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.

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.

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)

Auto 2.0: How Electric Vehicles are Paving the Way for Modern Mobility

This post was written by Sam Alden ’20. Connect with Sam on LinkedIn.

In the rapidly changing automotive industry, one thing seems certain: the future is electric. From a record number of Super Bowl ads, to Ford’s new charging infrastructure, to Tesla stock surging following the opening of another Gigafactory, firms are jockeying to take advantage of the burgeoning market for electric vehicles (EVs). While this seems like cause for celebration after years of trying to gain traction, EVs are simply the first step in dealing with the larger issues plaguing the auto industry and the future of mobility. Admittedly, it’s a positive step — much like hybrids were an incremental gain on the combustion engine — but larger industry disruption is on the horizon.


Photo, Forbes: The future of autos will soon be defined by ACES trends (autonomous, connected, electric, shared).

Recent excitement and inertia can be traced to rapid advancements in battery technology, an expanding network of charging stations with increased speed, and the success of niche player Tesla. While both battery range and cost have been historically prohibitive, tech advancements have led to an 87% decrease in cost over the past decade while simultaneously increasing their range, as found by a recent report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). It is expected that these advancements will put the cost of an EV level with its gasoline-powered counterpart by 2022, which many experts consider “the point of liftoff” (Deloitte). Automakers are jumping on this, with Ford announcing the construction of North America’s largest EV charging network, “helping customers confidently switch to an all-electric lifestyle”…before they even have a single fully-electric vehicle on the market (Ford). Why? As Ford’s sales decline, Tesla delivered 367,500 EVs in 2019: up an astounding 50% from the previous year (CNN).

So, what’s the problem? 

While EVs eliminate tailpipe emissions, they are only as clean as the source of electricity that powers them. Renewables account for a mere 17% of total electricity usage in the US, making the shift to EVs not quite as clean of a solution as it initially appears (C2ES). Further, as demand for EVs rises sharply over the coming years, the demand for electricity to power them will follow suit, increasing the strain on America’s antiquated energy infrastructure (which recently received a D+ rating by the American Society of Civil Engineers). The future of the auto industry and its push for electrification rests on the ability of the nation’s electricity grid to keep pace with growth. Given recent failures in California, the risk to the industry is already on display. But maybe this type of issue is just the impetus that the renewable energy sector needs to achieve liftoff of its own.

What is abundantly clear is that a transition to EVs ignores the larger issues facing mobility. Rapid urbanization, gridlocked city centers, and the rising costs of owning a car in these areas are the main drivers of change. The emergence of services like Uber, ZipCar, and Waymo One have meant that consumers can increasingly rely on a combination of public transportation and ride sharing services instead of owning a car at all. In fact, it is estimated that US auto sales will decline a staggering 40% by 2040, which paints a pretty stark picture for the auto industry and the need for change (McKinsey). EVs do not provide a solution to these broader issues.

The intent of this post is not to pour cold water on the enthusiasm surrounding the undoubted progress being made by the auto industry. In fact, investment and innovation are both at all-time highs. Rather, it is to make a broader case for sustainability: one that is both strategic and long-term. Yes, the future appears to be electric, but it is also shared, autonomous, and data-driven. Consumers seem to be ready for this transition, but critical infrastructure must be too. As Auto 2.0 enters a make or break period, the industry must get key strategic decisions “right” in order to stay relevant. Firms are starting to realize that their best chance of doing so is by breaking down traditional rivalries and moving forward together. Here’s to hoping that electric vehicles are just the first step.

Sources

Embracing Plastic(ity)

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

Plastic.

Understandably, this word has been vilified as it becomes more and more apparent how its mismanagement may define our generation. It is painfully clear how damaging this resource can be in the natural ecosystem. As such, I won’t spend much time on that discussion. Instead, I would like to offer up a different take – one that embraces the word. These synthetic materials boast a tremendously impressive and valuable quality; they all are plastic in nature because they are easily shaped or molded. From a manufacturing standpoint, they are highly adaptive and can be purposed and repurposed to serve different needs under different conditions. Although some promising programs are beginning to emerge, on the whole, the industry’s management of recapturing the value of their product has not looked for inspiration in the product’s defining adaptable nature, and has instead practiced the status quo for far too long.

