Bard MBA News

Philips, WM transition to the circular economy –By Carolyn Pincus

Philips, WM transition to the circular economy –By Carolyn Pincus

Republished from GreenBiz

Thomas Singer felt that there was already plenty of good writing about the theory behind the circular economy. So, when he and his Conference Board colleagues thought about what they wanted to contribute to the conversation, they focused on case studies: “real, practical examples of companies that have been involved in these types of initiatives.”

The resulting 2017 report, Business Transformation and the Circular Economy: A Candid Look at Risks and Rewards, profiles the strategies and successes of seven companies at the forefront of the transition to an economy based on recovery, reunse and regeneration.

Bard MBA student Carolyn Pincus spoke recently with Singer about his work and what he learned about why companies like Philips and Waste Management are increasingly pursuing circular economy initiatives.

Thomas Singer is a Principle Researcher in corporate leadership at the Conference Board. His work focuses on CSR and sustainability issues, and he’s the author of numerous other publications, including the comprehensive sustainability benchmarking report, Sustainability Practices.

The following Q&A is an edited excerpt from the Bard MBA’s December 1st Sustainable Business Fridays podcast. Sustainable Business Fridays brings together students and faculty in Bard’s MBA in Sustainability program with leaders in business, sustainability and social entrepreneurship.


BARD MBA: What led you to your current work at the Conference Board?

My work in sustainability, and specifically the circular economy, started well before I started at the Conference Board. My background is in strategy consulting, and during that time I was actually helping companies understand why sustainability was important for them, and how to develop a sustainability strategy and build a business case.

When I joined the Conference Board about six years ago I was brought in to do research in the sustainability space. Over the last few years, though, activities in the circular economy have been gaining in interest from our members. There’s a lot of activity in terms of regulation outside of the United States, particularly in Europe. There are also a lot of companies that are looking into pilots at companies that are beginning to get involved in this space. All of this naturally led us to begin to explore this topic of circular economies as one of our key research areas.


BARD MBA: How did you come to write Business Transformation And the Circular Economy?

Most of our work is very member-centric. We take stock of what our members are interested in, what issues they’re struggling with, what issues they should be aware of. The circular economy concept has become pretty prevalent in terms of the number of companies thinking about it and in terms of legislation and regulation, particularly in the E.U. So this was a topic that many of our members were beginning to want to understand a little bit more about.

We approached this particular research project from a case study standpoint. We were less interested in the theory behind the circular economy because a lot of good work has already been done around that. Instead, we were interested in learning about real, practical examples of companies that have been involved in these types of initiatives. We wanted to understand what the challenges have been, how they’ve succeeded or why they’ve broken down, and what key factors enable success.

We looked at seven companies that have been involved in circular economy initiatives in one way or another, some of them for many years, and others having only just begun with a few pilots or programs. Each of them was able to share real experiences about how their projects have worked out—and cases in which they haven’t worked out at all.


BARD MBA: Where did the company Waste Management, specifically, see its risks and challenges?

Waste Management is a great example of why companies get involved in circular economy initiatives. When we conducted a survey of over fifty of our members in this particular area, we asked them what drives them to pursue circular economy projects. The majority of those respondents (44%) said cost savings. But when we dug a bit deeper and spoke with the companies in our case studies, we found that something else is really at play. Many of these circular economy initiatives are triggered by pressure to meet changing customer needs, and in particular customer sustainability goals.

This is where we see a company such as Waste Management. What has actually driven a lot of its work around the circular economy is this change in customer goals and in the types of products and services customers are demanding. For instance, in the early 2000s, about a quarter of Waste Management’s company revenues were in what one would call traditional landfill—essentially, helping companies take their trash and landfill it. But Waste Management realized that that core business model was going to be at risk because a number of its customers were establishing zero waste to landfill goals. We now see a number of companies with these types of goals, but at the time the idea was pretty novel. With this change in customer dynamics, the circular economy became crucial for Waste Management to remain relevant to its customers and to meet their needs.

Today when we look at the company, about half of its revenue can be attributed to green services, which include not just recycling but also sustainability consulting services. Waste Management now works with companies to design products that last longer, are more easily recycled and more sustainable. Specifically, it is working on designing waste out of the system.


BARD MBA: Which case study most embodies the circular economy as you described it in your report and why?

They are all at various stages in the circular economy. Some have been at this for a number of years, and others have only recently begun to launch pilots and initiatives around circular economies. For a company like Interface, though, circular economies are core to its business model, and I’d point to it as a great example of making circular economy initiatives part of the business model and not just a side project.

Philips is another example that I’d bring up, mostly around its work in transitioning away from selling products to moving toward a product as a service solution. The leadership at Philips realized a few years ago that we’re seeing a shift in consumer demographics: about 5 billion more middle class consumers will be joining the market in a few years. They recognized that if the company wanted to be around for another hundred years, they needed to shift away from relying on extracting raw materials.

Think about one of Philips’ key business areas: lighting. The company is moving away from selling light fixtures, for instance, to providing light as a service. Customers will purchase the maintenance, the upgrades, and in some cases even the kilowatts from Philips rather than owning the physical light fixture. Instead, Philips retains ownership of that light fixture.

Three benefits are associated with this model. One, the financial benefit for customers—now they have an operating expense rather than a capital expenditure. Two, there’s a customer-relationship benefit for Philips, which is able to stay on top of customer needs and learn about usage patterns, since it now retains ownership of the light fixtures. It’s able to understand how customers are using its products and to relay that information to its innovation teams, which are developing new products. And lastly, there are the environmental benefits. Philips now has an incentive to extend the replacement cycles of the fixtures, as well as to use the most energy efficient fixtures. At the end of the day, it’s now Philips’ responsibility to maintain, upgrade and even dispose of the light fixtures through recycling or other means of disposal.

A final reason I bring up Philips is that a number of companies have been involved in these initiatives for years, but only a small number of them have begun to quantify the business impact of the circular economy. Philips can demonstrate that the circular economy accounts for 9% of its revenue, and it’s set a goal of growing that to 15% by 2020. Philips really exemplifies a company that’s brought the circular economy into the core of its business.

Posted on 1 December 2017 | 11:10 am

Bard MBA Quarterly Newsletter | Fall 2017

Bard MBA Quarterly Newsletter | Fall 2017

Bard MBA Fall Newsletter

We’ve been busy here at the Bard MBA in Sustainability this past summer and fall, and we’re excited to share the news of recent and upcoming happenings with the Bard MBA community.

Bard MBA Welcomes Cohort 6 in AugustBard’s MBA program, in the heart of NYC, is one of a select few programs globally that fully integrates sustainability into a core business curriculum. Please let qualified applicants know about the following upcoming admissions-related events:

and about these admissions deadlines:

  • January 15: Early Admissions Deadline
  • March 15: Regular Admissions Deadline
  • May 15: Final Admissions Deadline

Bard MBA Features Impact Investing in the Classroom and Beyond:

MBA Director Eban Goodstein and Finance Professor Kathy Hipple have spent the last six months exploring the idea of a launching a new academic center at the MBA: ImpactLab. Here’s the core idea:

Why? Despite today’s extraordinary challenges, we have good roadmaps towards a prosperous future on a healthy planet. To get there we need, above all, new approaches to finance, moving trillions of dollars from destructive channels to profitable and regenerative solutions, soon. The Bard MBA in Sustainability’s ImpactLab will help change finance for good.

How? Across the country and the world, students are eager to learn emerging tools that are already effectively moving dollars into productive solutions. Yet today, only a handful of courses are being taught on finance for impact each year. By creating a global learning community of faculty and students focused on the practice of impact finance, ImpactLab will spark hundreds of new courses and course modules, engage tens of thousands of students, and change the practice of finance from the bottom up.
As a first step, the MBA will be offering a new course called “ImpactLab” next semester. Building on NYCLab, ImpactLab will be an experientially-based course in finance for sustainability. Students will now be able to pursue a concentration in Impact Finance as part of their MBA by combining our year-long introductory sequence, the nine-credit capstone, and the new ImpactLab course. The “lab” portion of the course this spring will involve the design of student-managed fund, to be incorporated into the course in subsequent iterations.

Expanding the Curriculum: Sustainable Business in a Developing Country Context

In addition to the ImpactLab class, the Bard MBA is pleased to announce the addition of a second new elective. Second- and third-year students will now be able to enroll in “Business and Sustainable Development.” The students will join our first-year Environmental Policy students in Oaxaca, Mexico for a ten-day immersion in policy formation and sustainable business opportunities in a developing country context.

Businesses Stepping Up in the Age of Trump

This fall, Hunter Lovins launched “Business Stepping Up,” a monthly series in which she interviews MBA professors about the role of business in the Trump era. She also publishes a Huffington Post piece co-authored by the MBA professors about their discussion. Check out the latest article with Laura Gitman, NYCLab professor and Senior Vice President at BSR.

Last year’s competition winners, Team Hempblock

Up next, join Hunter and Leading Change professor Aurora Winslade as they discuss “Intrapreneuring for Progress” on Thursday, December 14. Get your tickets to the event here.

Bard MBA Students Disrupt to Sustain

Bard MBA is gearing up for our
second annual Disrupt to Sustain Pitch Competition. This year, five teams from our second-year Entrepreneurship class and seven from our first-year POSM and Accounting classes will compete for the Disrupt to Sustain grand prize. Come witness the students pitch their projects on Sunday, December 17th at LMHQ!


Read on to find out what our students, alumni, and faculty have been up to.

Bard MBAs On Stage and In Print

Chelsea Mozen ’15 spoke at September’s VERGE 17 in California. She led an interactive session on “What Does it Mean to Really to “Procure” Renewable Energy?”

Miles Knowles ’15 has been working on Rockstar Diplomat, a project that “promotes music, travel, and other cultural activities as tools for Cultural Diplomacy.” He’s recorded video interviews and jams with musicians from over 20 different countries in 2016. He also worked with Contrabanned, a SXSW showcase dedicated to bringing musicians from the 7 banned countries to play in Austin.

Jorge Fontanez hosted the first annual alumni careers panel, “Building Value with a Bard MBA,” during residency in November where students learned about career paths our graduates took to get to their positions. Special thanks to Nour Shaikh ’16,Tori Marino ’16Whitney Files ’15, and Rochelle March ’15 for speaking to the students!

Cory Skuldt ’18 presented at State of Texas Alliance for Recyclers (STAR)’s Reuse Council. Her presentation was on ” innovative business models in textile reuse.”

Robert Ransick ’14 authored Enough with Problem Solving, Let’s Start Creating for, a companion website for a National Endowment for the Arts research paper, Creativity Connects.

Curtis Columbare ’17 co-wrote a paper while interning at UNDP. Be on the lookout for a link to “What drives change on biodiversity investment decisions?: Lessons about what works and what does not in using economic valuation of ecosystem services initiatives to drive change” in the next newsletter.

Olivia Cooper ’18 celebrated her year anniversary of her e-newsletter Today We WillSign up for daily or weekly tips for simple ways to live more sustainably.


Bard MBAs Step Up

Congrats to the new Bard MBA Alumni Board at large members, Stephen Williams ’17, Ariel Kalishman Walsh ’14, Reagan Richmond ’17, and Curtis Columbare ’17! The Board will be convening its first Annual Meeting in December 2017.

One of our new MBA students, Melisa Baez ’20, is already making waves in her hometown of Lancaster, PA. She was awarded the Young Influencer Award and was also featured in Central Penn Business Journal for the #SheOwnsIt Forum.

This August, Jake Rath ’19 was joined by Marine Cpl. Kionte Storey, who lost his leg in Afghanistan in 2010, on a climb to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro for the #Give2Veterans campaign. Kionte and Jake made it to the summit of Uhuru Peak at 19,341 feet and successfully raised over $500k.

Jessica King ’15 is taking what she learned in the Bard MBA program and applying it to a run for Congress in Pennsylvania’s 16th district.

Savannah Parsons ’20 became the president of her alumni association in NYC, where she helps to engage local Oklahoma State alumni and fundraise for scholarships.  She was also awarded the “Star Performer” award for 2017 for the Operations Department at her company, High Life LLC.


Bard MBA Student and Alumnae Professional Updates–Congratulations!

Meghan Altman ’18 recently became the Engagement Manager at Simple Energy.

Martin Freeman ’18 has accepted a Senior Associate position at The Democracy Collaborative, within the Engaged Practice Division supporting the Healthcare Engagement Team.

Rochelle March ’15 accepted a position at S&P Global – Trucost. She became a Senior Analyst and specializes in quantifying ESG and natural capital impacts.

Hannah Savage ’15 has become Pratt & Whitney’s Global Sustainability Lead.

Victoria Marino ‘16 became the Assistant Director for NADAP’s CareerCompass program in Manhattan in March. Because NADAP has never worked on this contract before, Tori is helping to build it from the ground up.

Sarah Bodley ’15 spent the past year facilitating a merger between Empowered Women International and the Latino Economic Development Center (LEDC). She also has a new role at LEDC as the Associate Director of Women’s Empowerment Programs and is a part of the Leadership Fairfax class of 2018.

Justine Porter ’16 became the Manager of Advisory Services at The Democracy Collaborative (TDC). She now manages TDC’s portfolio of consulting work with cities across the country working to implement equitable economic development strategies.

Cory Skuldt ’18 started an internship with the Austin Independent School District’s Sustainability Manager in which she is focusing on developing sustainable transportation solutions.

Lauren Hill ’18 is the new Finance and Strategy Manager for her family’s company, Bella Notte Linens, a luxury bed linens company based in the San Francisco Bay Area that cuts and sews individual pieces locally and then custom dyes them to order.

Amy Campbell Bogie ’17 has been named the founding Executive Director of the National Coalition for Community Capital (NC3), a new nonprofit with a mission of moving a significant portion of the estimated $40+ trillion Americans have in long-term savings from Wall Street to local and social entrepreneurs, and to inspire similar shifts worldwide. Bard MBA professor Michael Shuman serves as the Vice-Chair of NC3’s Board of Directors.

Kerry Sinclair ’15 is a Business Teaching fellow at Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST), a training program that works with tech entrepreneurs from across Africa. She is working in a business development capacity for the fashion and lifestyle brand, Afrodesiac Worldwide.

Nick Hvozda ’17 recently took on the role of Deputy Coordinator for the Ulster County Department of Environment where he’ll be doing energy tracking, management and reporting for the Ulster County government operations, including building benchmarking, the green fleet program and GHG inventory.


Bard MBA Faculty in Action

Laura Gitman, our NYC Lab and Strategy professor, published the 2017 State of Sustainable Business Report. She’s also lent her expertise through several speaking engagements, including Business Fights Poverty NYC (video credit @FightPoverty @beinspiredfims) and the Bloomberg Sustainable Business Summit. Lastly, she headed two panels, “We Are Our Own Worst Enemy” and “Engaging Boards, Making a Case,” and did a plenary interview with Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, at BSR 2017 Conference.

POSM professor Hunter Lovins has been writing a monthly post for the Regenerative Development Blog at Regis University. A few of her many talks in the recent months have included speaking at AREDay in Aspen, CO; an interview with Rob Katz, CEO of Vail Resorts, as part of the Vail Leadership Summit and their new Epic Promise; and a speaking engagement at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory on the “Mother of All Disruptions.”
Our new Leading Change Professor, Aurora Winslade co-organized and led a retreat for sustainability professionals in higher ed over the summer. Aurora is the Sustainability Director for Swarthmore College where she is the primary facilitator/leader on work the college does on carbon pricing. As a result of her and her team’s work, the institution won the Excellence in Innovative Collaboration Award over the summer.

MBA Director Eban Goodstein’s eighth edition of his college textbook, Economics and the Environment has just been released by Wiley. His article,“Climate Change at Thirty,” is due out in A New Global Agenda: Priorities, Practices, and Pathways of the International Community, available for pre-order.

JD Capuano, our Data and Analytics professor, has participated on several panels on cutting edge technologies, including one on the Internet of Things in Buildings and Cities and another on Energy + Cyber Security. He’s also authored an article about the upside potential of the Internet of Things in Smart Buildings and Cities.

Entrepreneurship professor Alejandro Crawford presented a TEDx talkThe Lost Entrepreneurs, at NYU about expanding access to the knowledge space. He’s also written a paper, An Ecosystem Model for Credentialing Entrepreneurs, and had a poem, “Wrinkles,” published in the Synesthesia Anthology.

Michael Shuman, who teaches our Sustaining Mission-Driven Organizations course, has been busy completing several studies and a book manuscript in the past few months. The book, tentatively entitled Invest Local Now, is on how to use self-directed IRAs and solo 401ks to invest locally. He also gave talks on local economies in Paris, Lille (France), Drayton Valley (Alberta), Winnipeg (Manitoba), Boston, and Boulder, and participated in a “Thinkers Summit” on climate action in Pugwash, Nova Scotia.
Marketing professor Jorge Fontanez was the recipient of the Ricardo Salinas Foundation Scholarship as a result of a nomination submitted to the Aspen Institute Latino & Society program. He has also recently taken over the Career Course sequence for our MBA students.

Former Marketing professor George Perlov has joined the global communications marketing firm, Edelman’s Brussels office as a Director.
Finance professor Kathy Hipple’s article “Shareholders’ Rights Under Attack: Resolutions Could be Limited to Millionaires” was published recently in the Huffington Post.

Help Us Find Future Leaders:

As we recruit our next group of students to rewire the world with clean energy, reimagine the global food system and reinvent finance, we invite you to be part of the process. Please let folks who want to be part of this work know how to apply to join us.

Working Together + Staying in Touch:

Don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you want to learn more about our MBA program, partner on a project, or hire our students. We would love to hear from you.

Posted on 28 November 2017 | 11:50 am

Walking a mile in the shoes of a closed-loop company –By Cory Skuldt

Walking a mile in the shoes of a closed-loop company –By Cory Skuldt

Republished from GreenBiz

Currently, fewer than 2% of shoes worn in the United States are made here. Most are manufactured overseas by a labor force that works in conditions that would not be acceptable for American workers.

This is why Okabashi, a family-owned and operated footwear manufacturer, makes all of its shoes in America, employing more than 200 people at its factory and headquarters in Buford, GA. As a result, its flip flops, sandals and clogs travel almost 10,000 fewer miles than the average imported shoe, substantially reducing their carbon footprint.

The Bard MBA’s Cory Skuldt recently spoke with Kim Falkenhayn, the company’s President, about the challenges and opportunities presented by Okabashi’s commitment both to local manufacturing and to closed-loop recycling.

The following Q&A is an edited excerpt from the Bard MBA’s Nov 17th Sustainable Business Fridays podcast. Sustainable Business Fridays brings together students and faculty in Bard’s MBA in Sustainability program with leaders in business, sustainability and social entrepreneurship.


BARD MBA: What is Okabashi’s history, and how did local manufacturing and sustainability become important strategies for the brand?

The company was originally a joint venture, which is actually how we ended up with the name Okabashi. Our designs are based on reflexology principles, so lot of comfort is engineered into the footbeds of our shoes. We’ve always been American owned and American made in Georgia.

We had to become very lean in our manufacturing because we’re competing against overseas footwear manufacturers that have a lot lower labor rates. We needed to make an excellent, long-lasting product and be very careful so that we’re not wasting anything. Recycling is not only the right thing to do for the environment, it’s also a way for us to keep our costs under control. We don’t throw any material away. If it’s scrapped, we reclaim it, re-grind it and use it back in the process again. This helps us keep costs down and offer the best prices to our customers.

BARD MBA: To what do you attribute your recent growth?

Target has been one of our new customers this year. We’re selling our new Shoreline style flip flops in two limited Target stores, and we’re very excited about that. We’re also expanding into new styles on the Oka-B line to reach out to additional customers. We want to get beyond the resort and spa industry and develop more styles that are fashion forward to get our shoes into boutiques and onto the feet of fashion-conscious customers.


BARD MBA: What sets Okabashi apart in the crowded footwear market?

Our product is extremely durable, heat resistant, and waterproof. From a sustainability perspective, that’s really important because people have become accustomed to thinking of the traditional, basic foam flip flop as a one-season product. You use them and then throw them away. Because they’re not recycleable, at the end of every season all that plastic is going into a garbage can.

Not only are our shoes recyclable, they last a long time. We have people calling and telling us that they’ve had them for five to 15 years, which is fantastic.

BARD MBA: Wholesale is a large part of your business. How has e-commerce changed your direct-to-customer business in terms of sales and distribution?

The e-commerce platform has definitely changed the face of the company in the past ten years. I love it because it really gives us that direct connection to our end consumer. Even though wholesale is still the bulk of where our volume goes as a company, there’s just nothing like the direct-to-consumer business for being able to have a pulse on what our customers like, who they are, what they’re loving, and what they’re not loving.

It does present its own unique challenges as the volume has ramped up on the e-commerce side. The seasonality is also a little bit different—with large volume selling, chains are taking product to distribution centers an entire season earlier than most people are going to go out and buy those things. Our biggest ship dates are between Christmas and New Years Day. That’s often surprising to people because it’s months before you see summer items in stores. The e-commerce, though, picks up in April, May, June and July. While we’ve had to change some things around, it’s fit well into our processes.

We’ve also been trying really hard to reduce the footprint of our direct-to-consumer packaging by experimenting with bags and boxes and keeping freight costs down.


BARD MBA: Your local manufacturing strategies have proven to be cost-effective and profitable for Okabashi. What do you think is needed for practices like yours to become more widespread in the U.S.?

It’s difficult to operate manufacturing in the U.S. because a lot of industries that used to be very prevalent here, and footwear is one of them, have lost the infrastructure that made it easy to manufacture here. By that I really mean the suppliers.

There used to be so many suppliers that made shoe soles, shoe laces or glue—the many different components that go into making shoes. As the manufacturers left this country, the supplier base dried up, too. It’s not as easy as just starting your own company. In a lot of cases you have to be vertically integrated because the supplier base just isn’t here like it was 50 to 100 years ago. Another piece we have to compete on are labor rates, which are higher here—which is a good thing for our employees.

We also have a lot of environmental standards that we operate by here, so that’s something to consider when you are looking at two different products, one of them made in the U.S. That Made in the USA stamp tells you a lot about what conditions employees are working in.

We’ve had some struggles. When we wanted to come out with a new product line, it required new processes that are being practiced widely around the world. But when we looked at bringing those processes in house for the new product line, we realized that the way they’re being done overseas is not something we can do safely here. We couldn’t have that under our doors, so we had to come up with entirely new processes, and engineer new ways to do things that are safe and clean here in the U.S.

Posted on 17 November 2017 | 10:28 am

Using Finance to Shatter the Fossil Fuel Economy –By Kathy Hipple

Using Finance to Shatter the Fossil Fuel Economy –By Kathy Hipple

Republished from GreenBiz

Nick Silver—actuary, economist, and onetime mainstream finance professional—understands the consequences of the financial system continuing in its current form. Which is why his new book argues that, to avoid the resulting collateral damage to the economy, society and the environment, we need to re-engineer the system.

Bard MBA faculty member Kathy Hipple spoke recently with Silver about his background in finance and how it led him to write Finance, Society and Sustainability: How to Make the Financial System Work for the Economy, People and Planet. The podcast of their conversation explores both the book and his work with Climate Bonds Initiative, which Silver co-founded to mobilize the $100 trillion bond market for climate change solutions.

