An Industry in Shake-Out Mode

This post was written by Juan Adorno ’20. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

All I’m saying is simply this: that all life is interrelated, that somehow we’re caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny.” — Martin Luther King Jr.

From Carhart’s landmark 1997 study on mutual funds that found evidence of lack of skills across fund managers[1], to the 2008 Global Great Recession that rattled people’s pockets around the globe, driving historical levels of mistrust in institutions, (particularly government and financial services!), add on the clear signs of the times of the retail investments business: extreme pricing pressures, oversupply, commoditization, and overall industry consolidation, and what we have is — an industry at a crossroads, an industry in shake-out mode! The Active Retail Investments Business is at a turning point! I’d be remiss not to fully disclose that the recent Franklin Templeton acquisition of Legg Mason Asset Management sparked my motivation to free flow some industry thoughts, provided I spent most of the past decade bringing myself up in the business from inside those walls.

In describing the signs of the times, future business history textbooks will reference Larry Fink’s letter to CEOs, A Fundamental Reshaping of Finance [2], as a demarcation point toward a twisty-turny long-winded path toward Sustainable Capitalism. The letter promotes the ideas of long-term value creation and sense of purpose: climate risk as investment risk; the importance of transparency and accountability; and, improved disclosures for shareholders. That “awareness is rapidly changing, and […] we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance.”[2]

Ubiquitous in nature, in the same way that sustainable investing has emerged as a major trend in the investments space, renewable energies will continue to increase their share of the energy mix [4] as electric vehicles will increasingly make their way on roads [5], and healthier foods will increasingly take share of dinner plates[6]—all interconnected developments that are a part of a wave of consciousness: A Great Awakening. Albeit nature works slowly, demographics, globalization and technology have seemingly spurred an emphatic spark in humanity [3].

“Sustainability,” (in the broadest sense of the word) is a thread that binds the retail investments business with the whole of humanity: a truth best channeled as unlocked blue ocean opportunities for long-term, multi-dimensional value creation. An idea to stimulate the inherent social purpose for corporations. Like concepts such as money and capitalism, it all starts with an idea, like that which says that we are inextricably interconnected to each other and this one planet we all call home. In this spirit, and in tribute to Black History Month, I’ll conclude with words from Martin Luther King Jr.: Commencement address to Oberlin College in June 1965

“All I’m saying is simply this: that all life is interrelated, that somehow we’re caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.T his is the interrelated structure of reality.”

Works Cited

[1] Carhart, Mark. On Persistance in Mutual Fund Performance. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/j.1540-6261.1997.tb03808.x (1997)

[2] Fink, Larry. A Fundamental Reshaping of Finance. https://www.blackrock.com/corporate/investor-relations/larry-fink-ceo-letter (2020)

[3] Rifkin, Jeremy. The Emphatic Civilization. https://www.ted.com/talks/jeremy_rifkin_the_empathic_civilization (2010)

[4] Nyquist, Scott; Manyika, James. Renewable Energy: Evolution, not revolution. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/oil-and-gas/our-insights/renewable-energy-evolution-not-revolution (2016)

[5] DiChristopher Tom. Electric Vehicles will grow from 3M to 125M by 2030, International Energy Agency Forecasts. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/05/30/electric-vehicles-will-grow-from-3-million-to-125-million-by-2030-iea.html (2018)

[6] Renner, Barb; Ringquist, Jack. Capitalizing on the shifting consumer value equation. https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/consumer-business/articles/us-food-industry-consumer-trends-report.html (2015)

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

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

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


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

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

So, what’s the problem? 

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

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

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

Sources

My Goals, and Life, After The Sustainable Innovation MBA

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

I remember I was 10, when I watched the cartoon network show ‘Captain Planet’ for the first time. It was a show about teenagers who would team up with Captain Planet to keep the spirit of the earth (‘Gaia’) safe. Eerily, little did I imagine that I would live to see the destruction that was only imagined in a cartoon show, come to life. I started my journey at 21, with a nonprofit for animals. It was the most pristine love I could have ever imagined. As life went on, I pondered being another version of ‘Captain Planet’ and 10 years, and millions of happy animals later I hope to expand the course of this odyssey.

The influential driving forces of everything I do in my life stem from uplifting the distanced and forgotten in our world. To me, at this juncture, the environment including waterbodies, land and air combined with the quickly disappearing animals of today are of immediate concern. I am especially passionate about aiding frontier markets with sustainable business solutions addressing their immediate environmental problems using environmental business and sciences. I am passionate about effective solutions that are about more than band-aid remedies, a panacea for most difficulties if you will. This includes creating business solutions for developing countries that especially address their environmental strains.

