The Forgotten Power Source

Written By:
Josh Kriesberg ’22
Editor, Clean Energy & Technology
Connect with Josh on LinkedIn

As countries, companies, and households across the globe transition towards clean energy, decision makers take every opportunity to tout flashy numbers and projects. Installing solar panels and batteries, erecting wind turbines, and building microgrids have profound impact and the clean electricity they generate is essential to reaching our climate goals. However, meeting our climate goals requires more than clean energy generation. All too often, cost effective and locally supplied solutions go overlooked and underutilized. To increase our impact, we must become more efficient at using the energy we produce, in other words, more energy efficient.

Photo by Federico Beccari on Unsplash

In almost every situation the cheapest energy is the energy we never use. Retrofitting buildings with new, more efficient technology can reduce energy usage across all sectors of the economy while contributing to substantial cost savings. For example, in 2015, 51% of all energy used in American homes was consumed by two sources: heating and air conditioning[1]. Reducing our heating and AC consumption through strategies like insulation, window and door sealing, and equipment upgrades will have a profound impact on the environment and our wallets. E4TheFuture, a non-profit advocacy group, calculates over $66 Billion, that’s right, Billions with a B, in savings PER YEAR if the US could retrofit all homes built before 2000[2]. Furthermore, the International Energy Agency goes as far as to say “energy efficiency measures deliver the largest overall reductions in emissions”[3], highlighting the potential for both people and the planet to share the profits from energy efficiency measures.

“Energy efficiency measures deliver the largest overall reductions in emissions” – International Energy Agency

Given the opportunity for shared value, why is energy efficiency so overlooked? For starters, energy efficiency is invisible. Most people don’t have a sense of how efficient their home is and how much energy buildings consume. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us all how difficult fighting an invisible enemy can be. Furthermore, low income households are disproportionately impacted by energy costs (a term known as energy burden) and, traditionally, the for-profit sector has ignored opportunities in less wealthy communities.

Beyond systemic issues, the energy efficiency industry is suffering through a major workforce shortage. In many geographies, even those who want to retrofit their home could wait 6 or more months for a technician. The 2020 US Energy and Employment Jobs Report (USEER) found that nearly 83% of energy efficiency companies across all sectors said hiring was “somewhat difficult” or “very difficult” in Q4 2020[4]. This is where I see tremendous opportunity. Companies across the country are seeking talented and motivated individuals who can make a difference. This industry needs a talent infusion if we are to meet our climate goals – this means you can make an impact whether you can help on the technical issues, research & development, business operations, and/or marketing.

Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

The last piece of the puzzle is more government support for energy efficiency. The beauty of energy efficiency jobs is that they are long lasting and provide significant economic returns to local communities. Unlike other industries, energy efficiency cannot be outsourced. We cannot ship a house or building to China, have it retrofitted, and sent back. These jobs must be done by local contractors whose wages will further stimulate local economies. Job creation, economic development, and environmental progress can make energy efficiency a unifying issue at the local, state, and federal level.

As we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, we must prioritize efficiency at every level. Corporate and political decision makers must embrace the data and look beyond the “sexy” options when considering which options are truly cost effective and impactful. We must develop programs that support companies, households, and individuals who want to make an impact in the field. Businesses, governments, and households can do more to support this critical industry and empower us to meet our climate, economic, and societal goals.

[1] US, E. I. A. (2021, June 23). U.S. Energy Information Administration – EIA – independent statistics and analysis. Use of energy in homes – U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Retrieved December 21, 2021, from

[2] E4TheFuture (2021, October). Energy Efficiency Jobs in America – Energy Efficiency Jobs in America. Retrieved December 21, 2021, from

[3] IEA (2021). A sustainable recovery plan for the Energy Sector – Sustainable Recovery – analysis. IEA. Retrieved December 21, 2021, from

[4] US DOE (2021). Department of Energy. Department of Energy, USEER. Retrieved December 21, 2021, from

Innovators in Residence: Duane Peterson Co-Founder of SunCommon

Written By:

Patrick Donohue ‘22
Contributing Writer
Connect with Patrick on LinkedIn

Dan Lazarus ‘22
Community Catalyst
Connect with Dan on LinkedIn

Recently, the SI-MBA ‘22 cohort had the pleasure to spend an afternoon with Duane Peterson, Co-Founder of SunCommon, a  Vermont-based installer of residential solar power systems.

Duane led us through a lively discussion about passion, community, the solar industry, and more.

“Those with the biggest buildings have the power,” said Duane at the beginning of the conversation. Throughout human history, control of the largest structures systematically and often subconsciously expresses power over others. The pyramids, then the cathedrals and now energy, industry, finance, and more. Duane opened his talk with a thought-provoking idea and a lens to analyze power. The fight for a more just world (healthier, more sustainable, more equitable) is inextricably linked to power. While low-income communities are disproportionately affected by climate change, they are continuously overlooked during the decision making process. In the context of SunCommon, Duane built a low-cost solution for residential solar energy production, and simultaneously removed barriers for people historically locked out of the solar revolution.

Duane spoke to us with a heavy dose of honesty. Adorned in a patterned button-down and his quintessential purple framed spectacles, he spoke with eloquence and full transparency. Throughout the three-hour discussion, the audience leaned forward with eagerness, firing questions at Duane. There was an air of excitement in the room, verging on intensity.

Duane is laser focused on people and believes wholeheartedly that, “how we treat each other matters a lot.” His candid responses to our cohort’s questions, “off-the-cuff” style of presentation, and acknowledgment of his own privileges speak to the people-centric values that underpin everything he does at SunCommon. 

“How we treat each other matters a lot.”