Silver is also Managing Director of Callund Consulting, a specialist consultancy that advises developing country governments on social insurance. He has advised the UN, UK and EU on carbon markets, climate finance in developing countries, and managing risk from climate change.


The following Q&A is an edited excerpt from the Bard MBA’s Nov 3rd Sustainable Business Fridays podcast. Sustainable Business Fridays brings together students and faculty in Bard’s MBA in Sustainability program with leaders in business, sustainability and social entrepreneurship.


BARD MBA: how did your background in sustainability lead you to write Finance, Society And Sustainability?

I’m an actuary, which is a finance qualification. I could see that finance and the economy was not going down a sustainable path, so over my career I’ve tried to work in a way to make finance more sustainable. The book was an attempt to write down how I felt on the subject.


BARD MBA: The thesis of your book is that the role of finance is disproportionately large, societally, and that this is a systemic issue in major economies. But you’ve benefitted from a long career in finance—How do you square this?

I can’t really justify this. I effectively gave up my career as a mainstream finance professional some time ago. I’ve used the tools of finance, which I think are very powerful, to try to get investment into renewable energy and to help developing countries to create sustainable financial systems. My aim is not to denigrate people who work in finance. These were my choices. Having thought about how I could do good in the world and earn a living, I thought the best I could do was to use the tools of finance to put our economy on a path to sustainability.


BARD MBA: Can you speak about your work with Climate Bonds Initiative?

Currently, we’re locked into the high fossil fuel use economy. To build up an economy based on renewable energy needs a huge shift of capital. The idea behind Climate Bonds Initiative is to create entities that are asset owners like pension funds and insurance companies that are the managers of the capital and can invest at the scale required to get to that transformation. Six years ago when my co-founder, Sean Kidney, and I set up the organization, it seemed to hit a sweet spot. There were a lot of people working in finance who were keen on Climate Bonds because they wanted to use their skills to do something they believed in and that was beneficial, like investing in the green economy. We got lots of backing from governments and the World Bank because they could see that it’s a good tool that works within the finance system to do something beneficial.


BARD MBA: One of your contentions in the book is that there are Potemkin markets in many developed economies. Can you provide a little bit of background on Potemkin markets?

My analogy for Potemkin markets is that when we look at Wall Street, we think that big banks and men staring at computer screens are the epitome of capitalism. My book tries to show that it’s actually governments buying government bonds that are investing in financial markets. Furthermore, the price that assets, for example shares of Apple stock, are traded at would appear to be determined by what the market thinks Apple will do, but actually for assets as a whole, the most important price is the interest rate, which is set by a government body. How can this be a free market when the buyers and sellers are governments, and the setters of the price (interest rates) are also governments?


BARD MBA: The other primary critique in your book is of the hegemony of traditional financial theory, which states that markets are efficient and will naturally maximize shareholder value. Why is this problematic in your view?

The theory goes that if you have a free market, then everyone is as well off as they could possibly be because free markets are efficient. So, if I save money and put it in my pension, it’s managed by profit-maximizing companies that find the best use of the money, and the best users of capital get the capital. All the regulations that manage financial markets try to make sure that the price reflects the value of a company. Anything else that a company does is called an externality—which means it’s marginalized and doesn’t matter—so if the company is causing environmental pollution or treating its staff badly, that’s not as important as the price.

I want to turn that on its head and say, “Well actually, the idea of free market embodies a set of values wherein the capital is being allocated efficiently, but this value isn’t correct. We might like to think about another set of values that we’d like finance to embody.” We need to think about what our values as a society are and how we would like finance to promote these values.

Posted on 3 November 2017 | 12:28 pm

How Going Beyond B Corps Status Has Been Good for Badger’s Business –By Sam Levine & Alex FitzGerald

How Going Beyond B Corps Status Has Been Good for Badger’s Business –By Sam Levine & Alex FitzGerald

Republished from GreenBiz

As of January 2017, there were 1000 certified B Corps in the U.S. alone. This number is even more impressive when you realize that fewer than two years ago, there were only 1000 B Corps worldwide.

Badger, a family-owned, mission-driven certified B Corp company nestled in the woods of Gilsum, NH, exemplifies the B Corps model—and extends it. The company was started by Bill Whyte in 1995 when, as a carpenter working in the cold NH winters, he created a balm that helped his cracked hands. The company has grown to over 100 personal care products and 60 employees.

Honored this year as a “Best for the World” and “Best for the Environment” B Corp, Badger scored in the top 10% of all businesses on the B Impact Assessment, the gold standard of corporate responsibility metrics.

Bard MBA graduates Sam Levine and Alex FitzGerald spoke recently with Rebecca Hamilton about Badger’s business model and how it goes beyond the B Corps standard. Hamilton is a co-owner and the VP of Research and Development at Badger, where she sources new raw materials and oversees the sustainability and quality of Badger’s supply chain, among other responsibilities. She is also currently involved in safe cosmetics legislation and toxic chemical reform and has served as the chair of the Natural Products Association National Personal Care Steering Committee.

The following Q&A is an edited excerpt from the Bard MBA’s October 20th Sustainable Business Fridays podcast. Sustainable Business Fridays brings together students in Bard’s MBA in Sustainability program with leaders in business, sustainability and social entrepreneurship.

Listen to this interview and others on the Bard MBA Sustainable Business Fridays podcast on an Apple or Android device.


BARD MBA: Was Badger founded as a mission-driven company?

When we first started, we didn’t have a vision that we were going to be a mission-driven, sustainable company. Instead it was just a balm company. But as a family we had some pretty strong values toward organic agriculture and local sustainability, and those values were brought into the company because our family was in the company every day. Over the years, we’ve evolved. Today, if someone asked me who we are as a business, I would say that we’re family-based, mission-oriented company—and the second thing I would say is that we make natural and organic cosmetic products.


Bard MBA: The cosmetic and personal care industry is a crowded one. How does Badger compete next to conventional and petroleum-based products?

I think the problem that most people get into when they ask this question is that they’re expecting to compare products one-to-one. “I have this conventional synthetic lotion that I want to match with a natural and organic product, and it’s going to function in the same way.” It’s probably not going to function in the same way, although advances are creating products that match pretty well.

I don’t think this is the right approach when making cosmetics. When we’re making products, we make the best possible product in the category that we’re making. We’re making it to a different standard and different criteria. I think you’d actually have the opposite issue in that you couldn’t make a synthetic product that matches what we’re making.

For example, if you were to buy a moisturizing face lotion with a conventional base, it would function in a certain way. We make a very lightweight, small molecule moisturizer face oil that you can’t make synthetically. Everyone at Badger and everyone who tries it has switched from face lotion and will now only use this face oil. It’s revolutionized the way I think of face moisturizers.


BARD MBA: Many of Badger’s policies go beyond the requirements of B-Corp Certification. What drove the decision to go above the B-Corp Standard?

As a company, it’s more of a lens that we make decisions through than a specific end goal. For us, the purpose of being in business is not to maximize profits. The purpose of being in business is to have a positive impact on our community, our employees and the world around us. When we make decisions, we make them out of the idea of what we think is the right thing to do.

Many of our policies come from employees asking us if we can do something. Because we want the request to be fair for the company, we turn the request into a policy if we can. Child care at Badger started with a mother asking if she could bring her baby to work. We decided to create a whole program for mothers and fathers to bring their babies to work until the babies are six months old and begin crawling. We started a day care center because my mother, who was an early childhood educator for many years, felt there was a need in the community for good early childhood education, particularly from the six month to three years phase.

We also provide organic lunches every day. We have gardens on site and do a farm-to-table lunch program in the summer months. That really came out of the idea that, as we grow as a company, we wanted to have a point that people connect around to avoid siloing. Because we value organic as a company, we also wanted to make sure that that spread across all aspects of the company and not just our products.


BARD MBA: What, if any, impact do these policies have on the business?

I’ve recently attended community working groups where businesses and other organizations are talking about a crisis in New Hampshire. Businesses are unable to find qualified workers. That’s never been a problem for us. We always have an amazing group of applicants for any position, and we often have overqualified people working in our company. While we didn’t create these policies for that specific outcome, it’s the result of creating a company where our focus is generally on making decisions from a good place.

Business itself is evolving right now. We’re seeing a slow movement toward businesses that are thinking more about how they treat their employees. It’s not just about a paycheck, it’s about a holistic set of business practices, including a lot of benefits that are supportive of a healthy family life for the employee and of their lives outside of work.

Posted on 20 October 2017 | 11:56 am

Mars, Inc.—Doing What’s Right, Not Just Doing Better — By Alistair Hall

Mars, Inc.—Doing What’s Right, Not Just Doing Better — By Alistair Hall

Republished from GreenBiz

This September, Mars unveiled its Sustainable in a Generation plan, which sets a new standard for its responsible growth as a business. Mars believes that transformational, cross-industry collaboration is required to fix the extended global supply chain, and the plan leads the way by investing $1 billion to tackle threats like climate change, poverty in its value chain, and resource scarcity.

The private, family-owned Mars, Inc. has been in business for over a century and sells its products in nearly every corner of the globe. Its six different businesses—from chocolate to pet products—reach billions of consumers and earn more than $35 billion in global sales.

Bard MBA student Alistair Hall talked with Mars’s Kevin Rabinovitch shortly after the launch of Sustainable in a Generation about the plan and how it evolved.

Rabinovitch, Mars’s Global Sustainability Director and Chief Climate Officer, was instrumental in developing the plan. His team manages a global portfolio of renewable energy projects in conjunction with efficiency work led by the business units. He also leads the assessment of environmental impact for Mars’s value chain and the translation of external environmental science into policy and strategy for the business.

The following Q&A is an edited excerpt from the Bard MBA’s October 6th Sustainable Business Fridays podcast. Sustainable Business Fridays brings together students in Bard’s MBA in Sustainability program with leaders in business, sustainability and social entrepreneurship.

Listen to this interview and others on the Bard MBA Sustainable Business Fridays podcast on an Apple or Android device.

Kevin Rabinovitch


I’ve been at Mars for 23 years, the first 13 in research and development. I started my career as a chocolate engineer. Ten years ago, the Mars family and leadership team made a conscious effort to get more structured about our work in sustainability. I had some knowledge in the field, so I was asked to pull together the program. Ten years later, here we are.

Back in 2007, this thing called sustainability was getting organized out in the wider world. There were issues that we needed to think about more carefully as a business than business traditionally had. My colleagues and I started researching, talking to people, going to conferences, and really just absorbing everything we could on the topic.

Some of the original principles we developed are still at the core of our sustainability program—things like being driven by the science and data, and focusing on what’s right and not just what sounds good.



We recently launched our Sustainable in a Generation plan, which is a very detailed set of not just commitments but strategies. It’s a plan for delivering against those commitments that speaks to our work in environmental, social, health, and nutrition innovation. It’s also the narrative capstone on that last decade of work, which started with myself and another individual. Now there are 25 others working full time on this, and thousands of people working as a part of their job inside Mars on this.

We have climate science-based targets for our greenhouse gas emissions covering our entire value chain. We have a target on the total amount of land our value chain will use, which is, to our knowledge, a first in the corporate world—having a metric to try to freeze the footprint of our supply chain. Part of our rationale is that one of the things that drives deforestation and loss of other natural ecosystems is the ever-expanding footprint of agriculture. If we find ways to grow our business, which we want to do, without growing that footprint, then we do something important to help preserve natural ecosystems. We also have a target on ultimately eliminating water use in excess of sustainable levels in stressed watersheds.

Digging deeper into the plan, there’s a strong thread of understanding the science first and then building strategies to get there. Others start with feasibility, and our view is that that’s not the right way to do it. Atmospheric physics and the climate don’t care what we happen to think today is economically viable and feasible. The burden is on us to solve the problem and not shift the target. Instead, we need to shift our understanding of what’s possible.



By 2009, we’d developed science-based targets for our direct operations. For those who live in the carbon accounting world, that would be scopes 1 and 2 emissions (factories and offices). We got to those quite quickly because we had really good data about our own operations. We knew exactly how many kilowatt hours of energy we were using. We knew how many tons of waste were going to landfill.

The other thing we had was that we already understood most of the strategies we’d need to deliver on our science-based targets. We understood energy efficiency, how to save water, that there were alternatives to sending things to landfill. We hadn’t necessarily executed on all of those opportunities, but we understood them in concept. The one strategy that we had to add to our mix was renewable energy. We didn’t have a lot of experience with it, but we convinced ourselves that we could figure it out, so we signed up for the targets.

It took us another eight years to get to the point of making a public commitment on our full value chain—going beyond those factories and offices to everything from farms to the consumer enjoying our products. This took eight years because there was a lot of data we didn’t have in 2009 about the supply chain, even where some of our raw materials came from. Then, when we worked out where everything was coming from, we had to figure out the impacts of our supply chain.

Next, we had to start developing strategic frameworks for how to go about tackling some of those impacts, and then we had to build the business case. Along the way, we worked with academics, NGOs, and other corporate partners to develop some of the methodologies, because there wasn’t really an agreed upon way of figuring out some of the things we wanted to understand. It was a very, very comprehensive exercise.

It’s the Sustainable in a Generation “plan” and not the Sustainable in a Generation “targets” because, for us, there aren’t only targets, there’s a plan to get to the targets. We’re committed to spend about a billion dollars in the next three years to start the transformations in our supply chain that’ll get those impact reductions.

It did take a long time, not because there was opposition to it, but more because it’s core to how we want to run our business going forward. That level of integration in an organization of almost 100,000 people takes some time.

Posted on 6 October 2017 | 11:45 am

Helping Refugees and Conflict-Affected Entrepreneurs Launch and Grow Business in the Middle East — By Esra Elshafey

Helping Refugees and Conflict-Affected Entrepreneurs Launch and Grow Business in the Middle East — By Esra Elshafey

What do you think when you hear the word refugee? Alice Bosley and Patricia Letayf, co-founders of Five One Labs, think of innovation, passion, creativity and grit.

Five One Labs has launched a startup incubator in the Kurdistan region of Iraq to help some of the 250,000 Syrian refugees and over 1 million Iraqi refugees in the area rebuild their lives and livelihoods. The program will provide training, mentorship, and support to build businesses. Bard MBA student Esra Elshafey talked with Bosley and Letayf earlier this month about its structure and philosophy.

Alice Bosley

The name “Five One” comes from the 1951 Refugee Convention that gives refugees the right to work. The incubatorwill empower young men and women from both the displaced and host communities in starting scalable, innovative businesses—benefiting the entrepreneurs while also strengthening the local economy.

Five One Labs’ first cohort is scheduled to begin this October in Erbil, Iraq. The incubator is crowdfunding with a matching grant from the Tent Foundation to support the launch and to provide seed funding for the entrepreneurs at the end of the program.

Bosley is the Executive Director of Five One Labs. She is passionate about business approaches to humanitarian challenges. She was an Innovation Specialist with the UN Refugee Agency’s Innovation Unit, using design thinking to solve humanitarian challenges worldwide. She has also worked at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani, and consulted with Mercy Corp’s Social Ventures team. For the past two years, she served as the Design Lead at the Columbia Entrepreneurship Design Studio.

Letayf is Five One Labs’ Director of Operations. She worked as a Middle East analyst at the Dubai office of consultancy Control Risks, where she advised clients on the political risks to their operations in the region. She cares deeply about development issues in the region, particularly around education and employment, and believes in the transformative power of cross-cultural interactions. She volunteers as a cross-cultural facilitator for the Soliya Connect Program.

The following Q&A is an edited excerpt from the Bard MBA’s September 22nd Sustainable Business Fridays podcast. Sustainable Business Fridays brings together students in Bard’s MBA in Sustainability program with leaders in business, sustainability and social entrepreneurship.

Listen to this interview and others on the Bard MBA Sustainable Business Fridays podcast on your Apple or Android device.


Bard MBA: How will Five One Labs help refugees and conflict-affected entrepreneurs launch their businesses in the Middle East?

Our incubator is a three-month program for aspiring entrepreneurs who have an idea they’ve gained some traction with but haven’t been able to launch as a business.

Young people from refugee, internally displaced and local communities are welcome to apply to our program. Every week they’ll have training on design thinking and lean startup methodology. They’ll also learn hard business skills like finance, operations, and team building, and we’ll give them resilience and leadership training.

In addition to the trainings, participants will be linked to two types of mentors. The first is international mentors who’ve been entrepreneurs or who are experts in a certain sector. In Iraq, the entrepreneurship ecosystem is still really young, especially in Iraqi Kurdistan where we operate. This means there are very few role models, particularly people who’ve created scaleable innovative businesses like those you see here in the United States. There are some and they’re incredible, but we’re looking internationally to get mentors who’ve gone through the experience of launching a startup.

We’ll also connect the participants to businesspeople who can connect them into the local market and business scene. If you’re displaced into a new location, one of the largest barriers to starting a business is the lack of local connections. That’s something that we really want to combat.

Finally, they’ll all be part of an inclusive cohort. Inclusive communities are really important to us at Five One Labs. We’re hoping that 50% of our cohort will be from displaced communities and 50% will be from local communities. We want to create a tightknit group of likeminded changemakers from diverse backgrounds who can support each other even when they’re out of the program.

At the end of the three months, participants will have the opportunity to compete for seed funding. We have funding to provide grants to three teams, and we’re bringing in other investors and NGOs who’ll hopefully be able to fund all our entrepreneurs to launch their businesses.


BARD MBA: How did you develop this model?

While we were at Columbia University, we did research not only on incubator models in the U.S., but on incubator models outside the U.S., particularly in conflict zones. We spoke to incubators in Gaza, Pakistan, Lebanon, and elswhere because we wanted to ensure that our incubator would be sensitive to any challenges that refugees would face. We found from our research that we’d have to add extra layers of support relative to incubators in the U.S.


BARD MBA: What types of businesses have blossomed from Five One Labs? what types of entrepreneurs have you worked with so far?

We’ve seen three types of businesses here. The first is businesses with fairly traditional business models. A group from our pilot was trying to launch Iraq’s first French fry factory. We were really surprised to get a French fry factory application, but their argument was that one of Iraq’s main exports is actually potatoes, yet it imports French fries from Iran, Turkey and other places. There are no locally made French fries. Their idea was to create a factory, and their business model was such that they’d scale into other things like seasonings or direct-to-consumer sales.

The second type is businesses that have innovative business models that have been around in the West for a while. An example of this is an app that calls taxis, or a medicine delivery service that you can contact online or on an app. These businesses are extremely innovative for Iraq because Iraq’s ecommerce is only just starting. Most people don’t have credit cards or other means of buying things online, and it’s only recently that people have found solutions to online payment.

Patricia Letayf

The third type of businesses we see are truly innovative—businesses that you really haven’t heard of anywhere else. One of our teams is creating a virtual reality game to help refugees learn local languages. They’re passionate about it and have already built out several levels of the game. It’s really impressive. Another example is one of our Syrian entrepreneurs, who’s trying to build an online sharing platform for civil engineers and architects to collaborate on AutoCAD and other types of drawings.


BARD MBA: What are the goals for your crowdfunding campaign?

The financial aim is to raise $50,000. The Tent Foundation has generously agreed to match all contributions up to that amount. The Foundation, which supports refugee employment and encourages private sector involvement to address challenges to refugees, was started by the CEO of Chobani Yogurt, himself a refugee.

The crowdfunding campaign is to support the launch of our first cohort at the end of October. It’ll help us to provide things like food, transport and childcare stipends to the refugees, which are very important, especially for the involvement of women in the cohort. The matching amount from the Tent Foundation will provide the seed funding for the entrepreneurs at the end of the program. Both will allow us to launch a great incubator this fall.

Posted on 22 September 2017 | 10:56 am

Breaking Open Access Points for Youth Entrepreneurs — By Martin Freeman

Breaking Open Access Points for Youth Entrepreneurs — By Martin Freeman

Republished from GreenBiz

By 2030, the target date for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, the number of youth aged 15-24 years will reach nearly 1.3 billion globally, up 7% from 2015. This increase, especially in the Middle East and Africa, means that current high youth unemployment rates will only worsen.

Sherry Youssef Younes

The clear solution is entrepreneurship. However, access to entrepreneurship is not keeping up, and we may face a lost generation of job creators.

Enter Sherry Youssef Younes and Alejandro Crawford. Both are working to democratize entrepreneurship by breaking open access points typically closed to budding entrepreneurs outside of well-established networks. Bard MBA student Martin Freeman spoke with Youssef and Crawford last month about the intersection of youth, technology, and economic and social stability—both globally and in the U.S.

Sherry Youssef Younes is the Technical Directory for the DFID-Islamic Development Band Arab Women’s Enterprise Fund Programme. She’s also an ICT for development specialists and a women’s economic empowerment consultant with over 20 years experience in international economic development program design, development and management.

As a consultant, Alejandro Crawford is is managing director of Acceleration Group, where he works with the leaders of companies, governments, universities, investors, and NGOs to to harness the potential of disruptive leaders to remake our economy. As an entrepreneur, he launches and grows ventures such as RebelBase and Tangible Creative and enables others to launch and grow.

The following Q&A is an edited excerpt from the Bard MBA’s September 8th Sustainable Business Fridays podcast. Sustainable Business Fridays brings together students in Bard’s MBA in Sustainability program with leaders in business, sustainability and social entrepreneurship.

Listen to this interview and others on the Bard MBA Sustainable Business Fridays podcast on an Apple or Android device.



Sherry Youssef: My entrée into international development started with working on technological solutions to economic development. That inevitably led to understanding how technology can be an extremely powerful and effective vehicle for youth engagement in economic and international development.

So, a lot of my work is trying to understand what their constraints are and how to improve access to opportunities—and not just educational opportunities. In many of the places that I work, for example in Jordan and in Palestine, literacy rates for young women are probably around 99%, yet their contribution to economic activity is somewhere around 13 to 14%. The return on investment in those cohorts is not very effective. That’s what really triggered my interest in how we can engage youth, and especially girls, to be more productive, active citizens in the economic growth of their countries.


BARD MBA: Why ARE youth are an important age group to engage with REGARDING entrepreneurial activities?

Sherry Youssef: In many of the countries I work in, 70+ percent of the population is under the age of thirty. There is a global demographic youth bulge, but it’s particularly acute in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region, Latin America, and South East Asia. In those areas, an excessive number of idle youth aren’t contributing to the economic growth of their countries but are, unfortunately, contributing to social instability in a lot of places.

That intersection of youth, technology, economic and social stability is why I think this is such an important cohort to invest in. They often have untapped potential, and for me that’s where entrepreneurship comes into the equation. There simply aren’t enough jobs out there to absorb this population, and there will never be enough jobs created by the traditional private sector to absorb the exponentially increasing numbers of youth.

The only alternative is self-employment of some sort, whether that is formal entrepreneurship or informal entrepreneurship. It has the ability to enable and empower those youth to dip into their assets and potential to be productive citizens and to be self-sufficient and self-sustaining. It’s really critical.


BARD MBA: How will the democratization of entrepreneurship help?

Sherry Youssef: In the context in which I’ve been working, there have been some extremely successful models set up—micro-ecosystems of very efficient and effective entrepreneurial spaces. However, they’re exclusive and reliant on networks catering to a very thin slice of the population. I feel very strongly that those ecosystems need to be more inclusive and accessible and to cater to a broader pool of talent. That’s a win-win situation.