This is especially important as developing countries struggle as their environmental degradation is a result of the last priority given to it. Countries like India place such a high importance on the development of their economies, that this often comes at the cost of environmental disregard. The lack of facilities for waste processing, soil health, water health and air quality are quandaries we are all too familiar with. The existing large corporations do very well on empathetic marketing to get their products in these markets – however rarely ponder the consequences of their products. The lack of knowledge, education and concern for the immediate environment and the widespread effects of an impaired ecosystem cause relentless practices, that destroy the planet far more rapidly in these places.

Since economy and survival is at the center of these communities, I plan to permeate through these issues, in ways that are coveted. To introduce a way that is sustainable and utilizes environmental gains as well is a triumph in my eyes. From environmental impact measurement, strategy, finance and restoration; I hope to beget measures that will gradually change the way business is done. More specifically I intend to do this by working within consulting companies before venturing out with my own consultancy, as well as business incubator a few years down the line. In this way I plan to start working with corporations, businesses and entrepreneurs to introduce business in these markets. The intentions of these businesses while economy driven of course, will not be to create new markets, but instead disrupt current markets and gain existing market share. Additionally, authentic intentions and shared value creation will be at the core of these solutions.

Whether with renewable energy, soil sequestration or pollution control practices – the businesses I will work with will combine environmental engineering, science and business. The merit of being able to affect all three facets of environmental well being in this way not only widens the scope of my practice but also satisfies my altruistic tendencies. I was often told growing up, that I need to hone my focus on one thing, and that I cannot fix everything in the world. While adult life has made me utterly aware of the fallacies of my childish fantasies, I think I have found a way to address this dilemma.

At the core of it all, I believe that we are transient beings in a home that we stay in for a little while. Our gracious host is currently sick and needs more from us. I am hoping I can influence enough businesses and people across the world to join this movement and that one day my aspiration to be ‘Captain Planet’ will be redundant.

Regenerative Agriculture: A Case for Glocalization Agriculture Practices

This post was written by Bavin Balakrishnan ’20. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

It is common knowledge that carbon emissions is a major contributor to the climate impact crisis. It is even more common to hear about the reduction of carbon emissions to mitigate the impact.

Photo by Roman Synkevych on Unsplash

What about the carbon already in the atmosphere? A common solution to develop carbon sinks is to plant trees, which is a great start to replace the deforested area. However, as the population grows and more land is converted into cities, we need to re-assess the previously suggested solution.

During our first semester in the SI-MBA program we were introduced to the following equation regarding human impact to frame what factors affect this developed by Commoner, Ehrlich, Holdren[1]:

As established earlier, the population is expected to continue rising with estimates of world population reaching 8.5 billion by 2030.[2] Similarly, affluence (or consumption) of people will continue to increase as developing countries are increasing their GDPs, which is commonly used as a proxy to judge consumption. Finally, technology represents the resources required to produce the units of consumption, thus increases with affluence.

So, what’s the solution? Simple algebra can reframe this equation to our benefit and reduce the human impact:

This equation represents that using our resources efficiently can significantly deter our impact. A resource that we are currently failing to make more efficient is the soil. Carbon naturally belongs in the ground and is the prime factor that creates an efficient ecosystem within the soil.

https://www.thegreendirectory.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/RegenerativeAgrictulture-1024x818.jpg
Source: Graphic produced by General Mills, 2018

The image identifies fundamental concepts behind regenerative agriculture, however, these holistic practices are not currently applied by majority of farmers as they believe it is not financially feasible. A common misconception in the farming community, especially within developing countries, is that monoculture farming will generating the highest revenues. Though this may have been true in the early days, with strong soil health and support from large enterprises such as Monsanto, those practices have depleted the soil of its natural benefits.[3]

Contrary to the misconception, those farmers who implemented regenerative agriculture practices have rejuvenated their land, which paid dividends through higher crop yields and greater soil health for future generations.

A caveat in this solution, it needs to be applied at a local level. On the other hand, the food industry is a globalized market with customer demands for exotic foods continuously increasing.[4] In order to deal with this supply short, the solution is glocalize the food supply chain, which refers to the production of native crops at a local level to meet the demands of global scale. This requires co-ordination between farmers so that an individual doesn’t face the burden / risks associated with monoculture production.

