The Sustainable Innovation MBA at the University of Vermont is a one year, AACSB-accredited program focusing on the development of the next generation of business leaders who will build, disrupt, innovate and reinvent enterprises to move us more rapidly toward a sustainable world.

The Sustainable Innovation MBA is a twelve-month program consisting of 9 months of classroom learning (August to April) and 3 months of a practicum project (May to July). The practicum project is a full-time, hands-on experiential engagement with either existing companies or new ventures (host organizations) from the US and around the world focused on real challenges and opportunities in sustainable entrepreneurship. Practicum projects are composed of teams of 2-3 Sustainable Innovation MBA students each.

The deliverable for the practicum is a detailed and comprehensive business/action plan for the host organization. At the end of July, students pitch their business/action plans to a panel of Executives, Chief Sustainability Officers, Entrepreneurs and Financiers, along with representatives of the host organizations. A successful practicum pitch is required for graduation.

A sampling of the Practicum Projects for 2019-20 are described briefly below:

 

Host - Burton

Project Title – Pass Along: Product as a Service

As the only snowboard company designated as a B-Corporation, Burton Snowboards maintains its placement in the snow sports industry as a product innovator and global market leader. Burton recently created the Pass Along program, which aims to keep its products out of landfills and enjoyed for extended periods across its global consumer base. Pass Along is a dynamic circular economy that will enable customers to sell back their equipment and soft goods for resale and refurbishment by Burton, thus extending its lifetime across multiple users. Not only does this strategy help to protect the environment, it also endeavors to make snowboarding more accessible to customers in untapped markets from a variety of backgrounds and demographics.

UVM’s Sustainable Innovation MBA students are tasked with assisting the implementation of this re-commerce program by doing financial analysis and modeling, investigating other innovative business models that could expand this program, and delivering a comprehensive planning report. The students are encouraged to use their creativity and share additional recommendations to Burton in the area of environmental stewardship, customer engagement, and profitability. This dynamic practicum hosted by Burton will require students to utilize their spectrum of knowledge and skills learned in SI-MBA, including engaging corporate social responsibility strategies, marketing, finance, and data analysis.

 

Fellowship - Environmental Defense Fund

Project Title – Environmental Defense Fund Climate Corp Fellowship

The Environmental Defense Fund (“EDF”) is one of the world’s largest environmental organizations, with over 2.5 million members and over 700 employees around the world. Founded in 1967, EDF is known for its work on issues including global warming, oceans and human health. As noted by the Economist, EDF is “America’s most economically literate green campaigners.

The EDF Climate Corp Fellowship was created in 2008 and was meant to bring together top graduate student talent, coupled with EDF resources and expertise in a variety of subject matters and industries to help organizations meet sustainability and energy goals. Since its inception, over 1,000 graduate students have worked on projects with over 450 organizations around the world, resulting in over $1.6 billion in energy saving projects identified.

Fellows are placed with their host organizations in early March, so look back then for an update.

 

Host – Fable Farm

Project Title – Defining the Path to an Agricultural, Economic and Culturally Sustainable Future

This practicum will focus on helping empower and solidify a farm business-cultural organism into a thriving, robust expression of a rural agrarian enterprise. Over the last 11 years, Fable Farm has come a long way since it started as a vegetable farm turning into a fully integrated perennial farm, winery and gathering space that supplies living wines and vinegars to niche urban markets across the country. The Farm is at a crossroads of growth and looks to take the business to the next level.

Specifically, the Farm is interested in identifying and examining new potential revenue streams, distribution methods, human capital challenges, internal reorganization, and capital/infrastructure development projects that would increase capacity and efficiency. Areas of focus for research include hospitality and other onsite revenue streams, product development, farm expansion projects, and strategic equipment needs. Honing in on areas of biggest needs (such as business structure and operation, marketing, etc.) will be the initial challenge that will help pivot the direction of this practicum.

