Sustainability Summit: 50th Anniversary of Earth Day + The Impact of UVM Research & Teaching on Sustainability

Gund Institute + Sustainable Innovation MBA

This post was written by Jackson Berman ‘20. Connect with him on Linkedin

The Sustainable Innovation MBA Class of 2020 will be hosting a virtual Sustainability Summit on April 22, 2020 in collaboration with The Gund Institute for Environment. This summit, organized by SI-MBA students themselves, is a golden opportunity to apply Appreciative Inquiry (AI) and World Café tools learned in Professor Dr. Ante Glavas’s course, Driving Sustainable Change. The Sustainability Summit will kick-off with opening remarks from Sanjay Sharma, Dean of the Grossman School of Business, and include keynote speakers Taylor Ricketts, Director of the Gund Institute, and Patty Prelock, University of Vermont Provost.

I had the opportunity to chat (virtually) with Ante and ask him the story of how this summit came to be. “The Gund Institute for Environment and I realized the 50th Anniversary of Earth day this year was a perfect opportunity for SI-MBA students to organize a summit centered around creating lasting sustainable change and solving environmental issues.”

The Sustainability Summit will take a bottom-up approach to build cross-sector stakeholder-led initiatives which will contribute to the future of sustainability at UVM. We will measure UVM’s strengths in the sustainability space and co-create scalable strategies for driving future change.

Ante mentioned that “students are able to apply the tool of Appreciative Inquiry to map techniques for creating lasting sustainable impacts.” The summit will feature workshops and world café-style breakout groups to tap into the collective wisdom of all summit participants. 

In this new time of COVID-19 and social distancing, SI-MBA students have truly gone the extra mile, stepping up to quickly transition the summit into a virtual experience. Although originally Ante feared the summit would be canceled, the overwhelming feedback was that now more than ever is a crucial time for people to connect. “SI-MBA students recognize the importance of preserving a bottom-up, co-creative environment,” Ante said. Hosting this Sustainability Summit despite the new virtual learning circumstances provides such an opportunity to contribute towards building a better, more collaborative, and more sustainable future together.

Follow on Linkedin here and on social media using #EarthDay_Summit

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.

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 Letter to Mother Nature

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

Author’s Note: The recent earthquakes in Puerto Rico inspired me to write this blog post. I felt a blog to be a fitting forum to speak about a serious topic in a fun way. Because, the only thing I know to bring to darkness — to understand it — is light. Secondarily, I hope for this blog post to serve as a promotion for the new, fresh, literary genre: literary nonfiction: true events, displayed as authentic, original, creative forms.

This blog post aims to illuminate Puerto Rico in a way that is as free to me as the Coqui voices that will continue to sing. In other words, to share a literary nonfiction art work: true events, displayed authentically. From this chair in the Bronx, NY to another in Burlington, Vermont, to the forest of El Yunque, to the Castles of San Juan, to the beaches off the coasts of Vega Baja and Manati—Puerto Rico is the subject of this Letter…

We Hear You, Mother Nature, The Time is Now.

From: Juan Adorno

To: Mother Nature

Cc: Motherland (Puerto Rico)

Bcc: JP1—Blue (Pen Name)

Subject: Puerto Rico

Mother Nature, please, be merciful on the Motherland: sway those hips of the Carribean tectonic plates up against the rigid tips of the North Americans, in such a way that the BoricuasThe spirit of the People of Puerto Rico— are sparked, secured and prosperous in the long-run. Puerto Rico. The Enchanted Island. The Boriken Island. La Isla del Encanto.

On Tuesday, January 11, 2020, you rocked the motherland, 6.4 earthquake, sending people across the island to sleep in their patios, the streets and beaches in fear of their houses collapsing on them and their loved ones. The street where my Grandma lives was shut down and folks set up tents to sleep. In Vega Baja, Puerto Rico, half hour away from San Juan.

Grounds shaking, power outages: and, you continue to speak Mother Nature. Tremors. Traumas.