This is my case to create a platform for farmers in their respective countries to the power of agriculture back in their hands and regenerate their land, reduce the human impact, and provide hope for future generations.


The Ethics of Reducing Emissions

This post was written by Jay Kulkarni ’20. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

2019 may go down as the year that the world began to “wake up to the climate emergency.” Inspired by climate activists such as Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion, the non-violent youth climate movement became a global phenomenon that starkly highlighted the apathy and inaction of the political class in most developing and transitioning economies.

Photo by veeterzy on Unsplash

Despite some recalcitrance amongst those aged 55 and older, acceptance of climate science is spreading. Climate change is a scientific fact, and it’s happening now. It will unpredictably impact ecosystems and biodiversity, thereby affecting people who depend on their environment for ecosystem services such pest/ disease control and provisions such as food and water. As the world warms, diseases will spread. Heatwaves will become deadlier. Coastlines will erode. Species will die out.

We must confront our temporally-, spatially-, and ecologically-distributed responsibility to individuals, nations, future generations, and the other species with which we share our planet. Scientists accept that reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is a requirement to keep the global temperature increase to below 2°C in keeping with the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. The disagreements now stem from what to do next.

One common refrain from political leaders — like Donald Trump — opposed to the Paris climate targets is that some countries are disproportionately expected to do the heavy lifting of reducing emissions, which is seen as a threat to their economies. The US has stated that it will withdraw from the Paris agreement on November 4, 2020, one day after the 2020 US Presidential election. However, this argument ignores the global and intergenerational dimensions of climate change; even though China has higher annual emissions at present, the US has historically contributed the most GHGs in total. The US, along with other GHG polluters, are therefore attempting to “pass most of the burden of their activities to people in other parts of the world and the future in unfair ways.”

The other ethical phenomenon at play is the tragedy of the commons: as governments and industries act selfishly and short-sightedly, they “deplete a freely available shared resource, against each of the parties’ long-term interest.” Most GHG polluters face no penalties, while the public pay the costs of pollution and climate change through loss of ecosystem services and impacts to health and well-being. In addition, there are skewed vulnerabilities at play, where the countries whose emissions levels have historically been the lowest are those that may be amongst the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

It is therefore imperative that large economies acknowledge their proportionate culpability for the effects of climate change, as well as their responsibility to the peoples and ecosystems affected. In addition, we must absorb the lessons of indigenous people around the world, whose observations of the dynamic equilibrium of natural ecosystems have given them an “equanimity and optimism” to better adapt to the coming ecological and societal disruptions wrought by climate change.

Family Business, Entrepreneurship and the Base of the Pyramid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

This post was written by Allison Baxter ’20. Connect with Allison on LinkedIn.

The term ‘impostor syndrome’ has been tossed around a bit since we started this program a little over five months ago. In a program that is as committed to sustainability and making the world a better place as The Sustainable Innovation MBA, it is natural to wonder if one is ‘green-enough’ or has the right type of professional experience to merit being in such a lauded, innovative program.

Class of ’20 planting trees during orientation.

I am speaking here from personal experience. I came to this program after five years of working in the energy industry – and not the renewable kind, mind you. An internship recommended by my accounting professor senior year of college brought me to the energy industry and, though I knew it was not something I was passionate about, great bosses, lovely coworkers, and personal success in what I was doing got me stuck in a rut I could not figure out how to get out of. Also, though I have always been passionate about sustainability, I was never sure how to contribute in a meaningful way professionally. When I came across the SI-MBA program, I viewed it as an opportunity to point me in a new direction and help me combine my personal and professional goals and passions.

Coming into this program, after reading the bios of my fellow classmates and meeting them during orientation week, I was extremely intimidated by the 29 people I was surrounded by. I was in awe of their numerous, amazing accomplishments and how many of their backgrounds reflected a strong commitment to sustainability. It felt as though they were so much more deserving than I of being in a program that integrates innovation and sustainability into every facet of its curriculum.

But the problem of sustainability is too big to be solved by any one person. The more people joining the conversation, taking action, and looking to solve the problem the better. Impostor syndrome does not serve anyone in the sustainability space. Regardless of what is on your resume, no one is too inadequate or undeserving to contribute to the cause. Every person here matters. 