Photo by Jonathan Chng on Unsplash

As I reflect on the first few months in The Sustainable Innovation MBA program, it is hard for me to shake the word. Initially, I felt like I shouldn’t acknowledge my work history that I shouldn’t talk about plastic production in a sustainability program unless I had to. I quickly realized this was the wrong approach. My work background includes project development, management and sales of plastic packaging. My job was to develop and create products that don’t have adequate or appropriate disposal methods. Many single-use medical device packages inevitably would end up thrown away and/or incinerated. The “Take, Make, Waste” model was, and still is, being practiced. Movement away from this model is on the rise and conversations centered on a circular economy are materializing. When I think of the greatest take away of this program so far, I can’t help but think to the adaptability I have been forced to hone, how essential it is for my own career and how this level of adaptability will need to be utilized for a successful transition within the plastics industry.

These past few months have been truly transformative. Like many, I decided to pursue an MBA for a variety of reasons. I was looking to outfit myself with a “toolkit” comprised of a variety of skills that would help bolster my career while simultaneously setting a foundation for using business as a vehicle for substantive social change. Ultimately, I was seeking to better understand financial statements, canvass business strategy and evaluate the feasibility of my own crazy business ideas. For the purpose of strengthening my resume and making myself more marketable, I understood these skills to be most critical. It has become apparent, however that my ability to adapt, to be reshaped according to new conditions and embrace plasticity in my career approach and personal development has been my greatest take away of the program thus far.

My education in adaptation started the first day of orientation. Transitioning back to life as a full-time student after a five-year academic reprieve did not occur overnight. It was difficult and it was exhausting, but innate in the program’s structure were lessons I can reflect on as defining moments which have made me a more adaptable student, employee and citizen.

Prior to starting in the program, I would have incorrectly identified myself as being adaptable. I would have cited some lesson learned on the mini-tour golf circuit about how important it is to approach novel problems (like sitting 40 yards off the fairway with the pin nowhere in sight) with calm, optimism and creativity. The primary distinction between this example and the adaptability required in SI-MBA and moving forward toward a more sustainable future is the notion of playing with others.

Within an intimately sized cohort of 30, we are assigned to module learning teams. Groups of 3-4 students are hand selected to build diverse groups in an effort to reflect real world working environments and prove that highly diverse groups are more likely to solve increasingly complex problems than their more uniform counterparts. We then tackle assignments in every class together. This team experience inevitably differs for everyone but illustrated to me areas where I should improve, be more flexible and help encourage others development.

Without a thorough understanding and appreciation of this soft skill, hope for a more sustainable future seems bleak. Across every industry and profession, a need for highly adaptable individuals will exist and SI-MBA has uniquely outfitted myself and my fellow cohort members with a distinct ability to roll up our sleeves and roll with the punches. I am confident this lesson in adaptability will serve us well as we venture beyond the classroom and face many of the same problems that drew us to the program a few short months ago.

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.

With Sustainability, Should Motives Matter?

This post was written by Lauren Frisch ’20

As long as you are making lasting sustainable change, should motives matter?  

This past semester, we’ve taken a deep dive into the world of corporate social responsibility (CSR), and thought about the different motives companies may have to invest in CSR practices. Some companies have economic motives.[i] Others want to build relationships with various stakeholders, called relational motives. Finally, some companies have moral motives, wanting to make the world, or their piece of it, run a little better.[ii] Consumers tend to digest CSR information better when there is at least a hint of a moral motive. But is this the right way to truly encourage CSR across the board?

Volkswagen stock prices before and after Dieselgate

Let’s use Volkswagen (VW) as an example. In 2015, news broke that VW had created technology that faked emissions levels in about 580,000 vehicles between 2006 and 2015.[iii] Defeat devices were created to register when a vehicle’s emissions were being tested, and modify performance to achieve a particular emissions level. By March 2019, VW had paid more than $30 billion in fines, penalties, resolutions and settlements towards Dieselgate.[iv] The company agreed to invest in electric vehicle (EV) technology and infrastructure to offset some of the damage caused by their deceptive technology.[v]

VW was able to survive this scandal and continue to thrive as a company, but not without a cost. The company had a turnover in high-level leadership after the scandal. The brand’s reputation was tarnished and stock prices dropped 23%[vi]. Enter Herbert Diess, a new CEO with a plan to completely reinvent Volkswagen as a sustainable leader in the industry. Diess and his team created Together 2025, a vision for how VW would grow between 2015 and 2025.[vii] The main goal of Together 2025 is to transform VW into a leader in the EV market. The company hopes that by 2025, 25% of VWs on the road will be EVs, a lofty goal that will help transform the makeup of the worldwide auto landscape.[viii]