In spirit, I put myself setting up a tent in the Vega Baja Beach while Earthquakes pass, probably not the smartest move, but it’s the same beach that was travelled to by one of my writing heroes, Manuel Adorno. That beach was the setting of his seminal short story, and the hippies came.  Manuel was praised by great writers of his day like Gabriel Marquez.

Mother Nature, may you grace this blog post to serve as a genuine illumination of an interaction with you and may you grace the motherland.

I felt it was just the other day when I was standing in front of my Sustainable Innovation MBA class, in Burlington, Vermont, delivering a business pitch of Puerto Rico Solar Energy Company LLC., a PR-based TBL solar energy company idea that serves to help Puerto Rico toward Energy Freedom. I opened the group presentation with a personal story of the origin of the idea to create the business: A Hurricane Maria Story. The power was out in the neighborhood and it was renewable energy, namely solar energy and electric batteries that save the day. I delivered that presentation several months ago and it was in reference to Hurricane Maria which took place in 2017. Hurricane Maria exposed the island’s infrastructure vulnerabilities. 

It’s been years since Hurricane Maria, the history-bending catastrophe that took thousands of lives, and, yet, the islands energy mix is still not fixed.

The time is now: to be energy rich; to sustainably capitalize and commercialize; to self-sustain; to, then talk of food, economic, and artistic world warping potential contained in the rich port—Puerto Rico.

We Hear You, Mother Nature, The Time is Now!

Sincerely, Concerned Son

Alumni in Review: Will Clavelle ’16

Will Clavelle is a member of the Class of 2016. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

Will Clavelle

Where are you currently working, and what is your role?

I am currently working as an economic development specialist for Burlington’s Community and Economic Development Office (CEDO). In this role, I manage economic development projects, administer a revolving loan fund, help people develop businesses, and support existing businesses. In this role, I seek to create and retain jobs that contribute to Burlington’s diverse and durable economy, prioritizing New American and women-owned businesses.

Why did you choose to attend The Sustainable Innovation MBA program? What were you doing before?

I chose to attend The Sustainable Innovation MBA program because I wanted to learn more about triple bottom line companies, and how they were using the power of business to address world challenges, especially in developing countries.

What was your favorite part about the MBA program experience?

My favorite parts about the experience were the hands-on practicum projects, and getting to know, and learning from, the other members of the 2016 cohort.

How are you applying the tools/skills you learned in the program, post-MBA?

I am using the business fundamentals to help others develop and grow sustainable businesses in Burlington. As I am working with entrepreneurs and existing businesses, I often think back on the lessons learned from case studies, guest speakers, and team projects during the program.

What would you tell someone who is considering The Sustainable Innovation MBA?

The Sustainable Innovation MBA lays the groundwork to develop sustainable business models, and to contribute to businesses that are transforming the way business is done. These sustainable businesses will be crucial in solving today’s most pressing challenges, and improving the world for future generations. If you are looking to switch careers, or advance your current career, SIMBA will provide the tools and connections needed to take the next step. The courses are thought-provoking and the connections are lasting.

Alumni in Review: Kaitlin Sampson ’18

Kaitlin Sampson is a member of the Class of 2018. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Where are you currently working, and what is your role?

I’m a Communications & Programs Associate at the Sustainable Food Lab.

Why did you choose to attend The Sustainable Innovation MBA program? What were you doing before?

I worked in the hospitality industry and was looking for a career pivot that focused on sustainability and allowed me to use my skills for a good cause.

What was your favorite part about the MBA program experience?

The curriculum and the vast network that The Sustainable Innovation MBA provides.

How are you applying the tools/skills you learned in the program, post-MBA?

The Food Lab was created by systems thinkers so I feel very fortunate to work with others to think about agricultural production in a system everyday. One of my recent projects has been collaborating with cocoa farmers to increase incomes through women-led diversification. Having base-of-the-pyramid experience from The Sustainable Innovation MBA has been very helpful.

What would you tell someone who is considering The Sustainable Innovation MBA?