Therefore, while I am indeed in remarkable company, I have come to accept that I do deserve my place here. Making the choice to be part of this truly special program was the first step on the path of many towards using my professional toolkit to ensure a more sustainable future. I bring my own unique perspective to this group, which is something I have come to find so valuable in this program. Each of us 30 individuals have wildly different backgrounds and experiences, which enriches our joint learning experience immensely. In a program like this – one that is preparing us to address the most pressing problems of today in sustainable and innovative ways – it is the bringing together of people with diverse voices, backgrounds, and perspectives that we need most.

Embracing Plastic(ity)

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

Plastic.

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

Photo by Jonathan Chng on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the Twilight of Winter

This post was written by Lauren Bass ’20. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

During my lunch hour recently, I skied Goat, one of Mt. Mansfield’s famed Front Four trails.  For a few precious moments before making my descent, I gazed across Stowe Mountain Resort (where I am very proudly employed) to admire stunning Spruce Peak.  In the distance, she glistened a triumphant, sparkling white thanks to a fresh coat of snow.  Sadly, there is strong evidence that this vista will become increasingly rare in the future.

Photo by Lauren Bass ’20

The snow sports industry in New England may have just hit middle age.  That’s according to reports that predict only four out of 14 major ski destinations in New England will be viable by 2100 due to warmer, shorter winters. 

Stowe Mountain Resort, the historically rich and iconic “Ski Capital of the East,” will need to rely heavily on snowmaking if it’s going to survive.  Stowe (as the resort is colloquially known and not to be confused with the town where it’s located) is comprised of Vermont’s tallest summit, Mt. Mansfield, and it’s neighboring little sister, Spruce Peak.  Having just celebrated its 87th year in operation, Stowe may have about as many years left before climate change profoundly impacts one of America’s most storied ski destinations.

Stowe has nurtured and inspired some of the greatest achievements and economic developments in the ski and snowboard industry.  Its first trails were cut on Mt. Mansfield by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933.  A year later, the Mt. Mansfield Ski Patrol was founded, the precursor of what we now know as the National Ski Patrol.  And by 1940, Sepp Ruschp, the legendary Austrian ski instructor who also coached UVM’s and Norwich University’s ski teams, established the Mt. Mansfield Ski School at Stowe, which is still one of the most highly regarded training programs in the country.  For those who enjoy snowboarding, the late Jake Burton Carpenter took turns on Mansfield and will be remembered as one of the Town of Stowe’s most notable and beloved residents with his wife and business partner, Donna.  Today, Burton Snowboards is one of Vermont’s most celebrated brands with a global presence spanning across the Americas, Europe, and Asia.

Meanwhile, Stowe Mountain Resort, which was recently acquired by Vail Resorts, attracts ski and snowboard enthusiasts from around the world and supports the livelihoods of thousands of Vermonters both on and off the property.  The town’s picturesque village of independently owned boutiques, restaurants, inns, and myriad sports shops owe much of their success to the mountain.  Builders, architects, lawyers, and property managers are sustained by Stowe’s robust real estate market that is largely driven by out-of-towners seeking vacation homes.   To put it in perspective, a whopping 17% of Vermont properties are second homes, which are often owned by outdoor enthusiasts, skiers, and snowboarders.  Stowe School District is one of the best in the state, thanks to high home values bringing in substantial property taxes that have enriched the town and its public education system.

Beyond the business world, Mt. Mansfield is also home to some of Vermont’s last remaining acres of Arctic-Alpine Tundra.  This fragile ecosystem supports countless flora and fauna that are unique to the area.  As the length of winters recede, so will the delicate balance of life existing high above the rest of Vermont.

All of this could melt away right before our eyes, drastically changing the future of Vermont, both economically and ecologically.  As more greenhouse gases are released into the environment, we will likely be confronted with the loss of one of Vermont’s greatest assets: its long, cold, snowy winters…including the $900 million in direct winter spending generated by the state’s ski and snowboard destinations and related businesses. 

In response to looming profit losses, business closures, and dwindling resort locations, industry advocates, such as Protect Our Winters (POW) and the National Ski Areas Association, are lobbying federal, state, and local governments to enact environmental policies to slow or reverse the progression of average rising temperatures.  Meanwhile, the International Ski Federation has also signed on to the UN Climate Change Initiative.  Vail, which is by far the largest ski resort operator worldwide, has initiated its “Commitment to Zero” via its Epic Promise Foundation.  By 2030, it has pledged that all of its properties will operate using zero-waste and carbon-neutral technologies.  Burton Snowboards, which was recently designated as a B-Corporation and is actively accounting for its sustainability goals, has partnered with the Epic Promise Foundation when it hosts the annual U.S. Open Snowboard Championships at Vail.  Since 2017 it has operated the event carbon-neutral with limited waste.

