Practicum Scope Pitch Day!

The Sustainable Innovation MBA Class of 2018 is entering the home stretch.

On May 11, the cohort, faculty, and sponsoring companies gathered on UVM’s campus for what has become an inspiring demonstration of how the students have “put it all together.” Students spent the day “pitching” the scope and framework of their practicum projects — a capstone of The Sustainable Innovation MBA experience. Practicums call upon all the skills, insights, experiences, and learning the students have acquired over the past nine months.

The three-month practicum project is a full-time, hands-on experiential engagement with either existing companies or new ventures from the US and around the world focused on real challenges and opportunities in sustainable entrepreneurship. Practicum projects are composed of teams of 2-3 Sustainable Innovation MBA students each. Projects run from May until August, and culminate in a final report and presentation right before graduation.

Students pitched scoping for projects at companies such as Keurig Green Mountain, Griffith Foods, Essilor, Seventh Generation, and Caterpillar.

The deliverable for the practicum is a detailed and comprehensive business/action plan for the host organization.

Wishcycling: What Really Happens To The Stuff In The Blue Bin

This post was written by Sarah Healey ’18

What happened to that plastic bottle you threw in the recycling? Do you really have to rinse out that milk jug before putting it into the recycling? A little left-over yogurt doesn’t make a difference? Can you recycle plastic bags?

If you are like a lot of people you probably don’t, and you hope or wish that the items you put in the bin get recycled. But this “wishcycling” can actually do more harm than just throwing contaminated or non-recyclable items away. On a recent site visit to Casella Waste Systems‘ Charlestown recycling facility in Massachusetts, I learned a lot about what happens to products after they go into the blue bin.

At the recycling facility we visited, contamination was visible throughout our entire tour. Film plastic bags clogged the machines, small items fell through the cracks, and foreign metal objects damaged equipment. All of these items are not allowed in the zero sort recycling bins, but still manage to find their way in and wreak havoc.

During our tour of the recycling facility we learned more about the challenges that recycling facilities face. One of the major challenges is food contamination in the recycling stream. This can range from unwashed containers to cans still full of food. This has a massive impact on a recycling facility because items are sorted using all sorts of gadgets. To sort plastics the facility uses optic readers that read the type of plastic and send out puff of air to sort plastic. Other parts of the facility use things like magnets to sort material. Because so much of this system is automated and is carefully calibrated to deal with clean materials contaminated items don’t make it through the system.

When non-recyclable items don’t make it through the system they are sent to the landfill or to an incinerator. This includes all of those small plastics, random pieces of metal, plastic bags, and more. This is why it is really important to check with your local recycler to see what products they take in the blue bin and which have special instructions.

The trouble with recycling doesn’t stop at the facility though. The bundles produced by recycling facilities still have some level of contamination. The largest buyer of recycling was China, but they have closed their doors to recycling with contamination levels above 0.5%, which is beyond the technological capability of any recycling facility today.

Biomimicry: Learning from Nature’s Innovation

This post was written by Julia Lyon ’18

On a day in April, The Sustainable Innovation MBA students started a particular morning considering the question: What is your favorite organism? With answers ranging from sea turtles to willow trees, to ants and fungus, we began to explore the organisms in nature that intrigue and inspire us.

Mike Dupee, Lecturer in The Sustainable Innovation MBA program and a Certified Biomimicry Professional, introduced us to biomimicry, which is the innovation approach centered on the “conscious emulation of nature’s genius.” As humans strive towards innovation – doing things faster, better, more creatively, and at lower cost – looking more closely at the natural world around us shows that this is one of the oldest processes on the planet. The plants, animals, and microbes that have survived the 3.8 billion years of our planet are the ultimate innovators and as businesses seek to solve problems and develop new strategies, there is much that can be learned from them.

“There are three core concepts of biomimicry: Emulate, Reconnect, and Ethos.”

There are three core concepts of biomimicry: Emulate, Reconnect, and Ethos. Emulation means that biomimicry is centered on learning from nature, not just copying it. Nature’s design can be learned from and adapted, and biomimicry is not simply using an exact design copy as found in nature. Reconnecting is based on the notion that biomimicry in practice will be better if you have a connection with nature and a relationship with the environment. Ethos asks the simple question: what kind of work is worth doing? This is our respect for the environment and the responsibility to our fellow species. Biomimicry in practice also centers on six central life principles that are lessons from nature based on design. These range from being resource efficient to adapting to changing conditions.