Wrapping up his speech came a question from the back of the room. “What advice do you have for us as business students?”

“What a fitting finale,” Duane quipped. “Find the people you want to do business with, identify what matters, and hold out for that.”

In the leadup to his in-person speaker series with SI-MBA, we were fortunate to have the chance to speak with Duane one-on-one and learn more about his personal journey. 

Duane has enjoyed an exploratative career, including years spent as a police officer, ambulance medic, political campaigner, environmental advocate, and “Chief of Stuff” at Ben & Jerry’s. Speaking with Duane, it was evident that his passions lie in organizing towards justice and developing clear, common-sense initiatives to tackle the systemic problems he sees in his community.    

Below is a synthesized snapshot of the provocative interview: 

Tell us a little about yourself and your involvement in sustainability?

I think of myself as a millennial. As millennials, we’re open to adventure, we’re seeking knowledge, we want to explore new things, we’re not going to do the same jobs for 40 years at a corporation. The people I hire, I know they aren’t going to work here forever. I hope they’ll find fulfillment with their jobs and pour themselves into it, but then I hope they go on and see what’s next for them. I think that’s beautiful.

To me, sustainability is an objectionable word. I think of it like I think of the word tolerance. It comes across like it’s the bare minimum. Well, how about a positive impact? It’s still not perfect, but rather than sustainability, I like to think of values-led business, that is, imbuing business with good and providing a beneficial outcome.    

How did your work at Ben & Jerry’s and their B-Corp certification inform your work in developing SunCommon?

The simplest way to think about it is this: at Ben & Jerry’s, we sought to have every business decision reflect our values. What are you actually doing every day? How are you treating your people, communities, and environment? Who do we hire? Where do we set up our factories? That’s the power of the business. That sort of thinking gave us an appreciation for and ownership of impact. Let’s use the power of business to do good things at every level. When we started SunCommon, that was the vibe from the very beginning. 

“Let’s use the power of business to do good things at every level.”

How important is the B-Corp certification to your company, and how much bearing does it have on your day-to-day operational decision-making?

We were very surprised at how rigorous the assessment was. There were a bunch of issues that we hadn’t considered. The coolest thing about it was the app. When you entered a finding, there would be a pop-up that would ask, ‘Would you like to improve your impact?’ Well sure! And the feed would put you into contact with another B-Corp that had already tackled that issue. This certification helps us get away from winging it and drives us into the rigor. And we’re really excited about that.

I was also a little surprised that the certification had meaning to others. Through the certification, we attract a lot of brilliant young people that care and are looking for fulfillment. 

How does community involvement, as well as your involvement with VBSR (Vermont Business for Social Responsibility) and VPIRG (Vermont Public Interest Research Group), fit into your mission/ passion as a leader?

I think a lot of older white guys in this movement appreciate the attention. That can be an insular, looking for aggrandizement thing, like ‘this is about me,’ or it can be about establishing standing to include other people. I think I probably have a bit of both. I operate in these networks; I learn a lot from these people and am inspired by their ideas. I hope that I can also support them, what they’re doing, and provide credibility, resources, and advancement with my presence. It’s an interesting transaction and positivity that I pull from this involvement, and I’m grateful for it.

Given your rapid growth and recent merger with iSun, what measures has your management team put forward to maintain company culture and vision?

The issue is that iSun wants us to share what we know and our values-led approach to business, and as we bolt more into the platform, the question is: how do we export what’s good about SunCommon? Right now, that’s a bit unknown. We’re not a consulting firm [designed] to share things we’ve already figured out. And yet, in some ways, that’s what iSun paid for. So, how do we keep our day jobs and keep growing the business of SunCommon, while also spreading our joy and wonder? We haven’t figured that out yet, but we’re gonna need to! 

How has your relationship with James (co-founder and co-president at SunCommon) evolved over the years, and how does your partnership foster long-term development of SunCommon and other community initiatives?

We met in 2008 when I was the board president at VPIRG, and he was the whip-smart director of the clean energy program. We designed the campaign to retire Vermont Yankee, the nuclear power station. So we ran this campaign and pulled it off! We’re extraordinarily different people, but we discovered that our strengths and weaknesses really line up well. So James and I cooked up a project at VPIRG to prove that the adoption of clean energy was feasible, and when that worked, we decided to start a business. 

What advice can you provide for young professionals seeking to find a foothold in the field of renewables, climate change, or values-led enterprise? 

My advice to young people is to just go do things! There’s so much to do in this world. Gain experience by just diving in and doing interesting things. And if this is the field that you want to get into, define what these terms mean, what are the jobs in it, what are the descriptions and qualifications that employers are looking for. Then go crush it.  

Photo by Zbynek Burival on Unsplash

If you are interested in the work Duane has been a part of, the change he advocates for, or the people that inspire him, check out the book Double Dip by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield or the paper entitled Repowering Vermont by James Moore. 

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Introducing the Graduate Family Business Interest Group at the Grossman School of Business: Spotlight on Professor Dita Sharma, Ph.d

Written By:

Zoe Kurtz ‘22
Contributing Writer
Connect with Zoe on LinkedIn

Riley Nelson ‘22
Contributing Writer
Connect with Riley on LinkedIn

It is our pleasure to introduce the Graduate Family Business Interest Group at the Grossman School of Business (GSB). We are a group of Master of Accounting and Sustainable Innovation MBA students interested in learning and sharing how family businesses are leading innovative changes to embed sustainable development goals into their core operations.

