has this created a hype bubble around blockchain? Undoubtably, yes. However, as the technology progresses and use cases and applications evolve, the hype around blockchain seems to be looking less like a bubble and more like a paradigm shift. With the possibility to make blockchains customizable – private, permissioned or public – companies can choose from an ever-growing panacea of platforms that can meet their needs. Additionally, companies must approach blockchain by first understanding the problem – then assessing why blockchain could be an effective solution. Just like any technology, blockchain is not a silver bullet solution. It must be asked – “Can this be solved by a traditional database, and does the need for transparency, decentralization, trust and immutability warrant a blockchain solution?”

While blockchain can incentivize effective management through transparency of operations, it is also essential that it be complimented by continuing to invest in human capital – the culture – of the company. Transparency can create accountability, competition and innovation – but the technology itself must not be the crutch. The culture and the affective commitment of the people in the organization will always be at the heart of a profitable, sustainable organization. While technology can be a powerful tool to implement solutions, the investment in human capital cannot be lost.

New technologies hold vast potential to disrupt and improve business and society – but without a mutually inclusive investment in culture any initiative will not reach its potential or may even cause inverse, negative externalities. When culture and values are complemented with decentralized, transparent technologies such blockchain, the future of managing successful sustainable enterprises holds immense potential.