Alejandro Crawford

BARD MBA: How does this compare to the market in the United States?

Alejandro Crawford: Entrepreneurship is down in the United States. In many ways, the situation in the U.S. mirrors what Sherry describes when she refers to populations that are excluded from entrepreneurship globally.

Sherry hits the nail on the head when she says that the populations that are the engines for future economic growth are the most likely to be excluded from access to the entrepreneurial ecosystem. The World Economic Forum did a study of alums of Stanford’s entrepreneurship programs, and those who’ve succeeded in entrepreneurship list a set of “top three” factors: access to capital, access to market and access to talent. Without those access points, you may have the next big thing, you could be the next great entrepreneur, but you won’t be able to scale that solution.

We are very much in danger of having a generation in the U.S. and globally that feels that it can’t afford to fail. Unless we address it, we really will be looking at a lost generation of job creators. Our job, if we want to expand access to that ecosystem, is to make sure that young entrepreneurs have the basics they need to pilot and prove and draw resources to their solutions.

We want to take the kid who does not look like a stereotypical entrepreneur and make sure that she has the alliance, space and awareness of her power to create solutions.

Posted on 8 September 2017 | 1:01 pm

Three Enter the Ring: Bard Graduate Program Alumni Running for Office

Three Enter the Ring: Bard Graduate Program Alumni Running for Office

The recent election of Donald Trump to the US presidency, along with his divisive agenda, has ignited a wave of new entries into the political process by those who might not previously considered running for public office. Three alumni from Bard’s Graduate Programs in Sustainability have recently announced plans to campaign for elected office.

Jess King, MBA ‘16, is seeking the Democratic nomination to run for US Congress from her life-long home in the Lancaster PA area. Jess has served as Director of ASSETS since 2010, an innovative community economic development organization.

In announcing her run, Jess said: “It’s up to us–everyday Americans–to breathe new life into our democracy. I’m a working mother who has devoted my career to supporting small business owners seeking a shot at the American dream. But it hasn’t been enough. The cards are stacked against working families. Our country is too divided, and Washington isn’t helping. America should be for all of us.”  Jess brought on Juzer Rangoonwala, a fellow Bard MBA alum and Pennsylvania resident, to serve as her campaign’s Treasurer. Jess’s candidacy is also featured in the Central Penn Business Journal

Erycka Montoya, a student in CEP ‘11, is running for New York City Council District 21 in Queens. Erycka reports she is “excited and looking forward to the opportunity to represent the district I grew up in and figure out how to make NYC a place that native New Yorkers can afford to stay in and raise their families.  Feeling pushed out of my own city is a big part of what has compelled me to step up and take a chance.” Montoya has spent her years since CEP working to promote community economic development in New York City.

Finally, Danny Lapin, CEP ‘15, an Environmental Planner with Otsego County in New York, is running to represent his neighborhood in Oneonta on the Otsego County Board of Representatives. In his professional role he has been working across the aisle to facilitate sustainable economic development, protect the environment, and help communities plan for their future. He is running to help “heal divisions within the Board and build new partnerships that will strengthen the County for years to come.”

Lapin says that, “My experience at the Bard College Center for Environmental Policy gave me the skills I need to communicate policy in a nonpartisan, scientific way. As a professional and now, as a candidate, effective communication skills are indispensable.”

The current political climate has heightened American’s engagement, especially among young people. Bard’s Graduate Programs in Sustainability have given our alums the skills to understand how the policy and business worlds can work for their communities, and the chance to gain high-level professional experience from which to launch into electoral politics.

King says that the vision on which she is running “was deeply influenced by my time at Bard.”

Posted on 18 July 2017 | 1:30 pm

Reimagining Our Food Systems with Impossible Foods: The Secret is in their Roots

Reimagining Our Food Systems with Impossible Foods: The Secret is in their Roots

By Reagan Richmond, Cindy Wasser and Stephen Williams

In March, Bard MBA students spoke with Rebekah Moses, the sustainability and agriculture manager of Impossible Foods, to learn about the company’s unique approach to reducing the impact of livestock food products. Moses shared the story of the company’s founder, a long time academic, and other researchers who are taking solutions out of the lab and into the market.

“We make meat and dairy products from plants—not because it’s particularly easy to do, but because it is one way to mitigate a crisis involving animal agriculture,” says Moses.

Rebekah Moses

The crisis Moses is referring to is the land use and climate impacts associated with raising livestock for meat and dairy products. About 30% of the world’s land surface is used for animal agriculture, which is estimated by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Association to contribute 14.5% of human-induced GHG emissions.

Worldwide, animal protein consumption is rising. The company says humans currently use a landmass larger than North and South America, Australia and Europe combined to raise animals to eat, plus enough water every day to fill San Francisco Bay. These impacts drive Impossible Foods’ desire to change the way humans consume delicious protein, with the intent to take pressure off our ecosystem.

The innovative Silicone Valley company was founded in 2011 by Patrick O. Brown, M.D., Ph.D., a tenured biochemistry professor at Stanford University. While on sabbatical Brown thought, “What is the biggest environmental problem I can think of and how can we solve it?”

He decided to spend the rest of his career focused on the resource depletion that results from having 30 percent of our planet’s ice-less land mass dedicated to producing animal products. Brown chose a market-based mechanism to do that; he assumed that by providing a functional equivalent to meat that used fewer resources, his company would have a true opportunity to change diets and the food system.

With the driving question, “What makes meat taste like meat?” Brown’s team spent the next five years figuring out how to put that flavor into a plant-based ground beef that would taste, cook and look like beef, without beef’s drawbacks.

The Impossible Foods burger smells like beef, caramelizes like beef, and even appears to bleed like beef, thanks to the company’s dogged work reproducing beef’s chemical compounds. The company isolated all of the flavor molecules of burgers and realized that they could replicate many of the meat flavors using purely plant components.

The “magic ingredient” of the Impossible Foods meat is plant-based heme that mimics meat’s iron compound molecule, which carries oxygen and makes blood red. Unlike animal hemoglobin, Impossible Foods’ heme is derived from the roots of bean plants.

“In order to create this experience of eating a beef product…we had to find a way to deliver that irony, bloody taste of beef, and that change in color when beef cooks. Heme is driving that, and catalyzing a lot of the flavor that is happening.”

Rather than extract heme from raw plant sources, Impossible Foods creates the ingredient in the lab, applying insights from Belgian beer brewing processes. With this innovation, Impossible Foods avoids using energy and other resources that would have otherwise been applied towards agricultural production.

The magic ingredient has celebrity chefs excited about the new alternative. A number of well-known chefs, including David Chang of Momofuku fame, have put the Impossible Foods burger on their menus, with great success. The burger is now available in more than 10 restaurants and recently launched at their first high-end chain, Bare Burger, in New York.

In addition to having created a delicious alternative animal-based protein, the plant-based burger uses about 75 percent less water, and only 5 percent of the land mass used to raise beef. Altogether, the plant burger supply chain generates 77% less greenhouse gasses than the beef burger supply chain.

While the burger currently sells at upscale restaurants, Impossible Foods has a vision to scale their production and impact. The company recently opened its first large-scale facility, in Oakland, CA, designed to produce one million pounds of meat a month—about 4 million burgers!

The above post is based on the Bard MBA’s May 19th Sustainable Business Fridays podcast. Sustainable Business Fridays brings together students in Bard’s MBA in Sustainability program with leaders in business, sustainability and social entrepreneurship.

Listen to this interview and others on the Bard MBA Sustainable Business Fridays podcast on an Apple or Android device.

Posted on 19 May 2017 | 6:00 am

Recycle-A-Bicycle: Fostering Job Training, Environmental Education, and Community Engagement

Recycle-A-Bicycle: Fostering Job Training, Environmental Education, and Community Engagement

By Meghan Altman and Katie Ellman

  • On average, New York City’s Recycle-A-Bicycle salvages 1,800 bicycles each year from the waste stream, diverting a total of 45,000 pounds of waste from the city’s landfills.
  • In the past year alone, more than 1000 Recycle-A-Bicycle youth collectively refurbished 500 bicycles, pedaled 24,000 miles, and burned 1,750,000 calories.
  • Recycle-A-Bicycle recycles the metal from donated bikes that are too damaged to use—literally 12,000 of aluminum and steel each year.

The person behind these impressive numbers, Recycle-A-Bicycle Founder and Executive Director Karen Overton, talked recently with the Bard MBA’s Meghan Altman about the organization’s growth and vision.

Karen Overton, Founder and Executive Director of Recycle-A-Bicycle

Overton began her bicycle advocacy career in Mozambique as a planner for Bikes for Africa. When she returned to the US, she took a position with Transportation Alternatives in New York City. That’s where she was when the city’s Department of Sanitation called, looking for a productive way to use the discarded bikes it dealt with daily. Recycle-A-Bicycle was born.

Today, the non-profit is dedicated to the health, development, stewardship and empowerment of NYC youth. It operates innovative youth programs like its Summer Youth Employment Program, Cycle Craft, and Earn-A-Bike. It also runs two storefronts, an education center, and seventeen school-based programs.

The following Q&A is an edited excerpt from the Bard MBA’s May 5th Sustainable Business Fridays podcast. Sustainable Business Fridays brings together students in Bard’s MBA in Sustainability program with leaders in business, sustainability and social entrepreneurship.

Listen to this interview and others on the Bard MBA Sustainable Business Fridays podcast on an Apple or Android device.


Bard MBA: How did Recycle-A-Bicycle (RAB) get its start?

In 1994, I was an employee of Transportation Alternatives as part of their speed limit campaign. We got a call from the New York City Department of Sanitation (DOS), which wanted to start a program that married the issues of latchkey kids and bicycle recycling. At that time, there were programs called “earn a bike” in various parts of the country, and someone at DOS had read about them and wanted to bring that to New York. So, I wrote a proposal, and that May we started a partnership with a local middle school up in Washington Heights. We set up a bike shop in the basement for afterschool programing. It was such a success that they invited us to do summer programming and then integrated us into the programming for the academic year.

From there it mushroomed, and people were calling from all over the country to find out how they could do this in their own schools. So we published a book called Tools For Life: A Start-Up Guide for Youth Recycling & Bicycling Programs, and it just took on a life of its own. We became our own not-for-profit and opened a bike shop to sell the large number of the discarded and donated bikes that the kids did not want.

Today we’re making almost $400k each year, and we have two retail stores, an education center, and a place where we can warehouse our collected bikes.


Bard MBA: Did RAB participate in the advocacy approach from the early years?

I think access to a bicycle is an important part of promoting the bicycle movement, so what we’re doing is enabling. From the first, we started targeting schools that are in challenged neighborhoods by creating an opportunity for someone to earn a bike without having to pay for it. We were providing access and building a market and a demand for these services.

We were also adding to the sustainability space because if your bike breaks down and you know how to fix it, you can—even if you don’t have the money to take it to a fancy bike shop. Also, our ride clubs teach people how to ride safely in the street, so I think we play an important role there, too. Advocacy shouldn’t exist without education and I feel that the educational role is where we come in.

Saying that, we regularly take young people to the National Bike Summit, a lobby day organized by the League of American Cyclists. So we also do leadership development. I’ve had students run for election in their high schools and put bike parking on their election campaign ticket. We’ve had students lead rides for elected officials, sharing ideas on how to improve the Brooklyn Greenway.

Six years ago we started the Youth Bike Summit. If you imagine a wheel, I felt that RAB was a hub and all of our programs were spokes leading out to rim—they weren’t talking to each other. So the Youth Bike Summit started as a way to connect, and it ultimately created a national demand for coming together. Over the years, we’ve increased youth participation in planning the event. Last year, over 50% of attendees were youth, with each presentation having youth participation. We didn’t start this way, but the Youth Bike Summit is really growing into a youth-led conference.


Bard MBA: Has demand for the for the Teacher Training and Earn-A-Bike programs increased?

Twenty years ago, a lot of people thought that bicycling was not safe. In preparation for the bike share program here in New York City, then Mayor Bloomberg required that there be enough bike infrastructure before bringing in bike share. That legitimized biking in a way that the advocates had not been able to.

There are many more people biking here now as a result. At that point, school principals thought, “We’d better prepare our students.” So instead of seeing it as a liability, they thought, “We’d better catch up and keep up.” Biking is a life skill.


Bard MBA: Where do you find your funding?

65% of our budget is from earned income, our retail sales. Every bike we sell is new on the inside and old on the outside. There’s big demand for bikes like these because of the fear of theft. We also operate a full service shop, so people come back for service and repairs. We cater primarily to commuters, so we don’t often have high-end bikes. When we do get them we’re happy, but it doesn’t happen often.

Outside of the shops, we get contracts from schools so that we can hire mechanics to work with their teachers. We also get contracts from the Department of Health, and we work with three hospitals that often provide mini grants or get funding from campaigns from the hospital staff. Finally, we have an annual benefit. So we have fairly diverse sources of funding, but we primarily rely on the shops.


Bard MBA: Regarding your retail stores/service shops, how do you stay competitive as a not-for-profit organization in a sea of other service shops?

Twenty years ago, we were one of the only used bike shops. We could guarantee that our bikes were donated, and we established a good reputation that way. Most shops back then didn’t sell used bikes because they weren’t warrantied. Insurance for used bikes escalates because you are relying on your mechanics, so shops didn’t really take that route.

Reputation and word of mouth goes a long way in the community, and a lot of people benefit from our programs, which creates loyalty. Someone may travel to one of our shops from the Bronx just to buy a bike from us because we’re servicing the school that they work in. After twenty years of providing professional, quality repairs, we have a lot of love in the bike community.


Bard MBA: How did your merger with Bike New York come about?

Bike New York puts on the biggest bike ride in the United States: the Five Boro Bike Tour. We didn’t want to get into the business of putting on our own rides, and it’s always been RAB’s model to partner with other organizations. At one point, it became clear that neither one of us wanted to compete with one another, so it made sense to join forces.

Also, our shops struggle through the winter—we always have to worry about finances in the cold weather. So, this kind of solves that problem for us. And for them, from an event perspective, they haven’t been able to offer much mechanic training to marshalls. Having a shop to do this in means that they can expand this training to event staff and volunteers. It’s a win-win for all of us, and we’re very excited.

Posted on 5 May 2017 | 6:00 am

How “Years of Living Dangerously” Communicates the Urgency of Climate Change

How “Years of Living Dangerously” Communicates the Urgency of Climate Change

By Katie Ellman

“Climate change isn’t stopping with the second season”—that’s Jon Meyersohn, co-executive producer of the Emmy-award winning television series Years of Living Dangerously, on why he hopes it extends to a third season.

Meyersohn is a journalist and producer with a thirty-year career spanning print, radio and television. As co-executive producer of the second season of Years of Living Dangerously, he worked closely with the two founding executive producers and senior staff to provide a sweeping narrative look at some of the most urgent climate change problems threatening the planet.

In an interview with the Bard MBA’s Katie Ellman, Meyersohn provides a behind-the-scenes glimpse into how the team decided which topics to feature, who originated the idea of celebrity correspondents, and why the show’s social media presence is so powerful.

The following Q&A is an edited excerpt from the Bard MBA’s April 21st Sustainable Business Fridays podcast. Sustainable Business Fridays brings together students in Bard’s MBA in Sustainability program with leaders in business, sustainability and social entrepreneurship.

Listen to this interview and others on the Bard MBA Sustainable Business Fridays podcast on an Apple or Android device.


Bard MBA: How did your background lead you to becoming the Co-Executive Producer of Years of Living Dangerously?

I have a background as a journalist going all the way back to college. I was editor of my college newspaper at the University of Chicago and then wound up getting into radio and television at CBS News. While at CBS, I decided that I wanted to tell stories with visuals, and I went all over the world doing production for the evening news and other CBS programs. I was very interested in geopolitical changes and covered the fall of the Berlin Wall and developments in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. I then became interested in long-form television and spent the next twenty years going back and forth between daily news and long-form storytelling.

I followed the adventures of the folks who run Years of Living Dangerously, creators/executive producers Joel Bach and David Gelber, in the first season when it was on Showtime. They invited me to join them as a co-executive producer on the second season, which airs on National Geographic.

When David first told me about this program, I thought, “Wow, eight hours on climate change—won’t it be kind of dry?” But he and Joel took the skills that they developed at 60 Minutes telling dramatic human narratives and translated those beautifully to what is truly the most important issue of our day. Climate change is more visible and more important than ever.


Bard MBA: Each episode features celebrity correspondents and specific climate change issues. Whose idea was it to format the series in this way? 

Well, this is heavy stuff and it is presented in a digestible way. That takes a lot of time, and a lot of producing, and a lot of thought. Early on, David and Joel found late executive producer Jerry Weintraub. He was a real film and TV storyteller, impresario and thinker, and he basically said to them: number one, you should do this as a TV series instead of a film—it will have more impact. And number two, you should do this using celebrity journalists because that will make the journey seem more palatable and more identifiable.

The reason that the celebrity correspondents work so well is because the viewer is on a journey, and the correspondent is learning as he or she goes. Because we don’t get an unlimited amount of time with these folks, it’s not like a reporter working on these stories for a month or a year, and they have to become the eyes, ears and voice of the audience. That seems to work really well.


Bard MBA: There is a wide range of topics across two seasons of the series. How are the topics chosen and what goes into producing each episode?

We’ve produced 17 hours of television in the last three years. In the first season, the stories were about really important wakeup calls: palm oil, Hurricane Sandy, rainforest destruction, climate migration. After the first season, there were other stories that needed to be told: sea level rise, deforestation, coal, solar.

The way it works is that we have our network, National Geographic. When we knew what story we wanted to do and where, we worked with funders who give the program money to tell those stories. For example, they might say, “We want to see something about extinction.” So, we’d get a great team together to find out what we already know, what the science is behind that, and where we can go to tell that story. And we’d get together a great team of producers and associate producers. It all comes together in this incredible and marvelous alchemy that kept evolving over the course of eighteen months.


Bard MBA: The Series’ social media presence and website encourage folks to get involved, even if they haven’t seen the series.

All credit goes to Joel Bach.  He has an incredible visual sensibility, and he really pushed to do the web extras and the social media engagement.  We want to make sure that people are constantly able to engage. A lot of people are watching on television on National Geographic, but a lot of our audience doesn’t get cable or have the ability to do appointment viewing or DVR. So, we have to make sure this stuff is still available—the shows, the web extras and the videos, but also the programs. We have a long tail and want to make sure that there is a life after the show is finished, which we’re doing with the website and DVD packaging, as well as in our work with schools and universities.


Bard MBA: What does the future hold for Years?

The goal is to have a third season. In the era of climate change, which is going to be a continuing crisis playing out all over the world, and considering the current political climate in Washington, we have to have accountability. There are dozens of stories that we haven’t pursued, and climate change isn’t stopping with the second season.

Posted on 21 April 2017 | 6:00 am

Publishing as a Tool for Effecting Cultural Change

Publishing as a Tool for Effecting Cultural Change

By Alex FitzGerald, Jennifer Joseph, Jennifer Shelbo and Katie Ellman

Book publishing is a $28 billion industry in the United States. While there has been growth in e-books and audio books, the printed word is still the way most Americans read their books. However, it is also a resource intensive industry that produces approximately 12.4 million metric tons of carbon annually.

Chelsea Green Co-Founder and President Margo Baldwin

Enter Chelsea Green Publishing. Founded in 1984 by Ian and Margo Baldwin, Chelsea Green is recognized as a leading publisher of books on the politics and practice of sustainable living. It produces foundational works on topics ranging from regenerative agriculture to local economies, to green building and renewable energy.

Chelsea Green also leads the industry with its environmental practices, printing 95 percent of its books on chlorine-free recycled paper and minimizing its carbon footprint by working exclusively with North American, rather than overseas, printers. It includes an environmental impact statement in each of its books. In 2012, Chelsea Green became an employee-owned company.

Last month, students from the Bard MBA in Sustainability talked with Margo Baldwin, Chelsea Green Co-Founder, President and Publisher, about the company’s mission and impact.

The following Q&A is an edited excerpt from the Bard MBA’s April 7th Sustainable Business Fridays podcast. Sustainable Business Fridays brings together students in Bard’s MBA in Sustainability program with leaders in business, sustainability and social entrepreneurship.

Listen to this interview and others on the Bard MBA Sustainable Business Fridays podcast on an Apple or Android device.


Bard MBA: Chelsea Green Publishing is regarded as the leading publisher of books on sustainable living. How did you build the company?

The company got started almost 33 years ago. We really didn’t have this idea that we were going to do a publishing company solely devoted to sustainability, so we grew into that mission a little bit. When we started, we just wanted to do good books, broadly defined. We were pretty eclectic, but the realities of running a small publishing company and understanding that you need to be niched if you are going to survive got us focused on the kind of books we really wanted to do.

Once we figured out that it was going to be focused on the environment and sustainable living—which included a lot of practical, how-to books—our publishing program got a lot better defined. We started to build up what is called our backlist, books that continue to sell year after year. It wasn’t an easy thing to do and it took a long time for us to become a stable company. But I think in the end we built up something pretty substantial that has affected a lot of people. We feel good about that.


Bard MBA: What has been one of the most fulfilling aspects of your role at Chelsea Green?

Every time a new book rolls out that you feel has potential to change the conversation or change the world, it is extremely fulfilling. The thing about book publishing is that you’re not just making lots of things that are the same. Each book is different and each author is different, so it creates a lot of interesting relationships.

It also calls for intense creative work to not only get the book edited and produced and published, but out into the world and successfully marketed. Then, you feel like, “Oh, we did a good job on this book, and now it’s off and running. The author’s happy and we’re happy. It’s having an impact and we’re affecting the culture.”

Conversely, when you put a lot of time and energy into a book and for whatever reason it doesn’t work, it can be extremely frustrating. But it’s never boring because every book is different.  You are in a creative industry, and you have to remember that.


Bard MBA: Do you feel that the employee-owned model has been successful for you?

We are very glad we did it, but we feel like we’re just beginning stages. It’s really going to depend on how this works out over time.

As a pretty small company, it’s quite a complex thing to do and to manage. It stretches our capacity on an administrative level just to make sure we are doing everything properly. There are a lot of legal and accounting complexities around it, which is why most ESOPs [employee stock ownership plans] are larger companies. It is treated legally like a retirement plan, so the shares of the company are held in trust on behalf of the employees in individual accounts that build up or decline over time based on the share price of the company.

Because it hasn’t to a degree really changed the management structure, it is sometimes hard for employees to understand what that ownership means. You have to work hard at building up the culture of ownership, and that’s not so easy to do. Employees have a hard time wrapping their heads around the fact that being an owner is different than just being an employee.


Bard MBA: Are there positive ways that becoming employee-owned has further embedded the shared values of the company?

It’s kind of a subtle thing. If you attract the right employees, they want to stick around because they are getting a good benefit. They do feel as if they have a stake in the company’s future.

It just takes a lot of work to maintain and grow that understanding. If you look at our neighbor, King Arthur Flour, which is a much bigger company, they have whole committees, departments, and specialized people who are devoted to making it happen. When you are in a very small company, it is harder because you don’t have the personnel to devote to it. You have to let it evolve and try to insert it into how you talk about the company, how you attract new people, and your expectations of those employees over time.