 

Host – Griffith Foods

Project Title – Co-creating a Fortified, Affordable Food to Improve the Nutritional Status of Adolescent Girls

Griffith Foods is a family-owned global developer and manufacturer of customized food ingredients whose purpose is to “blend care and creativity to nourish the world”. The company manufactures a variety of products, ranging from seasonings and coatings to marinades and sauces blended to specifications for the food industry. Founded in Chicago in 1919, the company has expanded around the world with a presence in over 30 countries and sales of more than $1 billion worldwide. A worldwide network of Griffith facilities exists to support customers locally and help them grow globally.

The Griffith team is truly immersed in bringing Shared Value to the world with their current products and ongoing projects in the Base of the Pyramid markets. They are committed to bringing food and nutrition security for all segments of society. Their unique strategic partnerships with NGOs, large food corporations and government entities bring innovative products to at-risk populations while creating value from food excess.

This practicum project focuses on evaluating potential partnerships to co-create a fortified, affordable food product to improve the long-term nutritional status of at-risk populations in Mexico and Guatemala, while building Griffith’s long-term competencies to create partnerships and build shared value for future projects. The team will work with Griffith Foods including the R&D Department, sourcing and product development experts and the marketing team, to create a viable business model and cohesive strategy to transform an existing challenge into a social and economic opportunity.

 

Host – IndustryStar

Project Title – Building a Closed Loop EV/AV Supply Chain for Tomorrow’s Mobility Technology

Based in Ann Arbor, MI, IndustryStar is an on-demand supply chain services and software technology company passionate about partnering with companies to bring innovative and disruptive products to market that will have a positive impact on the world. By pairing their proprietary cloud-based software with a world class supply chain management team, IndustryStar is able to take customers from idea to product with less time, cost, and risk.

On the back of five straight years of 20% YoY revenue growth, IndustryStar is looking to expand its core business offerings to include sustainable product sourcing and services for its customers. This means embedding sustainability in daily operations and looking beyond cost and quality in the decision-making process.

In order to achieve our shared sustainability goals, our team will work to map a closed loop direct-to-consumer electric/autonomous vehicle supply chain. This will entail working directly with both suppliers and customers to help optimize operations and adopt a longer-term approach to ROI.

 

Own Venture - Jorg

In order to enhance culture, recruiting the right people is crucial as well as adherence to sustainable policies and procedures by the (newly hired) crew. Safeguarding a sustainable agenda for HR requires an in-house HR employee or outsourcing to specialists and SaaS (Software as a Service) which can be billed as a percentage of revenue, monthly fee, contracting (payroll) and/or recruitment costs. Most importantly, the company needs the service to focus on their core product, so that sustainability will be the driving force. Having such an internal or outsourced service will make the difference with competing companies which eventually reflects in success. The sustainable priorities will take the pain out of culture and co-create the success of the company through HR policies, recruiting and keeping the right people.

In order to create this service, I want to do;

  1. A systematic review of the literature on sustainability in HR
  2. Qualitative research in seasoned as well as startups (with or without a sustainable angle)
  3. Using outcomes to apply to a hypothetical business filling this gap in the market

 

Host – Ingersoll Rand

Project Title – Bringing the 2030 Sustainability Commitments to Life

Ingersoll Rand is a global enterprise focused on heating, cooling, and automating homes and buildings, as well as keeping transported food and perishables safe and fresh. Starting in 2010, with the formation of the Center of Energy Efficiency and Sustainability, Ingersoll Rand sees the integration of sustainability as core to business strategy and future growth.

In May 2019, Ingersoll Rand announced many ambitious sustainability goals called the “2030 Sustainability Commitments”. Among these goals, the practicum will focus on developing a new sustainable business model that encapsulates Ingersoll Rand’s 2030 goal of “Design for Circularity” within their product development process to reduce excess material waste, energy consumption, and customer carbon footprint. The SI-MBA team will evaluate the sustainability of the company’s current product development operations, identify possible product innovations or technologies for redesigning the product lifecycle, and investigate stakeholders reception to the emergence of a circular economy.