That the program has a lot of diversity and a wide network which will allow you to explore different interests. Within just a year you’ll learn a lot about yourself and you’ll come away with concrete skills.

Value for All!

This post was written by Elissa Eggers ’19

A few weeks ago, during our Driving Sustainable Change course, my classmates and I were fortunate enough to chat with Andy Ruben, co-founder and CEO of Yerdle. Yerdle is a “circular economy powerhouse” driving change in the recommerce market by partnering with brands in a way that benefits consumers, companies, and the planet. For someone who came into this program looking to gain new skill sets and tools that would support me in my quest to change the fashion and retail industry for the better, it was exciting to have the opportunity to hear first-hand how Yerdle is disrupting the retail landscape.

Currently, the fashion industry produces upwards of 100 billion pieces of clothing per year despite there being just under 8 million people on the planet. On average, we consume 400x more clothing than we did 20 years ago. Clearly, we have a consumption problem. However, we also have a lack of use problem. As Andy highlighted in our conversation, a large portion of perfectly wearable clothing in the world today sits unused in people’s drawers and closets. That doesn’t even take into account the 10.5 million tons of clothes tossed into landfills each year in the United States alone when people decide it is finally time to purge. So how do we address the growing mountains of clothing taking over the planet? Extending the life of our clothing by keeping pieces in circulation longer is definitely a key piece to this puzzle.

Now, keeping clothing in use by passing it along is by no means a novel idea. Passing along hand-me-downs and buying from and selling to thrift stores are examples of ways people have long been extending the life of their clothing.  However, if we are truly to stop the current systems of production, consumption, and disposal that currently define the retail landscape and result in wasted resources, then we need to innovate and expand on our current re-sale systems.

Yerdle is doing just that. By partnering with brands to help them take control of their resale market and extract value from it in the form of profits and customer acquisition, Yerdle ensures that all stakeholders (including the brands) benefit. A key theme woven throughout our coursework in this program is the importance of expanding the pie. In other words, for a solution to be truly sustainable and innovative, it cannot simply redistribute the value created to different groupings of stakeholders. Rather, it needs to expand the pie to increase the value captured by all.

Understandably, finding a solution that truly expands the pie is easier said than done which is why listening to Andy was such a valuable experience. Ultimately, by making retail companies part of their solution and beneficiaries of it, Yerdle has created a solution that other brands would want to be part of because the expanded value created extends to them. This makes integrating recommence into their businesses seem like the smarter, more profitable option.

One of my biggest takeaways from the conversation is that as my cohort and I move out into the world and start trying to tackle these big issues, we need to remember the importance of crafting solutions that reduce friction and do not force people to make trade-offs. The fact is, we are all passionate about different things and not everyone is going to care about or be willing and able to sacrifice something for the sake of sustainability. Nor should they necessarily be expected to. Thus, building a solution that requires stakeholders (businesses or consumers) to make a sacrifice of something they value in order embrace the greener option, is simply not a realistic and scalable alternative. Instead, businesses, particularly those in retail, need to embrace and develop strategies that make things easier and better for all. Yerdle is one example of a company doing just that.

Photo by Artificial Photography on Unsplash

Net Impact: Wear-it-Wise Fashion, but Make it Sustainable

This post was written by Alyssa Schuetz ’19

I may only be 23 years old, but I know exactly what I want to do with my life. I want to change the fashion industry for the better. My bachelor’s degree is in Design & Merchandising which translates loosely into the business-side of the fashion industry. After working in product development in sports apparel, I saw the shortcomings of retail and knew that I couldn’t enter the industry knowing that I would be part of the problem. I am determined to be part of the solution and create a positive impact on the industry.

When I joined The Sustainable Innovation MBA program, I knew my direction was always going to be about fashion.

I just wasn’t sure which form that would take until I came across the non-profit organization Net Impact. Turns out, they have a specific program dedicated to promoting sustainable fashion called Wear it Wise. I immediately reached out to the program because I knew I had to be involved.

