How Hollywood is Working to Tackle the Climate Crisis

Written by:
Vanessa Chumbley ’22
Managing Editor
Connect with Vanessa on LinkedIn

The relationship between film and television and American culture is a popular topic which many scholars have dedicated their careers to. Indeed, it is part of the evolution of the relationship that art has always had with culture. Through pre-historic drawings, sculpture, the written word, visual art, and now films and TV, art has always been both a product of a given culture and a vehicle for influencing and changing culture. Art reflects current attitudes, beliefs, and trends, but also provides new perspectives and has the power to change the way people understand and interact with the world around them. It is difficult to understand exactly the extent to which the content we watch today is a product of cultural trends versus the cause of cultural trends, but Oscar Wilde may have been on to something when he wrote, “Life imitates art far more than Art imitates life.”

It is through art and storytelling that we have come to understand our history as a species, and they remain a vital and integral part of our understanding of the world. Today, it is largely through film and TV that we tell the stories of our time – the stories that future generations will look to in order to understand this period of time in human history. One of the most important stories of our time, if not the most important, is that of our rapidly changing environment, climate change, and the role that human beings play in these changes.

The entertainment community is beginning to understand how they can play a role in tackling the climate crisis. A recent UK report, produced by the Behavioural Insight Team in collaboration with Sky TV, provided a strong call to action for the media and entertainment industry to use their platform to promote a more sustainable future, stating:

Broadcast organisations and content creators… have a unique opportunity to make a difference for the planet. Through the programs that they produce, the characters that they create, the plot-lines that they develop, and the adverts that they broadcast, content creators have the potential to have a far-reaching impact on the knowledge, attitudes and behaviours of citizens, and to spark conversations in boardrooms and political arenas alike. They are also pivotally placed to help people sift through the maze of choices and claims, to adopt behaviours – and products – that can get us to a greener future.1

The idea of entertainment content influencing and shifting cultural norms around sustainability and climate change is compelling and credible when we consider how content has shaped culture in the past. Film and TV’s influence on things like violence and smoking among children and teens has been widely discussed, but there is also data on the positive impact content has had on topics such as acceptance of homosexuality, public health, and having a designated driver.


As the world’s largest Entertainment and Media (E&M) industry, Hollywood is beginning to take this call to action to heart. In April of 2022, Good Energy – a “story consultancy for the age of climate change” – released their climate storytelling playbook: “A playbook for screenwriting in the age of climate change”. This playbook applies climate and behavioral science to the writing and storytelling process, outlining best practices for climate character development, how to talk about climate change, and how to portray sustainable behaviors on screen.

The conversation continued in June at the Hollywood Climate Summit, an annual gathering of entertainment, climate and behavioral science experts, and activists with programming aimed at how Hollywood can address the climate crisis. I attended a few of the Summit events as research for my Practicum Project with the Sustainable Production Alliance (SPA) – a consortium of the world’s leading film, TV, and streaming companies dedicated to accelerating the transformation of the entertainment business into a more sustainable industry. Working on this Practicum Project has provided introductions to many organizations working to tackle the climate crisis through content, including Green Product Placement, the Environmental Media Association, and Rare – one of the presenting organizations at the Summit.

The Summit brought together some of the industry’s most knowledgeable professionals, from the VP of Animation Film at Netflix to the founder of Good Energy to Erin Brockovich. Programming covered a variety of climate storytelling topics, including workshops on screenwriting, dispelling character tropes, unpacking climate emotions, and seminars on climate justice stories and elevating the voices of minority creators.

I was thrilled to see SI-MBA alum, Julie Keck, leading an event titled, “Kin Theory: A Community Centering Indigenous Creators”. Julie graduated from SI-MBA in 2019 and is now Co-Founder and Chief Business Development Officer of OTV Studio, an artist and IP incubator for intersectional creators that connects these artists to studios, networks, and audiences. She also works as a Consulting Producer with Nia Tero, a non-profit organization working to preserve Indigenous peoples, cultures, and land through advocacy, policymaking, and storytelling.