Throughout the year, we will spotlight innovative families and incorporate student perspectives to explore and illustrate the impact of family businesses in society and the economy. To kick things off, we interviewed Professor Dita Sharma, the Schlesinger-Grossman Chair of Family Business at GSB to paint a picture of the importance of family business. Dr. Sharma has spent her whole life around family businesses, from her own family’s as a child to countless others as an advisor. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Calgary, and her research heavily focuses on succession, governance, and innovation. Her skills and expertise add value to family businesses all over the world, and she is now focused on family enterprise run by UVMs alumni in Vermont and beyond. Founder of GSB’s Family Business Awards and the Schlesinger Global Family Enterprise Case Competition, she maintains focus on integrating classroom learning with the lived experiences of business families.

Professor Dita Sharma, Ph.D

What defines a family business? How do they differ from normal businesses?

Family business (FB) is an enterprise whose vision and strategic direction is controlled by members of a family through ownership, management and/or governance. The controlling family often aspires for transgenerational continuity and a positive legacy in the community. 

In non-family businesses no single family has enough ownership to control the company’s vision or direction. While a large majority of the world’s businesses are family controlled, enterprises in which the operational roles are held by non-family members are sometimes perceived as non-family businesses.

Tell us about your personal experience in family business.

I grew up in a business family in an industrial town in India. Everyone I knew – my classmates, friends, relatives, neighbors – were entrepreneurs running small and medium enterprises in different industries. My family was highly regarded in our community for its integrity as we worked hard to provide for our family and those of our employees. New ventures were launched regularly to meet the product and service needs of the community; and existing ventures were transformed into new directions. So, for me, entrepreneurship and family business are a good way to make a living, support a community, and leave a legacy. As an educator, I enjoy developing innovative programs to support the learning of students and bring them closer to business families.

So, for me, entrepreneurship and family business are a good way to make a living, support a community, and leave a legacy.

What are challenges that family businesses face today and how are they better able to adapt to those challenges than other types of businesses?

Family business leaders must learn to run two separate and overlapping human systems of family and business successfully. Troubles in one can easily seep to the other and managing this challenging polarity day after day, year after year, decade after decade, takes significant effort and patience. The porous boundaries also turn into strengths during tough times as the family pulls its resources to support the business, or vice versa. 

In your experience, have family businesses embraced sustainability faster than other companies? If yes, what about family businesses make this possible?

Long-lived family firms have operated on the basis of stakeholder capitalism for centuries, so the concept of sustainability is not new to them, though the terminology as used today might be. However, multi-pronged efforts are underway by family business associations like the Family Business Network and Family Firm Institute, consulting companies like KPMG and PwC, and university programs like Grossman School’s Graduate Certificate in Sustainable Family Enterprise to help expedite the comfort level with related terminology and insights. As each nation sets its ambitious sustainability targets, there is increased interest in engaging family business leaders help to accomplish them. And, business leaders are responding with interest.

How has COVID affected family businesses in the past year?

An external crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic exposes the underlying strengths and weaknesses of an organization. Family businesses like State Garden, Rhino Foods, and our other UVM FB Award winners, that continue to reinvest and reinvent themselves, remain frugal in their expenditures and earnest in supporting their employees and communities, and take time to build strong family relationships and networks, have found many opportunities to transform themselves and accelerate their sustainable development journey amidst this pandemic. Others, marred by fundamental family or business issues have faced swift bankruptcies and closures, or are slowly limping towards that end.

How does UVM support family businesses, and what are specific goals for the university within the family business arena going forward?

With its focus on sustainability, entrepreneurship, and family business, University of Vermont’s Grossman School of Business is already positioned strategically in global conversations related to sustainability. Several faculty members focus their research on family business interface. Generated knowledge is shared not only in our undergraduate and graduate classrooms but also through experiential programs like the Family Enterprise Case Competition, FB-Sustainability Forums, and FB Awards. We believe in providing students opportunities to build their own professional networks and find ways to bring students in close interaction with business leaders working to embed sustainable development principles into their core operations. We aspire to continue on this pathway. 

Do you have advice for students looking to work with/for family businesses?

Four possibilities: launch a family business – buy an existing family business – join a family business – build a consulting practice. In all cases, start small dream big. 

First pathway to career launch could be to start a new venture by pooling talent and resources with family members. Over time, such ventures grow and provide opportunities to contribute to the community while building a positive legacy.

Second possibility is to join an existing business with an aim to buy into it over time. This could be a business within your networks or in an industry or location of interest. As the boomer generation retires over the next twenty years, several enterprises will change hands and those with experience will find an opportunity to become owner-entrepreneurs.

Third, students eager to join large family businesses will benefit from studying the shareholder reports and company history to understand the values and aspirations of the controlling family. Where possible, conducting informational interviews with family members and/or long-term employees will shed light on their views on sustainability. Working in a company with values aligned to your own helps to accelerate careers. 

A fourth possibility is to join a consulting company focused on functional areas in which you have an expertise – accounting, finance, business analytics, marketing etc., and focus on family (or private) businesses and serving their sustainable development needs.

Alignment of values and interests is key in any career success. Taking time to clarify your own values and how you are projecting them – your brand can be useful. In three words or less, what does your name stand for today?

Alignment of values and interests is key in any career success. Taking time to clarify your own values and how you are projecting them – your brand can be useful

Lastly, what is your favorite place in Burlington?

I enjoy walking and hiking typically at Shelburne Farms or Mount Philo. Sunrise over Camel’s Hump and sunsets across the lake often serve as great reminders of the blessing of living in Vermont. 

