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!

Sustainability 3.0

This post was written by Meryl Schneider ’19. The Sustainable Innovation MBA features various Innovators-in-Residence over the academic year.

According to Innovator-in-Residence Dave Stangis, Chief Sustainability Officer at Campbell Soup Company, organizations go through phases when implementing sustainable practices which he called “Sustainability 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0.” Beginning his career at Intel as an Environmental, Health and Safety External Affairs Manager, Stangis’s initial role transformed into Director of Corporate Sustainability where he spearheaded corporate social responsibility and sustainability strategies in response to growing societal concerns of Intel’s environmental, social and economic impact. From there, Stangis’s growing passion for business and sustainability landed him a job at Campbell’s, where he has developed and led the firm’s widely known CSR, ESG and sustainability strategies.

Stangis explained the three evolutions of sustainability, beginning with phase one, where most companies find themselves today. In this initial phase, companies focus on reducing costs through eco-efficiencies, risk reduction, and strive to do less harm via environmental stewardship. In phase two, sustainable corporate strategy is respected but can be siloed from the strategy team. Organizations adopt triple bottom line (financial, social, environmental) considerations when evaluating their performance to create greater business value. Phase three sounded like the “ah hah” moment where firms make strategic sustainable business decisions that are imbedded in business strategy and anticipate sustainability challenges instead of reacting to them. Businesses strive to challenge their model in 3.0 with objectives to solve complex social, economic and environmental problems as a product of the business itself.

How does Sustainability 3.0 impact Campbell’s and the food industry? For Stangis and Campbell’s, he is undoubtedly striving to be a Sustainability 3.0 company as a major player in the food industry. Stangis argued that ethical and environmental considerations no longer “just” feed into the Campbell’s strategy but are becoming the company’s strategy. As he put it, the potential challenges the food industry is facing are daunting. Climate change is affecting global food systems while the world population is growing at an accelerated rate. Stangis painted the picture for the future of food and how Campbell’s will ultimately predict, adapt, and strategize their business model into evolving into a 3.0 firm. He explained that by utilizing technology, finding long-term resiliency in regenerative agriculture, and by aligning business objectives with the United Nations Sustainable development goals, a company like Campbells will continue to evolve and innovate as the competition for resources intensifies. Stangis embraces the unknown and ultimately understands that disruptive forces are looming. It is how companies choose to react and grow sustainably from the disruption that will count.

Leadership: A Module Two Course, a Seminar-Series, and Some Preconceived Notions

This post was written by Danielle Davis ’19

Leadership has always been a topic that intrigued me; its definition different for each person that encounters it. In module two we had a formal course titled Leading for Sustainable Innovation with Kenneth De Roeck, Ph.D. as well as a seminar series that stretches across all 4 modules with Joe Fusco, accomplished business leader and The Sustainable Innovation MBA Program Director.

Leading with Kenneth was a formal 2-credit course with two exams, some reflection papers, hundreds of slides and a daily-Stromae video. The material, although intuitive, proved to be difficult to memorize. We discussed leaders in the field of organizational leadership, their theories and some student testimonials that fleshed out the concepts learned in class considerably.

The seminar series with Joe is an ongoing two-hour session with Joe, reviewing higher-level concepts with real-life examples from an expert in the field. My desire to learn more about leadership stems from a curiosity to figure people out, find out what motivates them, and learn how to help them become the most productive member of a team that they can be. To me, it was and still is about leading by example, and as an introvert I thought at times doing so silently would suffice.

MBA 302.04: Leading for Sustainable Innovation with Kenneth

Initially the concepts presented in class seemed intuitively foreign – does that even make any sense?! Until stepping into this course, leadership has been woven into various summer jobs and internships, my previous job in the “account leadership” department at an advertising agency, and throughout various sports endeavors. Until this moment, though, I had yet to see leadership concepts formatted in a PowerPoint or scribbled on a whiteboard. It felt counterintuitive initially. My preconceived notions about leadership were that it was a skill learned through experience, and that’s how you made personal improvements. I was skeptical that this was something that could be learned through a text book. Going in, I was more so thinking this would be equivalent to reading a self-help book. I was excited to see how it would go nonetheless.

Leading for Sustainable Innovation ended up being one of my favorite classes. Seeing a familiar concept fleshed out, explained in depth, proved (through student testimonials, personal reflections and long-standing industry theories) to then understand it on a deeper level and be able to apply it in the world around me. It was great. There were several few high-level takeaways from this course, but I keep the following flashcard(s) in my backpack while the others have made their way into the recycling bin.