Concept photo for Volkswagen’s new I.D. Buzz, an electric bus

The company has promised to launch a fleet of seven new electric vehicles, including four for VW, two for Audi and one for Seat.[ix] VW is also investing in new EV factory space and charging infrastructure, and the company hopes to establish and implement a carbon neutral supply chain by 2050.[x],[xi]

Critics of VW argue that the company should not be viewed as a leader in sustainable innovation because they were forced to implement aspects of this radical transformation to make up for Dieselgate. Others believe Diess is a transformational leader with strong moral motives, and is using this colossal environmental mess up to inspire change and create an automotive industry that he truly believes in. Consumers may never know the exact motives behind VW’s together 2025 campaign, although the truth likely lies somewhere between the suspicion of the cynics and the hope of the optimists. Almost all human behavior and corporate action is driven by varying degrees of multiple motives.

But should Volkswagen’s motives matter if the company is able to advance renewable technology? What matters is that Volkswagen is on the road to becoming a leader in EV technology, and is investing not only in vehicle design, but factories and infrastructure that will help support growing demand into the future. It would be best for the industry if Volkswagen’s transformation is wildly successful, because it will build momentum to advance critical EV technology at VW and may inspire other companies to make similar commitments. Of course, I’d prefer if all companies had strong moral motives to back their CSR work. But it’s important for us to recognize that people come from different experiences, and companies have different priorities. At this stage, the change we’re making matters more than the reason we started on the path. And if companies can profit from solving a problem for someone, hopefully it will encourage others to follow in their lead, and help sustain more change.


Endnotes

[i] Aguilera, Ruth V., Rupp, Deborah E., Williams, Cynthia A., Ganapathi, Jyoti. “Putting the S back in corporate social responsibility: A multilevel theory of social change in organizations.” Academy of Management Review. 3 Nov. 2007.

[ii] Aguilera, Ruth V., Rupp, Deborah E., Williams, Cynthia A., Ganapathi, Jyoti. “Putting the S back in corporate social responsibility: A multilevel theory of social change in organizations.” Academy of Management Review. 3 Nov. 2007.

[iii] “Exhausted by scandal: ‘Dieselgate’ continues to haunt Volkswagen.” Knowledge at Wharton. 21 Mar. 2019, https://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/volkswagen-diesel-scandal/

[iv] “Exhausted by scandal: ‘Dieselgate’ continues to haunt Volkswagen.” Knowledge at Wharton. 21 Mar. 2019, https://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/volkswagen-diesel-scandal/

[v] Voelcker, John. “VW Electrify America plan for electric-car charging across the US released.” Green Car Reports. 18, Apr. 2017,https://www.greencarreports.com/news/1109971_vw-electrify-america-plan-for-electric-car-charging-across-u-s-released.

[vi] “Exhausted by scandal: ‘Dieselgate’ continues to haunt Volkswagen.” Knowledge at Wharton. 21 Mar. 2019, https://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/volkswagen-diesel-scandal/

[vii] “2018 Sustainability Report.” The Volkswagen Group, Mar. 2019, https://www.volkswagenag.com/presence/nachhaltigkeit/documents/sustainability-report/2018/Nonfinancial_Report_2018_e.pdf

[viii] Keith, Travis. “Volkswagen stock price plunges after emissions scandal.” Column Five Media. https://www.columnfivemedia.com/volkswagen-stock-price-plunges-after-emissions-scandal

[ix] Rauwald, Christoph. “Volkswagen’s road to riches or ruin starts in this factory.” Bloomberg, 6 Sept. 2019, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-09-06/volkswagen-s-road-to-riches-or-ruin-starts-in-this-factory

[x] “2018 Sustainability Report.” The Volkswagen Group, Mar. 2019, https://www.volkswagenag.com/presence/nachhaltigkeit/documents/sustainability-report/2018/Nonfinancial_Report_2018_e.pdf

[xi] Rauwald, Christoph. “Volkswagen’s road to riches or ruin starts in this factory.” Bloomberg, 6 Sept. 2019, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-09-06/volkswagen-s-road-to-riches-or-ruin-starts-in-this-factory