Impact Investing for a Greener UVM

This post was written by Peter Seltzer ’19, Andrew Oliveri ’19, Maura Kalil ’19, and Matt Iacobucci ’19

At the beginning of the academic year, Finance professor Dr. Chuck Schnitzlein introduced an opportunity for us all to spearhead the first Sustainable Innovation MBA impact investing project. The goal of the project was to show the University of Vermont Treasurer’s office how to build a short-duration fixed income impact portfolio that meets its fiduciary and financial constraints.

Given these parameters, our challenge was to build a portfolio comprised of socially and environmentally responsible fixed-income investments that would contribute to making a positive global impact in the areas of our choosing. A group of thirteen Sustainable Innovation MBA students* have been working collaboratively to come up with investment criteria to build out this potential portfolio of bonds for consideration. Through working closely with Chuck, the Sustainable and Responsible Investing Advisory Council (SRIAC), and the UVM Treasurer’s Office, we are now positioned to make our recommendations to the investment manager to implement this strategy.

*Andrew Mallory, Andrew Oliveri, Alyssa Schuetz, Alyssa Stankiewicz, Esteban Echeverria-Fernandez, Emily Klein, Keil Corey, Maura Kalil, Matt Iacobucci, Noelle Nyirenda, Peter Seltzer, Ryan Forman, Tor Dworshak (in no particular order — EDITOR)

Coming into The Sustainable Innovation MBA program, many of us were novices to the emerging field of impact investing. To build our knowledge and immerse ourselves in this new subject, we began organizing and attending weekly learning sessions. Our resources have included articles and research tools, but most significantly, the book The Impact Investor by Jed Emerson, a prominent leader in this field. These resources provided the foundation for our impact investing toolkit that has aided us in determining our impact objectives and screening criteria for the project. Next, we had to learn the tools that investors use to search for and make judgments on assets in real-time.

We trained ourselves to use the Bloomberg terminal, a powerful tool for investors in providing access to real-time financial data. Each member of the impact investing team completed the built-in Bloomberg Market Concepts digital learning tutorial, with particular attention focused on fixed income securities to build out our general investing toolkit. While identifying whether each bond under consideration held the financial metrics needed to fulfill the fiduciary obligations required of the portfolio for the University, we also used the ESG terminal function to help objectively measure the non-financial impact that each bond holds. The ESG function provides non-financial Environmental, Social, and Governance metrics for companies and bonds, which proved to be an invaluable tool for our research process.

While the whole impact investing team was expected to have a solid understanding the “impact” side of the equation, a subgroup of the team has been taking additional advanced finance classes with Chuck on fixed income investing and portfolio management to master the “investing” side. There, this subgroup has been learning key concepts to help the whole team take the next steps towards building a portfolio that is financially sound and well up to the University’s investing standards. This diversification within our team allows for an overall focus on portfolio impact, while the more specialized subgroup could also incorporate the principles of a financially successful portfolio that was consistent with the investment policy statement and integrated impacted criteria.

During our early coursework in The Sustainable Innovation MBA, we learned how many companies have been aligning their business models and sustainability initiatives with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Thus, we wanted to incorporate the concept of impact learned through the program’s curriculum to maximize our portfolio’s impact. As a group, we brainstormed SDGs that were not only important to us but those in which we saw the most potential for global impact. From that list, we selected three SDGs that we determined were best aligned with UVM’s mission and brand image: Clean Water & Sanitation, Affordable & Clean Energy, and Gender Equality.

The first SDG we focused on was ensuring the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. We looked to find issuers who not only decreased their water usage relative to competitors but also considered the ‘usage relative to revenue’, which was found to be a helpful feature of the Bloomberg terminal. Similarly, it was important for us to find issuers who not only were mitigating negative impacts but rather having a positive impact with regard to clean water stewardship efforts. With a number of UVM students intimately connected to Lake Champlain and its surrounding ecosystems, we realize clean water to be a paramount goal of our investment council.

The second SDG we focused on was ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. We determined that impact within this goal can be derived from companies producing sources of clean, affordable and renewable energy, as well as companies sourcing their energy from renewable providers. Companies that our investment council considers for investing need to be making investments in clean technology and energy efficiency, or investments in affordable energy storage technology. In addition, a company meets our criteria if they have a large green power purchase agreement, or is in a contract to source a majority of their energy from a clean, renewable energy source.

The third and final SDG we focused on was achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls. This SDG was particularly important to our group as many of our group members are part of The Sustainable Innovation MBA Women For Change group on campus. The team developed the following three objective criteria that the corporations offering the bonds should meet for portfolio consideration: female representation in senior management (at least 33%), proven efforts to create equal opportunity for female employee advancement, and women in leadership (CEO, Founder, Chair of the Board).