The 7 qualities of an effective/exemplary leader as told by Kenneth and his collection of theorists:

  • Stress tolerance (being comfortable with uncertainty, proactively cope with stress)
  • Self-confidence (having high self-efficacy about ability to lead others + achieve objectives)
  • General cognitive ability (above average cognitive ability, can process a lot of information + analyze scenarios + opportunities)
  • Energetic-ness (ability to work long hours, passionate, + always “on”)
  • Emotional intelligence ability* (self/other awareness: strong interpersonal skills (e.g., conflict management, empathy))
  • Integrity* (an aspect of trustworthiness, aspect of ethical leadership)
  • Drive (based on purpose and passion, inner motivation to pursue goals + encourage others to pursue their goals, high need for achievement)

*Integrity and Emotional Intelligence being the most important aspects of effective leadership

The Leadership Seminar with Joe

The leading seminar with Joe includes lessons learned through business. It’s a personal testament to the intricacies of leadership from the perspective of someone with a high level of experience. The dos, do-nots, and the as told by Joe Fusco, someone with decades of experience being and dealing with leaders of all kinds. Joe emphasizes the importance of self-reflection in a leadership role. He uses the “Head, Heart, Hands” model to ask the leader to look within. Check in with yourself cognitively (head): have you learned anything, are you frustrated about something? with your body (hands): have you been sleeping well, getting enough exercise? and emotionally (heart): how are you, do you miss someone or is there any conflict on your mind? Until you are secure with these three facets of yourself, it will be difficult to lead others.

Thus far, the optional sessions have included 2-3 broad topics expounded upon throughout our morning together. Joe speaks of his personal experience with good and bad leaders, his experiences as a good leader, and some moments of personal improvement. Substantial takeaways included:

  • Asking others to reflect on strengths and weaknesses
    • Crave feedback and receive it gracefully + with gratitude
  • Impact vs. Intention
  • Head, Heart, Hands

We learned that your intention is less than half the battle. Even if you have the best intentions, it’s likely your impact on others through your words or actions are not exactly how you intended them to be. Check in with your peers early and often. Ask for feedback. Crave feedback. Receive feedback gracefully and with gratitude.

Preconceived Notions Through Work and Athletics

Thus far I’d done some internalizing – who are my favorite leaders and why? What did they do, and why did I work hard for them? This geared my focus to checking in outside of work, making the work and our relationship personal so they would find themselves more willing to work hard for me. I wanted to be someone that they can count on within the bounds of the court, but more importantly off.

At the end of the day, it’s the people that matter. The work and the wins are important, but if your employees don’t want to be there – how high quality can your team’s performance really be?

In the minimal management experience that I do have, I’ve found that my sport experiences came into play perhaps more than anticipated. My leadership style in short:

  • Lead by example
  • Challenge your peers – are they working to their potential? Why/why not
  • Make it personal – establish a relationship, find out what their goals/aspirations are within the work and outside of it
    • Be honest, transparent and loyal

Before starting the program, my impact on others was not truly a consideration, feedback not craved, unintended consequences not whole heartedly acknowledged. A silent, lead-by-example leader may be appropriate in some scenarios, but a takeaway from the previous 2 months in this program has taught me that I can’t rely on this entirely. As learned through feedback inquiries, seminars and course materials my intention will not always be clear with this style and it’s going to be an uncomfortable rise into my potential as a leader. Challenge accepted! 

As the leaders of tomorrow, the next generation of business leaders, disruptors, innovators, and visionary entrepreneur or intrapreneurs, I’m very grateful that leadership has been so intricately intertwined into the SI- MBA program. Reflecting on my time in this program thus far, I realize although we have these formal leadership allotments in our schedules, these concepts are woven into each course seamlessly.

With bigger things on our mind, from climate change, to inclusive hiring, we need to be wary of our impact but more importantly to be proactive and not miss out what can make our break a business venture of any sort: being an effective leader. A leader is constantly learning and iterating to make themselves the most dependable, effective team member. Mastery of this may be unachievable, but there are endless things we can do to improve and iterate on our abilities as leaders.

Photo by mehul dave on Unsplash

Photo by Hudson Hintze on Unsplash

“How Not To Be Stupid”

We’re going to link to this because it’s fascinating and, well, the consequences for business, and business leadership, are significant.