There are many fascinating examples of how businesses have used biomimicry to create innovative designs. One such example is Sharket Technologies, which was created when the U.S. Navy was in search of a solution to prevent aquatic life from attaching to ship hulls; the only solution that had been found thus far was a toxic paint. It was realized, however, that sharks do not have the same problem of organisms attaching to their skin and researchers took a closer look at sharkskin under a microscope. It was found that the shape and pattern of sharkskin made it resistant to algae and barnacles attaching themselves. This insight was developed into a special material that has been used to create a commercial coating for boats as well as sterile surfaces for hospitals and laboratories that reduce bacteria growth.

During the workshop, student groups were given different organisms with innovative features to examine and design potential commercial uses. With organisms like the nautilus, red pine, and the abalone, and students designed eco-friendly adhesives for snowboard manufacturing, fire-retardant clothing, and sturdier bike helmets.

Though biomimicry is not a new concept, its approach can be applied to help solve sustainability challenges and improve life on our planet for generations to come.

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

Getting to Know the Class of 2018: Madeline Brumberg

Prior to joining The Sustainable Innovation MBA program, Madeline Brumberg ’18  spent her career in the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) field and worked as an analyst for both the private and the public sector.

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

I chose to attend The Sustainable Innovation MBA program because I want to find real-world solutions for the social and environmental issues we face today. I see deficiencies in the private, public and NGO worlds that are preventing each of these sectors from properly addressing these issues. I think that business has the most opportunity to transform itself to become an engine for change in the world. I hope to be a change agent in the business world to leverage its power for good.

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

I have loved the leadership and teamwork component of this program. I was not expecting this to be such a big focus of the program but I am eternally grateful that it is. I am so excited by it because companies are nothing without their employees so to make the best companies, you need to make your employees the best. I am excited to be gaining the skill set to help employees reach their full potential.

What are three things someone considering the program should be aware of?
1. There is a huge focus on leadership and you will learn more about yourself than you knew was possible.
2. This program is not greenwashing. Sustainability is truly at the heart of the program and we are reminded of it at every turn.
3. Community is a central tenant of this program and it will serve you well. You will be supported by your classmates and you will support them throughout the year. It will be frustrating at times but ultimately you will be in it together.
How has the Sustainable Innovation MBA helped you?
The Sustainable Innovation MBA program has helped me to see a future in business that is meaningful and has impact. It is a very fuzzy path that I am beginning to see but it is a path.

In Our Own Backyard: The Invention2Venture Conference

This post was written by Lauren Emenaker ’18

On April 5th, 2018 the University of Vermont hosted the 13th annual Invention2Venture Conference for entrepreneurs, inventors and students alike. The conference focused on how to finance, protect and commercialize inventions, as well as how to thrive in the New England tech world.

The conference kicked off with Dr. Richard Galbriath, Vice President for Research at UVM, and Corine Farewell, Director of UVM Innovations, presenting awards to a number of university innovators. Eleven patents were issued in the past year from an improved cardiac pacemaker to an energy transfer system. It was exciting to see what technology is being created on our own campus!

Next, Dawn Berry, CEO and president of Luna DNA and UVM alum ‘96, gave an inspiring keynote entitled “The DNA of Authentic Leadership.” She detailed three qualities that leaders need: credibility, logic and emotion. Credibility is necessary to show trustworthiness and integrity. Logic is necessary to show strategic thinking and reasoning. Emotion is necessary to show that someone is human — full of excitement, anxiety and confidence. Berry then went on to explain her view of authentic leaders. They are genuine and have strong sense of self. They lead with their hearts and show empathy towards others. They are mission driven and focused on results that will change the world for the better. Authentic leadership fosters diversity which in turn enhances businesses and their practices. She argued that someone cannot call themselves a leader; only other people can call that person a leader.

Finally, Barry shared her own experiences with the audience, including her latest start-up venture. In 2017, she co-founded Luna DNA, “the first and only genomic and medical research database that is owned by its community.” Based on the belief that people should be treated as research partners and not just data subjects, the platform allows for the public to share their genomic information to further medical research. Established as a public benefit corporation, LunaDNA hopes to enable the medical community.

Participants of the conference were then given the opportunity to attend three round table discussions of their choosing. Discussions were held about prototyping, financing, pitching, legal resources, biomedical technologies and lessons learnt from start-ups in Vermont. I had the pleasure of attending the following three sessions: Concept to Prototype, Corporate Legal Necessities for Your Start-Up, and Intellectual Property Primer. The following themes emerged in my discussions:

  • Try and fail often
  • Run the company like you are going to sell it later
  • Protect your intellectual property
  • Do what you enjoy, hire someone else to do the pieces you don’t enjoy

After the final round table session, attendees were encouraged to network with those they had met throughout the afternoon. Advice was given, business cards were exchanged, and ideas were sparked. From the presentation of UVM research awards to networking over drinks and appetizers, I felt fortunate to be a part of such a forward-thinking community. This is an event you won’t want to miss in 2019.