The thirteen of us have learned much through the process of working on this project, and we are grateful for Chuck, SRIAC, and the UVM Treasurer’s Office for the opportunity. This was a completely voluntarily effort outside of the regular class schedule and curriculum of our academic program. We are fortunate to acknowledge that the dedication of time and effort towards this project has rewarded the members of our team with a new degree of fluency in the field of impact investing and perhaps even more rewarding, a feeling of accomplishment for having the potential to make an impact in alignment with the SDGs and UVM.

We look forward to taking the next steps with this project and seeing how the recommendations of our team might be utilized by the University and beyond. As we have with this project, we are excited to continue finding new ways to incorporate our learning from each and every subject we are exposed to here in The Sustainable Innovation MBA program, building out our sustainable innovation toolkit even further as we progress into the new year.

Onward!

Gender Diversity in MBA Programs: Ahead of the Curve

This post was written by Julie Keck ’19

As part of the 2018-2019 cohort of University of Vermont’s Sustainable Innovation MBA program, I’m proud to sit in a classroom that has an abundance of women. Since its inception, the program has been ahead of the curve in this area. In Years 1- 3, the program busted through the revered 50-50 gender barrier in MBA programs. As the program has grown, the percentage of women in the program has decreased: last year’s graduating class had 47% female attendance, and as I mentioned before, my cohort has 41%.

Percent of Women in The Sustainable Innovation MBA Cohorts

2015 –  55%

2016 – 56%

2017 – 52%

2018 –  47%

2019 – 41%

Important Note: I do not have information on what gender identities alumni and my current co-hort self-report: my numbers are based on my visual identification of candidates based on their pictures on The Sustainable Innovation MBA website. My apologies to anyone I have misidentified.

Although the overall percentage of female candidates has decreased, The Sustainable Innovation MBA program is still over the national average for MBA programs. As reported in Financial Times earlier this year, the Graduate Management Admission Council found in 2016 that only 37% of applications to full-time two-year MBA programs were submitted by women globally. The number is better in the US (42%) than in Europe (36%) and Asia (32%.) The primary barrier to accepting MBA school offers reported by women globally was financial concerns; for men, the primary barrier reported was that they were waiting for other offers. (Financial Times, 2018).

If you take a look at who’s actually attending MBA programs currently, things are looking up, and The Sustainable Innovation MBA is definitely ahead of the curve. As of 2018, no MBA programs report achieving gender parity, but all of the top 10 schools they surveyed had at least 40% female attendance, with only four schools in the top 25 ranked schools dropping below 30% (Poets & Quants, 2018)

While the presence of women in an MBA program is a good start, whether or not they’re being given all of the tools they need to succeed after graduation is another thing. Research shows (The Wall Street Journal, 2018) that women in the workplace are judged more harshly for their mistakes than men, and they often have to choose between being liked and being respected, and business culture shifts in response to the #MeToo movement (Bloomberg, 2018) may make it even more difficult for business women to get the mentors and opportunities afforded to their male counterparts.

In order to adequately serve female students, forward-thinking MBA programs should include not only instruction and mentorship for female students to help them when they encounter bias and misogyny in the workplace, but make a concentrated effort to move away from male-majority teaching staffs and leadership. Also helpful: having open and honest in-class conversations about what it’s like to be a woman in the workplace; this isn’t only beneficial for women: it’s also useful for the men in the program looking to become great leaders to all they work with.

In order to better support each other and supplement ongoing conversations about gender and leadership, the women in the current Sustainable Innovation MBA cohort have banded together to share experience and resources during extracurricular meetings. They’ve also found support from female alumni, female Advisory Board Members, and female members of the program’s leadership. While we have had several female professors in the first semester, none are currently on the schedule for the second. Seeing reflections of yourself in the mentors you are exposed to is important in the development of ourselves as people and professionals – hopefully as the program grows, so will the numbers of its non-male professors and leaders.

One final note: gender diversity is far from the the only metric of diversity, and I would hope that all forward-thinking, sustainably-minded program are looking for ways to make their programs more accessible to and welcoming of students of color, queer students, non-binary, trans and other gender nonconforming students, students with differing abilities, and other effective minorities, especially since embracing diversity boosts performance (Forbes, 2018.) Here’s to the future cohorts of The Sustainable Innovation MBA that more accurately reflect the world that we live in and seek to lead.