How Not To Be Stupid

Excerpt:

“It took me about a month, and I defined stupidity as overlooking or dismissing conspicuously crucial information. Right? It’s crucial information, like you better pay attention to it. It’s conspicuous, like it’s right in front of your nose and yet you either overlook it or you dismiss it. How not to be stupid, what are the causes of human error—and it took me a couple of months of research just to come up with data points, because most stupidity is ignored or swept under the rug. I studied instances of scientific stupidity and literary stupidity and military stupidity and every other kind of stupidity, as well as two domains that engineer stupidity.”

Read the whole thing, as they say…

Photo by Jack Hamilton 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

The Role of Business in Combatting Homelessness

This post was written by Chris Hynes ’19

Homelessness is a topic that is rarely talked about as a major issue in the realm of business, but in the light of sustainable innovators, there is a major opportunity to make a difference in improving the homeless issue that is rising in America.

With the increasing gap in the distribution of economic wealth in the United State along with the increased cost of living, the poverty line is growing, which is putting the former lower middle-class families in extreme risk of becoming impoverished and economically unstable. If intervention is not taken soon, then there is a huge likelihood that the homeless population in America will increase.

Business has a unique opportunity to aid families and individuals that are suffering from homelessness and empower them in so many ways to move out of their current situation and into a more stable environment. In order to do this, businesses need to take a more social approach and become more socially conscious.

There needs to be more than simply non-profits helping marginalized individuals and families. Non-profits combat homelessness as much as they can, but finding employment opportunities for individuals whose barriers to entry into the workforce are much more skewed than the “normal person” who is applying for a job, is not only difficult, but in most areas, almost impossible. This is due to the fact that a lot of businesses are focused on economic success (which is needed), but lack a genuine social mission.

People generally think that public policy can fix this, but in reality, most government aid is focused on getting people suffering from homelessness off the streets and into housing as fast as possible. Think about it for a second — once a person leaves a homeless shelter and is gifted an apartment, bills begin to pile up. Without a job that is constant enough to provide economic stability, the individual has an extreme risk of falling right back out onto the street. This, in short, is an example of how cruel the poverty cycle is in America.

Now, if there were businesses that were focused on social well-being and provided an empowering job opportunity, then this cycle could be closer to being broken. Having a core competency around inclusive hiring will engage new stakeholders, as well as boost the overall impact that a business can have on a community.  I challenge everyone who is reading this to think more critically about the true impact that their business could be having on a social impact level.

A Conversation with Our International Students

EDITOR’S NOTE: Four members of our current cohort are international students, coming to the program from around the globe, attracted to the program’s perspective on the role business can play in addressing global challenges. Esteban Echeverria, Noelle Nyirenda, Bhargavi Montravadi, and Alexa Steiner sat down recently to talk about coming to Vermont and settling into the challenges of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program. Their bios (along with the entire Class of 2019) can be found here.

The Sustainable Innovation MBA program has been quite the adventure so far. Between hours of class work, group work, readings, guest speakers, and more, the first few months of the program have challenged and inspired us. For a few of us in the 2019 cohort, the experience leading up to the first day of the orientation was an adventure in itself.

Esteban – Costa Rica

Coming from Costa Rica to this program is one of the best decisions I have ever made. I never thought I was going to encounter such a developed and community-conscious city in Burlington. Its citizens, apart from being some of the nicest people I have known, are very aware of social and environmental issues, as well as politically active and full of insights that will make you think about the status quo. From the community-owned grocery stores, to the amazing Lake Champlain, this city has what it needs to be the best place as the home of The Sustainable Innovation MBA.

“The MBA program itself dives in many of the world challenges we currently face, and most of its solutions lie in empowering entrepreneurial projects in developing countries. I recommend this experience to any international student interested in contributing to the economic growth, as well as the environmental and social prosperity, of their countries. The networking and potential connections you will find at this program will be beneficial to your future projects and endeavors.”

Noelle – Zambia

“Moving to Vermont for the program was not without its challenges, and they included but were not limited to: finding accommodation from another continent, completing a visa application in three weeks and moving two chunky pieces of luggage between four flights. But the most difficult part about the whole move was explaining to friends and family where Vermont was, and what it was (there are still some skeptics who aren’t convinced it is an actual state).

“It was easier to explain the existence of the state to some more than others. For instance my father, being an avid political news reader, was aware that the senator was Bernie Sanders, who was also a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president and that the state has some of the more progressive policies when it came to the environment. He was quite proud that his daughter was going back to engineering school to find a way to solve global warming. Unfortunately, I had to explain that I was actually going to business school for an MBA. He is now rather heartbroken that I am not getting a Ph.D. Here I should note that African parents are always up-selling their children when it comes to education.