Getting to Know the Class of 2018: Ariella Pasackow

Ariella Pasackow ’18 left her previous position as Program Officer for RefugePoint to join The Sustainable Innovation MBA program.  She was interviewed by Isabel Russell, an undergraduate at UVM.

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

I grew up in Vermont, but built my career out-of-state and overseas, so The Sustainable Innovation MBA was the perfect bridge to return home and grow my professional network in Burlington. With a background in nonprofit administration and international development, I wanted to gain business tools and frameworks for growing sustainable enterprises and inclusive company cultures. I am passionate about social justice issues, gender equity, and refugee resettlement in Vermont, and plan to work in greater Burlington for the foreseeable future.

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

I have learned just as much from my peers as I have from my professors, and am so grateful for my cohort community. Unlike more traditional MBAs, we have cultivated an incredibly supportive learning environment, where all different types of learners can thrive. By building trust, respect, and strong interpersonal relationships, we have been able to communicate effectively through periods of stress, confusion, and anxiety. We cheered each other on before tests and presentations, and made sure to keep the the classroom energy high despite too many hours indoors.

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

REST. Do whatever you need to do to take time off before the program starts, and allow yourself the time and space to transition. Classes start Day 1, and orientation is no breeze! Whether you are coming from undergrad or a career, moving across the country, or commuting from down the street, take time to rest and rejuvenate before the program starts. You will be nonstop for twelve months.

REFLECT. Taking one year out of your career to be a full-time student is an incredible privilege and opportunity. Don’t let the weeks slip away bogged down in the daily grind without reminding yourself why you are here, what you want to learn, and where you want to put your energy. You can’t do everything, but you can commit to prioritize, plan, and proactively work towards your personal and professional goals. The Sustainable Innovation MBA students have shared values, but often very different expectations for during and after the program. Celebrate this, and learn from each other.

PRIORITIZE TEAMS. Every module, you will be assigned a small group to work with for eight weeks on every class assignment and deliverable. Teamwork is both the most challenging and most rewarding part of The Sustainable Innovation MBA experience. It will be fun, frustrating, time consuming, and hilarious. You will design and create products you would never think of alone, and test processes and procedures on how to best work together, designate roles, delegate, and download. You will learn how to brainstorm without judgement, make decisions under stress, and maximize the quantity and quality of your work despite minimal time and resources. Individual assignments are few and far between, and readings can always wait until later. Your grad school success is dependent upon the success of your team. Cherish them.

How has the Sustainable Innovation MBA helped you?

The Sustainable Innovation MBA has introduced me to more people, ideas, and resources in the last eight months than I could have ever imagined. I have gained a vocabulary and confidence to ask questions and solve problems I had only thought about through a nonprofit lens. It has shown me the immense value of my previous work experience, and the endless possibilities for leadership, growth, and opportunities in sustainable business with a triple bottom line approach (people, profit, planet).  The Sustainable Innovation MBA could have not come at a better time in my life as I seek to pivot into for profit ventures and social entrepreneurship. I am immensely grateful for my peers, professors, and alumni network that has grown to create a true community.

Getting to Know the Class of 2018: Julia Lyon

Julia Lyon left her previous position as an Internal Communications Manager  for Enel Green Power to join The Sustainable Innovation MBA program. She was interviewed by Isabel Russell, an undergraduate at UVM.

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

When I was an undergraduate student at UVM and took my first course on corporate social responsibility (CSR), I had an epiphany. I knew that I wanted to create environmental and social good using the power of business and that earning an MBA was likely in my future. I chose to attend The Sustainable Innovation MBA for several reasons. I was drawn to the one-year accelerated program, the program’s holistic approach to incorporating sustainability in all coursework, and the opportunity to return to beautiful Vermont.

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

My favorite part of the program has been getting to know my peers. We’re a group with a diverse set of backgrounds and interests and I find that I’m continuously learning from my classmates. With the amount of team assignments required throughout the coursework (there are a lot!), you get to know your classmates very quickly.

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

  1. The leadership component of The Sustainable Innovation MBA curriculum. If developing strong leadership capabilities is of interest to a potential student – I recommend this program. We have multiple leadership-focused courses, a year-long leadership seminar, and many opportunities to connect with local business leaders to learn from their experiences.
  2. The amount of team collaboration that’s involved. At various points in the program you’ll have as many of three different teams that you complete projects and coursework with. This is a great opportunity to learn from one another that really develops your time management, communication, and collaboration skills.
  3. Practicum projects. These summer consulting projects are a way to apply the skills you’ve developed over the year, so it’s important to explore early on what you’re looking to gain from your practicum experience.