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

How Business Can Support Refugees

This post was written by Ryan Forman ’19

All around the world, refugees are being demonized for various political reasons. There is overwhelming academic and professional research into how much value refugees are to society. Therefore, civil society cannot help them adjust to their new country alone, but business plays a role in supporting them as well. There are multiple ways in which business can help the current refugee situation, but this article is going to focus on two key methods.

The first way that business can help refugees is by investing in refugee-owned/founded businesses. Research shows that refugees are more likely to hire fellow refugees. Because of this investment, businesses can support more than just one refugee; they can help many others get hired as well. One example of an impact investment organization that specializes in investing in refugee-founded businesses is the Refugee Investment Network (RIN). The RIN works to help move private capital to investment in financing of companies that benefit both refugees and their host communities.

An additional way that business can help refugees is by advocating for them in the workforce. Advocating for refugees could be businesses partnering with both governmental and non-governmental organizations that will help individuals get the skills that they need to be more competitive in their local job market. Ernst & Young (EY) in Germany have gone above and beyond in how to support refugees. EY Germany states, “Through EY Cares, the team got funding for a language-learning app, developed by an employee of EY Germany. The team has also supported Kiron, a social start-up providing higher education to refugees, and it has launched a pilot internship program for 10 refugees across EY Germany.” There aren’t many examples of this in the United States, but there is a similar situation here in Burlington at Rhino Foods. Advocating for refugees could be looking at leveraging their past skills to hire them for similar roles in a business that they did in their former country. According to Rhino Foods, “The cultural diversity at Rhino exposes us to each other’s favorite foods, traditions, and life experiences.” Currently, refugees make up 37% of Rhino Food’s workforce.

In our Entrepreneurship class, my group has proposed creating an incubator that would help address both of these methods to help refugees. We think that an incubator, that supports both investment in refugee-owned businesses and partnerships to help refugees get the skills they need to become competitive in their local markets, is a needed organization. I would certainly like to see more organizations place such an emphasis on, as RIN has described, “the greatest social challenge of our time.” Refugees are a boon to the local economy, and it is time for business to empower them.

Photo by Perry Grone on Unsplash

Shake it Up

This post was written by Elissa Eggers ’19

“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”

I first encountered this quote by Gandhi on Pinterest last fall, when I was beginning the grad school application process. I found it to be a comforting reminder that although my aspirations were large (telling people you want to save the planet can result in a lot of blank stares), I could find a way to make an impact on my own terms. While, I’ve never been a particularly loud or forceful person, I’ve never lacked conviction. Ultimately, I knew that because I would probably never be the person leading a protest or going door-to-door, I needed to find the avenue that best allowed me to use my interests and abilities to bring about change. This is what drew me to The Sustainable Innovation MBA. I knew it would hone my current skill-sets, provide me with the tools needed to make an impact, and expose me to avenues for change I didn’t yet know existed. In this regard, the program has most certainly not disappointed.

All of our choices have an impact. The key is figuring out in what ways, whether big or small, you can make an impact that is authentic to you.

In the mere 3 months (could it really have only be 3 months?) I’ve been in the program, I’ve met an incredible collection of human beings and been exposed to a plethora of new ideas and viewpoints. The real trick though, I’m learning, is remembering to look up and maintain perspective while trying to take in all this new information coming at you. This program is, without question, fast moving and its relentless pace can cause you to become stuck in the weeds as you focus on checking off the ever-growing collection of deliverables on your to-do list. I’ll admit, this has been me for the past few weeks. I’ve fallen down the rabbit-hole of cost models, business plans, and organizational behavior. However, my drive home from Burlington for the holidays mixed with the magic of Pinterest in periodically resurrecting old, previously viewed pins, provided me with some much-needed perspective.

My background is in retail management and I came into this program to learn more about how the product life cycle (specifically related to clothing) can become more circular as well as how to shift consumer behavior. With Black Friday and the holiday shopping season soundly upon us, I can’t think of better time to reground in why I started along this journey in the first place. What we buy matters, and how we use it can matter even more. All of our choices have an impact. The key is figuring out in what ways, whether big or small, you can make an impact that is authentic to you.

So, my question for you this holiday season and beyond, is how will you shake the world?

Photo by Fancycrave on Unsplash

For Second Straight Year, We’re The #1 Green MBA in the Nation

For the second straight year, The Sustainable Innovation MBA has been named the #1 Green MBA in the nation by the Princeton Review.

This is a significant recognition for the program and earning it two years in a row is an outstanding achievement.

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 Sustainable Innovation MBA was also included in The Princeton Review’s list of the 252 Outstanding On-Campus MBA programs. This list was based on data from surveys of 18,400 students attending the schools and of administrators at the graduate schools.