The industry is not only addressing climate change through its content, however. The major Hollywood studios and streaming companies are taking ambitious steps to reducing the carbon footprint of their business and physical production operations. For example, Sony installed solar panels on their lot, offsetting 100% of the electricity consumed by stage operations. Paramount constructed an alternative energy plant on their property, lowering energy consumption to below 1990 levels and saving 400 million tons of greenhouse gases over the past decade. Disney is piloting a digester, turning all their food and green waste into compost without needing to be transported to another facility. Studio crews take home the compost to use in their gardens, thus engaging and educating employees in the process2.


Much of the work done by my Practicum host, SPA, has centered around reducing the carbon footprint of physical production. They have produced tools including a carbon footprint calculator and a plywood tracking worksheet to be used on set. They connect filmmakers to a variety of green vendors and published the industry’s first comprehensive report on carbon emissions from physical production between 2016 and 2019. What is inspiring about SPA is that it’s an alliance comprised of the industry’s largest competitors – always battling for projects, talent, and viewers. However, they’ve come together to work collaboratively to make the industry as a whole more sustainable. Lisa Day, Manager of Environmental Sustainability at Disney, is one the point people for my Practicum project. The Hollywood Reporter Sustainability Issue shared the following quote from Lisa:

From the early, early days of starting this work, we came together and we said, ‘You know what, we can be as competitive as we want to at the box office, on our linear channels and our streaming services, but this is an area where we really need to be cooperative and not competitive,’ speaking of the industry’s collaborative effort to tackle climate change.1

The entertainment community has only just begun these important conversations on how to be a force for good when it comes to the climate crisis. Much more work and research are needed to reach the full potential of the positive impact the industry could have. I am excited and honored to make even a small contribution to this effort through my Practicum Project. While there is still a long way to go, this movement within the industry is gaining significant momentum, and I am hopeful it will lead to more action and widespread positive impact.

1Londakova, K., Reynolds, J., Farrell, A., Whitwell-Mak, J., Meyer zu Brickwedde, E., Mottershaw, A., . . . Park, T. (2021). The power of TV: Nudging viewers to decarbonise their lifestyles. Retrieved July 1, 2022, from

2Chuba, K. (2022). Thr sustainability issue. Retrieved July 1, 2022, from

Moving Beyond ESG to System Impact

Written By:
Taylor Smith ’22
Content Editor
Connect with Taylor on LinkedIn

Students in UVM’s Sustainable Innovation MBA (SI-MBA) program have taken control of the newly established SI-MBA Impact Fund. This donor-supported investment fund is committed to promoting the electrification of the U.S. economy. The fund is built around an emerging school of thought termed “system-level investing.” This approach acknowledges the interplay between the investment decisions made by individuals and the underlying social, economic, and environmental systems that ultimately drive U.S. financial markets.

Conventional investment approaches have a history of degrading our foundational systems in the pursuit of quarterly profits. Ever since the economist Milton Friedman embedded the concept of shareholder primacy1 in the 1960s and 1970s, profit maximization has been the aim of most corporate decision making. Even as our systems show the effects of degradation, it has been difficult to popularize a new paradigm of investment theory.

1Shareholder primacy is a form of corporate governance that focuses on maximizing the value of shareholders before considering the interests of other corporate stakeholders, such as society, the community, customers, employees, and the environment.

In 21st Century Investing (2021), William Burckart and Steve Lydenberg explore the emerging school of system-level investing. A key recognition of this investment approach is that we are not passive participants in capital markets. Our collective investments depend on, and influence, the long-term health of our underlying shared systems. The upshot is our investment decisions can support the health of our institutions and the environment. For instance, strategic investments in renewable energy diversify our electric grid and improve resiliency, but also reduce many social, environmental, and financial costs associated with pollution and climate risk.

21st Century Investing by William Burckart and Steve Lydenberg

System-level investors also recognize that various asset classes are inherently suited to tackle specific types of challenges. Fixed income government assets (bonds) can be used to construct public works. Equities (stocks) provide voting power and can influence long-term initiatives within large publicly traded firms. Venture capital investments can empower new start-ups that disrupt established industry players. Investors can participate and magnify their impact by funding the asset classes that maximize societal benefits in their chosen arena. Tactical groups of investments across several asset classes can work collectively to solve critical problems.