Professor Dita Sharma was kind enough to provide a highlight of family businesses and their unique intricacies in this interview, but there is a lot more to learn. Family businesses are all around us. They comprise 90% of firms in North America and, according to The Economist, comprise over 90% of firms world-wide. GSB is working towards becoming a focal point of knowledge and connection for family business, and there are lots of ways for interested students to become involved. Professor Sharma’s research and her courses dive into the specifics of creating and governing innovative family businesses. Additionally, the undergraduate and graduate family business clubs provide deeper peer-to-peer conversation and learning/networking opportunities for students interested in family business. If you are interested in joining either of these clubs, please reach out to Riley Nelson ( if you are a graduate student and Dani Schmidt ( if you’re an undergraduate.

Innovators in Residence: King Arthur Baking Company

Written By:

Billy Corbett ’22
Contributing Writer
Connect with Billy on LinkedIn

Lindsay Jarrett ’22
Contributing Writer
Connect with Lindsay on LinkedIn

As we start our third month of SI-MBA, it is clear that what distinguishes the program is the community it brings together – from current students and alumni to innovators, entrepreneurs and business leaders around the world. In order to learn from those who use business to positively impact our world, SI-MBA’s Innovators in Residence series brings in leaders to discuss key business challenges for a changing world. In these talks, students hear first hand what sustainable business looks like outside the classroom. Last week, the Class of 2022 was fortunate to hear from a variety of leaders at King Arthur Baking Company for our first session.

King Arthur is based just down I-89 in Norwich, VT, only an hour and a half from the UVM campus. Started in 1790, King Arthur became a 100% employee-owned business in 2004. Steeped in a rich 230-year history, its true strength is its forward looking posture and inclusive vision for the future. We were joined by Suzanne McDowell (VP of CSR and Sustainability), John Henry Siedlecki (VP of Innovation), Katie Jones (Associate Brand Manager of Innovation), and Molly Lawrence (Corporate Social Responsibility Manager). For the entire afternoon, SI-MBA students learned from and asked questions of these leaders.

The cohort asked a range of questions about their employee benefits, their recent rebrand, their supply chain relationships, and more. At the end of the session, the King Arthur team posed a question back to us: “What should we be doing to enhance our sustainability efforts?” Some of the ideas that the class floated included a study on compensation equity, encouraging consumers to bake more sustainably, and more.

We were lucky enough to ask our four guests a few questions before their presentation. Below are a few of the highlights (Note: questions and answers from our conversation are paraphrased):

Lindsay & Billy (L&B): King Arthur has a complex set of stakeholders. How do you balance stakeholder needs?

King Arthur Baking Company (KABC): We see working with our stakeholders as a privilege. Our consumers, bakers and employees are at the center of what we do. We strive to leave a seat at the table for our consumers. The environment is also key; without a seed and fertile soil, we don’t have a business. “We don’t want to just sustain, we also want to regenerate.” Ultimately, we are committed to our values of quality, community, passion and stewardship, and strive to demonstrate this through our relationships with stakeholders. We are committed to the education of our stakeholders, whether that be customers, employees or the community at large.

We don’t want to just sustain, we also want to regenerate.”

L&B: What does governance look like for King Arthur under an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan) structure?

KABC: King Arthur holds regular “town meetings” where employees are informed about the company’s strategy and finances. During these meetings, employees are encouraged to engage with leadership. This encourages transparency and employee buy-in. Our posture toward our employees makes King Arthur a place where people are proud of where they work.

L&B: Recently, King Arthur changed its name. Why? How did that process unfold?

KABC: The re-brand had been in the works for a while. We wanted a name and imagery that reflected where the company is today. We changed “King Arthur Flour” to “King Arthur Baking Company” and changed the image of the knight to an image of a wheat crown. Our product line goes beyond wheat products now, and one of our most popular products is the Gluten-Free Flour. King Arthur Baking Company gives us the freedom to continue to innovate and explore. The rollout was as good as could be expected. With flour flying off the shelves during Covid, the product with the old brand was replaced quickly. Stakeholders were generally very supportive.

While we only had a short time with our new friends from King Arthur, we learned so much from them about using business to reflect our values. We are grateful to have these four innovators as a part of the SI-MBA community.

P.S.: Check out this King Arthur Baking Company Recipe for your Thanksgiving Holiday!

Pumpkin Cake Bars with Cream Cheese Frosting
Photo Credit: King Arthur Baking Company

No Better Time to Study Sustainable Business

This post was written by:

Josh Kriesberg ’22
Contributing Writer
Connect with Josh on LinkedIn

The planet is burning, but make no mistake, this is not another sob story about mother nature. This is a story of opportunity.

As world leaders meet at COP26, they’re discussing what it will take to address the climate crisis. But what exactly is needed? Paradoxically, the same human activity that got us into this mess has the best chance of helping us dig ourselves out. The same way Thomas Newcomen changed the world with the steam engine, entrepreneurs today have the chance to reinvent our way of life, our economic system, and, yes, our relationship with mother nature. 

While that challenge may seem daunting, the world has never been more prepared for this moment. Brands like Kind, Patagonia and many more are showing that customers, job seekers, and, yes, even investors, react positively to genuine efforts by business to make the world a better place. This is not your parents’ world. In 2011, JPMorgan, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN), published a report claiming impact investment would reach between $400 billion and $1 trillion in assets under management by 2020. Mercifully, 2020 has come to pass and in fact, GIIN estimates impact investing reached $715 billion in assets under management. The International Finance Corporation (IFC) put the estimate even higher: $2.1 trillion[1]. What will this figure look like by 2030? 

Furthermore, governments across the world are turning their attention to this opportunity. Beginning with the Paris Agreement in 2015, nations have been devoting resources to spur innovation, recognizing that the nation who produces the next great innovator has more to gain than simply financial returns.