But there is growing awareness that it is great to be an employee-owned company, and our employees are proud of what they are doing. On the other hand, sometimes our younger employees don’t really believe that anything that is put aside for their retirement will actually materialize. They can’t imagine thirty or forty years in the future when they are going to be able to cash in on that. So the age issue needs some work, but I think that is true for every employee-owned company.


Bard MBA: That’s probably true for any employee anywhere.  What you need to do to be a responsible steward of your own future seems so far off when you are young.

Yes, it does. And younger employees tend to have less cash, so their attitude is “Well, that sounds great, but just give me the cash now—I need it to pay my rent.” There is that aspect, too.


Bard MBA: What is one message you want to put out there to people either looking to make change or wanting to be part of a movement?

Just do it! It depends on what your passion is around, whether it’s starting a new business or being an activist. You just have to find an organization that’s doing it and jump in.

If you can’t find someone to hire you, just start it yourself. It’s easier than you think, even though it’s really hard work.  First, you have to follow what motivates and inspires you—then you can figure out the specifics.

You are told probably in your schoolwork that you need to do a plan and do a P&L and have some money. But a lot of things get started on a very little small level and then grow. If you’ve got a good idea, you should follow it and see if you can make it work.

Young people sometimes think they have to get hired when in fact you don’t. You just need to get going. And sometimes that means volunteering and then that work turns into a job. It sometimes means starting a small business. Don’t be done in by the barriers that seem to get erected.

Posted on 7 April 2017 | 6:00 am

Value-First Impact Investing: Cary Krosinsky on Driving Change by Doing Well

Value-First Impact Investing: Cary Krosinsky on Driving Change by Doing Well

By Eban Goodstein and Katie Ellman

Values-first versus value-first investing. Cary Krosinsky argues that the “s” that differentiates the two represents a significant shift in the impact investing field.

Krosinsky talked with Bard MBA in Sustainability Director Eban Goodstein last month about the shift from negative to positive approaches to sustainable investing, and about the business case for value-first investing.

Krosinsky’s latest book, Sustainable Investing: Revolutions in Theory and Practice (with Sophie Purdom), came out last December. The author of two other books on sustainable investing, he’s also a noted educator, teaching at Brown, Yale, Maryland and Concordia. His advisory work includes acting as Lead Consultant to a PRI Working Group that resulted in a Climate Change Asset Owner Strategy Framework for COP 21.

The following Q&A is an edited excerpt from the Bard MBA’s March 17th Sustainable Business Fridays podcast. Sustainable Business Fridays brings together students in Bard’s MBA in Sustainability program with leaders in business, sustainability and social entrepreneurship.

Listen to this interview and others on the Bard MBA Sustainable Business Fridays podcast on an Apple or Android device.


Bard MBA: You’re the co-author of three books, coming out at roughly three year intervals.  Can you go back to 2008 and talk about the theme of the first book, then the theme of the second, and then what’s new about the latest book, Sustainable Investing: Revolutions in Theory and Practice?

Going back to 2007, when we were working on our first book, Sustainable Investing: the Art of Long-Term Performance—it was perfectly timed for the financial crisis. The field that had grown up over the previous four-plus decades came out of more negative approaches, and Nick Robins and I thought that it was important to try to steer the field in a more positive direction. The book was a bit of a line in the sand as to how the field was starting to try to reshape itself.

Fast forward a few years, and we thought, “Let’s now do a book on what investors are actually doing in the space.” That was Evolutions in Sustainable Investing, which came out in late 2011. It looked at fifteen fund managers, had contributions from thought leaders such as Paul Hawken, and regional perspectives. It’s a nice compendium for those interested in seeing what was happening in the space, and we continue to use it in our teaching.

Fast forward another five years and we have our new book, Sustainable Investing: Revolutions in Theory and Practice. It’s very much intended to be a look at what investing needs to be going forward to solve the problems that we all face.


Bard MBA: Can you elaborate for folks who aren’t as familiar with the field on the difference between positive and negative approaches to sustainable investing? 

Absolutely. It’s actually described in the first chapter of the new book, which we’ve called “The Seven Tribes of Sustainable Investing.” One of the so-called “tribes” is a values-first approach, which is very much rooted in religious mandates, such as a desire to divest from South Africa during the age of apartheid, or, going back, concerns about weaponry or even alcohol and tobacco. The origin of the field is deeply rooted in not owning companies that don’t meet your personal values. And that continues to be a large portion of this field.

Our preference is for a more positive approach, which we describe as value-first. Actually there’s a much better financial performance from that perspective that’s been experienced by various fund managers we’re happy to talk about. This is another of the seven tribes we discuss in the book.

The great thing about the value angle is that it has the potential to encourage the dynamic that financial considerations need to be primary if we’re going to tackle the problems we face, as well as the sustainability solutions that we require. If we can get both of those engines going in parallel, we end up with a positive dynamic that will allow systems to fix our problems, and it’s more beneficial economically as well.


Bard MBA: how can sustainability and impact investing begin to drive lots of dollars into the space? After all, folks can actually do it at least as well as the market, if not better, by finding companies that are doing well on both the sustainability side and the finance side. 

Exactly. From our point of view, one of the barriers that remains towards scale when it comes to impact or sustainable investing is that there is a fairly deep-rooted perception that you leave returns on the table when you take sustainability into account in your investment choices.

That’s partly true, actually, because if you do look at the first wave of socially responsible investing and the larger billion-plus dollar funds that grew up out of that first paradigm, those funds actually have struggled to perform well. A lot of that has to do with negative screening. It’s not by and large a good investment strategy.

Fortunately, the positive approach has performed much better. We’ve been writing about that in our books all along, and it’s only becoming clearer that there is a financial argument. There is at least the chance of added performance by taking these things into account.


Bard MBA: there’s a lot of excitement around this idea of moving money into the solution space and away from the problem space, but how much opportunity is there out there? 

Somewhere between a hundred billion and a trillion dollars of capital commitments have been made by large institutions such as Morgan Stanley and their peers, as well as large pension funds such as the New York State Common Retirement Fund, and Europe, especially, and the Chinese government. So, there’s enormous capital starting to emerge looking for these solutions.

Yes, we need more capital to be deployed. One of the chapters of the book is on the “value of everything,” which is $450 trillion in tradeable assets, or potentially tradeable assets, which is an important perspective. Half of that’s institutionally managed, and we need a larger percentage to be going after solutions than is currently going after them.

But there’s also a series of other opportunities we need to tackle. One is increasing the issuance of instruments across asset classes that seek these solutions, green bonds being one of a number of such increased opportunities that we require. Investors can struggle, indeed, to find these opportunities, and the opportunities that are out there are really kind of all over the map.

Those who are driving sustainability change can be inside a company, or at a government level, or trying to establish policy, setting incentives, doing insurance data. There’s really a big system of opportunities that are emerging. Which is arguably exciting, because that will create jobs, and if we get it right we’ll solve problems, and create more opportunities.


Bard MBA: How much “quant” finance do you really have to master to be able to operate effectively in this space? Is it the kind of thing where you need to have a deep-dive finance degree, or can you get involved if you have, say, three or four semesters focused on this space?

There’s space for people of different skill sets. Most people have a sort of ESG issue of preference. One person might want to help solve the challenge of indentured slavery or sexual trafficking. Another might be more interested in renewable energy. Another might be interested in getting a position at a large corporation to try to help drive change from the inside, or as a consultant, or with a bank. There’s a wide range of paths. So, quantitative skills can be helpful. Depending on the situation, they’re certainly something that a lot of folks will look for even from think tanks, and not just startups but also hedge funds.

Quite frankly, had you asked me the question two years ago I would have said, “Well actually it might be a bit challenging to get a job. There’s a lot of interest, but there aren’t a lot of openings.” But I really think that’s changed in a very short period of time, and we’re seeing a rise in social entrepreneurship opportunities left and right.

The field is starting to head in a better and better direction. It’s going to take demand for more sustainable investing from the average person who sees that it’s in their own best financial interest, but this field should only grow as that perception continues to change.

Posted on 17 March 2017 | 8:49 am

Consumption, Climate and Community: Filmmaker John de Graaf on Achieving Social and Environmental Sustainability by Buying Less

Consumption, Climate and Community: Filmmaker John de Graaf on Achieving Social and Environmental Sustainability by Buying Less

By Heather Bowden, Lauren Hill, Nick Shore, Catherine Tedrow and Katie Ellman

President Trump built his personal brand on wealth, using tag lines like, “You have to be wealthy in order to be great.”

Shortly after Trump’s election, Bard MBA students Heather Bowden, Lauren Hill, Nick Shore and Catherine Tedrow spoke with filmmaker John de Graaf, who documented the consumption phenomenon of the 1990s. Their conversation explored the connections among consumption, income inequality, social media and climate change in the context of the election.

John de Graaf is a documentary filmmaker and author. Fifteen of his films, including the popular Affluenza, have been broadcast nationally on PBS. He is also the co-author of the books Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic, now in its third edition, and What’s the Economy For, Anyway?

De Graaf’s work investigates the intersections of sustainability, consumerism, health and happiness. He is a senior advisor for Earth Economics, a non-profit ecosystem services organization. He is also a co-founder of the Happiness Initiative, and recently as an advisor to the government of Bhutan as it developed its Gross National Happiness report for the United Nations in 2013.

The following Q&A is an edited excerpt from the Bard MBA’s March 3rd Sustainable Business Fridays podcast. Sustainable Business Fridays brings together students in Bard’s MBA in Sustainability program with leaders in business, sustainability and social entrepreneurship.

Listen to this interview and others on the Bard MBA Sustainable Business Fridays podcast on an Apple or Android device.


BARD MBA: What have you seen since making YOUR 1997 documentary, AFFLUENZA, in terms of how consumption and income inequality play out in our current system? And what you are thinking in light of the recent presidential election?

When we made the documentary, it was a unique time in that incomes were rising for pretty much everybody, and there was a sense that the economy was going to continue on its way up. Although we didn’t believe that, that is what society tended to believe, and so we focused on how that philosophy was a real danger to the environment in the long run.

We heard from Elizabeth Warren, who was then at Harvard, that for increasing numbers of people, it wasn’t about consuming a lot of stuff. Instead, it was about staying afloat as the prices of key things like housing, healthcare, and higher education were suddenly exploding because of policies instituted in the late 70s and 80s. We saw that median incomes were barely keeping pace with increasing inflation, and that in certain parts of the country, it had become very difficult for people to keep up. For those at the bottom for whom it was even worse, some people were working two or three jobs to try to stay afloat.

Income inequality is obviously the most significant factor we have to deal with if we are going to have reasonable consumer patterns. I believe that we voted in November to exacerbate inequality: to do cut taxes for those who already have, and to cut programs that benefit people who don’t have. Inequality in the material sense is just getting wider and wider.

We have to address what has led us to a lot of these problems: tax cutting, the Reagan revolution, and the concept of trickle down. Under those policies, wealth gushed up and conspicuous consumption was praised. We also have to understand that we cannot solve our problems by simply growing the economy. The concept that somehow our current 2.5% economic growth ought to be increased by three or four, or as Trump has said, as much as five percent, would mean a doubling of consumption for a decade and a half.

The impact of that on the climate and the environment is almost too difficult to fathom. People need to understand that we have to turn away from the idea that the answer to the good life is greater consumption. Instead, it is more time and more nature and more social connections. If we manage that, people will not only be healthier, they will be happier.


Bard MBA: I am curious to hear your perspective on the role of technology and social media in driving consumption.

Sales are increasing and increasing through the internet. While it has value and there’s good information to obtain from it, it’s just awash with constant commercials. There are pages on which you can’t even read the articles because there are so many ads popping up.

What we are getting is an environment, particularly online and through our devices, that is totally saturated with messages to consume more. People use selfies on sites Facebook and Instagram to say, “Look at me—look at how exciting my life is, look where I just went and what I just bought.” All of that tends to make their friends, both virtual and real, feel that, “Well, my life isn’t quite like that.” They may think the answer is to shop for more things.


Bard MBA: Social media sites are selling us this sense of human connection, and while it’s amazing to be able to talk to someone on the other side of the world, there is a disconnect. Can you speak to the disconnect that people living their lives online brings?

I think that it is so complex. Depending on how social media is used, there’s certainly a positive side to it. But there’s also the unreality of it. When it comes to news, increasingly we’re getting very narrow sources. When I was in college, we all watched the same stuff and talked about the same things—and maybe the facts weren’t always right, but there wasn’t a deliberate effort to distort in pursuit of an ideology. We have become polarized into different worlds, which is a danger because it has become difficult to talk about common values, like how much we consume and how we should live.


Bard MBA: What has been your experience of people who have had value shifts, and what has been your experience engaging people with different values?

Usually, an event forces you to rethink your thinking. It’s very clear that young people voted in much bigger numbers against Trump than anybody in any other part of society. That says that these young people want something different and have a different set of values. I think they understand the impacts of climate change and are not already ideologically disposed to hardline market ideas that don’t allow the impacts of climate change to seep in.

We are in a period right now where we are going to have to do some strategy thinking and soul searching about where things are going. Clearly, a lot of people in the country don’t think like us.

Affluenza was an interesting film because it actually did cut across political lines.  We had a lot of sympathy from conservatives who also had issues with over-materialism and its impacts. Conservatives tend to take issue with marketers targeting children, so that leads me to believe that stuff about kids is the way to begin that conversation—but that’s trickier when we’re all in our silos.

Posted on 3 March 2017 | 5:00 am

The Answer is in the Soil: Allan Savory on Holistic Management

The Answer is in the Soil: Allan Savory on Holistic Management

By Alexander Lykins and Katie Ellman

Allan Savory—Zimbabwean ecologist, farmer, soldier, exile, environmentalist, international consultant, and president and co-founder of the Savory Institute—has a message on how to save the world: the answer is in the soil. In the 1960s, Savory originated the concept of Holistic Management, which has been popularized by several articles and a TED Talk that has been viewed nearly 4 million times.

Holistic Management is a framework, most commonly applied to grassland management, that when properly practiced has the potential to regenerate damaged land. It focuses on mimicking the evolutionary grazing patterns of cattle to regenerate soils and restore grasslands. This technique has proven effective in hundreds of areas across the globe, one of the most popular being via Operation HOPE, winner of the 2010 Buckminster Fuller Challenge.

In December, Bard MBA student Alexander Lykins sat down with Savory to discuss holistic management, how it can be applied to business, and how young entrepreneurs can become involved.

The following Q&A is an edited excerpt from the Bard MBA’s February 17th Sustainable Business Fridays podcast. Sustainable Business Fridays brings together students in Bard’s MBA in Sustainability program with leaders in business, sustainability and social entrepreneurship.

Listen to this interview and others on the Bard MBA Sustainable Business Fridays podcast on an Apple or Android device.



It’s an easy way, really, for anyone to manage their business or any management situation more successfully. Management, in any situation, always involves a web of social, environmental, and economic complexity. Even managing feeding your family or living in a city involves complexity.

All management actions also need a reason and a context. If you think about that, you’ll realize that the reason is that you want to meet a need or a desire. In the case of policies, the context always has to do with the problem. There’s no other reason why governments develop a policy—it doesn’t matter if the policy is on drugs, terrorism, or anything else. Whatever it is, the context is the problem.

When we do that, we take this great web of complexity that we cannot avoid and reduce it to a simple context for our actions. That’s reductionist management. All of us do it—we always have, in all cultures. Unfortunately, reductionist management commonly leads to achieving our actions but also later experiencing unintended consequences. And that’s where we are today.

Now, we had to develop something else. Holistic management is a framework. It works by first determining what the situation is—with managing a household, or a farm, a national park, a government—and then getting the people who make the management decisions together. They develop one overarching, holistic context that guides all management actions from then on.

The holistic framework guides our management actions as we go about meeting our needs and desires, or dealing with problems. The really new idea in this is this holistic context. It expresses how we want our lives to be, based on what we value most in life. Then we tie that to the behavior that is central to live that life, and we tie it to our life-supporting environment. When we use this framework, it works amazingly well, and it avoids experiencing unintended consequences to our actions.



Yes, there is a case for it in business, because business is management, isn’t it? Ultimately, the only wealth that can sustain any community or nation is actually derived from green-growing plants on regenerating soil. You can’t have a choir, you can’t have a church, you can’t have an army, you can’t have a political party, you can’t have any business without agriculture. Tragically, American business is not grasping or recognizing that fundamental scientific truth. It does begin to come out, though, the moment a business begins to manage holistically, because you have to have that holistic context tying your actions to your life-supporting environment.

As a consequence of today’s mainstream business, agriculture is the most extractive and destructive industry in the history of mankind. That’s really not going to change until the public is better informed and begins to insist that management be holistic and no longer reductionist. So, the next generation of young entrepreneurs can use the holistic framework in business by becoming involved. If they remain passive or apathetic, then really, that amounts to taking sides and not being neutral. If you’re passive or apathetic, you are automatically supporting current reductionist policy and mainstream corporate agriculture.



Yes, it’s entirely teachable, and this is already being done. In particular, the Africa Center for Holistic Management, one of our first hubs, has spent years developing simple training materials. They’re so simplified that it could be taught with pictures entirely, for illiterate people. We just train a few of them to do it and teach the others. It can also be translated into any language very quickly.

Already, there are pastoralists from that troubled Horn of Africa region you mention who state openly that nothing but holistic management can save their cultures. They realize that it’s all about saving their culture, not just the land or their livestock. So the problem doesn’t actually lie with the pastoralists, they’re ready to go.

The problem lies with governments, major environmental organizations and international agencies. All of these are forcing reductionist policies on people, policies that are not even based on good science or understanding of desertification. Some of this I made clear in my TedTalk on desertification, where I said we once thought the world was flat—we were wrong then, and we’re wrong again. I point out how all this blaming of livestock—they’re just a resource, and no resource can cause you problems—we had the bull by the udder, frankly. Only livestock, not any technology imaginable, can reverse manmade desertification. So we need to get that into our institutions because they’re blocking the way.



To understand what’s going on, I had to study system science: how all organizations or institutions are complex soft systems and have what are called wicked problems. Our organizations always reflect the public opinion of the societies they’ve formed in. They’re very efficient at doing what they’re formed to do, but one of their wicked problems is that they are incapable, even if they wanted to change, of accepting new scientific insights such as we’re talking about ahead of the public. So public opinion has to change first.

It doesn’t matter how much data, facts, figures, evidence there is, how many people are dying—nothing matters. Institutions do not change until public opinion begins to shift. So that’s been a big part of the problem, the last fifty years—one that I, and many others, didn’t understand.

What we need to do is just follow the science. Now, skepticism is healthy. I couldn’t have developed holistic management without a heavy dose of skepticism myself. But most of the now fifty years of delay in public and institutional acceptance has been caused by influential academics who state firmly that holistic management is not scientific. Holistic management is 100% based on good, sound, long-established scientific principles that no scientist has ever disputed. What holistic management does not have is academic approval from narrowly trained range management experts, who simply cannot see the difference between management that’s supported by science and their disapproval of something they do not understand.

Posted on 15 February 2017 | 1:19 pm

Bard MBA Team for the Win: How the “Bard Difference” Made the Difference

Bard MBA Team for the Win: How the “Bard Difference” Made the Difference

By Reuben Goldstein, Reagan Richmond, Emily Robichaux and Nina Tschinkel

This past Friday our Bard MBA team won first place at the Columbia University Energy Symposium Case Competition. It is an understatement to say we were surprised, but reflecting on the experience, it was truly the Bard difference that opened the door to victory.

We were a bit intimidated entering the competition. The prompt was a challenging case that asked us to evaluate the financial impacts of a potential partnership to launch a virtual power plant. We’d have to present our implementation and rate structure recommendation to our CEO (in the first round) and to the Public Utility Commission (in the second).

Reuben, Nina, Emily and Reagan after their win.

In addition to the challenging case, we knew we would compete with interdisciplinary teams from Yale, MIT, Columbia, NYU Stern, and more.

The case was full of metrics, including renewable energy standards, peak demand capacity needs, customer rates, and internal goals. We had a significant amount of data but also an incomplete picture of certain critical costs and customer breakdowns.

It was easy to get frustrated and, at several points while we were building our first model, we were tempted to just throw in the towel. But then we remembered one of our “Bard difference” lessons around data. In our Data and Analytics class, faculty member JD Capuano taught us to tell a story with the data—and to connect our data story to the larger organizational goals.

In order to tell the story of how our nameless utility would use a new technology to meet its long-term goals, we turned to a trusty session of storyboarding. Professor Laura Gitman’s lessons from NYCLab resounded in our heads as we debated our Statement-Complication-Problem and drew up our pyramid. More than once we exclaimed, “This is not MECE!”

When it came to evaluating the project’s stakeholders, the work from our Strategy and Marketing classes helped us quickly identify who and what was material to the success of our hypothetical pilot. And so, through many hours, our two presentation decks took shape and our financial model coalesced.

The financial model came together, but the NPV begged for heavy ratepayer subsidies: negative $4 million is a hefty price tag. In a moment of ethical clarity, we chose to forego Enron-style “creative accounting” and move forward with our expensive yet ultimately valuable project.

This is where we really put the Bard difference to work. Could we make a strong case for this project not on the merits of short-term financial gain, but as a valuable project that was the right first step toward helping our utility test a new business model critical for its long-term success?

After many hours of meetings, Google hangouts and spreadsheets, it was time to present. During check-in, we met the other teams—who were as brilliant, well-dressed and intimidating as we expected.

We used every spare moment to practice our presentation. And then we were off to meet with our CEO panel of judges. Hunter Lovins’ voice was in the back of our heads, reminding us to get comfortable with the room and clicker, have back-up notes, and not to call the lectern a podium. We nailed it! Or at least it felt that way when we walked out of the room.

In the break before the finalists were announced, we practiced our second presentation to the Public Utility Commission. In a moment of true insight, Reuben proposed that we structure our discussion around equity, highlighting access to renewable energy and impacts on ratepayers. We had a slide about equity but would need to ad lib critical points about increasing access and making our customers partners in developing distributed energy resources.

We were so deep in discussion and practice that we missed the announcement of which teams had advanced. Concerned (and a little disappointed), we made our way back to the symposium to pick up feedback sheets . . . only to learn to we had advanced!

Now the heat was on. We squeezed in one more run-through before re-entering the symposium to watch the other teams present. In the first round, we could not watch other teams compete, so we could only imagine the kinds of in-depth quantitative analysis they were presenting. This time, they were as strong as we imagined. Using Monte-Carlo simulations and Black-Scholes models, their quantitative skills were impressive.

The team, practicing their power posing.

It was late, the judges were tired and, admittedly, so were we. But after 30 seconds of power posing (chest up, hands on our hips), we took to the stage and delivered a powerful presentation. We spoke about our utility’s vision (to become a leader in developing a new business model) and values (environmental responsibility, equity, innovation) and how the mission of our organization and the PUC brought us to decide to launch a pilot VPP.

Ultimately, the Bard difference was our advantage. While we couldn’t “brute strength” our way through the quantitative analysis, we understood how to look at a challenge holistically, apply a sound problem-solving process, and tell a great sustainability story about leadership and investing in innovation.

Our pitch was realistic, and we received feedback that we “knew our audience” in a way not reflected by our competitors. Both are outgrowths of a focus on the integrated bottom line—that there is a way to conduct business that is good for people, planet, and profit in the long run, and that this mission resonates with stakeholders.