System-level investing confronts the problems of short-termism head-on. As Burckart and Lydenberg note, “Investors with long-term time horizons…recognize that the further out they look, the more their interests and those of society coincide. The greater their commitment to a long-term approach, the more they value the health of underlying systems.” System-level investors recognize a simple truth; to maximize returns in the long run, the underlying systems must be sustainable. Otherwise, the system breaks down. It is no surprise that many pension funds, such as those supporting workers in California (CalPERS), Quebec (CDPQ), and the Church of England, are drawn to a systems approach.

Few issues rise to the level where a systems approach makes sense. According to Burckart and Lydenberg, appropriate issues are those that have achieved widespread consensus as to their systematic importance, are broadly relevant to investment returns, are capable of being influenced by investors, and have long-term uncertainty. Issues that meet this threshold include climate change, income inequality, access to fresh water, and future pandemics.

In the SI-MBA program, student analysts, faculty advisors, and alumni practitioners are working to address our chosen theme: the full electrification of the U.S. economy. This theme was selected in support of UVM’s strong commitment to climate action. Embedded within the U.S. power grid are the diversified categories of 1) energy creation and distribution, 2) energy storage, and 3) energy consumption. Teams of students are collaborating to search for best-in-class, innovative public companies within each of these divisions that are helping to accelerate the U.S. energy transition. The energy grid is being considered at a global level, from the mining companies that extract heavy metals for battery and solar manufacturing, to the marketers who influence cultural trends and spending habits.

Photo by Aidan Hancock on Unsplash

SI-MBA students are committed to driving sustainable change across diverse fields: energy, education, public health, and many others. Thanks to UVM’s donors, those interested in pursuing careers in finance and analytics are gaining real world experience, with a chance to support systemic change long before graduation. While the SI-MBA Impact Fund isn’t likely to disrupt financial markets on its own, we are supporting a growing community of sustainable finance professionals. Collective action is essential for scaling impact.

We know that financial professionals can use a system-level investing approach to create societal benefits without sacrificing financial returns. Bolstering the health of underlying social, financial, and environmental systems creates a rising tide of investment opportunities for all. Before long, conventional investors will choose to ride the wave.

Opinion: SEC’s ESG disclosure proposal is a steppingstone, not a solution

Written By:
Carly Joos ’22
Digital Content Editor
Connect with Carly on LinkedIn

A new wave of capitalism may be looming as the latest proposal from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) directly ties the future of business to environmental and social impact. On March 21st, the SEC proposed new rules for reporting on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) metrics. These rules would require public companies to disclose their contributions to global warming, such as greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and evaluate the threats that climate change poses to their operations. This proposal is an essential step in compelling corporations to think critically about their impact on our planet and society, but is not a silver bullet to bring about true disruptive and systemic change. 

Many companies, both public and private, already voluntarily disclose their social and environmental impacts. KPMG’s 2020 Survey of Sustainability Reporting indicated that 80% of N1001 companies worldwide, and more than 90% in North America, report on sustainability[1]. So, if companies are already reporting on sustainability and ESG metrics, why is the SEC proposing new rules?

1The N100 refers to a worldwide sample of 5,200 companies. It includes the top 100 companies by revenue in each of the 52 countries and jurisdictions researched in this study. These N100 statistics provide a broad-based snapshot of sustainability reporting among large and mid-cap firms around the world.

Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash

A major problem in ESG reporting today is that companies lack clear guidelines on how to actually do it. There are countless reporting frameworks that companies can use, including the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), and many more. Each framework varies in scope, for example focusing exclusively on environmental impacts such as GHG emissions, or financial impacts of climate change, or a broad range of ESG topics. Sometimes companies elect to use more than one framework, but often they choose only one, omitting critical information that their stakeholders may want to see. This makes it difficult for investors to compare ESG risks across companies. The SEC’s proposal solves for this problem by offering consistent guidelines that all publicly traded US companies will be required to use.