How has The Sustainable Innovation MBA helped you?

The Sustainable Innovation MBA has helped me explore my quantitative skills in finance and accounting and made me realize that I do really enjoy finance. The leadership component of the program has also helped me understand the importance of leadership of any business and think more about my future impact as a leader.

Lessons and Insights from the Climate Cap Summit

This post was written by Shari Siegel ’18

Four members of The Sustainable Innovation MBA Class of 2018 — Ian Dechow, Andria Denome, Kaitlin Sampson and Shari Siegel — recently headed south to attend the inaugural Climate Cap Summit at Duke University. The Summit was a chance for our travelers to listen to and exchange views with professional investors, bankers, scientists, financial strategists and advisors, corporate executives, academics and MBA students from other schools on a variety of business, finance, political, and social issues related to climate change and other sustainability challenges.

The program opened with a keynote presentation by Scott Jacobs, co-founder of Generate Capital, and a conversation between Jacobs and Greg Dalton from Climate One.  Jacobs posited that the challenge of “clean tech” is not so much about invention as it is about infrastructure: energy, land, water, food and clean air are critical and are made available through infrastructure, which requires substantial capital up-front. Thus, while there are hundreds of infrastructure projects that it might be in economic actors’ rational self-interest to pursue, it is often difficult to get these projects funded.

For the owners/developers of the technology, the “Silicon Valley” funding model (a small investment in a small, early stage company with the potential for rapid growth at exponential returns) does not fit: these companies have proven (potentially improved) technology that requires substantial investment that will yield long-term steady, but not exponential returns. For the potential clean tech customers, investing in a large capital project with substantial up-front costs that turn what was an operating expense into a capital expenditure is a difficult decision to make, especially in the current capital markets environment where there is so much focus on short-term results rather than long-term sustainability.

The solution proposed by Jacobs and his co-founder at Generate, Jigar Shah, is to provide “infrastructure as a service” using project finance structures under which independent developers build and operate infrastructure owned by a special purpose company financed by Generate. It is, in many ways, a macro version of successful strategies studied by students in The Sustainable Innovation MBA in connection with bringing solar power, mobile phone service, and other technology to the base of the pyramid.

The opening discussion was followed by a discussion between Truman Semans, founder and chief executive officer of Element Strategies and Matt Arnold, global head of Sustainable Finance at JPMorgan Chase regarding environmental, social and governance (“ESG”) investing, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (“SDGs”) and risk management.

Attracting private investment in projects related to the SDGs requires reducing risk for the providers of capital. Among the strategies to further risk reduction is better (more transparent and standardized) disclosure relating to ESG matters.  The speakers noted the ESG disclosure scores promulgated by Bloomberg.  Another risk-reduction strategy is the one put forward in the Blended Finance, Better World discussion paper released for discussion by the World Economic Forum in 2017.[1]  It proposes using multilateral development banks to provide public money which can attract investment of private capital into major infrastructure projects in the developing world to meet the SDGs. Estimates are that investment of approximately US$6 trillion is needed annually to meet the SDGs.

Later panels returned to the subject of assessing ESG factors as part of fundamental long-term risk management.  While in the early days of ESG investing, such a strategy was thought to reflect a willingness to eschew higher returns in exchange for desired impacts, it is becoming increasingly clear that investors ignore environmental, social and governance aspects of a company’s operations at their peril and incorporating ESG factors into an investment strategy likely leads to better long-term performance.  As Ron Temple, head of US Equities and co-head of Multi-Asset Investing at Lazard Asset Management, said, it is “simply irresponsible” not to look at ESG factors in evaluating risk.

Elizabeth Lewis of Terra Alpha Investments, Mark McDivitt of State Street Corporation and Kate Gordon of the Paulson Institute agreed, particularly when talking about climate change. According to the 2017 Global Risks Report published by the World Economic Forum, extreme weather events and natural disasters are two of the top 5 global risks in terms of likelihood to occur and impact; water crises and failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation are also in the top 5 global risks in terms of impact.[2]  The key to talking about business and climate change is to understand the pricing of climate change risk.

Fundamental risk and opportunity presented by ESG factors, especially those relating to climate destabilization, was hammered home again in a later presentation by Tiiram Sunderland of Bain & Co, who noted that climate change represents the biggest issue affecting business today.  He also noted that unless sustainability is embedded in the core of a business school’s curriculum, the school is failing its students. 

This last point was, of course, happily endorsed by The Sustainable Innovation MBA students.

[1]           See https://www.weforum.org/reports/blended-finance-toolkit.

[2]           See http://reports.weforum.org/global-risks-2017/