We are all grateful for this brief but intense experience (the timeline from receipt of case to presentation was less than two weeks). The process of forming a team (including team members who had never worked together before), of getting everyone up to speed (two of us had prior experience in the energy sector, while two had never heard of a virtual power plant), of struggling with the numbers and the value proposition, and of forming a cohesive presenting group was invaluable.

We applied what we had studied in our classes while learning to communicate within a new group, sharing leadership responsibilities, and feeling the pressure of deadlines and other time commitments, not unlike the real world. Having such a positive, intellectually challenging, and exciting team experience was the real prize—although winning first place in the competition certainly didn’t hurt!

Posted on 6 February 2017 | 8:26 pm

Learn, Code, Inspire, Teach: Fereshteh Forough on Empowering Afghan Women

Learn, Code, Inspire, Teach: Fereshteh Forough on Empowering Afghan Women

By Esra Elshafey and Katie Ellman

There are 3.6 million female students in Afghanistan today, compared to 0 in 2001. However, social limitations for women still exist—women make up only 16% of the current Afghan labor force.

Fereshteh Forough’s passion is to empower young Afghan women by hitching their economic and social advancement to the country’s growing tech industry. She’s the Founder and President of Code to Inspire, the first coding school for girls in Afghanistan.

Forough was born as an Afghan refugee in Iran. One year after the fall of Taliban, she moved to Herat, Afghanistan with her family. She received her Bachelor’s degree in computer science from Herat University and later a Master’s degree from Technical University of Berlin in Germany. Forough was a 2013 TED Talks speaker and a 2015 Clinton Global Initiative speaker.

Bard MBA student Esra Elshafey recently sat down with Forough to discuss how CTI educates Afghan women with in-demand programming skills, empowers them to add unique value to their communities, and inspires them to strive for financial and social independence.

The following Q&A is an edited excerpt from the Bard MBA’s February 3rd Sustainable Business Fridays podcast. Sustainable Business Fridays brings together students in Bard’s MBA in Sustainability program with leaders in business, sustainability and social entrepreneurship.

Listen to this interview and others on the Bard MBA Sustainable Business Fridays podcast on an Apple or Android device.


BARD MBA: Tell us about your background and what inspired you to start Code to Inspire.

Forough: I was born as a refugee in Iran during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and I got my high school degree in Iran. In 2002, one year after the Taliban Regime collapsed, we moved back to Herat, Afghanistan, the city my family is from. I got my Bachelor’s in Computer Science in Afghanistan.  Next, I went to Germany for my Master’s in Computer Science from the Technical University of Berlin, and then I went back to Afghanistan and taught as a computer science professor for three years.

So, a lot of issues in my life inspired me to think about establishing Code to Inspire as the very first coding school for girls in Afghanistan. Being born as a refugee, you face a lot of challenges, including being deprived of an education, which I think is one of the basic human rights. That definitely made me think about how I could help everyone, especially the girls in Afghanistan, to access education.

As a female student in a technical field, you also face a lot of challenges. There are cultural barriers for women [in Afghanistan]. If they study computer science, they need to practice and to do group work and activities, and there is a lack of safe space for girls to go for extra studying, for networking, for social activities. Not a lot of families can afford extracurricular activities for girls, so if girls want to take further classes they are not able to do so. I established Code to Inspire as safe place for girls to come and get an education and also to create portfolios and resumes so they can start working online.


BARD MBA: What will coding enable the girls and women of Afghanistan to do?

Forough: During the Taliban regime, there were only 900,000 students going to school in Afghanistan, and none of them were girls. It was the same in the work force—there were zero women in the workforce. After the Taliban collapsed, we made a lot of improvements, and now there are about 9 million students going to school every day, and 4.2 million of them are girls. There is huge progress, especially for women’s education in Afghanistan.

On the question of how coding can enable women in Afghanistan, coding is like a language. You use language to communicate with each other, so coding can be a tool to be used for communication. It can also empower you be more creative and innovative. So one aspect is creativity and innovation.

The other aspect is that there are a lot of challenges that can be overcome with coding. Many families will not allow their daughters to travel by themselves to other cities to find a job. It is not part of our culture to go to live in other cities by yourself, so women are very limited to their hometowns and mobility is a big issue. Imagine that you know how to code. With internet access and a computer, you can work online. So coding allows you to tackle the issue of travel and social restriction. And once the girls are bringing income to their families through coding, they can be financially independent, which also helps them take part in the decision-making process of the community.


BARD MBA: How do you deal with the pushback against women’s education in Afghanistan?

Forough: Women’s education and empowerment is a very sensitive topic in Afghanistan because there are still a lot of people who are extremist or who are against women’s education. They see it as a threat and not as a way to help the community.

In a country like Afghanistan that is traditionally male dominated and where women face a lot of barriers in the education sector, it is very important to establish a credible and trustworthy relationship with parents and community. Once you have their support, they will become your advocate and help you grow your cause.

At Code to Inspire, we try to really be engaged with the families, and we establish good relationships with them so they can be our advocate and support. We involve the parents of the girls by sending thank you letters, and if we see that a student is absent, we call the parents to let them know and to ask why.

There is a lot of pushback on social media about whether or not women should learn coding. We not only teach our girls certain skills, but we also want to bring a social impact to the community.  By helping the girls find specific problems in the community and come up with mobile applications or other solutions that could solve them, it tells people that providing opportunities for women is important so they can give back to the community.

I think that if people are against what you do, you are not going to prove them wrong. We show them a positive side of what we do and engage them so they understand the value of what this program can do, not only for the girls but also for the community.


BARD MBA: how do you balance culture and education in that environment?

Forough: With Code to Inspire, we try to keep the balance between technology, education and family. By providing a safe and secure environment and a space only for girls, we want parents to feel comfortable when they send their daughters to our coding school. So not only do the families feel good about this, but the girls also are in an environment in which they can learn and feel relaxed and engaged.


BARD MBA: What is the key, not only in Afghanistan but in Central Asia, the Middle East and the world, to promoting a more sustainable environment of success for women?

Forough: Women should support each other. Creating a network of women professionals who can be role models for younger girls can help a lot. In Afghanistan, there are not currently a lot of role models for the girls in the technology sector, so definitely creating a community of women who can support each other, create opportunities for each other and mentor one another will go a long way toward empowerment.


BARD MBA: Where do you see the future of Code to Inspire?

Forough: In the near future, we would love to expand our coding school to other cities in Afghanistan. We also want to create a strong professional network of women in IT who can support and help each other. Longer term, I would like to replicate the model to the Middle East, Africa and countries that have the same issues for women accessing education and technology.

Posted on 3 February 2017 | 10:39 am

Sustainability Consulting: Looking Back at FWD Impact

Sustainability Consulting: Looking Back at FWD Impact

Two features of the Bard MBA curriculum aimed at preparing students to excel at jobs in the sustainability sector are the NYCLab course and the Capstone Project. In the experiential NYCLab course, students in their first year embark on a year-long professional consultancy working in teams for a corporate, governmental, or non-profit client to solve issues related to sustainability. In their second year, the MBA students complete a Capstone Project, which, in the past, have taken the form of creating a business start-up, an intrapraneurial project at a specific business, a consultancy or internships, an in-depth research project, or a business plan.

In 2015-16, three MBA students, Mariana Souza, Simon Fischweicher, and Martin Lemos, joined forces for their Capstone to create their own consulting company called FWD Impact. The team aimed to further apply their NYCLab learning to a tangible consulting experience. “I was looking to build out my portfolio of engaging with businesses on sustainability. I had really enjoyed the more actionable elements of the Bard MBA coursework, and I wanted to use my Capstone to use those skills as much as possible,” explained Fischweicher.

In thinking about their Capstone, Souza, Fischweicher, and Lemos took a step back to consider what type of work they wanted to pursue after graduation and beyond. “The three of us spoke candidly about where we each saw ourselves in five years. We wanted to choose a Capstone project that would help us get us to the next step. In building the right project portfolios early on, we hoped to clearly articulate why we were qualified for our dream jobs by the time we graduated,” explained Souza.

FWD Impact worked with five diverse clients over the course of two semesters. “We had to figure out where the value was. We all decided to prioritize working with a great client with the potential for an interesting story to tell over making more money,” explained Souza. These clients included Children of Armenia Fund (COAF), Radicle FarmConEdisonSustainAbility, and Pharmavite. “All of our clients were secured through connections we had made through NYCLab and the Bard MBA community,” added Fischweicher.

Specifically, FWD Impact partnered with two consultants to conduct an organizational assessment for COAF, a non-profit organization that uses community-led approaches to reduce rural poverty. In working with Radicle Farm, a start-up aimed at disrupting the food system by selling “live” salad greens, the consultancy used the stakeholder engagement process that they had learned in their NYCLab coursework to provide marketing recommendations. “We dug into the best way to sell a new product by going out to farmer’s markets, talking with other vendors, getting to know the customers, and identifying their target audience,” said Lemos.

The team recognized that Radicle Farm’s marketing strategy could be enhanced if they approached it from a different angle: by creating a community around their concept.

FWD Impact helped Con Edison understand how peers in the utility sector were integrating sustainability.  Among other findings, the team identified the importance of clarifying sustainability goals and identifying these goals as either voluntary or regulatory. The team spoke with VPs and direct managers, presenting themselves as experts in the sustainability field, specifically around what other energy companies are focusing on. “We created a database and research framework so that [ConEdison] could gain insight into what their peers are doing and how their efforts align with sustainability initiatives,” explained Lemos.

FWD Impact reached out to Bard MBA alumni Rochelle March, who is now an Analyst at SustainAbility, an independent think tank and strategy consultancy, with an interest in varying their docket of clients. Lemos shared, “We wanted to see if there was a way to turn corporate sustainability offerings, such as materiality processes and supply chain engagement, into services and deliverables that would be valuable for a small business.”

Pharmavite, a leading nutritional supplement company in the U.S., presented an interesting project for the consultancy. After speaking with Pharmavite’s sustainability manager, they were tasked to do a supply chain risk analysis. “This was the project that we wanted from the beginning; it was paid, addressed fundamental sustainability challenges, and focused on supply chain management,” Lemos acknowledged. Eventually, the project evolved into identifying strategies for procurement teams to track sustainability risks and alternative sources for key ingredients.

In defining their individual roles on the team, FWD Impact reflected on their coursework to consider their personal strengths, what they could bring to the project, and the type of work they were looking to do more of. They also used their syllabi to review tools for approaching the diverse range of clients under their belt. “For example, the Personal Leadership Development course helped shape how we managed our team internally as well as how we managed clients and business proposals. We really tried to get into the mindset of whoever we were pitching to,” explained Souza.

The FWD Impact team expressed that developing project management skills was a key takeaway from the experience. “I became a lot better at the soft skills—how to identify opportunities and risks, how to listen better to clients, how to pull out key moments and responses to help improve our approach the project,” explained Souza.

After graduating last May, FWD Impact decided to gift the consultancy to the Bard MBA program with the intention that other students could pursue a similar project for their Capstone. Souza sees the consultancy as an ideal venture for any student with a forward-thinking mindset. “This is really an opportunity to have honest conversations with your classmates about what you want to do. Even if you don’t have an exact job in mind, you can use FWD Impact to bridge the gap between your background and needed skills for your next step,” she said.

In getting to that next step—a job—Souza credits the Capstone Project as crucial. “It’s one thing to say you took a consulting class; it’s something else to be able to tell the story of doing business development, winning projects, and fully managing the process from pitch to delivery. FWD Impact was all about taking ownership over the Capstone opportunity and your career,” she said. Souza is currently a Senior Associate at KPMG working as a Power Utilities Management Consultant. Fischweicher is a Manager on the disclosure services team and the Energy and Financial Sector Lead at the CDP, the largest environmental reporting platform for companies and cities to disclose information on climate change and carbon emissions. Lemos works as an Associate at BSR, a global nonprofit business network and consultancy dedicated to sustainability.

In her day-to-day role, Souza continues to use her project management skills to bring value to her power and utility clients. “ It is becoming clear to me that the language and experience I have around sustainability for energy and the future of the industry is valuable to my team members,” she said.

So, this all begs the question: What exactly is a sustainability consultant? “Anyone who thinks of themselves as a sustainability consultant is searching for more robust, long-lasting value for companies, non-profits, or communities. They are trying to identify strategies that works for all of the stakeholders involved,” explained Souza. Fischweicher continued, “You can support and identify additional untapped value for any department if you have a sustainability lens.” Through their consultancy, they recognized the bottom line—that sustainability truly ­is good for business.



Posted on 25 January 2017 | 1:14 pm

Whoopi & Maya’s Maya Elisabeth on Sustainable Cannabis

Whoopi & Maya’s Maya Elisabeth on Sustainable Cannabis

By Jennifer Shelbo and Katie Ellman

Listen to this interview and others on the BardMBA Sustainable Business Fridays  podcast on an Apple or Android device.

Over half the US population now lives in states with some form of medical or adult use cannabis laws on the books. As the nascent cannabis industry grows, some business owners are leading the charge to establish sustainable operations from the beginning. Maya Elisabeth of Whoopi & Maya and Om Edibles is one of those smart business owners.

In this episode of Sustainable Business Fridays, Bard MBA student Jennifer Shelbo explores how Elisabeth’s choices, from cultivating sun-grown cannabis using organic methods to sourcing fair trade and organic ingredients for her product lines, demonstrates that incorporating sustainability into business operations is a recipe for success.

Maya Elisabeth began working in the cannabis industry in California after graduating from San Francisco State. She formed Om Edibles, an all-female run collective, in 2008, focusing on high-quality ingredients, including sun-grown cannabis. Om Edibles products have won seven High Times Cannabis Cup awards, and Maya enjoys a reputation as one of the best creators of medical cannabis products in California. In 2015, Maya partnered with Whoopi Goldberg to create the Whoopi & Maya line of medical cannabis products, focused on relief from menstrual pain.

The following Q&A is an edited excerpt from the Bard MBA’s January 20th Sustainable Business Fridays podcast. Sustainable Business Fridays brings together students in Bard’s MBA in Sustainability program with leaders in business, sustainability and social entrepreneurship. Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or Podbean.


ELISABETH: I would say they are more similar than different because we share a philosophy for both companies, which is that we view cannabis as a super food and a healing herb. We believe that when we combine cannabis with other nutrient-dense ingredients, a superior medicine can be made. That said, I make about twenty different products for Om, and the Whoopi & Maya line consists of four products. They range from THC edibles, which are edibles that are psychoactive, to CBD edibles, which are not psychoactive, as well as a whole array of tinctures that are liquid medicinals or sublinguals and topicals. We have something for everyone and understand that there are many different patient needs.


ELISABETH: OM Edibles is a female collective, which was unintentional. We just happened to be a group of friends who were passionate about cannabis, and who just happened to be women. We competed in the High Times Cup, and when Whoopi had the idea for the line she reached out to Rick Cusick of High Times, and he reached out to us and we started formulating from there. It’s four different products—everything a lady wants on her moon cycle: a bath, a rub, a tincture and two types of chocolate.


ELISABETH: I believe that there is truly a time and place for everything. I love indoor cannabis, especially when it is grown organically. I also love sun-grown cannabis—there is something so natural and whole about it. For example, for the taproot systems that we develop indoors, there is a certain amount of the sun’s lumens that you can never recreate, no matter how extensive your indoor lights are. Other elements are the type of soil, your geographical location, topography, orientation to the sun, and what is growing around you. So many of the variables that come into play when you grow outside can be compared to wine—where you grow the grapes, the soil, the water table—and they make these beautiful flavors come forward. As you develop your palette, you can experience these, and notice and differentiate.

We use whole plant medicine. One of our products has an extract in it, but for the most part we use a whole plant, and I believe that does make a superior medicine. The receptors in your body are like little keyholes, and all of the cannabinoids that develop in the plant, depending upon the strain and how it’s grown, are like keys, so I believe in keeping the plant whole, which makes a full-spectrum medicine.


ELISABETH: Because cannabis is considered a Schedule I drug in America, we are not allowed to put the word organic on the front of our packaging. If we do, we are fined $11,000 for every product we have on the shelf—so, if I have fifty candies labeled organic on the shelf, it is fifty $11,000 fines. We are allowed to say which ingredients are organic on the back of the label, but not to label the cannabis.

If I were to think of any one important regulation, it would be this one. It’s essential to understand who you are serving, and that a lot of the people consuming your products may have compromised immune systems or be dealing with debilitating conditions where they need to pay attention to what they are putting in their bodies. There is already one type of certification called Clean Green that comes to your garden or facility and tests your soil to see what you are using. It gives you a certification for your cannabis that allows you to label your batch Clean Green.


ELISABETH: With the pressure that they are starting to put on our industry for testing, it would be helpful for the labs to be standardized, for the machines to be calibrated properly, and for everyone to be using the same units and measurements so that we can all actually understand what’s going on.


ELISABETH: Whoopi & Maya’s packaging is from America and sourced in a fair way. We went out of our way to do that.  The chocolate that we use is organic and fair trade, and it is also raw—which makes it more of a super food. We try our very best to make sure that the herbs we use are harvested in an ecologically sound way. Our Epsom salts are pharmacological grade, which means they are produced indoors. But having something organic doesn’t always mean a patient is going to buy it. They are voting with their dollars and often find the cheapest way to medicate.


ELISABETH: Absolutely. Ultimately, I do think it is a positive thing. I just hope it is going to be fair for everybody. I am excited to get our products to as many people as possible. That has always been my goal.


Posted on 20 January 2017 | 9:53 am

Danielle Vogel is Making Progress “One Bite at a Time”

Danielle Vogel is Making Progress “One Bite at a Time”


Listen to the live interview on the SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS FRIDAYS PODCAST: Apple or Android

Danielle Vogel of Glen’s Garden Market on Combatting Climate Change at the Local Level

By Emily Robichaux ’18 and Katie Ellman ’17

All politics is local—none more than climate policy in the US after January 20, 2017. In the absence of the prospect of wider national action, local businesses have a significant opportunity to enhance the local economy and combat climate change through their operations. Glen’s Garden Market, based in Washington, DC, has been doing just this. From sourcing products within the Chesapeake Bay watershed to powering its stores with clean energy to providing living wages, Glen’s has been quietly pushing the environmental and social sustainability envelope while also incubating other small businesses as suppliers.

Emily Robichaux, a student in Bard College’s MBA in Sustainability program, sat down with Danielle Vogel, the creator of Glen’s Garden Market, a local grocery store sourcing “good food from close by,” to discuss the role of mission-oriented small business in sustainable food systems and local economies.

Vogel earned a law degree and worked for ten years in federal policy, serving as domestic policy adviser to Congressman Christopher Shays and as a Department of Justice environmental litigator enforcing the Clean Air Act. From December 2008 to March 2011, she was environmental counsel in the office of Senator Joseph Lieberman, where she helped draft the American Power Act. When the bill died, Vogel made the shift from policy to practice, becoming the fourth generation of grocers in her family while bringing a sustainable and local twist to the business. Vogel has been profiled in the Washington Post and Bloomberg for her approach to “making progress one bite at a time.”

The following Q&A is an edited excerpt from the Bard MBA’s January 6th Sustainable Business Fridays podcast. Sustainable Business Fridays brings together students in Bard’s MBA in Sustainability program with leaders in business, sustainability and social entrepreneurship. Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or Podbean.


Grocery is a tradition that stretches back a hundred years on both sides of my family. That said, it was never my interest. I always intended to go to law school and work for my congressman in Washington. And that’s exactly what I did. I spent ten years working on the Hill. Most recently, I was involved in writing the last major Senate climate change bill, the American Power Act. We worked on it with Senator Lieberman, Senator Graham, and at the time Senator Kerry. And when that bill failed and it became clear that there was no path forward for legislative progress, I had to find a way to continue making climate change progress.

So, I founded a business intentionally to make incremental climate change progress, or, as we call it in the store, “progress one bite at a time.” Every single decision we make for the business keeps the environment in mind, from ways that are really large, like our sourcing methodology—we only sell foods from the states of the Chesapeake Bay watershed—to things that seem really insignificant to most people. We don’t have any paper or plastic bags at Glen’s; we only use reusables. Of course, all of our equipment is the most energy efficient available on the market, and we retrofit most of it to make it even more energy efficient. We built our bar tops out of post-consumer recycled paper; we built our walls out of reclaimed cattle fencing. We built our freezers, our industrial walk-in freezers, inside our refrigerators so that we don’t lose as much energy when we open the door.

Even though the experience, when you walk into the place, is of a really fun, hip neighborhood grocery store, in every contour it is very much a climate change agent.


All of the folks who surround our stores are perceived by us as part of the Glen’s family, so we throw parties for them once a season. The biggest party of the year is our birthday party. We opened Glen’s Garden Market on Earth Day of 2013, so every Earth Day we throw ourselves an “Earth Day Birthday” party. And each year it has been centered around businesses that we’ve launched.

One year it was called “We Grow Small Businesses Along with Our Own”—we had launched twenty-five businesses at that point. And the next year it was called “Women of the Watershed,” and we invited twenty-five women entrepreneurs who had launched businesses at Glen’s. This year it’s going to be called “Made in D.C.,” and we’ll have fifty D.C. producers by April.

The idea is that we’ve created a symbiotic relationship with small businesses that share our values. We bring them into the stores, we spend money and effort on marketing, and we get the whole community to come out, because the idea is that we want to connect them with the people who make their food.

We also turn the grocery paradigm on its head in the store itself. In a regular store, there’s a developed science to product placement; they put products where they want the consumers of those products to look. In our store, we find products with a compelling value proposition, and we give them prime shelf space. We actively take a hit on the margin to almost create a false cost competitiveness so that people don’t choose the more ubiquitous brand over the more values-driven brand because of price alone.

The result is that we’re able to help scale these businesses quickly. They’re able to hire extra staff because of the volume that we’re doing. We also provide mentorship when they want it, which is often, on everything from package design to flavor profile, to what the price should be. It’s probably pretty rare for somebody trying to sell a product to a grocer to have the grocer say, “You know, your pricing methodology isn’t right, and I want you to be able to get into Whole Foods so let me teach you how to do this properly.”

We have these unique, mutually beneficial relationships with all of these little guys. Which simultaneously makes our stores a microcosm for what’s happening in the food scene regionally.


I’m one of those women who doesn’t allow it to be a factor. Honestly, it’s extremely helpful to me that I have a law degree. It allows me a sense of confidence in every negotiation, of which here are thousands every year as a small business owner. Admittedly, the grocery world is a man’s world, for the most part. And the landlords that I deal with are mostly men, and I’m like a little girl with a crazy idea nobody’s ever tried before. But I’m also a total ballbuster, and a good negotiator. So I haven’t let it derail me in any aspect of this experience.


The biggest roadblock to doing things properly is that it’s usually more expensive. So, conversely, the way to incentivize sustainable decisions is by making them either cost competitive or less expensive. It’s that simple.

In the world of small business, we negotiate a nearly impossible math problem every single day. So when we have an opportunity to control our costs and instead choose a higher cost alternative, that doesn’t make a lot of sense for the bottom line. Glen’s Garden Market does it anyway, but we exist for the purpose of making this change. But for somebody who’s trying to balance payroll against inventory costs—who needs to buy new uniforms, or a new oven, or some other big expenditure—it’s near impossible to realize the wisdom of also paying nearly three times as much for energy. Or buying a piece of equipment that’s considerably more expensive upfront, because of its long-term energy benefits.