You might be wondering why the SEC, which focuses on informing and protecting investors, is proposing ESG reporting rules rather than another governing body like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), whose mission is to protect human health and the environment. The EPA carries out their mission by sponsoring and conducting research and developing and enforcing environmental regulations. While these activities are critical for supporting climate science, the EPA does not shape financial policy. Investors have begun to realize the threat that climate change poses to the future success of business and are increasingly demanding insight into the non-financial performance of their investments. This comes as a new generation of employees and consumers, Millennials and Gen Z, are more inclined to align their employment and their purchases with their values. These generational trends also threaten businesses that don’t begin taking climate change seriously.

Photo by Markus Spiske:

The SEC’s proposal is an important steppingstone for the sustainability community. We can predict and hope that as companies begin disclosing their ESG metrics and climate risks, those who perform poorly will suffer from drops in share price and inhibited access to capital. But this is precisely why the proposal is not a silver bullet – there is no guarantee that ESG disclosures will force companies to actually transform their operations to be more sustainable.

“This proposal is long overdue (we are playing catch-up with Europe).  It would provide valuable information to investors and the public at-large, and would help inform the development of public policy,” commented Charles Schnitzlein, UVM’s Grossman Endowed Chair in Finance, and Academic Director of the Sustainable Innovation MBA program. “Nevertheless, critics of the proposal abound, and if the rule is enacted, it will surely face legal challenges from the usual suspects (right-wing think tanks, the fossil fuel industry, and politicians from coal and oil producing states).”

Already the proposal is receiving critical feedback from industry groups protesting that the new rules will drive up compliance costs and impact company profitability[2]. If companies aren’t willing to spend money to report on what they already do, then they certainly won’t be willing to invest in more environmentally sustainable practices. Meanwhile, environmentalists argue that the new rules won’t require all companies to report on Scope 3 GHG emissions due to various exemptions. Scope 3 emissions are those that are generated outside the walls of the company, such as by suppliers or consumers, and are often much greater than Scope 1 and 2 emissions combined.

The reality is that traditional business leaders and environmentalists are unlikely to agree on the role of business in the fight against climate change. We are in a race against time as we work to limit the impacts of global warming and must accept and celebrate small steppingstones, like the SEC’s proposal, as wins. “There is scientific consensus that there is a rapidly closing window to prevent catastrophic climate change.  This proposal would help. Let’s hope it is enacted!” Professor Schnitzlein concluded hopefully.

When it comes to climate change, the widely debated quote “you can’t manage what you can’t measure” reigns true – businesses must begin quantifying their impact on the planet to begin reducing it. The SEC’s proposal lays the foundation for exactly that. From there, we can continue to advocate for systemic change and support businesses as they transition to truly sustainable operations.

The opinions expressed in this article are my own, and do not represent the views of UVM or the Sustainable Innovation Review editorial team.

[1] Threlfall, Richard, Jennifer Shulman, Adrian King, and Wim Bartels. “The KPMG Survey of Sustainability Reporting 2020.” KPMG, December 2020.

[2] Kiernan, Paul. “SEC Floats Mandatory Disclosure of Climate-Change Risks, Emissions.” The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, March 22, 2022.

New Belgium Brews for a Cleaner Future

Written By:
Zoe Kurtz ’22
Contributing Writer
Connect with Zoe on LinkedIn

At the beginning of March, I joined five other students and traveled to Asheville, North Carolina to enjoy spring break, which included a meeting with the New Belgium sustainability team. As a SI-MBA student with a particular affection for breweries, I was fully supportive of the school-inspired detour. We were particularly interested in meeting Sarah Fraser, New Belgium’s sustainability specialist. New Belgium rides ahead of their competition as the proud brewer of Fat Tire, the first carbon neutral beer to be distributed in the US. This means that both the brewing and the sourcing of Fat Tire contributes no net carbon to the atmosphere. That’s right, something that is delicious for you is also delicious for the planet.

SI-MBA students at the New Belgium Liquid Center in Asheville, NC

New Belgium’s story is novel in the industry but becoming increasingly popular as more breweries experiment with innovative sustainable techniques to brew ever more delicious beer. Traditionally, the brewing process consumes large amounts of energy and water, both in sourcing the ingredients and transforming those grains into the beverage we are all expecting. While these challenges present massive hurdles to overcome for breweries trying to reduce their environmental footprint, New Belgium is not shying away.