 

Host – Mascoma Bank

Project Title – Using Non-traditional Banking as a Force for Good – Defining a Sustainable Growth Plan for Burlington

After financing commercial projects in Burlington for a decade (including the South End City Market and the Sailing Center), Mascoma is expanding its retail presence to the area with three non-traditional branches in 2019/2020. Mascoma seeks to promote an innovative and more sustainable approach to Banking that identifies and addresses issues traditional financial institutions fail to recognize. The focus of the project is to conduct a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion assessment of the Old North End and greater Burlington area, with an eye on identifying opportunities to impact local communities, to eventually define a Burlington Growth Strategy that benefits all stakeholders, while growing deposit balances.

 

Host – Native Energy

Project Title – Regenerating Soil Carbon in the International Cotton Supply Chain

Burlington-based NativeEnergy originates custom greenhouse gas emission reduction projects for companies and brands. NativeEnergy’s combined project development and greenhouse gas strategy expertise helps companies and brands realize their sustainability vision, strengthen their supply chains and enhance their business, all through the lens of reducing industry emissions. To achieve these goals, Native Energy originates high impact projects including increasing efficiency of supply chains, sequestering carbon in soils, and to renewable energy projects in global communities. Their focus is on community-scale projects with high social and environmental impact.

This Practicum Project will strive to find a scalable and feasible opportunity to reduce carbon emissions in the cotton supply chain, potentially in India. By mapping out the dynamics of a region’s cotton supply chain, including existing sustainable approaches (such as the regenerative organic certification or no-till farming practices), we aim to identify key players in the cotton supply chain,  to target the opportunity most ripe for carbon emission reductions. The project will develop a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions within the selected cotton supply shed that satisfies stakeholder expectations, farm needs, and brand requirements. Reduction opportunities could be  anywhere in the supply chain, so the scope is to assess any and all processes involved from the farm level to the initial manufacturing level. The optimal carbon reduction strategy will leverage other social and/or environmental value, such as through increasing farmer income resilience, reducing fertilizer application, or optimizing transportation routes. This strategy will be presented to participating brands in August, 2020.

 

Host - Resonance

Project Title – Evaluating the Viability of Developing Sustainability Consulting Services for Mid-Tier Companies

Resonance is a mission-driven consulting firm headquartered in Burlington, VT that has fueled significant growth by working at the intersection of global development and corporate sustainability. Together with their clients and stakeholders, they kickstart bold new partnerships, innovations, and business models that better meet the needs of consumers and communities worldwide. All of their work is guided by their mission: Igniting Opportunity. Advancing Global Good.  As sustainability and environmental, social and governance (ESG) become increasingly mainstream business topics, their practical applications and implications are moving down market from Fortune 500 to the massive middle market – where there are over 180,000 companies with annual revenues between $10 and $100 million. Currently, there is little information surrounding the largest and most common sustainability challenges middle-market firms face. The SIMBA team will assist Resonance with a landscape assessment and analysis of the drivers of corporate sustainability initiatives in the middle market and answer the question are there industrial, geographical, business model, ownership structure, or other elements that correlate with willingness to pay for sustainability initiatives for middle market companies?

 

Host - Seventh GenerationSeventh Generation Logo

Project Title – Developing Global Sustainable Innovation Strategy

Seventh Generation’s mission is to transform the world into a healthy, sustainable and equitable place for the next seven generations. For the past 30 years, we’ve been a company with strong beliefs about people and planet.  We believe that a company’s values are as important as the products it makes and have recently launched into 30 new global markets in order to expand our mission and aspirations through our sustainable home care products.

The goal of this project is to develop a 3-year global sustainable innovation strategy for priority markets based on key environmental, social and human health issues that consider Seventh Generation’s strengths in product development, advocacy, and consumer communication.

The design of the research will focus on addressing the most pressing threats to human and environmental health while exploring the current state of local policies and politics, consumer behavior and culture, and sustainable product development challenges. The ideal strategic roadmap will harmonize product development and advocacy strategies. Each key region will receive a tailored global plan to guide the strategic product work aligning with our 2025/2030 sustainability goals.