The fact remains, however, that we’re facing an uphill battle.  2019 witnessed the highest level of carbon emissions to date.  The past decade has also been our warmest in recorded history, with the most elevated global temperatures occurring over the past five years.  Furthermore, enacting pro-environmental policies continues to be a battle.  The withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Climate Accord and the rise of climate change skeptics in leadership positions across governments and corporations have hindered or even eliminated environmental and climate protections worldwide.

Meanwhile, right here in Vermont, our ski and snowboard industry is at a precipice.

After taking in the glory of Spruce Peak, I edged my tips over Goat and made the first of many turns down the fall line to the base of Mt. Mansfield.  Along the way, I thought of the pioneers, entrepreneurs, and the incredible businesses and value they created.  Could they have even imagined what our winters are facing?  And are we truly equipped to conquer the fragile, uncertain, and ungroomed trail that lays ahead? 

References

Allen, Anne Wallace. “Study: Vermont Is No. 2 Nationwide for Second Home Ownership.” VTDigger, 6 Aug. 2019, vtdigger.org/2019/08/05/study-vermont-is-no-2-nationwide-for-second-home-ownership/.

Brandon, Heather. “Most Ski Resorts in Warmer New England May Disappear By 2100.” Connecticut Public Radio, 7 Feb. 2014, www.wnpr.org/post/most-ski-resorts-warmer-new-england-may-disappear-2100.

Freedman, Andrew. “The 2010s Will Go down in History as Earth’s Warmest.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 5 Dec. 2019, www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2019/12/05/current-decade-will-go-down-history-earths-warmest/.

Imster, Eleanor, and Deborah Byrd. “Atmospheric CO2 Hits Record High in May 2019.” EarthSky, EarthSky.org, 17 June 2019, earthsky.org/earth/atmospheric-co2-record-high-may-2019.

“Vermont Ski Industry Rebounds to Nearly 4 Million Visits.” Vermont Business Magazine, Vermont Business Magazine, 15 June 2017, vermontbiz.com/news/june/vermont-ski-industry-rebounds-nearly-4-million-visits.

Wobus, Cameron, et al. “Projected Climate Change Impacts on Skiing and Snowmobiling: A Case Study of the United States.” Global Environmental Change, Pergamon, 3 May 2017, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959378016305556.

A New Kind of Museum

This post was written by Matthew Licata ’20. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

While home over winter break my family and I wanted to spend a day in New York City so we thought a museum would be a great option. We ended up going to Arcadia Earth in downtown Manhattan which is a pop-up museum dedicated to sustainability. It was amazing.

Photo by Matthew Licata ’20

There are 15 different interactive rooms to go through, each with a unique design and message. In every exhibit there are boards with statistics and information telling the reader about a specific issue related to the displays. Each art piece helps contextualize the scope of an issue in an incredibly creative and visually appealing way. The topics they discussed ranged from plastic use, polluted oceans and resources used for cattle farming.

All the messages were given in an easily digestible way for people to grasp as well as understand the scale in which some of these issues are at. Examples of “how much plastic we consume?,” or ”How old are the apples in the supermarkets?” are some of the information that keeps people interested since if affects their daily life. Also as you walk through the rooms, you use the app that utilizes Augmented Reality to increase interaction as well as offers more information for participants to understand the topic. The AR shows schools of fish swimming next to piles of trash and many other visuals. My favorite room was the plastic bag cave created out of 44,000 upcycled plastic bags. It was visually stunning to see the sheer number of bags and the use of mirrors and lights made the cave seem never ending.

It was really interesting to go with my family to see how people react to this way of vocalizing some of our worlds issues since I have been involved in sustainability since I was a sophomore in high school and the rest of my family has an average understanding. I have heard a lot of the information that was given in the museum but I know my parents haven’t so I was watching their reactions as they read the data. It was amazing to see how disturbed they from what they read and how the exhibits were able to help them visualize the issue. I am sure that many other visitors were also mind blown by the data they were reading and will be able to bring that home with them to help improve their habits.

With so much information coming at us in present day, it was great to see people putting their complete focus into the museum and really internalizing the data. This museum is a great way to leave a lasting impression on people with its stunning visuals, interactiveness and simple message.

Arcade Earth is located at 718 Broadway in New York City.