I was giddy walking into New Belgium’s Liquid Center in Asheville to meet Sarah. The Liquid Center is a paradise for beer lovers. The bar inside is colorful and welcoming, and the outdoor space overlooks the French Broad River, which plays host to the tasting room and brewery. As we walked in, we could see the current construction to install solar panels on the brewhouse underway: another investment New Belgium is making towards their sustainability goals. As we sat outside, absorbing the southern sun and sipping our beers, we spoke with Sarah about everything from their carbon neutrality goals, supply chain issues, their relationship with the local Asheville brewery scene, and different exciting innovations they are exploring. The experience was both surreal and validating as I saw classroom discussions transition so seamlessly into real life application in an industry I love.

Entrance to the Liquid Center in Asheville, NC. Photo Courtesy of Sarah Fraser, New Belgium Brewing

Our conversation with Sarah left me with two major impressions: 1) to help achieve their sustainability goals, New Belgium’s operations could benefit from a more dedicated focus on the collection and analysis of data, and 2) the brewing industry is better positioned than most to successfully make the transition to carbon neutrality.

New Belgium is already tracking their brewery’s utilities and operational data, as well as their greenhouse gas emissions data, choosing to self-report across three defined scopes: Scope 1 emissions are all direct emissions from owned or controlled sources (such as in-building heating equipment); Scope 2 emissions are all indirect emissions from purchased electricity; and Scope 3 emissions are all indirect emissions (not included in Scope 2) that occur along the entire value chain (Greenhouse Gas Protocol). New Belgium is going the extra mile to track Scope 3 emissions – a strategic decision that exemplifies their robust commitment to sustainability. The sustainability office at New Belgium is an interdepartmental team of passionate employees. They are tasked with the collection and use of this data to help New Belgium move closer to their 2030 climate commitments. However, not having a full-time team of dedicated sustainability analysts limits the power of the data New Belgium collects.

The true power of data analytics is in how it provides companies the flexibility and creativity to experiment with innovative new approaches to their processes without investing significant capital. This process takes intention, know-how, and most importantly, time. Sarah did speak about how New Belgium is shifting the way they use their data: she highlighted some projects that use data to help estimate potential emissions reductions from changes to recipes or production processes. This shift could uncover new innovations that push New Belgium closer to their sustainability goals.

Innovation is only as valuable as it is scalable. Sarah reflects on how the industry competes for shelf space but collaborates in every other way. This is evidenced by the formation of the Brewers Association, an organizing body that allows for the space to share ideas, innovations, and best practices with fellow brewers. New Belgium is a proud member of the Brewers Association and cofounder of the Association’s sustainability subcommittee.  New Belgium even took an additional step towards transparency by creating an independently run Carbon Neutral Toolkit. This website is their “How-To”, aimed at helping other small brewers reach their carbon neutrality goals. Their commitment to sharing best practices is emblematic of the camaraderie in the industry: New Belgium embraces information sharing as a way to create a more sustainable industry, rather than gatekeeping their knowledge to retain their competitive advantage.

Brewery patrons enjoying the view of the French Broad River from the Tasting Center. Photo Courtesy of Sarah Fraser, New Belgium Brewing

There was something sublime about sitting outdoors next to the river, listening to the water rush past, and feeling the winter Asheville sun that made our drinks taste even better. Sarah, at one point, reflected: brewing consumes so much water and energy that those who brew understand and feel how their work is pulling those resources from the Earth. The brewing process truly connects the heart of the brewer and the soul of sustainability, encouraging the innovation we see in the brewing atmosphere in the hopes of a more environmentally friendly beverage. Connection and innovation are at the core of the brewing industry, allowing for a unique advantage to adapt to a new way of life as we all rush against the deadline of climate change.