“Then there was a friend from high school who said she had heard of Vermont, which was a great relief, until she explained what she meant. “It was mentioned in an episode of Scandal,” said she, “Vermont is in Canada! It’s where scandalous American politicians retire to.”  I was confident enough about Vermont’s membership in the United States of America to correct the former statement, however, I could offer no opinion on the accuracy of the latter.”

Bhargavi – India

“Fortunately, I didn’t have the problem of explaining where Vermont is to my family and friends like Noelle, because I was already living in Vermont. But, when I was moving from Boston, I received  lot of questions on where Vermont was so, I took the easy route and told them that it’s near Boston. So now they must be thinking that Vermont is somewhere in Massachusetts close to Boston.

“I always dreamed of doing an MBA. But whenever I tried to pursue my dream, an enticing job offer drifted me away. After my engineering, a job offer in Infosys and in Boston, it was the job offer at Deloitte. Not sure if I chose the program or the program chose me; I am elated to be in The Sustainable Innovation MBA program and enjoying every moment of it. ‘The amalgamation of my career initiative MBA with my passion of integrating sustainability into the businesses/daily life was a dream come true’- This is a statement from my Statement Of Purpose, a part of the application process. As any middle-class Indian family, mine was delighted and excited that I will be doing MBA in the USA.  Still, I was pretty apprehensive about sitting in an American classroom, but after Module 1, It felt like I knew Kalkin 110* from my previous life.

“My initial thoughts were that the American education system is so different to Indian education system. Yes! They are different, but what brings us together is the quest for knowledge, care for people, and responsibility towards planet. There are odds of living in a different continent – 8,000 miles away from homeland across 2 oceans and keeping fingers crossed, checking Twitter for new immigration policies. But, the global potential for this program, especially its importance in developing countries, makes it appealing to any world citizen.”

Alexa – Canada

“Here are my Top 5 things to know as a Canadian studying in Burlington:

“One. The school helps so much with the process of getting a student visa.

“Two. It’s hard to find a place to live in Burlington — start your search early!

“Three. Be prepared for your American classmates to make fun of your accent and your hockey team.

“Four. Try to tame your politeness — sometimes it’s okay to just talk without raising your hand.

“Five. Everyone in Vermont is friendly and warm — even if you’re far away, it still feels a lot like home.”

Esteban, Noelle, Bhargavi, and Alexa: If you are a prospective international student reading this blog post, please reach out to us. We would love to discuss our experiences so far, what it took to get here and why choosing UVM and The Sustainable Innovation MBA program is a great decision.

The Cost of Disruption — Loss of Community?

This post was written by Travis Smith ’19

Improving efficiency for consumers through digitization is one of the main sources of disruption and innovation within the marketplace. The goal – reduce the amount of time waiting for something or reduce the need to go somewhere for something. I believe this is rooted in a positive notion of improving the convenience of people’s’ lives so they can go about their day in a fashion they so choose. However, it may be time to look at what we are streamlining in order to make life more convenient – community. Losing those small conversations with strangers at the store might make life more streamlined, but the loss may also have the unintended consequence of chipping away at community.

It’s never been easier to order goods, food/groceries and socialize without ever leaving one’s home. As a society, we are moving more towards a world where we don’t have to do anything or go anywhere that we do not want to. Yet, according to the Washington Post, the US has consistently fallen in world happiness rankings and currently sits at 18th place. Furthermore, Americans are losing touch with their communities. Pew Research found that only 24% of urban residents know all or most of their neighbors; this is alarming as our society becomes more urbanized. Here we find a paradox. We are more connected and life is more convenient than ever, but somehow, we know less people directly around us and our happiness levels are falling.

The question should be asked, are there diminishing returns on efficiency as there are with wealth? What will we do with the extra time gained? Yes, our society went through a similar transition with the rise of big box retailers, but at least we were still going to a physical place to interact with physical people. Now there is no store with people, but a website with a chatbot.

One surprising example of a community oriented disruptive technology is Pokemon Go. The technology of augmented reality has upended the mobile gaming industry. Yet, Pokemon Go uses the augmented reality tech to bring gamers together in a physical space as users must make friends and interact with others in order to advance in the game – thus, building community. The game even has a once a month “community day” where users are encouraged to meet up at public parks for several hours and play together.

There doesn’t need to be a binary choice between technology and community, but As entrepreneurs and future business leaders we should ask ourselves – will my product or service help build community or chip away at it? As consumers, will we replace our time spent at a post office, grocery store, or restaurant with other time spent building community?

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.