The way to make those choices easier is to remove the cost-competitive piece of the analysis. It’s what I was describing with our pricing methodology. I’ll take a jam that comes in the door at a much higher price relative to the competition, and I’ll sell it for the same price because I want somebody to choose the jam that we believe in. The same analogy holds for energy or equipment investments. I worked long enough in Congress to know how hard this is to do, but the more you can create almost a false market signal to undermine the disadvantage of the more expensive choice, the easier it is for folks to make that choice.

Posted on 6 January 2017 | 9:35 am

Community Finance: Providing Access to Capital for Local Businesses

Community Finance: Providing Access to Capital for Local Businesses


By: Amy Campbell Bogie

Prior to enrolling in the Bard MBA in Sustainability, I founded and led a shop-local program in Durham, NC and worked with Slow Money NC, a small non-profit organization that leads a peer-to-peer lending network to finance North Carolina’s local food system. These experiences, along with coming of age during a recession, led me to develop an interest in economic democratization. I saw firsthand how difficult it is for people to obtain the necessary capital to start and expand their businesses.

In short, I was witnessing the consequence of one of Thomas Piketty’s primary observations in his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century: economic inequality grows when the rate of return on capital exceeds the rate of growth of the overall economy. This reduces the incentive for the holders of that capital to distribute it and, thus, makes it harder for those without capital to obtain it. Given that our economic system functions thusly, I began to explore how these limits could be circumvented.

One such method is to work outside traditional capital markets entirely, via community financing. While community financing can take several forms, I have chosen to focus on opportunities for equity investments via community-owned businesses. Community-owned businesses can be for-profit or non-profit and can be structured in a variety of ways, including[1]:

  • Cooperatives: A communally-owned and managed business, operated for the benefit of its members.
  • Community-owned corporations: A traditional, for-profit corporation that integrates social enterprise principles.
  • Small ownership groups: A small, ad hoc investor group that capitalizes and/or operates a business as a partnership or closely-held corporation.
  • Investment funds: A community-based fund that invests debt or equity in local business ventures.

“The Community Store in Saranac Lake, NY describes community ownership as “stores (that) are locally owned by community members in contrast to the distant, corporate shareholders of national retailers.”

These models differ both in how financing for a business is secured and how the business is governed. However, they all offer similar benefits to the communities that they serve. Community-owned businesses can step in to create economic opportunity in areas where traditional markets either cannot or have not acted, meeting the specific needs of their community. In doing so, they can build community wealth by offering returns to local investors and be drivers of larger-scale economic growth in the areas where they operate. By operating outside of traditional capital markets, community ownership can provide access to capital for businesses and communities that might not otherwise have it, making it a great option for underserved communities.

So why hasn’t community ownership caught on? One reason may be regulatory environments that have long made local investment offerings difficult. Or it could be due to a lack of education about community financing options, or a lack of financial knowledge in the potential investor pool. I have set out, in partnership with the American Independent Business Alliance, to answer these questions and to establish a plan for the growth of community ownership around the country. Please visit to learn more about this project and to follow its progress as I discover why this solution to economic disempowerment hasn’t been more widely known and used.


[1] Source:

Posted on 5 January 2017 | 10:30 am

Wendy Gordon Wants to Incentivize You to Make More Sustainable Choices

Wendy Gordon Wants to Incentivize You to Make More Sustainable Choices

By Amy Campbell Bogie and Katie Ellman

Wendy Gordon never set out to become a tech entrepreneur. But after several decades working with environmental organizations, she saw an opportunity. Wendy and her co-founder David Sand thought to themselves, “Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a program where you could get reward points not just for spending money, but for spending money wisely and for making other smart choices—like walking or biking to work, opting for renewable energy, or choosing clothes based on where and how they were made?”

And so they embarked on a journey to create PIPs Rewards. PIPs leverages the power of points, smart tools and games to record and reward daily life choices that deliver personal and planetary benefit. Amy Campbell Bogie of the Bard MBA in Sustainability sat down with Wendy last month to find out more about Wendy’s sustainability vision for PIPs.

The following Q&A is an edited excerpt from the Bard MBA’s December 16th Sustainable Business Fridays podcast. Sustainable Business Fridays brings together students in Bard’s MBA in Sustainability program with leaders in business, sustainability and social entrepreneurship. Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or Podbean.


My first job was at the Natural Resources Defense Council. I focused primarily on water pollution, hazardous waste, and toxic contamination. I cut my teeth on community engagement in response to hazards in our water, our air, coming into our houses. Then, in the summer of ‘88, Meryl Streep walked into the NRDC. She had just done a movie in Australia, and it was the summer when the ozone hole was discovered over Australia. She came to the NRDC offering her help. We got together and started working on something called Mothers & Others for a Livable Planet. It was a community organizing project whose original focus was on pesticides and children’s diets.

Mothers & Others was about trying to problem solve in our daily lives. How could we come together as a group and ask a supermarket to provide us with healthier choices? We didn’t storm the supermarket, but as shoppers there, we would go and say “My kid loves applesauce and eats just bucket loads of it—could you please offer a choice that’s either organic or made locally with fewer pesticides?” And the supermarket would respond to the consumer far more quickly than Congress or the regulatory system would work.

All through these years, I was trying to figure out ways to help people make decisions that would enhance the quality of their lives, and their family’s lives, and their communities. So then fast forward, it’s now 2012, and I’m meeting a friend for lunch who had just sold an impact investing firm. He’d always been interested in how to move corporate behavior, and I’d been working on how to move consumers, and so we started talking about more effective strategies for impacting behavior.

We did a lot of research and met some really great people who are now part of our tech team. We looked at gains mechanics and at rewards as the most powerful drivers of behavior change. We also knew that we were sitting on this great new technology that was able to track behaviors better than ever before. So we came up with a rewards engagement platform. It’s a tech product called Picks for Positive Impact Points—PIPs Rewards. It connects up tracking devices and trackable behaviors, and then it applies behavioral strategies, basically gains and rewards, in order to prompt people to make smarter, healthier everyday choices.


There’s a PIPs Rewards app in the App Store. When you register, the first thing you see is a map of right where you are. And the map is loaded up with all these PIPs, these little points, and each one represents a check-in location. So image that you’re at a playground with your small children, and a check-in reward opportunity pops up on your phone. It says, check in now to receive a promotion from Olen Organics. Olen is a new women-led business that offers organic baby clothes—you get a bundle for your zero-to-three month old, and then you return that bundle to them and they send you the next bundle. It’s a low-impact company, exactly the kind of company that we’re trying to promote.

We have donation opportunities as well, so you can turn your PIPs into cash for different organizations. The platform is all about 360 degrees of good. You earn PIPs for making better choices and then you use them in good ways as well.


We’re actually pretty broad. As long as the behavior is trackable, we hope to be able to move it forward. It’s fun, looking at the sorts of behaviors that different groups or institutions feel are going to help improve the quality of life, or drive down costs, in their local areas. We think of the environment, we look at mind and body, and we look at community behaviors. However, we can’t reward you if you promise to turn out the lights, or if you promise you’re going to walk to work that day. There has to be something to track your behavior.

For example, we’ve done some focus groups with college students to see if they’re interested in being rewarded for riding the bus to school as opposed to driving their cars, or if they want to be rewarded for volunteering. One particular group of students had a volunteer opportunity to be certified to do energy and water audits in low-income housing, and they thought that would be something that they’d like to earn points for. They also felt there were certain shopping choices they made, or going to a fitness class, that could be rewardable. We would also love to encourage turning carpooling into a game. I think employers might value it because of lost productivity due to employees sitting in traffic jams. Cities may also be interested because we could reward drivers who park outside of the most congested part of town, or use their bikes or bike-sharing programs.


Putting yourself in a high learning curve situation is key. It’s not easy to start a business, and even though I’m aware of being a 59-year-old white woman in the tech world with a startup, on the other hand there’s a certain wisdom that comes with being an older person. I had a little bit more of a sense of, “I’m going to take my time and do this right.” A younger person may feel more urgency, and I would probably advise them to take it slow and really do the research beforehand. It’s important to meet as many people as you can and to be willing to massage the idea, to see how it works in different places and with different people. Because if you want it to be a marketable product with lots of users, and you want to change the world, it has to be something that people want.


We need business, now more than ever, to step up and say, “We’re not going backwards, even if they unravel all the improvements Obama made.” Industry must lead. And it can lead, and it often is the leader. We need more businesses to be outspoken about their commitment to a climate-changing world, and that they are going to do their part to drive down their footprint in every aspect of their work.

I’m on the board of the Rainforest Alliance, a fascinating organization. It implements the Forest Stewardship Council certification program as well as the Rainforest Alliance certification for agricultural products from the rainforest—coffee, cocoa, a wide variety of bananas, and other products. And industry stepped up. It was not a consumer-driven campaign as much as industry recognizing the potential impacts of climate change. Unilever is one of the more obvious cases—it produces and sells a lot of tea, which could be affected significantly if there’re climate-related changes to the water supply. Unliver sees what’s coming and it’s concerned. So it stepped up and said, “We want to go through a certification process, to learn how to help those farmers be more efficient with their resources and create a product that’s mindful of the future and more sustainable.” Rainforest Alliance now certifies hundreds and hundreds of businesses throughout the supply chain. It has certified millions of hectares of managed cropland and forest, and it’s amazing what has gone on, all led by responsible businesses. Now is the time.

Posted on 16 December 2016 | 6:00 am

Giving Props When Props Are Due: Adam Kearney on Entrepreneurship and Giving Before Taking

Giving Props When Props Are Due: Adam Kearney on Entrepreneurship and Giving Before Taking

By Martin Freeman and Katie Ellman


Adam Kearney is “really, really comfortable with the unknown.” Without any experience in the HR space, he founded Props, a peer recognition startup that uses office TVs to amplify companies’ superstars. Martin Freeman from Bard’s MBA in Sustainability sat down with Adam last month to dive into his successes and failures, and to get his advice on becoming a serial entrepreneur.

Adam Kearney is the Founder and CEO of the peer recognition startup, Propsboard. Prior to Props, he was the CEO of Connectome, now acquired, a music intelligence company that specialized in search, discovery, and recommendations. He is also the co-founder of Philly Startup Leaders, a flagship program featuring a fully integrated Startup Bootcamp and Accelerator that helps up-and-coming entrepreneurs with strategy, vision, and execution.

The following Q&A is an edited excerpt from the Bard MBA’s December 2nd Sustainable Business Fridays podcast. Sustainable Business Fridays brings together students in Bard’s MBA in Sustainability program with leaders in business, sustainability and social entrepreneurship. Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or Podbean.

BARD MBA: How does one become a serial entrepreneur?

For me, there’s the personal side, which is that I just really love to build things. Even before this I was a woodworker, so getting my hands dirty and building things. I love puzzles—I like solving things, actual problems, and trying to help people.

And then there’re a couple of attributes you need to carry you through. You need to be relentless about everything you’re doing. When you’re running into problems or failures, you just need to keep going. You also need to be really, really comfortable with the unknown. This would be where most people pause at the dividing line. If you’re not comfortable with things that you don’t know, or whatever’s around the bend, being an entrepreneur is probably not for you. If you’re really curious what’s behind that next wall, even though it might knock you out, you’re probably well suited to be an entrepreneur. And then the last thing is just willingness to fail a lot. I have dyslexia but didn’t know until I was twenty-one, so I was never the smartest kid in the classroom. I don’t care about screwing up and learning from that really quickly and publicly, which I’ve done over and over again.

And then there’s a tactical side to becoming a serial entrepreneur. The best tactical way to get into anything is to figure out a way of building a network that will become reusable. The way, I think, to do that is always to give before taking. The first boot camp at Philly Startup Leaders—I volunteered. Every mentor who was a part of it was a volunteer. It was, “Let’s give to the community and then something might come back.” And in that process a lot of the companies in Philly benefitted. And then that came back and worked well for me, because those CEOs were happy that they were getting really good employees. From that I was able to build relationships in Philly that now extend all the way up here into New York and Silicon Valley. The angle is to work harder and give away your time and money and hope it comes back.

BARD MBA: One of the most important things you mentioned was being comfortable with failure. To us, you seem very successful. When was the last time you failed at something?

A big recent failure was with my current company, Props. We inherited the product, so I inherited its problems, and I had also never worked in the HR space. The product was primarily an employee recognition platform. We would broadcast the recognition that occurred in the platform up to everyone’s office TVs, so recognition would be visible inside of an organization. It causes network effects and reminds people to be positive and to show appreciation for their fellow employees and teammates.

But there were a bunch of problems, and the biggest one was that HR is a checkbox industry. What I mean by that is that they’re like, “Okay we gave balloons to somebody for doing a good job this year—check.” That’s it, that’s all they had to do. It’s not an industry that’s looking at an ROI of, “Here’s how we could be innovative to get 10% more recognition this year than we got last year.” So it’s very, very difficult to sell into these organizations, because basically they would have one product from the past that they would still be using because the check box is filled. They just weren’t looking.

We tried so many traction angles to get into these companies. And the ones that we did get into we took off. We completely swept the company, our engagement was insane. So we were thinking, “Oh, we just have to figure out traction.” But we spent way too much time thinking about that, and in the end money was getting tight, and I thought, “Okay I’ve got to figure this out.”

What we learned out of all these failed missions was that the TVs are really important to the engagement. I just made the TVs our product, and then I went out to all our competitors’ other recognition services and said, “I know that 60-90 days in, your engagement drops and people forget to recognize people. We’ll build an integration of your product into our service and we’ll broadcast it up to their company’s office TVs, so you’ll get better engagement and a high deployment strategy.” We flipped our distribution problem upside down.

I don’t really have to do much selling, because the organizations themselves are contacting their current customers and saying, “Would you like this?” Now we have partnerships with some of the world’s largest recognition services. We have very little competition because we’re working with our competitors, and in this particular strategy we’re the only company doing it.

Often, you don’t really realize you’re failing until you’re actually failing. It probably took us six months to see that problem, that it was even a problem. You have to take that step back and really be critical with yourself, and what things are working and why they are, and why they aren’t, and talk to people and learn as much as you can as fast as possible. Then implement a change, rather than giving up, because it’s pretty easy to just give up when you have to radically change your entire process and product.

BARD MBA: What advice do you have about selecting and finding co-founders?

Finding a co-founder is really important but incredibly difficult. Getting back to that network, most co-founders are found via networking and just hustling. Try to build things, join a hackathon, make sure to get to know people you’re working with. You never know when things are going to come back around. Just be open minded, try to say yes to doing small projects. Figuring out, “Can I work with this person?” Testing it out and going from there.

My co-founder of the Connect Dome, I came across him from a friend—he was a friend of a friend—and then we kind of hit it off, but there’s a lot of courting. It probably took me eight months. I was the hated guy in the tech world: the guy who had an idea, couldn’t build it himself, had no money, didn’t know anyone who was willing to jump in on the project with him. So I had to separate myself from pretty much an absolute cliché. I just did a bunch of little things to prove that I was serious, and through that I courted him, and we started working more and more together. In the end I probably spent just as much time, if not more with him, than with my girlfriend now wife.

A particular question I always ask of potential co-founders is, “Tell me about the shittiest job you’ve ever had.” I don’t really care what the answer is. It’s more to read where they come from, how have they pushed themselves, and what’s their outlook.

BARD MBA: Are there any courses you would recommend to someone looking to get into the tech world?

I would encourage everybody to learn how to code. Self-driving cars will be here in three to five years. Just being able to understand how those systems work, and what could go wrong or right, is going to become part of a political conversation. So if you’re going to be a good citizen you should understand coding, because it’s more and more entwined with our life.

From a career standpoint, you should definitely learn how to code, just at least to be able to work with developers. And if you also want to go start a new company, or you want to run a nonprofit or do some kind of project, it’s incredibly valuable to know a baseline. I would recommend that people learn Ruby on Rails. Ruby on Rails is a really easy, clean, elegant language. There’re pluses and minuses, but websites like the New York Times, Twitter originally, Hulu—they’re all Ruby on Rails.

For example, I was doing a community course in Philly and this kid came in. He was nineteen, couldn’t afford to go to college, one of many kids. And he was just so ambitious. Anything I gave him, he devoured it. So, he finished the One Month Ruby on Rails course in a day or two, and then took on the next thing and the next thing, and by week three he was integrating payment services into a fake website that he built. That morning, he started a company.

They did a million dollars in revenue last year. They’re doing organic beef bone broth that’s shelf stable, and then they’re recycling the bones they use by selling them at low cost to dog bone companies. He got really lucky, but he had these basic skill sets that he learned very quickly and was able to utilize them to control his situation.

Posted on 2 December 2016 | 6:00 am

TerraCycle’s Tom Szaky on Making Garbage the Hero

TerraCycle’s Tom Szaky on Making Garbage the Hero

By Alistair Hall and Katie Ellman


What is garbage? It’s a question that Tom Szaky, founder and CEO of TerraCycle, has been working to solve. Tom and TerraCycle start from the premise that anything can be recycled. Glass, metal, and plastic are commonly recycled because there’s a straightforward business case to do so, but how about cigarette butts, paint, or diapers?

TerraCycle’s imaginative approach has taken the company from the “coolest little start-up in America” to three seasons of a hit reality TV show, “Human Resources,” to operating in over 20 countries. Last month, Alistair Hall from Bard’s MBA in Sustainability spoke with Tom Szaky to dig into the question, “Why does garbage really exist?”

The following Q&A is an edited excerpt from the Bard MBA’s November 18th Sustainable Business Fridays podcast. Sustainable Business Fridays brings together students in Bard’s MBA in Sustainability program with leaders in business, sustainability and social entrepreneurship. Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or Podbean.

BARD MBA: What was the inspiration for Terracycle?

I started TerraCycle out of my dorm room, and the passion was around waste. That was the critical issue we were trying to solve. We first started looking at it by making products out of waste, and we became quite successful. Over a few year period we grew into a six million dollar business, with clients like Walmart, Target, Home Depot—major retailers—selling products like worm poop fertilizer in a reused soda bottle, and it was quite exciting. What we realized early in our history was that if we focused on the finished product as the outcome, or the hero if you will, of the business concept, then we had to pick the very best waste to make the very best product. We would never deal with garbage that is not so optimal or clean, like cigarette butts, dirty diapers, chewing gum—all of which, by the way, we recycle and collect today. And so, about five years into our business we shifted our model to focus on garbage as the hero, the inbound as the hero, and the solution is sort of what can we make it into. Now we’re able to deal with hundreds and hundreds of different waste streams. We’ve invented a recycling solution for everything from chewing gum to plastic gloves and have grown quite a bit in the process. Today TerraCycle operates in twenty-four countries around the world, from China and Japan to Western Europe, Latin America, North America, and so on.

BARD MBA: How do you come up with these solutions to recycle things like chewing gum? 

First and foremost, in the animal kingdom, or in the natural kingdom I should say, because it’s more than just animals, garbage doesn’t exist. And it doesn’t exist because the output of every organism is the input of another organism, so there’re no useless outputs. But to go one step deeper, it’s not like there’s one super organism that eats every other organism’s outputs. Instead, it’s specific outputs to specific organisms. So it’s one organism that eats a leaf that falls off a tree, a different organism that eats the carbon and makes it into oxygen, and so on and so forth. I mention that metaphor because in garbage today, we have superorganisms that are created to eat everything; they’re called landfills and incinerators. And the real answer is that every type of garbage is different. It has a different heartbeat. Basically it’s like a different animal.

And so, to solve the waste stream, we need to put three things together that might very well be different, waste stream by waste stream. The three things are: we have to collect it—to get it from the point of origin to us in one of our warehouses. We have to account for the collection vehicles, health and safety, cost, and then of course for whether people will actually even do it. Second, is then we have to process it in some sort of circular way, either upcycling, recycling, or reuse, and I’ll give some more color on that in a moment. And then finally, we need to weave a business model around it to make it make sense. TerraCycle focuses on only those things that are not economically profitable to recycle, and gets them recycled, which is where that business model question is very important.

There are five things you can do with garbage. Going from the worst to the best, you can landfill it, that’s the worst. Then you can burn it for energy; that’s a little better. In circular solutions we look first at reuse, at refurbishing items, which is very popular in clothing, electronics, textiles, and so on, where you basically use it for what it was intended to be used for. If reuse is not available, then we look at upcycling, like sewing juice pouches into backpacks, things like that. That has a wide range but low volume. And then the vast majority of our volume goes through our science department, where it’s technically recycled: taking apart the materials, and then reconstituting those materials into new aluminum, new plastic, or composting organics.

Finally, it’s about who pays the bills, how you make it all work. So we have five stakeholders that we work with. One is big consumer product companies—the P&Gs, Unilevers, Colgates of the world—who fund platforms that allow things to be recycled by the public for free. The second stakeholder category could be retailers. Today you can go to Office Depot and drop a binder in a TerraCycle recycling bin, or you could take your car seat back to Target, or your cosmetics to a Kiehl’s Boutique, all through our platform. The third is factories, for factory waste. The fourth is municipalities like cities. The fifth is small business. In each of these examples we have to unlock not just why it’s good for sustainability, but how this reinforces their bottom lines. A simple example is that retailers do this because it drives more foot traffic. So that’s very important when you bring up sustainability platforms—how does this really reinforce the basic function of the business you’re pitching the idea to?

BARD MBA: Does your pitch change from stakeholder to stakeholder on what inspires them to get involved? 

Absolutely. Retailers are interested in foot traffic, but a city isn’t. A city’s interested in litter reduction to boost tourism, while a brand may be interested in market share increase.

BARD MBA: Is there a piece of garbage or a product that you are most proud of figuring out how to recycle or upcycle? 

I love the crazy stuff because it makes the mind work. So, in March we’ll be launching the first national chewing gum recycling program in the world in Mexico. Later next year we’ll be launching the world’s first city-wide diaper recycling program in Holland. And a few years ago we launched cigarette recycling across eleven countries nationally. So, these are the ones that really get me, the sort of more gross ones, because if you can solve those you can solve just about anything.

BARD MBA: So, what can chewing gum be turned into?

Chewing gum is a plastic polymer, it’s like a rubber, and it can be made into thirty-five percent of any sort of plastic product. Think of it as 35% chewing gum and then 65% gum packaging or other plastics.

BARD MBA: What led to the creation of your TV show “human resources”? 

We’ve always believed in a concept called negative-cost marketing, and in fact I’m writing a book on this topic. Why pay for advertising when you can get paid to be the content? So at TerraCycle, we do a little advertising but not a lot. Instead, we focus on generating boatloads of publicity, and if you’re unique, if you can tell your story well, you can do this easily. Today, we get twenty to twenty-five articles about us each day, so it works quite well. And once you’ve done that you can start blogging, so I write for a number of major newspapers. Some of them even pay us to put out our information, like the New York Times and others. Once you do that, you can start writing books. I’ve done three of those, and again, this all generates revenue while creating content.

But the TV show is the cherry on top of the negative-cost marketing cake. We’ve now done three seasons of ‘Human Resources,” and before we did that a season on the National Geographic channel called “Garbage Moguls.” Every episode, we get paid to bring people in to see what TerraCycle is all about. And not only does it air here in the US on Pivot, you can also get it on iTunes and Amazon, and it airs all over the world. A&E distributes it in Europe, or SBS 2 in Australia, and so on.