Sustainable Business: A Centuries-Old Concept

Written By:
Nancy Demuth ’22
Creative Director
Connect with Nancy on LinkedIn

‘Acanthus’, a naturalistic wallpaper design by 19th century entrepreneur William Morris. Credit: Birmingham Museums Trust

Many of us tend to think of sustainable business as a recent phenomenon. It’s certainly true that in the last few decades, the climate crisis has compelled a new wave of companies to benefit both people and planet through their everyday operations. But in the wise words of American poet and civil rights activist Audre Lorde: ‘There are no new ideas. There are only new ways of making them felt.’[1]

In Professor Dita Sharma’s Entrepreneurial Family Business class, we learned that notions of “sustainability” have evolved over time. While the world’s most pressing concern today is the climate crisis, previous generations have also harnessed the power of business to tackle various social and environmental problems. They might not have used the word “sustainability”, but the concept of protecting people and planet would have been familiar to them.

I joined the SI-MBA program as an international student from the UK, a country with a rich history of sustainable business pioneers determined to change the status quo. Many of them worked against the backdrop of the Industrial Revolution, which began in the 18th century and had a brutal impact on the poorest people in society. For centuries, millions of working-class people labored for twelve to sixteen hours each day for little pay in dirty, cramped and extremely dangerous conditions. Workers’ rights were virtually non-existent, employers were often cruel and dictatorial, and child labor was a common and accepted reality.

Child labour in dangerous factory conditions became commonplace during the Industrial Revolution. Source: WikiImages from Pixabay

This was the world that Welsh factory owner Robert Owen (1771-1858) grew up in. In 1799, Owen purchased the New Lanark cotton mill from his father-in-law David Dale. While Dale was already considered a generous employer for the time, conditions at the mill were still, objectively, brutal. As a first step, Owen immediately banned corporal punishment for children, stopped accepting child workers from the local poor house, and raised the minimum age of employment to ten.

Eventually, Owen phased out the hiring of children completely and sent his remaining child workers to a purpose-built school. He also made many other decisions which, at the time, were nothing less than revolutionary: from implementing measures to increase his workers’ autonomy and motivation in the workplace, to improving workers’ housing, to opening an adult night school for his workers (commonly credited as the first in the world)[2].

In 1807, President Jefferson passed the Embargo Act, which put American cotton exports to Britain on hold. In response, most British cotton mills began laying off their workers. Owen, however, made the highly unusual decision to keep his workers on at full pay, earning him even more respect and loyalty from his employees. His approach reminds me of Dan Price, the tech CEO who in 2015 famously took a pay cut to pay all his employees a minimum salary of $70,000.

Owen is often remembered today as a philanthropist. However, this characterization glosses over the fact that his social initiatives could always be justified on economic grounds. The social improvements he pioneered weren’t simply acts of charity, but considered business decisions – and under his management, the factory became exceptionally profitable, with returns of over 50% on investment.

Textile designer William Morris (1834-1896) was another sustainability-minded entrepreneur whose ideas were far ahead of his time. Morris’ designs, famously inspired by the forms and shapes of the natural world, are as popular in British homes today as they were over a century ago. But fewer people are aware of the activism that accompanied his business acumen.

‘Kennet’, one of Morris’ nature-inspired designs. Credit: Birmingham Museums Trust/Unsplash

A committed environmentalist and campaigner, Morris was infuriated by the effects of industrial waste and pollution on the natural environment. He eschewed industrial production methods, instead opting to use small-scale, artisan production at his furnishings company, Morris & Co. He revived obsolete, artisanal production techniques, insisted on the use of high-quality raw materials, and used almost exclusively natural dyes[3]. He was also socially progressive, proving himself lightyears ahead of his time by hiring women as decorators in an era when this was far from considered a suitably “feminine” profession[4]. Even today, CEOs in male-dominated sectors tend to be far less proactive in this respect.

As an egalitarian and a committed socialist, the fact that only affluent households could afford Morris’ products was deeply troubling to him. While he never fully resolved this problem, his tactic was to educate consumers into making fewer purchases of higher quality. Today, many purpose-driven businesses still grapple with the very same issue: like Patagonia, whose striking “Don’t Buy This Jacket” campaign encouraged customers to buy less, but buy better. Morris’ message, then, seems more likely to resonate with customers in the 2020s than it was in the 1870s (at least, for those of us who constantly struggle to stop buying things we don’t need and achieve Marie Kondo levels of minimalism).