The mission of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program is “to prepare and train individuals to create profitable and sustainable business opportunities in a world undergoing transformational change. Our Sustainable Innovation MBA aims to develop the next generation of leaders who will build, disrupt, innovate, and reinvent sustainable business and enterprises in a world that demands it.”

Want to change the world with us? Learn more here, and apply here.

The Sustainable Innovation MBA Co-Hosts Global CEO Forum

On a beautiful autumn day in mid-October — the kind of day Vermont is famous for — the International Academy of Management came to the campus of UVM to host the Global Forum on Sustainable Innovation and Business Transformation.

The event, co-hosted by the Grossman School of Business and The Sustainable Innovation MBA program, featured a keynote speech and conversation with Muhtar Kent, chairman of the Coca-Cola Company. Our MBA students also had the opportunity to listen to and network with some of the U.S.’s and Vermont’s most innovative business leaders.

Kent, who has made innovation and the transformation of Coca-Cola a vital focus of his time at the helm of one of the world’s most recognizable companies, told the Forum’s 150 attendees that, at Coca Cola, innovation flows from the power of partnerships — that the best ideas are often found on the outside.

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Kent also made the case that a “golden triangle” of forces — business, government, and social-mission organizations —  must come together to solve the world’s most pressing problems. Therefore, he said, business leaders must be master relationship builders.

The Forum also featured reflections by three forward-thinking business leaders. Mary Powell, CEO of Green Mountain Power; Brian Griffith, chairman of Griffith Foods; and Joey Bergstein, CEO of Seventh Generation, shared their own personal and organizational stories of transformation and innovation.

Planning for “Launch”

The Sustainable Innovation MBA is a unique program in many ways. Above all, it is reinventing business education to produce leaders who aim to solve the world’s most challenging economic, environmental, and social problems through the lens of enterprise and entrepreneurship.

And, because it’s a one-year accelerated MBA, students begin their career exploration and planning right from the first day, aiming to develop the skills, networks, and insights to “launch” into opportunities post-graduation — just eleven months from now.

Last week, as part of our innovative “Launch” workshop series, students spent an afternoon building the foundations of self-discovery, articulating strengths and weaknesses, and beginning to think about various potential career pathways. Here’s a peek:

Developing an inventory of necessary leadership traits:

Meryl and Matt, building and practicing a personal elevator pitch:

Getting support and encouragement from the cohort’s honorary member:

“Your Stoke Won’t Save Us”: An Important Message For Businesses, Outdoor Enthusiasts, and Individual Change Makers Alike

This post was written by Dana Gulley ’17, founder and lead consultant of Third Peak Solutions. She can be reached at dana@thirdpeaksolutions.com.

You could say I was stoked when the postal carrier slid the May 14th edition of High Country News through my mail slot last month. The twice-monthly magazine covers conservation issues “for people who care about the West,” and over the last nine months, this New Yorker had become one of those people. Flipping through the pages, “Your stoke won’t save us: the idea that outdoor recreation leads to meaningful conservation rests on a very big ‘if,’” by Ethan Linck, jumped off the page at me.

Since moving to the little city of Bozeman, Montana last fall, my increased focus on rock climbing, mountain biking (photo, left), canoeing and backpacking has brought me closer to the outdoor recreation community, a community that is at the heart of this place and many others like it. That said, I’ve felt strangely further away from my conservation roots. I devoured the article, nodding, admittedly a bit self-righteously, through all 3,000 words. Yes, yes! This is what I have been saying. Outdoor recreation does not solely predict one’s environmental attitudes! While the outdoor recreation industry is willing to make increasingly political statements about protecting our wild places, they’re yet to show they are willing to pay for that protection! And my sustainable business training rushed back: we don’t need to settle for trade-offs! Businesses can do well by doing good.

The euphoria of seeing my opinion in ink was quickly replaced by guilt. Okay, so our environmental issues continue to mount and there’s opportunity being left on the table. What have I done about it? Those petitions I hawked as the outreach director for Riverkeeper, a clean water nonprofit in New York’s Hudson Valley, seemed like a distant memory, even though I spend more time in outdoor places than ever before in my life. And as a strategy consultant, I have found myself focusing on the more familiar world of non-profits as opposed to supporting and promoting sustainable businesses. As stoked as I was to read the article, I felt simultaneously counterfeit. With all the changes in my life, I had somehow lost my tribe: that community that is so essential to having the courage to face a big problem and do something about it. And I knew that tribe must exist here. After all, in 2015 the Montana state legislature was the 29th in the nation to pass a law that allows companies to legally register as benefit corporations.