Morocco recently invested over $600 million in the worlds largest concentrated solar farm. Situated on the edge of the Sahara Desert, it stretches more than 3,000 hectares in area – the size of 3,500 football fields[2]. Many European nations have made strong commitments to reduce their impacts on the climate and have created funding opportunities for entrepreneurs to research, develop, and commercialize new products.

Here in the US, the Biden Administration includes funding for innovation as a key component of the domestic agenda and a new infrastructure bill earmarked $47 billion for combating climate change. The reality is that national political desires can change on a whim, as administrations change, and new issues become priorities. Locally, however, clean energy initiatives have tremendous opportunity to save people money, increase quality of life, and create opportunities for breakthroughs across all income levels and ways of life. Between the growth in impact investing and the proliferation of government funding programs, entrepreneurs looking for their big breakthrough or their next financing opportunity would be foolish to ignore these bountiful sources of capital.

The SI-MBA program is lucky to have Stuart Hart as a founding member and professor of Business Strategy. Professor Hart is the author of Capitalism at the Crossroads and a leading voice on reinventing capitalism with an eye towards creating sustainable value. In a recent conversation, he remarked:

Photo by Callum Shaw on Unsplash

“The stars may finally be aligning when it comes to clean tech entrepreneurship: exponential clean tech evolution combines with the emergence of patient capital, supportive Next Gen, corporate purpose, and a shift from neoliberalism to an activist government focused on creating a sustainable future.” – Stuart Hart

Professor Hart’s class and the entire curriculum at SI-MBA prioritize sustainable innovation and entrepreneurial spirit. There’s never been a better time to join this movement and simultaneously become a leader in business and an advocate for sustainability.

It’s clear we’ve reached a unique inflection point in our shared history. For generations we’ve chased GDP growth as the holy grail of societal welfare. However, as David Attenborough succinctly said during COP26, “No nation is yet ‘developed’ because no nation is yet sustainable.” Wrapping our minds around such a large challenge is daunting, but great moments are born from great opportunities. Entrepreneurs seeking ‘the next big thing’ need not look any further. The breakthrough is upon us, for those bold enough to reach out and take it.

[1]Lamy, Y. S., Leijonhufvud, C., O’Donohoe, N., & Lamy, Y. S. (2021, March 16). The next 10 years of impact investment (SSIR). Stanford Social Innovation Review: Informing and Inspiring Leaders of Social Change. Retrieved November 5, 2021, from

[2] Shields, N., & Masters, J. (2019, July 16). Morocco in the Fast Lane with world’s largest … – CNN. Retrieved November 5, 2021, from

The Sustainable Innovation Review is Back!

This post was written by:

Vanessa Chumbley ’22 
Managing Editor 
Connect with Vanessa on LinkedIn 

Carly Joos ’22
Digital Content Editor
Connect with Carly on LinkedIn

Welcome to the new Sustainable Innovation Review
After more than a year, The Sustainable Innovation Review is back! The 2021-2022 SI-MBA cohort is in the trenches of this one-year, intensive MBA program, but we chose to take on the added task of breathing new life into the program’s online journal.  

Be prepared for interviews with SI-MBA guest speakers, professors, alumni, and other thought leaders; reflections on students’ unique experiences; and our thoughts on current events and the world around us. 

Meet the SI-MBA Class of 2022
First, we want to introduce you to this years’ cohort. We come from a diverse set of backgrounds – spanning several countries and dozens of industries. Our cohort has experience in marketing, engineering, sustainability, public policy, non-profit work, the performing arts, teaching, food systems, and so much more. Our unique backgrounds bring dynamic conversations to the classroom every single day.  

In discussions with classmates, this thought diversity and breadth of experience consistently comes up as a valuable aspect of the program. We learn from each other in addition to our professors. We are laying the foundation for our future careers and building our networks.  

As SI-MBA student, Josie Brownell, put it:

“I feel really fortunate to be part of a cohort with such wide-ranging backgrounds and interests. Everyone came to SI-MBA for a different reason and holds a different interpretation of how sustainability can inform their career path. Module 1 was overwhelming, exciting, and at times incredibly frustrating, but it was also so fun to learn more about what each member of the cohort brings to the conversation of how to change business for good.” 

Of the 47 cohort members, 40 responded to a short survey. Of those 40: 

  • 52.5% identify as female, 42.5% identify as male, 2.5% identify as non-binary, and  2.5% chose not to answer 
  • 60% are between the ages of 20 – 29, 32.5% are between the ages of 30 – 39,  5% are between the ages of 40 – 49, and 2.5% chose not to include their age 

Prior to coming to SI-MBA, 35% of the cohort had never been to Vermont. Here’s what was keeping us busy: 

  • 2.5% were in the workforce for 16-20 years 
  • 7.5% were in the workforce for 11-15 years 
  • 35% were in the workforce for 6-10 years 
  • 52.5% were in the workforce for 0-5 years 
  • 2.5% were in an undergraduate degree program 

Reflecting on Module 1
As of today, we’ve completed our second week of Module 2. Looking back on Module 1, our cohort braved its way through seven different courses. We honed our financial and analytical skills through courses such as Cost Models for the Transformational Enterprise, Business Economics, and Finance for Innovators I. We gained valuable teamwork skills through Teamwork for Sustained Innovation. We also broadened our perspectives and learned about radical, sustainable innovation through our courses in Entrepreneurial Family Business, Sustainable Brand Marketing and Business Strategy for a Sustainable World. 