As a grad student, I knew this would be a huge opportunity for me to share what I am passionate about on a larger platform. This program is sponsored by Levi’s, Colombia Sportswear Company, and Eileen Fischer. Knowing that these brands are innovators and already making a difference in the sustainability space, I knew that this platform would provide me with more skills and tools to further a cause that I was already passionate about.

After being accepted into the Wear It Wise program, I started crafting my social media campaign to give people an inside look as to how they can shop more sustainably. My goal throughout this campaign has been to empower the consumer. In my experience, the fashion industry is at a crossroads where the industry is aware of sustainability and knows that it will eventually have to become greener, but it’s still lacking that final push to implement change. I believe that we as consumers carry immense power to vote with our dollar with every purchase we make. We have the power to be this push that retailers need in order to convert to more sustainable practices.

I’m excited with the power we have to wear our values and make our impact in the retail industry. Please follow along my journey on social media as I continue to share my passion with all of you and inspire you to make your own impact!

Workin’ Nine to Five: Managing Your Schedule and Your Productivity

This post was written by Lauren Masters ’19

On Friday, November 30th it finally clicked. I need to stick to a standard 9-to-5 work schedule in order properly manage my time. Steve Gagner, the co-founder of 14th Star Brewery spoke to our Family Business class and told us there’s no such thing as not enough time in the day, just poor time management skills. Even though we have over 20 credits of classes, that’s only 20 hours a week spent in class. The rest of the 40 hours allocated for a standard work schedule can be spent studying, reading and completing assignments. Since the majority of our classes take place between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., the time not spent in class can be used for completing classwork. That still allows me before 9 a.m. and after 5 p.m. to accomplish my personal daily goals. It wasn’t until Steve framed it in this way that it finally clicked.

It seems simple and cliché, which it is, but keeping a schedule and routine will make a world of difference and dramatically increase one’s productivity.

It has been almost two weeks since then and I can already see the difference of thinking in the 9-to-5 mentality. Even if we don’t have class until afternoon I open my computer or books at 9 and begin the workday. Or, if we only have morning classes I keep working until 5 in the evening. This alleviates so much stress and allows me to feel accomplished before dinner time. Before, I would feel so unproductive during the day because I would sleep in or hang out with my cat during prime work hours. When 7 pm rolled around I would be a stressed-out mess, not eat a proper dinner and cram until I was falling asleep over my computer. That routine is simply not sustainable. It seems simple and cliché, which it is, but keeping a schedule and routine will make a world of difference and dramatically increase one’s productivity.

With the semester coming to an end and reflecting back on the last few months I wish I figured this “routine thing” out earlier. Since this program is so accelerated it is hard to maintain any consistency, but keeping yourself on a schedule that works for you amongst all the chaos is critical. I am excited for some time off where I don’t need to keep a strict schedule, but now I know what I need to do when we return in January to hit the ground running.

Photo by Seth Macey on Unsplash

Sustainable Innovation in Review

 An occasional curation of sustainable innovation and business transformation news, postings, et cetera…

Greener companies outperforming their peers?

Companies sourcing renewable electricity outperform their rivals financially, according to a new report released Tuesday from RE100, the initiative from the Climate Group that encourages firms to commit to using 100 percent renewable power.

Virgin Atlantic flies the first ever commercial flight using sustainable jet fuel

Over at the Virgin blog, Richard Branson informs us that Virgin Atlantic has completed the first ever commercial flight using LanzaTech’s innovative new sustainable aviation fuel.

Appalachian Ohio could get a giant solar farm, if regulators approve

Appalachian Ohio, a region hurt by the decline of coal, may become home to one of the largest solar projects east of the Rockies.

How tech is turbocharging corporate sustainability

At the recent Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) in San Francisco, 21 companies, including Bloomberg, Cisco, Hewlett Packard, Lyft and Salesforce, announced the launch of the “Step Up Declaration,” a new alliance dedicated to harnessing the power of emerging technologies to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions across all economic sectors.