Morris’ childhood home in Walthamstow, north east London, is now the William Morris Gallery. Credit: Kenny Orr/Unsplash

A century later, in 1976, trailblazing entrepreneur and activist Anita Roddick (1942-2007) opened the first Body Shop in Brighton on the south coast of England. This was an era long before the advent of Fairtrade certification, the trend for zero-waste stores, and the boom in natural and vegan cosmetics. But Roddick was already travelling across the Global South to buy directly from farmer groups, asking customers to use refillable bottles, and campaigning against animal testing[5]. In the profit-obsessed, Thatcherite 1980s, Roddick was seemingly the antithesis of everything a CEO should be.

Roddick was no stranger to controversy, and her decision to take the business public in 1984 angered many who felt she had compromised her principles (and she did live to regret her decision). But few would deny that Roddick truly broke the business mold and paved a path for others – particularly women – to follow. Before anyone had coined the phrase ‘B Corporation’, ‘social enterprise’, or ‘Triple Bottom Line’, Roddick had already succeeded at growing a purpose-driven, activist enterprise in an extremely unforgiving and profit-obsessed business ecosystem.

Started in 1977, in 2022 there are now approximately 3,000 Body Shop stores worldwide – including this branch in Burlington, VT. Credit: Nancy Demuth

Though the world has changed dramatically since Owen, Morris, and even Roddick’s time, the problems they railed against still exist in some form today. As sustainable business students, we tend to constantly look ahead to the future at the potential of the latest technological advances to drive positive change. But more often than not, there’s also a great deal of inspiration to be found from the ingenious ideas of the past.

The opinions expressed in this article are my own, and do not represent the views of UVM or the Sustainable Innovation Review editorial team.

[1] Popova, M. (2022, January 28). Audre Lorde on poetry as an instrument of change and the courage to feel as an antidote to fear, a portal to power and possibility, and a fulcrum of action. The Marginalian. Retrieved February 4, 2022, from,then%20into%20more%20tangible%20action.

[2] British Library. (n.d.). Robert Owen. British Library. Retrieved February 4, 2022, from

[3] Barber, J. (n.d.). Bringing the garden indoors: How nature inspired William Morris. National Trust. Retrieved February 4, 2022, from

[4] Watson, A. (2019, September 9). The first eco-warrior of design. BBC Culture. Retrieved February 4, 2022, from

[5] Horwell, V. (2007, September 12). Obituary: Dame Anita Roddick. The Guardian. Retrieved February 4, 2022, from

Opinion: Robinhood Isn’t the Hero We Need Right Now

Written By: 
Taylor R. Smith ‘22 
Editor, Finance 
Connect with Taylor on LinkedIn 

“It’s hard to find a job you can retire on.” The sentiment runs deep. As I sat with writer’s block in my cramped Burlington apartment, my roommates bustled in the kitchen making lunch and small talk. Katy, a soil scientist with the Franklin County Natural Resources Conservation District, had recently been on a field assignment to meet with a farmer in snowy northern Vermont. In the hours spent passing paperwork around a kitchen table, the conversation touched on retirement. The offhand comment, from a dairy farmer aged about 60, is reflective of the fact that retirement readiness is a serious challenge – a unifying anxiety across generations of American workers.

For many, the simplest way to start investing for the future is through an employer-sponsored retirement plan. Dairy farmers in rural Vermont don’t have that luxury. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports only 67% of workers in private industry had access to an employer retirement plan in 2020. The distribution of those retirement plans follows a predictable and troubling pattern, with high earners far more likely to have access; only 39% of part-time workers have an employer-sponsored plan.

A secure retirement can feel especially remote for people without access to a plan through their workplace. For starters, sparing a few dollars is no small feat. Between student loans, rising rents, and (not-so-transitory) inflation, times are feeling very tight indeed. If you can ration the funds, it may still be difficult to cross the starting line. In a pandemic that feels more and more like a never-ending airline delay, it’s tough to muster the mental energy to explore investment options and dive in.