We asked the cohort which Module 1 class they predicted would be their favorite at the onset of the Module. The top three predictions were:  

  1. Business Strategy for a Sustainable World 
  2. Sustainable Brand Marketing 
  3. Teamwork for a Sustained Innovation 

We then asked which class actually ended up being their favorite, and the top three were: 

  1. Business Strategy for a Sustainable World 
  2. Sustainable Brand Marketing  
  3. Cost Models for the Transformational Enterprise  

The cohort spent the majority of our time in our three favorite courses – Business Strategy for a Sustainable World, Sustainable Brand Marketing, and Cost Models for the Transformational Enterprise. Marketing, business strategy, and cost modeling are fundamental courses in any MBA program and the SI-MBA program brings a sustainability lens to all three – emphasizing the importance of developing strategies and business models that support a triple bottom line, people, planet, and profit. 

Cost Models for the Transformational Enterprise is a managerial accounting course that will enable us to make informed, strategic financial decisions in any job we take on in the future. Through this course we learned how to perform a breakeven analysis, analyze the profitability of various business units, identify cost drivers, and more. Cost Models equipped us with the skills to ensure that we can run profitable businesses that enable us to make a more scalable impact on people and the planet.  

Sustainable Brand Marketing and Business Strategy for a Sustainable World challenged us to think critically about serving the other two elements of the triple bottom line approach – people and the planet. Both of these courses allowed us to explore real case studies about the challenges that companies such as Unilever, Boeing, Dow Chemical, and Novelis have faced on their quests to become more sustainable enterprises. Both courses also included group projects that lasted the entire module and encouraged us to think critically about real-world problems that businesses and society are facing in 2021.  

Beyond our coursework, many of us have already been participating in case competitions and other extracurricular activities, and more of us will do so as we get further into the program. We’re excited to share all of this with you as we go, and we look forward to you getting to know us better throughout the year. 

Stay connected with us by following SI-MBA on Instagram and checking this blog regularly. Thank you for joining us on this journey! 

Adapting to Online Learning and Off-Grid Living

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

These times are unprecedented for our generation — that goes without question. I knew this year was going to be about change, about growth, and about perspective, but what I, and so many others in the program, didn’t know was exactly how this change would manifest itself.

I wrote recently about the need for industries to adopt some of the lessons in adaptability that I had learned earlier in the program and I would like to build on that sentiment by offering up an example of my existence these past few months.

Disclaimer: this post is grounded in the gravity of this pandemic. It has exposed some of my own vulnerabilities, but I recognize that I am writing this from a place of privilege. I have the current luxury of financial security, higher education and a solid support network. I recognize that many do not have this same level of privilege, yet I think the sentiment remains for many.

In the beginning of March, rumblings of the COVID crisis were underway. I had been following the stories coming out of Wuhan, but they were distant, geographically and mentally. We were rounding out final module projects and preparing for spring break. I could feel anxiety mounting as I began worrying about friends and family traveling abroad. I grew hesitant of taking trips to the Harvest Cafe for lunch. This invisible enemy, if anywhere in Burlington, would be at the medical center. But it was not until I read an article that Harvard was closing their doors for the remainder of the spring semester that I recognized there would be a new normal for the foreseeable future.

From the outside, I seem like a healthy and fit 28 year-old man. Relatively low risk for complications due to this virus and subsequent disease. I am, however, an asthmatic. I take multiple medications a day to help maintain a healthy respiratory system and this is the first time in my life I have felt vulnerable. I racked my brain on what I should do once the program officially went remote.

My communal off-campus student housing apartment was feeling less safe every day. Especially given the lack of information regarding virus transmission. I felt like I should not go home to my parents in Connecticut, as they each are also in high risk categories with underlying asthma and other pre-existing conditions.  

So, I upgraded my Verizon hotspot plan, stocked up and headed to an off-grid family cabin far removed from powerlines and public spaces. I took with me my valuables, all the essential learning materials I would need and began thinking through how I could manage completing this accelerated MBA program, preparing for my remote capstone project this summer and contemplating a job search in what is going to probably be the worst job market since the Great Depression. Not exactly the most rejuvenating of spring breaks.

What resulted have been lessons I hope to carry with me through my life. Lessons around long-term sustainable and biodynamic living, around balancing what I want and what I need and keeping myself connected to a low-impact lifestyle. And again, lessons in the human capacity to adapt. All of which, I believe, lend insight for my personal and professional life.

Lessons in resiliency and sustainability learned through the first few months of the COVID crisis should begin with a walk through of a day in the life at the cabin:

Most mornings I wake up to the chill of the Vermont spring air and have to get the woodstove fired up. Not a particularly difficult task, and one that has created a familiar and comforting rhythm. Some mornings I am confronted with the decision of either brewing a much-needed hot cup of coffee, getting the fire started or doing some last-minute reading before online classes begin, all of which seem essential. I’ve spent plenty of time camping, and am familiar with spending time outdoors, but this experience has placed a new appreciation on accessibility to heat and insulated shelter as an important element of energy equity and justice. Sitting in on lectures discussing the energy accessibility inequities at the Base of the Pyramid in both our Driving Innovation and Energy Policy and Sustainable Technology courses would not have been nearly as visceral had it not been for those mornings spent breaking sticks and stoking the woodstove.