BARD MBA: Where will teracycle go next?

We’re opening in China next month. We just set up our office in Shanghai, and that’s a big new area for us. Japan was a big success. We opened there a few years ago and so now we’re really looking to expand more into the Asian marketplace. And so after China, South Korea. We’ll go live as well in Taiwan, Singapore, India—those are the key areas we’re focused on, and then from there who knows what will be next? Really, anywhere in the world where there’s interest in solving waste, we try to be there.

BARD MBA: When you launch into these markets, are there specific products you have in mind for certain parts of the waste stream you are looking to tackle? 

It’s opportunistic. It’s where there’s interest. So in China, we’re targeting oral care recycling and cosmetic recycling, but it could be anything. It’s truly where there’s opportunity and where there’s interest to fund solutions.

Posted on 18 November 2016 | 5:00 am

Beyond Four Walls and a Roof: Hudson River Housing’s Elizabeth Celaya on Building Resilient Communities

Beyond Four Walls and a Roof: Hudson River Housing’s Elizabeth Celaya on Building Resilient Communities

By Sven Thiessen and Katie Ellman

Elizabeth Celaya ‘02

Elizabeth Celaya ‘02

Resilience is increasingly a key objective as leaders seek to ways to help communities weather economic and environmental challenges. Hudson River Housing, based in Poughkeepsie, NY, has grown its mission from providing shelter for homeless families to creating sustainable, inclusive, and participatory communities.

Sven Thiessen of Bard MBA sat down last month with Elizabeth Celaya, Director of Organizational & Community Development for Hudson River Housing, to discuss how the organization promotes resilience by engaging and activating community members.

Celaya oversees the agency’s Community Building & Engagement Department and provides leadership to chart a course for future growth through strategic planning, partnership development, and fundraising. Under her leadership, the Middle Main initiative she began with only a shoestring budget and a handful of interested citizens has grown into a key driver of change in the City of Poughkeepsie.

The following Q&A is an edited excerpt from the Bard MBA’s November 4th Sustainable Business Fridays podcast. Sustainable Business Fridays brings together students in Bard’s MBA in Sustainability program with leaders in business, sustainability and social entrepreneurship. Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or Podbean.

Bard MBA: Tell us about Hudson River Housing and the mission of the organization. 

Hudson River Housing is a private, not-for-profit organization. We were founded in 1982, with the mission to serve the homeless. Our first project was a nineteen-unit shelter for homeless families. Then, in the early ‘90s we evolved to begin real estate development and property management. It was a natural and perhaps somewhat obvious evolution, where we realized that while we were meeting this important safety net need of providing shelter, folks had nowhere to go from the shelter because there was no affordable housing in the area. We continue to develop all types of housing units, ranging from single room occupancy units to apartments and single-family homes. We also wanted to make sure that we were setting people up for success in being home owners, so we launched a series of counseling programs for people in financial literacy, budgeting, and the process of homeownership. In 2007 we opened a home ownership center, where all of those services are now concentrated.

The most recent evolution of the organization has been in community building and engagement. Around 2008, a series of things kind of came together that led to us creating a true community-building line of business, as we call it: with the recession and the housing market collapse, foreclosure was top of mind for everybody. We started to see a dialogue emerge around sustainability and vulnerability in communities—how can we make places more resistant to economic shock? So, given our long history of work in the City of Poughkeepsie, we honed in on vulnerable neighborhoods and started bringing together resources to focus on making targeted change by becoming much more place-focused with the work we were doing. We looked at how to align things like real estate development with a broader, more holistic view of improving communities, and all of the different components of the community, including social connections, economic opportunity, the physical amenities of a place. So that’s really the work that community building does now: we look at creating sustainable, inclusive, and participatory communities.

Bard MBA: What are some of the goals and activities of the “middle main” initiative? 

We have a constantly evolving strategy so that we’re very responsive to what the community needs. With what people are telling us, we segment our work into three major buckets: resident and business engagement, neighborhood marketing and promotion, and property and street rehabilitation.

So under resident and business engagement, we run monthly community meet-ups, we have a monthly community leadership program that provides local residents and stakeholders with the skills to become more effective advocates in their own community, and we also work closely with our small business community. We form relationships particularly with our micro businesses that do not always have access to opportunities through networks such as the Chamber of Commerce. So we work on creating a network for those unique, independent businesses, helping to promote, connect and support them as much as possible.

Under neighborhood marketing and promotion, we were the recipients of a national grant to establish a neighborhood marketing campaign. Through that, we worked with specialists in place-based marketing to look at what was unique about this neighborhood—what we could promote about it in a way that maintained the authenticity of it and build upon its existing aspects in a positive, strong way. We’ve developed a whole brand package that we’re utilizing to create a stronger sense of place and build a sense of community pride.

And then under property and street rehabilitation—certainly those are some of the more conventional strategies that we have in terms of property acquisition and rehabilitation, but we’ve also done some things that are a little bit more unique.  We’ve created a pocket park in the neighborhood—there’s a huge lack of green space in the area, so we were able in a small way add a little bit of that to the community. We also work on cleaning initiatives, working with community groups to clean up garbage cans and things like that for the community, the real needs of the neighborhood.

Bard MBA: Do you have any real estate or property developments going on right now?

Absolutely. The most prominent one is the redevelopment of the historic Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory. Once the home of the Poughkeepsie Underwear Company, it was sitting vacant in the neighborhood. It’s about a seven million dollar redevelopment.

We’re doing a mixed-use development: we’re going to have fifteen residential units in the building, but we also have 7000 square feet of commercial space. We’re focusing that commercial space on things that can really respond to community needs, particularly around the area of job training, education, programming for use, and things with low barriers to entry. We’re going to have a shared-use commercial kitchen that will be available to small food startups, food trucks, guest chefs, nutritionists, and folks who want to do cooking demos. We’re also going to have a coffee roaster and coffee shop, to provide job training opportunities to folks who are coming through a homeless services program and looking for the next step on their journey. We’re also going to have eight artists’ studios available at a very low cost for community artists to rent space and showcase their work to the public.

It certainly represents a shift for our organization, moving beyond just focusing on housing as four walls and a roof to thinking about all of the things that go into creating a strong quality of life for an individual, for a family, and for a whole community. This project is a good example of how we’re using a brick and mortar redevelopment to get at bigger-picture issues.

Bard MBA: Are there any aspects of the Poughkeepsie Underwear Factory development that are sustainable from an environmental perspective? 

We partnered with the organization Clearwater before we were even under construction on the building itself to build a demonstration green infrastructure project on site. It’s designed to manage the stormwater runoff from the roof of the building and parking areas, filter it through a bioswale and into a series of rain gardens. The property is adjacent to the Fall Kill Creek, so this filters all of that runoff before it enters the water system in the City of Poughkeepsie.

Recently we’ve also started a partnership with Vasser College and their new Environmental Cooperative. They’ve been working with us to ensure that the plantings are coming up as they should, and they’ll be bringing student volunteers and classes to the site, both to help us with maintenance as well as to learn about what we’ve done there.

Overall, Hudson River Housing is certified as a Green Organization by NeighborWorks America, so there’re sustainability metrics that we meet throughout the operations of our organization, from using recycled paper in our copy machines, to using reusable dinnerware at some of our residential facilities, to making sure we have low-flow toilets and energy efficient lighting. We’ve made some major strides in the past few years in bringing our entire organization up a notch in terms of how we operate as a business, in addition to things we’re doing with our building projects.

Posted on 4 November 2016 | 11:07 am

Creating Impact with Bard’s Career Coach in November (and not just by voting for Hillary…)

Shannon Houde, Sustainability Career Coach

Though it’s crazy how quickly we seem to be moving through the fall, I am getting excited for November as we start ramping up for some interesting events. Read on to learn more about how you can get involved with Walk of Life in the upcoming weeks and for some new updates on what’s been happening with the Walk of Life Team.

BSR Conference & Net Impact 2016!

We will kick off the month at the 2016 BSR Conference in New York from November 1-3, where I will be attending the event as both as participant and speaker.  Come check out my workshop, Personal Branding for Sustainability Influence , on Wednesday November 2nd to learn how to better articulate who you are and why your work truly matters. I’ll also be doing free 15-minute One2One Sustainability Leadership and Executive Coaching sessions throughout the conference and would love to speak with you.

Next, join me at the 2016 Net Impact Conference in Philadelphia from November 3-5. This year, I will be hosting two interactive sessions titled What You Need to Know About the Sustainability Job Market and Due Diligence: Decoding the Impact Investing Job Market. I’ll also be available at Net Impact for free 1-1 corner coaching sessions and will be on Twitter at @walkoflifecoach throughout both events, so keep in touch and let me know if you are attending!

Wondering what else is going on with Walk of Life?

Recently, I had the pleasure of touring Google’s headquarters in San Francisco with client and success story, Vijay Pamanabhan. Vijay is an inspiring example of someone who worked through a career change with Walk of Life and found themselves in the position of their dreams. Check out my most recent Greenbiz blog, How to land a Google dream job, for highlights on my tour and an interview with Vijay.

I am also happy to announce that we have a new Project Manager on the Walk of Life team – Allie Cashel. Allie graduated from Bard College in 2013 with BA in Written Arts, and soon after graduation started working towards the publication of her first book (and senior project!) Suffering the Silence: Chronic Lyme disease in an Age of Denial (North Atlantic Books).

I hope to see you in New York and Philadelphia! Contact me  to maximize your networking potential and for some bespoke advice on your elevator pitch.

Posted on 27 October 2016 | 8:51 am

Three Takeaways from Bloomberg’s Sustainable Business Summit 2016

October 5 and 6, 2016

By Gwenyth Jones

Learnings from conferences in the sustainability field are almost always numerous, and that was the case with this second Bloomberg event.  To ensure I retain the most useful bits, however, I like to task myself, however, with boiling down my impressions to the most memorable insights.  What strikingly new information was presented, what key innovations were discussed, which speakers exhibited the uncommon ability to synthesize historical evidence and place it in the context of today and tomorrow?

The following three takeaways from the Bloomberg Sustainable Business Summit 2016 met at least one of these criteria:

  1. Private sector vs big government.  Mike Bloomberg opened the conference with a short speech on setting the agenda for sustainable business.  He stated that the US is the only big country in the world likely to meet its COP21 targets easily, solely on the basis of our transition from coal-fired fuel to renewables…with virtually no help from government.  Later in the conference, jaw-dropping stats on China’s progress were presented.  Courtesy of Andrew Winston, China built more wind last year than the UK, Denmark and France already have in place, and has invested $329B into renewables.  Over half of China’s new energy is renewable and has been for three years.  Lise Kingo, Executive Director of the United Nations Global Compact, reported that China is addressing all 17 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in its latest 5-year plan.  Even if these numbers are not brand new, the contrast between the two approaches to energy independence is dramatic, particularly in the context of the current political climate in the US.
  1. Data on data tools.  Audrey Choi, CEO of Morgan Stanley’s Institute for Sustainable Investing, cited the result of a study indicating that 93% of equities face climate risk.  Broad-spread, transparent and standardized analysis of and reporting on these risks is not just important at the individual equity level.  It’s key to understanding and managing risk at a systems level.  Currently, however, the tools and practices available for these data-driven activities are wildly diverse and often hard to use, making it tough to find the right one for a given business, much less to develop a holistic picture.  In a separate session, a new platform called SHIFT (Sustainability Help, Information, Frameworks and Tools) was presented by Jason Jay, Director, Sustainability Institute, MIT and Johanna C. Jobin, Director, Global EHS & Sustainability, Biogen.  Developed at the Sustainability Institute, this yet-to-be-released software aims to database descriptions and detailed reviews of the myriad of options currently available, with search and refine functionality that allows users to identify the ones best suited to their needs.  Sarah Nolet reported on this on October 12th for Sustainable Brands.  SHIFT is seeking help to identify resources on which to report; all you data wonks and ops folks can jump in and be a part of this at the outset.  Here’s their pre-launch collection form.
  1. A Jack Ma moment?  Another start-up showcased, called Pathway21, promises a way to speed development of the circular economy.  Executive Director Andrew Mangan presented his cloud-based platform for a materials marketplace.  The infrastructure facilitates cross-industry materials reuse among suppliers and producers.  One example is the selling and buying of leftover steel, e.g. from auto manufacturers to building contractors and companies like 3M.  Managan reported that, within two months of launching a pilot in 2015, Pathway21 had 23 companies and over 2000 tons of materials in play.  This year, Nike, GM, Starbucks, P&G and the government of Turkey are participating, to name a few.  Stories abound of the difficulty companies have setting up the relationships needed to round-trip materials; this could make those connections far easier and faster.  And, by the way, the “Jack Ma” quote is Mangan’s, not mine–but it’s the kind of thing that sticks in your head.

There were, certainly, many other interesting presentations.  Those from Andrew Winston and Freya Williams were particularly lively and fun.  From Williams, CEO of Futerra North America and author of Green Giants, what could be a better sound bite than answering the question “What’s the business case for sustainability?” with three words…”a billion dollars.”  A panel on cities of the future, which included James Kenney (mayor of Philadelphia), Mike Pedersen (CEO of TD Bank) and Trish Plonski (SVP from Xerox), was excellent–full of reports on material progress and refreshing in its candor regarding impediments.  Speakers representing the US Navy (Thomas W. Hicks, Deputy Under Secretary), Hewlett Packard Enterprise (Antonio Neri, EVP) and CDP (Paul Dickinson (Executive Chairman) were impressive, as were the accomplishments of their organizations.  All in all, a conference that delivered on attendees’ investment of time and attention.

Posted on 25 October 2016 | 9:48 am

CSRHub’s CEO: Dark Data in Sustainability Reporting

CSRHub’s CEO: Dark Data in Sustainability Reporting

Reagan Richmond and Katie Ellman

Sustainability professionals are inundated with surveys, reporting frameworks and guidelines. As reporting metrics evolve, the industry needs accessible and consistent ways to evaluate performance. With more than 94 million pieces of corporate sustainability data in its database, CSRHub makes many publicly available data sets easier to access and browse.

Last month, Reagan Richmond from Bard’s MBA in Sustainability spoke with Bahar Gidwani, CRSHub CEO and co-founder.

Bahar shared his thoughts on the evolution of ESG metrics and the potential of “dark data” to drive greater transparency in corporate sustainability. His years of experience running large technology-based businesses and his work on Wall Street informed his discussion of data and corporate sustainability reporting.

The following Q&A is an edited excerpt from a Sustainable Business Fridays (SBF) podcast. SBF brings together students in Bard’s MBA in Sustainability with leaders in business, sustainability and social entrepreneurship. You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or Podbean.

Bard MBA: There has been a tremendous amount of growth in sustainability and corporate social responsibility. What is one major shift that has occurred in this industry over time?

Bahar Gidwani: People talk about sustainability as having three parts, or as ESG: environment, social and governance. One of the fun things that happens when you have a really huge base of data is you can see how those three things interact.


We did a study based on our data going back to 2008 that showed that in 2008, ’09 and ’10, interest in governance took off like crazy. All the scores in governance rose for the companies we were tracking, and it makes sense. Governance is one of those things that ties very closely to the financial crisis of 2008. One of the things that was revealed in 2008 was that the governance hadn’t been as good as people thought.

Our data then showed that in 2011, ’12 and ’13, environment took off; people started investing more time and money in it, started worrying about their environmental performance. That also makes sense. That was the era in which we understood that we were really destroying the entire world, and companies realized they had to do their share of trying to fix things.

What I love right now is that social is taking off. In 2014, ’15 and ’16, social scores have started to rise as companies have started to understand that in order to be long-term survivors — in order to compete for good employees and to be acceptable within their communities — companies have to be better on the social dimension of their business.

When you have a big set of data — we have 95 million pieces of data now on 16,500 companies, in 133 countries — when you have that kind of breadth of data, you have an opportunity to do social trend analysis and you can look at how companies have been performing socially for very long time periods of time.

Bard MBA: What are second generation ESG metrics and how do they differ from first generation?

Gidwani: Again, it’s something that we can see from our data, and it’s a very interesting process to see.

We have 480 different data sources, and a lot of the data sources had been and continue to be driven by what companies say about themselves. So companies would write an annual report, and they might not put very much about sustainability in there. Then they’d publish separately a sustainability report. In the sustainability report there’d be fluffy clouds and little children eating ice cream — it might not have anything to do at all with their business, but it all looked very nice and seemed very wonderful, and it was aimed towards trying to improve how the company was viewed by society in general.

This kind of self-reported data was the basis for many years for how people viewed the social performance of companies. There really wasn’t anything else to rely on.

One of the things that’s happening in sustainability is that people are talking about moving into more formal types of communications. Companies are being asked or forced to include their sustainability performance discussions in their financial filings, which are heavily regulated, or in very well structured sets of data going to people like their security regulators or other kinds of governmental regulation bodies.

For instance, there’re all kinds of carbon tracking systems being set up. California has one now. There’re all kinds of employment tracking systems being set up. There are ways of tracking conflict minerals. There’s a group called SASB, the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, that is asking all publicly traded U.S. companies to report certain kinds of metrics.

As you go across these new reporting systems, and as they become more formalized, you get a new brand of sustainability metrics that are much more rigorously defined, and a much more uniform type of data across companies about their non-financial performance. I think that’s an exciting opportunity — especially for a data-driven company like ours — to better understand how companies are performing.

Bard MBA: What are the underlying trends that are really driving this movement of second generations metrics versus self-reporting, and what is the impetus for developing groups such as SASB or GRI? 

Gidwani: We think the underlying driver is the same thing that drove us to exist, and we exist because the data sets that are out there are very disparate and poorly organized.

One rating source will say that a company’s doing a great job, but the next will say it’s doing a lousy job, and the poor company manager is sitting in the middle being rated left and right and can’t really figure out what’s going on; can’t figure out whether his or her company is doing better or worse than another company; can’t figure out whether he or she will be accepted as a supplier to a bigger company; can’t figure out whether he or she will get a bonus this year for doing a better job on sustainability strategy.

The existing data sets were giving very poor quality feedback to the people in the field who are actually trying to implement sustainability programs. These new approaches, in the end, turned out to be efforts to try to improve that feedback. Many of them have come, in theory, from investors who are claiming they need non-financial information in order to better understand the risks and better analyze companies. The positive side effect is that companies, in turn, will have to better order their sustainability data and report it more consistently, and as a result, will be better able to understand their own sustainability performance and to set clearer goals for themselves.

I think there are a lot of unintended consequences here. Investors are a funny group. They aren’t necessarily very rational. I know they’re supposed to be. If you think about it, the last thing in the world investors ought to want is more consistent, better data; the better the data is and the more consistent it is, the less chance an investor has to generate alpha — to outperform other people. There’s more risk that everyone else knows the good things you know, and therefore you won’t be able to make money. In the zero-sum game of investing, standardization is a bad thing, and yet for some reason, a lot of investors are pushing for it.

Bard MBA: How do we balance the need for understanding where a company really sits on its ESG performance with still being able to develop this broad breadth of data? 

Gidwani: I’m not sure that the inconsistency that I’ve been talking about is a bad thing for investors.

If you look at the major data sources we track from Wall Street, we’ll often find that one major data source, like MSCI, might have only a 30 percent correlation in its views with another major data source like Thomson or IRIS. These are well-founded data analyst companies; hundreds of analysts beavering away every day trying to figure out what’s going on inside companies; reading everything they can. Yet, as you look across the S&P 1200, which I recently studied, there’s a 30 percent correlation between two major sources on how companies are performing. You could look at that and say, “Oh my gosh, that’s awful.”

From a company manager’s perspective, it’s extremely confusing and frustrating because you don’t know whether you’re doing well or badly, because one source says you’re doing well and the other source says you’re doing badly. But from an investor’s point of view — and this is what I was saying before — it actually could be good, because if one of them happens to be right, or happens to be right more often than the others, and you happen to be their client and get their data, you’re theoretically going to make more money than your peers.

There’s an interesting inconsistency here about the idea of investors who care about social issues, who claim at least that that’s what they’re doing, and who want to buy the best performing companies socially and hold only those companies, doing it with the intention of making more money than other people. Investing is a zero-sum game, and investors who seek to invest in better companies in order to make more money are, in a sense, trying to take money from other people.

There are other strategies for investing that I think are more consistent with the overall idea of sustainability. There’s a group of investors who seem to have fairly explicitly accepted that investing in sustainable companies might actually underperform investing in less sustainable companies. They recognize that if they remove whole chunks of the market from their investment policy, they might underperform — just as you would if you did any other strategy that removed whole chunks of the market. Any time you limit your opportunities for investment, you tend to underperform. Those investors are trying to bring back in, then, measures of return that are nonfinancial. They’re trying to measure a social return, and if they add that social return to their financial return they’re whole again.

There was a nice study done by Cambridge Asset Management that showed that sustainability-oriented hedge funds returned about 600 basis points in the most recent quarters while non-sustainability-oriented ones returned about 800 basis points. So 2 percent. If you’re willing to give up 2 percent, you can be ethical and buy only companies that are good companies, and that may be the way in which this all works out.

Bard MBA: You coined the phrase “dark data.” What is “dark data,” where can it be pulled from and what keeps it in the dark?

Gidwani: Dark energy, as you probably know from astronomy, is the stuff the binds all the universe together. And yet we don’t seem to know very much about it. It’s out there, and every part of the universe is affected by it; we feel its gravitational pull.

In the same way in the sustainability space, there’s a ton of information that’s exchanged between companies, and between companies and their government, and sometimes between companies and their employees, that is very interesting from a sustainability point of view but that is not visible outside of those exchanges.

So companies, for instance, are giving a lot of information about the health and welfare of their employees — about accidents, spills — to the U.S. government. Most companies now are involved in supply chain reporting. Walmart has asked all hundred thousand people who sell products in its stores to fill out a scorecard of information about how they treat their employees, how they package goods, what their carbon footprint is and things like that. We know these scorecards exist, we know companies are exchanging tons of sustainability data with other parties, but we don’t get to see it. As a result, we don’t get to see a lot of the data that’s actually driving sustainability performance.

That’s the dark data. My hope would be that we can make it economically favorable and socially positive, something that’s socially demanded even, to have more and more of that data exist.

Imagine if you’re looking for a supplier, and you could leverage off all of the work that all the other people in the marketplace have done looking for a similar kind of supplier. You want someone who’s got a good carbon footprint, treats their employees well, doesn’t package excessively. Lo and behold, you’d like to see where Apple and Microsoft and everybody else bought that kind of product from. As it stands right now, you can’t find that out.

Also on

Posted on 21 October 2016 | 2:01 pm

CSRHub’s Bahar Gidwani on Corporate Sustainability Reporting and Dark Data

CSRHub’s Bahar Gidwani on Corporate Sustainability Reporting and Dark Data


By Reagan Richmond and Katie Ellman

Sustainability professionals are inundated with surveys, reporting frameworks, and guidelines. As reporting metrics evolve, the industry needs accessible and consistent ways to evaluate performance. With more than 94 million pieces of corporate sustainability data in its database, CSRHub makes many publicly available data sets easier to access and browse.

Last month, Reagan Richmond from Bard’s MBA in Sustainability spoke with Bahar Gidwani, CRSHub CEO and Co-Founder.