For those ready to take the plunge, the investment marketplace can be scary. Many individuals aren’t inclined to trust the financial services industry, as Wall Street’s reputation continues to recover from the 2008 financial crisis. Faced with the multitude of investment options and complex-sounding terms, I’ve seen “analysis paralysis” stop potential investors in their tracks. What brokerage firm should I choose? Do I need an advisor? When it comes to fees, how high is too high? What the heck is an ETF?! As Ryan Gosling quips in The Big Short,

It’s pretty confusing right? Does it make you feel bored? Or stupid? Well, it is supposed to. Wall Street loves to use terms to make you think only they can do what they do.” 

Ryan Gosling, The Big Short
Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Enter Robinhood. Established in 2013, the investing app has seen its popularity explode in the past few years, with huge user growth between 2020 and 2021. Granted, Robinhood doesn’t bill itself as a retirement service, but it may be the most accessible option for new investors – at least for now. Robinhood’s website proudly states: “We’re on a mission to democratize finance for all.” That’s a mission I can get behind, but critiques aren’t hard to find. Selections from Vice and NBC News touch on a few common criticisms, from Robinhood’s gamification of investing (complete with casino style graphics and confetti) to their sale of user order flow1. Robinhood also allows advanced investment techniques typically reserved for seasoned investors and professionals.

1A substantial portion of Robinhood’s revenue is derived from their sale of order flow. When you make a trade on Robinhood, the app sells your order to a larger investment firm for final execution. Your order is sold to the highest bidder, not to the firm that will complete the trade most quickly. Robinhood gets paid a fee, the outside firm gains a slight advantage on the open market, and the user pays a price.

A core tenet of finance is the relationship between risk and return. Riskier investments demand a higher expected return to justify their potential downside. It’s an open question whether apps like Robinhood shift this relationship out of balance for the at-home retail investor. The meteoric rise of Robinhood coincides with a period of strong economic growth following the Covid-crash of March 2020. Many retail investors cashed in, and new investors flocked into the market. A recent survey by Charles Schwab suggests 15% of stock market investors got their start in 2020. But what does the future hold during a downturn? Have inexperienced users been conditioned to take outsized risks, and if so, can these habits be reined in? 

Financial Technology (Fintech) companies are rising to meet the soaring demand for retail financial services. While it’s still early in the game, I’m interested to see which companies can profitably occupy a middle ground between the jargon-heavy multinational corporations of the past and the gamified trading apps led by Robinhood. We need a platform that is accessible to new investors but encourages stable portfolios geared for the long term.

Photo by on Unsplash

The right platform could fill the needs of a large segment of American workers that have been historically passed over by the financial services industry. I’m advocating for a new service that forgoes the frequent dopamine hits of Robinhood and lacks the intimidating interface of a legacy firm. In other words, a platform that’s not too hot, and not too cold. Just right.

Acorns and Greenlight offer two intriguing models. Both startups seem to put a larger emphasis on education and financial literacy (based on my informal review of their online platforms and messaging). Acorns facilitates micro-investing into diversified portfolios by rounding up daily purchases and investing the so-called “spare change.” Acorns does not currently allow trading of individual stocks, though according to Bloomberg this feature could be added in a limited capacity down the line. Greenlight focuses on a young audience (with parental controls in place), allowing money earned from chores and allowances to be invested into stocks and ETFs. In their words, they hope to “…empower parents to raise financially-smart kids.” 

These offerings from Acorns and Greenlight are promising, and more options will surely rise in the coming years. There’s little time to waste. The mathematics of compounding interest are compelling – an early start can make all the difference for an investor. I hope these services, and others, can bring more inclusion to a retirement industry that has typically catered to an affluent customer base. Our country will be more prosperous and secure if its workers are better positioned for a stable future. It’s also the right thing to do.

In the folktales, Robin Hood is the hero, stealing from the rich for the benefit of the poor. But the winners and losers aren’t so clear in the rapidly changing world of Fintech. Buyer beware, Robin Hood was also a master of disguise.

The opinions expressed in this article are my own, and do not represent the views of UVM or the Sustainable Innovation Review editorial team. This is not an endorsement of any investment product or service.

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

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