 

Host – Ursa Major

Project Title – Sustainable Growth Opportunities for Ursa Major

Ursa Major was founded in 2010 by Emily Doyle and Oliver Sweatman after leaving New York City behind for rural Vermont in search of a more balanced life that would also bring them closer to their families and the great outdoors. The two were in pursuit of a more natural and active lifestyle and wanted to create products that focused on clean, plant-powered, and effective ingredients. Thus Ursa Major was born, a skincare company striving for natural products pioneered by their very first launch; the Stellar Shave Cream. From there, the product line grew to house lotions, hair care, serums, masks and more. The values of the company are rooted in non gendered offerings and simplified skincare routines that don’t compromise your health or the environment. The Ursa Major brand also emphasizes simplicity and speed rather than multi-step routines. They even highlight travel kits that provide small size products meant for those who live the on-the-go lifestyle.

Ursa Major is clearly centralized around all things health and environment and has been trying over the last few years to reflect those values internally. Our team has the opportunity to build on these values and create a program that aligns Ursa Major’s mission and values with employee’s values and actions. This program will facilitate sustainable practices amongst employees. We will focus on educating each member of the Ursa Major family on their impact on the climate and how they can thread sustainability and environmentalism into their everyday office life as well as the Ursa Major brand.

 

Host – VENTURE.co

Project Title – Designing a Sustainability Metric for an Impact Fund

VENTURE.co is a boutique investment bank that leverages its proprietary software to compliantly and efficiently manage subscriptions to private securities (growth stage companies, funds, real estate, etc.).

In 2020, VENTURE.co plans to launch a select number of proprietary products – funds – to meet investor and issuer demand. One of those products will be an Impact Fund and is being scoped to contain a diversified mix of asset classes and investment vehicles. The fund will need to assess investments based on a sustainability metric, standardized so as to avoid the obvious greenwashing apparent in proprietary methodology.

This practicum project will put together a fund creation plan, research the available methodologies, and make a recommendation as to which, and why, one is recommended. This practicum will also design a template for annual investor impact reporting, based on that methodology. This practicum will also work collaboratively with the fund managers to design and market the fund to the appropriate target clientele, which are Registered Investment Advisors (RIAs) and Family Offices.

 

Own Venture – Vermont Wilderness Medicine

Project Title – Advancing Medical Education in the Backcountry: An Entrepreneurial Adventure

Vermont Wilderness Medicine LLC is an entrepreneurial business venture designed to offer continuing medical education credits for medical professionals. By expanding outside the walls of the hospital, we plan to utilize nature as our classroom. Courses will be offered throughout Vermont ranging from the Green Mountains to the shores of beautiful Lake Champlain. The course objectives will emphasize instruction of medical knowledge with the integration of communication and interpersonal skills to increase accessibility and comfort treating illnesses in the backcountry. Courses will encompass a holistic approach to learning, extending beyond power point slides with an active learning and scenario based curriculum.

The goal of this entrepreneurial practicum will be to create a sustainable enterprise, blending my passion for medicine, academia, and the outdoors through business. The practicum will focus on the construction of the business from the ground up. Initial framework development will include building a business model, creating an operating budget, obtaining proper accreditation status, and constructing a diverse academic portfolio to craft a fun yet challenging curriculum.

 

Host – VSECUVSECU Logo

Project Title – VSECU Environmental Sustainability Report

VSECU is a member-owned cooperative and not for profit credit union for everybody who lives or works in Vermont, offering a full range of affordable financial products and services to its member-owners. VSECU is committed to improving the lives of Vermonters by empowering the possibilities for greater financial, environmental, and social prosperity.

This practicum is focused on furthering VSECU’s efforts toward strengthening the sustainability of its business operations, becoming a meaningful extension of its environmental mission statement.

The team will develop a methodology to measure and report on VSECU’s environmental impact resulting from operating activities and associated travel (Carbon emissions from direct and upstream indirect sources, water usage, paper consumption, and solid waste generation). This practicum is also focused on developing recommended benchmarks and initial potential strategies to reduce VSECU’s environmental impact, consistent with their mission and commitments to financial, social, and environmental well-being for their members, employees, and communities.