Fortunately, the cabin has an entirely self-sufficient energy system. The solar panels and partnered battery storage allow for a few lights, small refrigerator, running water and charges for my laptop and cell phone. With a live display of kw being generated at any given time, as well as feedback on current draw and remaining levels of the battery, fun games have emerged gambling with myself on whether or not it is worthwhile to run the electric tea-kettle when I know that my laptop will probably require a few more charges to survive all the Zoom lectures before the sun pokes through the rain clouds. Inevitably, I open the fridge less and do not run the water excessively while doing the dishes. Both are simple behavior changes which have not detracted from my quality of life. I am now simply remembering the contents of the fridge and realizing that this serves the same purpose that staring hopefully into the depths that my favorite snack will somehow emerge from thin air. Watching the battery levels drop and rise with each action or inaction has helped to ground my understanding of my impact in same way a Prius owner plays games with gas efficiency from the dashboard display. If only this impact of consumption could be better distilled, displayed and understood by the greater population of individuals and businesses – simplicity here is undoubtedly the key.

Having the space for an herb garden and my own compost pile has been another activity stemming from the cabin lifestyle. Granted, this would not have been possible had the curriculum been forced to go virtual. But this virtual world may be here to stay for many in the professional landscape. Some companies are realizing they can still accomplish just as much from home as they can from having and office and have been able to navigate this transition. In forcing many professionals to adopt this platform, I hope there will be greater flexibility for younger professionals to adopt lifestyles that are more in line with their personal values.

But it is not my hope that next year’s cohort will be forced to begin the year virtually, because so many unique elements of the program simply will not be the same. In recognizing this possibility, however, it is important for potential and committed SI-MBA students to embrace the unknown and remain open to the lessons that being a part of this program and the greater Vermont community helps to facilitate. SI-MBA has proven itself adaptable and resilient in the face of this uncertainty, embodying essential elements of sustainability. I had no idea I would be learning these lessons in sustainable living, but by remaining positive and adaptable I have been able to cope with the COVID crisis and find invaluable lessons for future personal and business leadership, all of which have been framed and encouraged by SI-MBA’s core values and curriculum. I am optimistic that future leaders will continue to emerge from our nimble and disruptive program.

Life as an MBA Student During COVID-19

This post was written by Prakriti Timsina ’20. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Each month we have had Sustainable Innovation MBA (SI-MBA) Meetups where we, the current cohort, get to network and catch up with the SI-MBA alumni and professors. It was during one of the events where we often got asked how our cohort was handling the current COVID-19 situation. That prompted me to write this blog to share my educational experience during this unprecedented time.

Before I start off, I want to say that I understand that for many people, this has been a tough few months and that people are going through a lot. Often, when I listen to the news, it is heartbreaking to see everything going on in the world. Despite that, I try to be appreciative of the positive things in my life that keep me going. I am grateful and fortunate that the problems I am about to describe are minuscule and I’m happy to be safe and healthy and able to continue my master’s program without any major obstacles.

When the stay at home order first started, I was amazed that the SI-MBA faculty and staff were able swiftly to transition to online classes in a short amount of time, all while updating our cohort on what’s going on. Initially, we were using multiple platforms for our meetings and calendars—Microsoft teams for some classes and Zoom for others. For our class calendar, we were using both the Outlook Calendar and Google Calendar, which were sometimes out of sync with each other. Although that caused some confusion in the beginning, our class leaders were able to talk to the SI-MBA program directors and decided to use Zoom and Google Calendar, given the ease of use, familiarity, and performance.

Two of the challenges were figuring out how to work together remotely and trying to figure out how to present as a group. We went from having one group in module one to having four different groups in module four, and coordinating various groups was a challenge on its own. Given the complexity and our busy schedules, most of the time we tried to plan our school schedule in advance. If there was a conflict of schedule, we tried to be accommodating and understanding of our classmate’s situation. To get ready for our presentations, we met a few times via Zoom to complete the presentation and practice. During the practice session, we decided on who would share their screen and when to switch slides.

It’s hard to be productive when you are stuck in your home. I found that having a set routine to follow was really helpful. I also created a task list of things I had to accomplish each day. This may not be the case for everyone, but personally, it helped to get dressed for the day as if I was heading into Kalkin Hall. I know it’s extremely tempting to do your work from the coziness of your warm bed; however, I noticed I wasn’t as productive as I could be from it. I set up multiple workstations in my place that I could use during school hours. During this time, it’s easy to have our days blur in one, but It helped to switch rooms every so often. When the weather was warm and sunny, I attended my class outside.

Apart from my classes, there were a few activities I did to stay sane during this time. Every day, I made an effort to be active in some way, whether it was working out or joining in on online dance classes. We have had a few game nights and movie nights to de-stress, catch up, and see each other outside of the online class setting. A few times a week, I would check in with my friends to see how they were holding up.

Throughout this whole process, I admire SI-MBA’s willingness to continually adapt based on our feedback. Every week, we have zoom SI-MBA check-ins where program directors can share any relevant information, get market, and medical updates. This is also the time where we get to share any concerns and provide feedback on how to make this program better in this uncertain time. I want to thank the professors for their understanding and adaptability. It feels amazing to be part of a community where we have so much say and have the opportunity to have our voices heard.

Geography and the Environment to the World of Business

This post was written by Dana Stewart ’20

Jaws dropped to the floor when I first told my friends and family that I was going to business school. Apart from my complete and utter lack of business attire, everyone was just really shocked and thought I was drastically pivoting. When I told them about the sustainability theme of the MBA their doubts softened, but still they were struggling to identify the connections between my undergraduate degree and the business degree I was about to pursue. I had no such struggles. 

Photo by USGS on Unsplash

I double majored in environmental studies and geography at Villanova University. The first two years of my education were heavily science based and focused on the challenges and opportunities we face as a result of world trends, environmental shifts and anthropogenic forces. I was taking classes like Environmental Chemistry, Global Changes in Local Places, Geo-techniques, Natural Resources, and Environmental Justice. I can pinpoint connections to the coursework of this MBA and those first two science-heavy years at Villanova even though, to the untrained eye, the two may be totally separate worlds. The environmental and business connections continued to grow through the second half of undergrad and are even clearer as I look back on the courses I took in my junior and senior years.