Later that week, Business for Montana’s Outdoors, a coalition that includes some 180 businesses, hosted a panel discussion, “Tech and the Outdoors: How the ‘Montana Mystique’ is Fueling Business Growth.” In Montana, the tech industry provides 15,000 jobs and $1.03 billion in wages, and it’s growing fast. Panelists from several of Bozeman’s mature tech companies and start-ups focused on the competitive advantage Montana’s outdoors provides in everything from attracting and retaining talent to entertaining clients and customers. Panelists shared countless examples of how their companies were more successful because of Montana’s beautiful and enjoyable natural environment. What they didn’t share, were innovative ideas for how their businesses would ensure the ongoing protection of the outdoors, something they acknowledged was a critical asset.

The research shows that millennials are increasingly interested in being part of companies that they can feel proud of, companies that are actively doing something about the problems we face. And in the age of Patagonia replacing its product homepage with “The President Stole Your Land,” while mounting an aggressive lawsuit to fight the historic removal of public lands in Bear’s Ears National Monument, businesses have more permission than ever to act. Determined to push the envelope and proudly gripping the High Country News magazine, I stood up, and channeled the collective strength of my tribe, my Sustainable Innovation MBA cohort from the University of Vermont.  I hear how Montana’s outdoors helps you, but how will you help the outdoors?

While I was initially frustrated by the lackluster response (some non-profit donations here, a volunteer trail building day there), this experience reminded me of something I had lost sight of: if we are to overcome the momentum of the status quo that pushes businesses to think the same way they always have, then we must each harness our respective tribes and act now. Businesses need our help, as consumers and consultants, to innovate new models of corporate social responsibility that address the world’s problems while helping them thrive. We don’t have to start from scratch. As an outdoor recreator, I can be an ambassador for environmental advocacy in my community, limit my consumption by purchasing used gear or new gear from unparalleled companies like Patagonia, and support organizations like Protect our Winters (POW), a climate advocacy group that organizes outdoor enthusiasts to take action. As a consultant, I can build on the momentum of the 2015 law here in Montana to pursue for-profit clients and develop and share sustainable business best practices.

In case it inspires you to act, too, consider this my call for tribe-members and to recommitting myself to contribute to solutions instead of nodding along vigorously at the problems. And while these actions alone won’t save us, I’m stoked to do my part.

 

Innovator-in-Residence: Donald Reed

This post was written by Kevin Hoskins ’18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting to Know the Class of 2018: Kevin Hoskins

Kevin Hoskins  brings management and leadership experience in the music business and creative industries to The Sustainable Innovation MBA program. He was interviewed by Isabel Russell, an undergraduate at UVM.

Why did you choose to attend The Sustainable Innovation MBA program?

I came back to Vermont because I craved the community and the spirit of entrepreneurship that seems to be part of the state’s DNA. I chose this program because I wanted to learn frameworks and strategies to better integrate my leadership, management, and entrepreneurial experience with the program’s sustainability and innovation focus. The Sustainable Innovation MBA program at UVM speaks to my goals and values: resisting business-as-usual, having the optimism to see challenges as opportunities, and needing to develop new business models (and market-based solutions) that incorporate sustainability and future-oriented thinking.

What has been your favorite part/element of the program thus far?

My favorite part of the program is the people: my cohort, the professors, and the greater community that surrounds this program. Every day, I’m grateful for the opportunity to spend eight hours in a room learning from people that want to get creative about solving challenging problems.

What are three things someone considering the program should be aware of?

First, be willing to listen…and embrace collaboration. You’ll be put in situations where teamwork is essential to achieving your goals. Remember to listen to your teammates and be willing to collaborate to achieve something greater.

Second, follow the threads that interest you. The year goes by quickly and there’s a lot of information coming your way. It’s easy to fall behind if you don’t stay on top of the work. But don’t forget that you can always dive deeper on the subjects that you’re passionate about. Adopt a learning mindset. And stay curious.

Lastly, be prepared to challenge yourself. Be willing to re-frame your mental models. Ask questions. Be flexible. And get comfortable with uncertainty. It’ll serve you well in the program, but also in your future work.

How has the Sustainable Innovation MBA helped you?

The Sustainable Innovation MBA has helped me learn analytical tools and financial models to help improve and thus transform businesses. This program is a great reminder that people are not only the greatest asset of any business, they’re our greatest tool for innovation and our greatest opportunity to build a better world.

Anything else?

Vermont is a unique place. And this is a unique program. Embrace the magic. And if you’d like to know more about the program, I’m happy to talk. I can be reached via www.kevinhoskins.net