University of Vermont

New UVM MBA Program Adds Sustainability Star

Stuart Hart
Stuart Hart, a leader in the sustainable business field, has joined the faculty of UVM's new MBA program. (Photo: Robert Barker)

“As we rebound from the brink of economic collapse,” Bill Clinton wrote in 2010, “Stuart Hart proposes a sustainable, socially responsible model of capitalism and compels us to seize the opportunities afforded by a fresh start.” Now, four years later, Hart brings that vision to UVM, where he’s been hired as the Grossman Chair of Sustainable Business.

“He’s the equivalent of getting Michael Jordan in basketball,” says Dean Sanjay Sharma of Hart, who raises the national profile of UVM’s new Sustainable Entrepreneurship MBA program (SEMBA). “He’s a superstar in his field and puts us at the forefront of business sustainability.”

Hart, an authority on the implications of environment and poverty for business strategy, has published more than 70 papers and authored or edited seven books with more than 15,000 Google Scholar citations. His 1995 article “A Natural Resource-Based View of the Firm” is the most highly-cited academic work in the field of sustainable enterprise, while his seminal piece “Beyond Greening: Strategies for a Sustainable World,” won the McKinsey Award for Best Article in Harvard Business Review in 1997 and helped launch the corporate sustainability movement.

Not a ‘saddle bag’ approach

Sharma and Hart, who first met more than 15 years ago, recently co-wrote an article, “Beyond ‘Saddle Bag’ Sustainability for Business Education” in the journal Organization & Environment. It chronicles the history of how business schools have incrementally added courses in sustainability, corporate social responsibility and ethics in response to evolving societal demands.

“These ‘saddle-bag’ approaches do not integrate the topics into the core functional areas of business,” they write. “Only recently have a few business schools boldly overcome organizational inertia to develop curricula that lead practice by embedding sustainability into the core to educate managers who can rise to the demands of the global sustainability challenges facing the world in the 21st century.”

Hart says the new one-year SEMBA program, which starts in the fall of 2014, is the exception because it has institutional support, representing a “bold new venture where a major university has sought to fundamentally reinvent business education and the MBA degree” by addressing the environment, ethics, entrepreneurship, poverty and inequality. “In the traditional saddle bag approach, you can open it up and there is some cool stuff in there, but if you take the saddle off it’s the same horse as before; you haven’t fundamentally altered the animal, and what we are trying to do here is be the first to alter the animal.”

SEMBA Director Willy Cats-Baril redesigned the traditional MBA program by focusing the new 45-hour credit program on sustainable business and entrepreneurship-focused curriculum. SEMBA consists of five modules: Foundations of Management; Building a Sustainable Enterprise; Managing Growth; Focusing on Sustainability; and a practicum on Sustainable Entrepreneurship in Action.

"I've tried to develop a curriculum that will translate to the marketplace," says Cats-Baril. "What we're asking people to invest in by coming here is the promise of them starting a new sustainable venture or finding a job in the sustainability space at the end of the program; and that promise is based on the strength of the curriculum. It's a  crowded, competitive marketplace, so I've tried to recruit the strongest possible team of faculty to convince applicants that we are totally committed to deliver on that promise. I think the hiring of a star like Stuart Hart will make everyone around him better and will give the SEMBA program tremendous credibility and visibility.”

Another unique feature is the program’s interdisciplinary model, allowing it to draw from scholars in the Rubenstein School of Environmental & Natural Resources; the Gund Institute; Community Development and Applied Economics; Vermont Law School; and the School of Business Administration, among others. Leaders from Vermont sustainably-focused businesses such as AllEarth Renewables, Ben & Jerry’s, Burton Snowboards, Cabot Creamery, FreshTracks Capital L.P., Keurig Green Mountain, Seventh Generation and Vermont Energy Investment Corporation (VEIC) are part of an advisory board that will provide outside expertise and work with students. The program culminates with a three-month practicum that has students start or expand a sustainable business.

Bringing a global network to campus

Bloomberg Businessweek calls Hart “one of the founding fathers of the ‘base of the pyramid’ economic theory” that refers to the largest, but poorest socio-economic group consisting of the four billion people (out of seven billion worldwide) who live on less than $4 per day. Hart has developed new models of doing business that intentionally target that demographic to help lift them out of poverty, while also helping businesses thrive. His best-selling book, Capitalism at the Crossroads, was selected by Cambridge University as one of the 50 top books on sustainability of all-time, while the first empirical article on the topic, “Reinventing strategies for emerging markets: Beyond the transnational model,” was considered groundbreaking.

Hart, who is also the Samuel C. Johnson Chair Emeritus in Sustainable Global Enterprise and professor emeritus of management at Cornell University’s Johnson School of Management, brings a global network to the program from which students will directly benefit. As founder and president of Enterprise for a Sustainable World (ESW), Hart and his colleagues around the world work directly with emergent companies to develop the capabilities necessary for sustainable enterprise by providing consulting services and education that facilitates effective clean technology, base of the pyramid and "green leap" initiatives.

Emergent Institute based in Bangalore, India, is an arm of ESW focused on facilitating "green leap venturing" by developing a program for entrepreneurs from rural areas or corporate entrepreneurial teams in India to accelerate the rate and success of these kinds of ventures. Also under ESW, is the BoP (Base of Pyramid) Global Network, a cadre of 18 labs around the world that use entrepreneurs, financiers, corporate leaders, scholars, NGO’s, and other players to create innovative and sustainable business models through the emerging field of BoP enterprise development.

“Bringing all of these learning labs together allows experts to engage in solving global challenges for emerging BoP companies,” says Hart. “This ties in with Emergent and to the SEMBA program because we can get students involved in practicum projects, and the BoP Global Network can help leverage the word about SEMBA around the world in terms of prospective students.”