One of my favorite classes was Geographic Information Systems (GIS). GIS is all about capturing, analyzing, storing, managing, and presenting all kinds of data and layers on top of geographic locations. GIS actually has really strong ties to the world of business and economics. We did projects that examined elements that make certain areas more appealing for commerce. We would even calculate the actual amounts and fluctuation of attention a business could expect to attract depending on what direction it’s storefront faced and the foot-traffic and other characteristics associated with an area. We also looked at degrees of economic success against all kinds of variables in order to draw out possible conclusions or connections.

Although there are huge differences between my undergraduate degree and this MBA, I’m finding more and more ways to thread them together. I hope in years to come this kind of “pivot” will become less dramatic. It is my hope that it even becomes commonplace for people from my academic background or any background that seemingly contrasts to slide into the business realm and begin a paradigm shift. If you are passionate and  determined to cultivate a connection from where you are coming from to this program, you can make this MBA work for you.

We’ve Been Wrong About Millennial Entitlement… and 4 Other Hot Takes from Diane Abruzzini ’17

This post was written by Kate Barry ’20 and Taran Catania ‘20

In a recent interview with Kathleen Burns Kingsbury in the Breaking Money Silence® podcast, Diane Abruzzini ‘17 gave us a handful of fresh insights on impact investing, millennial entitlement, recession-driven entrepreneurship, and how women do money and business differently. We’ve collected five of our most favorite “hot takes” below:

1. We’ve Been Wrong About Millennial Entitlement

Diane is quick to point out that the concept of “millennial entitlement” on its own is a half-baked concept: “It’s a funny thing to call anyone entitled because there’s more to that sentence — you’re entitled to something.” The stereotype of millennial entitlement to money is not actually engaging with who millennials are. “What might be a truer statement is that millennials are entitled, but they’re entitled to different things. They’re entitled to [the] ethos that we were raised with… of transparency, of equity, of equal access to resources.”

And as Diane puts it — what if this entitlement is a good thing? And what if it’s something businesses can use to help reach and engage millennials, and not simply to dismiss them (as the world makes continuous jokes about the things millennials have “killed”)? The truth is, millennials’ preferences are making big changes in the business world. “And if you want to be able to connect with millennials,” Diane notes, “you’re going to have to be able to reach them in helping them create the world that they want to live in.”

2. Recessions Produce Entrepreneurs

In light of recent events, we have our eyes on the job market and the economy at large as we prepare for our graduation in August. Diane graduated from college during the 2008 recession, which made landing a conventional post-graduation job for her and her peers more difficult than usual. Because of this, many, including herself, turned towards non-traditional and entrepreneurial ventures.

Because of this, Diane is not surprised that millennials are more entrepreneurial than past generations—we live in economically volatile times where flexibility and creativity are key for a savvy millennial. Diane claims, looking at the history books, those who often become entrepreneurs are “people who are usually boxed out of traditional well-paying sustaining jobs.” This list includes immigrants, women, and people who aren’t able to find what they are looking for because they don’t fit mainstream demographics. Millennials, women in particular, are simply doing what they have to out of necessity, to shape a world that works for them moving forward.

3. Female Entrepreneurs are Having a Moment

Historically, women-owned businesses have not been able to pull in venture capital funds at the same rates as their male-owned counterparts. However, as Diane notes, “anytime there’s a group of individuals that have been overlooked, there is untapped potential.”

Luckily, certain firms are catching on that women-owned businesses are offering products that the male-dominated financial world has missed. Diane gives the great example of Burlington-based Mamava – a women-led business that designs lactation suites for breastfeeding moms on the go. While this might sound like a simple idea, as Diane says, “it’s never been done before because no one has taken that design perspective for the young mother consumer.”

Simply put, because women are half the population, products made with them in mind resonate with a significant customer base (duh). So it’s long overdue (in our humble opinion) for Diane’s declaration: “female entrepreneurs are having a moment.”

4. Women Invest Differently

We’re glad Diane doesn’t shy away from this one: “The language in traditional financial services is super male.” Even the way investing is framed semantically is competitive (“outperform”) and individualistic (“winner-takes-all”). But generally speaking, women and millennials alike tend to look towards our own goals: we may not have a goal of a 9% return in the stock market, but we have a goal of paying off our student loans or saving up for a home. So as Diane explains, if millennials and women “can’t connect to the [financial] advice that’s been given to us, …then they’re not going to seek that out.”

Diane wants to change how people view the connection between their personal goals and their finances. “Being able to use your money and your power to fund what’s important to you… [is] really powerful. If more women, [regardless of generation], understood that you can invest according to your goals, there might be a little bit more excitement around investing and using financial power.”

5. Money is Power

Diane cites a shift in finance towards impact investment as her reason for pivoting her career. She, along with many others, see the power of the capital market to instill lasting, sustainable change, and the financial world is starting to shift accordingly. Diane says “The more we can divert capital and money into the future that we want to believe in, then the more emphasis and the more strength is going to be behind that movement.”

And we couldn’t agree more. This is what makes us so excited to take part in the shift to impact investing for with our practicum project this summer. The private equity market is uniquely positioned to allow investors to make direct impact by supporting growth-stage businesses with social and environmental missions. And the research from our practicum project will do just that for and its clients.

And one final thought…

If you like the sound of our practicum project, you can read more about it (and check out all this year’s Sustainable Innovation MBA practicum projects) here.