Bahar shared his thoughts on the evolution of ESG metrics and the potential of “dark data” to drive greater transparency in corporate sustainability. His years of experience running large technology-based businesses and his work on Wall Street informed his discussion of data and corporate sustainability reporting.

The following Q&A is an edited excerpt from a Sustainable Business Fridays (SBF) podcast. SBF brings together students in Bard’s MBA in Sustainability with leaders in business, sustainability and social entrepreneurship. You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or Podbean.

Bard MBA: There has been a tremendous amount of growth in sustainability and corporate social responsibility. What is one major shift that has occurred in this industry over time? 

People talk about sustainability as having three parts, or as “ESG”: environment, social, and governance. One of the fun things that happens when you have a really huge base of data is you can see how those three things interact. We did a study based on our data going back to 2008 that showed that in 2008, ’09, and ’10, interest in governance took off like crazy. All the scores in governance rose for the companies we were tracking, and it makes sense. Governance is one of those things that ties very closely to the financial crisis of 2008. One of the things that was revealed in 2008 was that the governance hadn’t been as good as people thought. Our data then showed that in 2011, ’12, and ’13, environment took off; people started investing more time and money in it, started worrying about their environmental performance. That also makes sense. That was the era in which we understood that we were really destroying the entire world, and companies realized they had to do their share of trying to fix things. What I love right now is that social is taking off. In 2014, ’15, and ’16, social scores have started to rise as companies have started to understand that in order to be long term survivors—in order to compete for good employees and to be acceptable within their communities—companies have to be better on the social dimension of their business. When you have a big set of data—we have 95 million pieces of data now on 16,500 companies, in 133 countries—when you have that kind of breadth of data, you have an opportunity to do social trend analysis and you can look at how companies have been performing socially for very long time periods of time.

Bard MBA: What are second generation ESG Metrics, and how do they differ from first generation?

Again, it’s something that we can see from our data, and it’s a very interesting process to see. We have 480 different data sources, and a lot of the data sources had been and continue to be driven by what companies say about themselves. So companies would write an annual report, and they might not put very much about sustainability in there. Then they’d publish separately a sustainability report. In the sustainability report there’d be fluffy clouds and little children eating ice cream—it might not have anything to do at all with their business, but it all looked very nice and seemed very wonderful, and it was aimed towards trying to improve how the company was viewed by society in general. This kind of self-reported data was the basis for many years for how people viewed the social performance of companies. There really wasn’t anything else to rely on. One of the things that’s happening in sustainability is that people are talking about moving into more formal types of communications. Companies are being asked or forced to include their sustainability performance discussions in their financial filings, which are heavily regulated, or in very well structured sets of data going to people like their security regulators or other kinds of governmental regulation bodies. For instance, there’re all kinds of carbon tracking systems being set up. California has one now. There’re all kinds of employment tracking systems being set up. There are ways of tracking conflict minerals. There’s a group called SASB, the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, that is asking all publicly traded US companies to report certain kinds of metrics. As you go across these new reporting systems, and as they become more formalized, you get a new brand of sustainability metrics that are much more rigorously defined, and a much more uniform type of data across companies about their non- financial performance. I think that’s an exciting opportunity, especially for a data driven company like ours: to better understand how companies are performing.

Bard MBA: What are the underlying trends that are really driving this movement of second generation metrics vs. self-reporting, and what’s the impetus for developing groups such as SASB or GRI? 

We think the underlying driver is the same thing that drove us to exist, and we exist because the data sets that are out there are very disparate and poorly organized. One rating source will say that a company’s doing a great job, but the next will say it’s doing a lousy job, and the poor company manager is sitting in the middle being rated left and right and can’t really figure out what’s going on; can’t figure out whether his or her company is doing better or worse than another company; can’t figure out whether he or she will be accepted as a supplier to a bigger company; can’t figure out whether he or she will get a bonus this year for doing a better job on sustainability strategy. The existing data sets were giving very poor quality feedback to the people in the field who are actually trying to implement sustainability programs. These new approaches, in the end, turned out to be efforts to try to improve that feedback. Many of them have come, in theory, from investors who are claiming they need non-financial information in order to better understand the risks and better analyze companies. The positive side effect is that companies in turn will have to better order their sustainability data and report it more consistently, and as a result, will be better able to understand their own sustainability performance and to set clearer goals for themselves.

I think there are a lot of unintended consequences here. Investors are a funny group. They aren’t necessarily very rational. I know they’re supposed to be. If you think about it, the last thing in the world investors ought to want is more consistent, better data; the better the data is and the more consistent it is, the less chance an investor has to generate alpha—to outperform other people. There’s more risk that everyone else knows the good things you know, and therefore you won’t be able to make money. In the zero sum game of investing, standardization is a bad thing, and yet, for some reason, a lot of investors are pushing for it.

Bard MBA: How do we balance the need for understanding where a company really sits on its ESG performance with still being able to develop this broad breadth of data?

I’m not sure that the inconsistency that I’ve been talking about is a bad thing for investors. If you look at the major data sources we track from Wall Street, we’ll often find that one major data source, like MSCI, might have only a 30% correlation in its views with another major data source like Thomson or IRIS. These are well-founded data analyst companies; hundreds of analysts beavering away every day trying to figure out what’s going on inside companies; reading everything they can. Yet, as you look across the S&P 1200, which I recently studied, there’s a 30% correlation between two major sources on how companies are performing. You could look at that and say, “Oh my gosh, that’s awful.” From a company manager’s perspective, it’s extremely confusing and frustrating because you don’t know whether you’re doing well or badly, because one source says you’re doing well and the other source says you’re doing badly. But from an investor’s point of view—and this is what I was saying before—it actually could be good, because if one of them happens to be right, or happens to be right more often than the others, and you happen to be their client and get their data, you’re theoretically going to make more money than your peers. There’s an interesting inconsistency here about the idea of investors who care about social issues, who claim at least that that’s what they’re doing, and who want to buy the best performing companies socially and hold only those companies, doing it with the intention of making more money than other people. Investing is a zero sum game, and investors who seek to invest in better companies in order to make more money are, in a sense, trying to take money from other people.

There are other strategies for investing that I think are more consistent with the overall idea of sustainability. There’s a group of investors who seem to have fairly explicitly accepted that investing in sustainable companies might actually underperform investing in less sustainable companies. They recognize that if they remove whole chunks of the market from their investment policy, they might underperform—just as you would if you did any other strategy that removed whole chunks of the market. Any time you limit your opportunities for investment, you tend to underperform. Those investors are trying to bring back in, then, measures of return that are nonfinancial. They’re trying to measure a social return, and if they add that social return to their financial return they’re whole again. There was a nice study done by Cambridge Asset Management that showed that sustainability-oriented hedge funds returned about 600 basis points in the most recent quarters while non sustainability-oriented ones returned about 800 basis points. So 2%. If you’re willing to give up 2% you can be ethical and buy only companies that are good companies, and that may be the way in which this all works out.

Bard MBA: You coined the phrase “dark data”. What is dark data, where can it be pulled from, and what keeps it in the dark? 

Dark data, as you probably know from astronomy, is the stuff the binds all the universe together. And yet we don’t seem to know very much about it. It’s out there, and every part of the universe is affected by it; we feel its gravitational pull. In the same way in the sustainability space, there’s a ton of information that’s exchanged between companies, and between companies and their government, and sometimes between companies and their employees, that is very interesting from a sustainability point of view but that is not visible outside of those exchanges. So companies, for instance, are giving a lot of information about the health and welfare of their employees—about accidents, spills—to the US government. Most companies now are involved in supply chain reporting. Walmart has asked all hundred thousand people who sell products in its stores to fill out a scorecard of information about how they treat their employees, how they package goods, what their carbon footprint is, and things like that. We know these scorecards exist, we know companies are exchanging tones of sustainability data with other parties, but we don’t get to see it. As a result, we don’t get to see a lot of the data that’s actually driving sustainability performance.

That’s the dark data. My hope would be that we can make it economically favorable and socially positive, something that’s socially demanded even, to have more and more of that data exist. Imagine if you’re looking for a supplier, and you could leverage off all of the work that all the other people in the marketplace have done looking for a similar kind of supplier. You want someone who’s got a good carbon footprint, treats their employees well, doesn’t package excessively. Lo and behold, you’d like to see where Apple and Microsoft and everybody else bought that kind of product from. As it stands right now, you can’t find that out.

Posted on 21 October 2016 | 11:05 am

Sustainability in the Name of Innovation & Awareness

Sustainability in the Name of Innovation & Awareness

Katie Ellman, MBA in Sustainability Candidate, Bard College


Bard MBA spoke to Maureen Kline, Vice President, Public Affairs & Sustainability, Pirelli Tire North America on the role that innovation and technology plays in the present and future of the tire industry, to not only make it more sustainable but to also continue to improve performance and safety.

In addition to her work with Pirelli, Maureen also writes a weekly column on sustainability for  She also chairs the board of the Tire and Rubber Association of Canada and sits on the advisory board of the Corporate Responsibility Association where she co-chairs a Thought Leadership Council on Brand and Reputation Management.

You can follow her on Twitter @kline_maureen

The following Q&A is an edited excerpt from a Sustainable Business Fridays podcast released on Friday, October 7, 2016 by the Bard MBA in Sustainability Program, based in New York City.

Bard MBA: When people think about a business that has been around as long as Pirelli Tire and their role in the automobile landscape, sustainability is not the first thing that comes to mind.  How does Pirelli work sustainability into their business model? 

Maureen Kline: Pirelli is a company that is headquartered in Italy and has been around for more than one hundred and forty years and it is like many European companies in that it is doing pretty well in sustainability compared to your average American company, I would say in my opinion.

Their history is very much a stakeholder model. It was originally a family owned company and really had a sense of taking care of its community, its workers and the environment.

The tire industry is not the most obvious industry for sustainability given that it is part of the automotive industry and people don’t think of tires as necessarily a clean product and of course our major focus is consumer safety.  I think of it as a sustainability aspect and most people don’t really give enough attention to the tires and the tires are very important because they are the thing that is between the car and the road. So obviously we have a huge focus on safety and we have a lot of R&D innovation for safety and also now for environmental aspects for the tires fuel efficiency-which the car companies are very interested in as well as consumers.

A tire looks like something that is very simple but it is not.  There is a lot of R&D behind it.

Bard MBA: Can you elaborate more on what you mean when you say that European companies are doing well in sustainability compared to your average American company?

Maureen Kline: One thing that I have noticed is that investors in Europe have been more focused on sustainability than investors in the U.S., and a lot of the typical European companies were family owned and maybe not as large and not as focused on the quarterly shareholder model.

Having said that I think there is definitely a business case for sustainability in the sense that a long-term view can make a company very healthy over the long term and also bring short-term profits.

Bard MBA: You have had a varied career.  How did you come to this position?

Maureen Kline: I came to Pirelli in 2006 after a long career in financial journalism and I started in the communications department and then moved into international public affairs. In 2012, I moved to New York and was put in charge of North American Public Affairs and Sustainability for the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

A lot of the sustainability journey is about monitoring and quantifying and measuring and then setting goals.  Every year we monitor these goals and put programs in place to do better. It is a continuous process all the time.

Bard MBA: Have you always been interested in sustainability?

Maureen Kline: I have always been interested in how business can make a positive impact on the world and I have become more and more interested in this shift from short term quarterly profits to longer term stakeholders, all stakeholders not just the shareholders, and Pirelli has been very active in that for a long time.

Bard MBA: Has there been, in either your journalistic career or at Pirelli, resistance or pushback against this idea or this way of doing business?

Maureen Kline: I wouldn’t say resistance or pushback but there is any time there is change, there is always the tendency to say “why are we doing this?”

That leads me to a reflection on sustainability in general and I think where innovation comes in, I think we are going to see a lot more changing business models.  So for instance, for tires you might see in the future if you have a lot of car sharing and self driving cars and so on you might see tires sold not by the single unit but by the number of miles.  So if a car fleet needed a continuous supply of tires whenever they need to be changed you can do a contract where you are just supplying all the tires they need and then measuring that by miles and that gives incentive to a tire company to make tires that will be of high quality and last and I think we are going to see more of those different business models.

Bard MBA: Definitely, as Uber is going toward driverless vehicles, organizations like that will be leading some of that demand and change.

Maureen Kline: Absolutely, one of the things we do now is called the cyber tire. In some of our truck tire sales, truck tires sold to fleets with a chip in the tire so that the fleet manager can manage the fleet of tires (remotely) from a cell phone or computer and know at any given time which tires need to be inflated and retreaded which need to be replaced and there is a direct cost savings in terms of fuel economy when you are focusing on proper inflation for tires, not only cost saving but improvement for the environment if there is better fuel economy.  You can do a lot with that concept of the chip in the tire.  The implications go pretty far, the tire can read the road conditions and feed that back. I think there will be a lot innovation there as well.

Bard MBA: You sit on the advisory board of the Corporate Responsibility Association, can you tell us a little more about the association and your role there?

Maureen Kline: Corporate Responsibility Association, I am a recent new member. It is an association of member companies and it has four or five thought leadership councils that are working on things like ratings and rankings.

There is a really interesting evolution in terms of corporate reputation and brand. It is really so important to create trust around your brand. Trust is something that you can achieve through your sustainability actions. Everyone wants consumers to trust their brand, and improve their reputation. You can say that it is an opportunistic reason to do sustainability but, I don’t care what the reasons are as long as companies do move toward sustainability because I think it is just so important and  you need to have real world incentives and improving your reputation is one of them for sure. You can no longer get away with green washing or fluff, you really have to have a serious strategy to earn that reputation.


Posted on 10 October 2016 | 11:56 am

MBA Faculty Spotlight: Gilles Mesrobian

MBA Faculty Spotlight: Gilles Mesrobian

“What is the link between social responsibility and environmental sustainability?” you might ask. The answer is leadership. However, for most, leadership isn’t simply something you come by or you were born with, nor is it a static quality that once earned it stays with you forever. Gilles Mesrobian, Adjunct Faculty member with the Bard MBA in Sustainability program, believes that leadership is a resource in need of development, management, and a clear picture of drivers and motivators.

Mesrobian 2Mesrobian, who has over 25 years of experience in nonprofit management, philanthropy, and social service consulting, teaches Personal Leadership Development to MBA students, integrating theories of social behavior and evolutionary psychology into a new look at leadership.

“Leadership is an expression of human behavior,” says Mesrobian. “Over the course of history, charismatic leaders have been drivers of the complex social structures we observe today.”

Those who possess strong leadership capabilities, for better or worse, have—perhaps obviously—shaped the course of human history. Over time we have formed larger, and more dynamic communities. On one hand, this has allowed society to benefit from the unparalleled prosperity and innovation of the last century. On the other hand, much of that benefit is unequally distributed and has come at the price of a changing climate, increasing income inequality, and many other social and environmental challenges.

“I believe the solution, is and always has been, strong leadership. Being a good manager is important, but being an effective leader needs to be approached from a different angle. Management isn’t necessarily about people, while leadership is.”

Bard MBA students receive, as part of their degree, leadership training from Mesrobian that emphasizes self-reflection. He believes it is important for individuals who are working towards positive social change to understand their capacity as a leader: their strengths and weaknesses.

Mesrobian HS

“Bard MBA students share a passion and vision for the world that’s very different from my other experiences in other academic circles. They are extremely motivated, solutions oriented, optimistic, and the have a vision for where [society] needs to go. But most of all, I would say their best quality is that they are driven by their own personal missions.”

Mesrobian believes the recipe for sustainability begins with learning to do more with less. From lifestyles to industries, society can—and must—increase our efficiency in all aspects. Doing this is simple. When one redefines growth to emphasize quality over quantity, it is inherently in their best interest to be efficient. Lastly, according to Mesrobian, being holistic in our view of sustainability will integrate the social, economical, cultural, environmental, and political knowledge necessary to build a sustainable future.

Posted on 30 September 2016 | 10:01 am

Alumni Spotlight: Libby Zemaitis MBA/MS ’14

Alumni Spotlight: Libby Zemaitis MBA/MS ’14

PM_MBA_BCEP_MG_6539_MedResLibby Zemaitis is one of the few who have experienced the full spectrum of Bard’s Graduate Programs in Sustainability. She is a dual-degree graduate, earning both her MBA in Sustainability and MS in Climate Science and Policy. When talking with Zemaitis, one can easily see how dynamic and driven she is.

Zemaitis’s path to co-founding her own start-up company is a home-grown story. Growing up in New Paltz, New York, her first job was an unpaid internship with a renewable energy start-up that exposed her to global energy issues and gave insight to how to get a business up and running. Before attending Bard Center for Environmental Policy, Zemaitis received her undergraduate degree in Geology from Vassar College. That scientific experience, she says, was the foundation for a Compton Fellowship to conduct her own year-long project on tidal power resources.

She later decided to attend Bard Center for Environmental Policy and enroll in the dual-degree MS/MBA option. “I was considering a graduate program to hone my research, economics, statistics and technical writing skills,” Zemaitis said. “All the work I did over the three years at Bard made me much more confident in these skills. The Climate Science and Policy program and MBA were synchronous to my interests and background. On the MBA side, it was the communication and leadership skills that I use most.”

On top of these skills, Zemaitis said she personally benefited from tapping into a professional network with global reach yet local strength. She said, “I am still in touch with so many of my peers and I don’t have to hesitate to reach out to them with a question. The collaborative nature of the MBA coursework was especially rewarding. It gave me an whole other set of communication tools, team-building skills, and leadership development strategies.”

Zemaitis currently holds two careers simultaneously: one as a climate specialist for the New York Department of Conservation’s Hudson River Estuary Program and another as Co-Founder and CEO of Up Homes, an idea she had come up with as part of her MBA Capstone Project. Zemaitis believes at the heart of it all is empowering people to build sustainable livelihoods that are protected from the multifaceted risks of climate change. Whether its presenting to a group of investors about Up Homes, engaging with communities to implement climate adaptation plans, or even playing her violin with local Irish bands, Zemaitis finds joy and purpose in engaging with people to convey a message with purpose.

I asked Zemaitis what she considers her own homemade recipe for sustainability. She replied, “Sustainability really comes down to people; at the intersection of personal and community fulfillment. We can take care of others while we take care of ourselves. Those things aren’t mutually exclusive. Like so much else in life, the path to sustainability is also about finding balance and moderation.”

Posted on 20 September 2016 | 1:25 pm

MBA Faculty Spotlight: Laura Gitman

MBA Faculty Spotlight: Laura Gitman

Gitman HeadshotIf you’ve wondered what it means to merge sustainable development with business strategy, look no further than Bard MBA’s own Laura Gitman, professor of the innovative NYCLab course and Strategy for Sustainability. Gitman has created a career merging her passion for sustainable development and talent for strategic thinking.

Gitman got her start with Deloitte Consulting, spent time in Latin America focusing on community development, and earned her MBA from Stanford University, all with a focus on creating a more equitable, sustainable future. From there, she started at Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), where she has spent the past 11 years. She has worked with a variety of industries during her tenure at BSR, and is currently Vice President, leading both the New York office and Global Membership and Operations.

At BSR, the world’s leading sustainability consulting group, Gitman oversees a global membership of nearly 300 global companiesand works with executives to develop sustainability strategies and to facilitate collaborative solutions. . Gitman is a strategic thinker, focusing on the how of business and corporate theory. This is also the kind of work that goes into Bard MBA’s NYCLab practicum course.

As the instructor of NYCLab, Gitman engages first-year MBA students in consulting with real-world clients. Students apply their coursework directly to sustainability challenges that an organization is facing. Current and past NYCLab clients include Unilever, HSBC, Lockheed Martin, UBS, Siemens, NY State Dept of Agriculture, ConEdison Solutions, and Jet Blue. By the end of this full-year course, Bard’s MBA students gain valuable consultingand communication skills while providing a sustainability solution to their client. The knowledge and experience from the NYCLab compliments a second course that Gitman teaches, Strategy for Sustainability, which focuses on industry analysis, competitive advantage, and application of strategic frameworks.

“I’ve always had an interest in teaching, specifically graduate students,” said Gitman. “I have the chance to apply industry knowledge to teach the next wave of professionals. Almost by default, Bard MBA students are a unique group of individuals for driving sustainability as a fundamental part of business. My students have many qualities needed to be future leaders in business. They are collaborative, passionate, team-oriented, and conscientious.”

In a world where many business leaders stand in the way of progress toward a sustainable future and many see challenges too big to overcome, Gitman sees opportunity and draws inspiration from Bard. “I am a big believer in the impact that the world’s largest corporations can have. The private sector can certainly play a role in driving global innovation,” says Gitman. “I see a sense of optimism and entrepreneurial commitment to change at Bard. Ideas, enthusiasm, and motivation are everywhere.”

Posted on 8 September 2016 | 10:51 am

Women Changing the World: Bard MBAs Impact Energy, Affordable Housing, and Poverty

Women Changing the World: Bard MBAs Impact Energy, Affordable Housing, and Poverty

Chelsea Mozen is building solar energy at scale. Bernell Grier’s work is helping hundreds of low and moderate-income people buy houses. And Jessica King is committed to cutting the poverty rate in a depressed Pennsylvania town in half within the next decade. These initiatives all emerged over last year’s capstone class in Bard’s new MBA in Sustainability.

Women Collage

Mozen spent her second-year MBA capstone interning at Etsy, the online craft retailer based in Brooklyn. While there, she developed an innovative program, Etsy Solar, open to the company’s 1.6 million artisan producers. Partnering with a national solar installer, and providing access to low-cost financing, Etsy Solar is helping sellers and Etsy employees put solar systems on their roofs. The program is set to have a major impact on the solar market. For every 1% of sellers who sign up for the program, 16,000 home businesses will be solarized.

photostrip4 copyMozen’s internship morphed into a full-time job running the program she pioneered. “Being a part of a supportive and creative academic community while developing the initial structure for the Etsy Solar pilot program was essential to its success,” Chelsea said.

Bard’s MBA, located in the heart of New York City, is one of a select few graduate business programs globally that fully integrate sustainability into a core curriculum. Perhaps because of this primary focus on business with a social or environmental mission, Bard’s MBA is more than fifty percent female—the reverse of the enrollment ratio in conventional graduate business schools.

PM_BCEP-MBA_2014_MG_4383_WebResAnother member of the class of 2015, Grier entered the MBA program as the Chief Executive Officer of Neighborhood Housing Services of New York City. NHSNYC is non-profit that focuses on assisting families to buy, maintain and keep their homes through education, counseling and financing.

Working closely with her MBA faculty advisor, green business pioneer Hunter Lovins, Grier poured her energy into launching a new product line. Regulatory tightening of the credit market since the 2008 crash has made it hard for low and moderate-income families to get home loans, so Grier moved her agency into this lending gap.

Working with several regional and foreign banks, she secured several million dollars in financing, and NHSNYC has now gone directly into the first mortgage origination business. This new lending platform created by Grier is anticipated to help hundreds of families who would otherwise be denied the opportunity to gain access to homeownership.

PM_BCEP-MBA_2014_MG_4507_WebResLike Grier, Jessica King also entered the MBA as Executive Director of a non-profit, heading up ASSETS, an economic development organization in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, a town with a crushing poverty rate of 30%. Also like Grier, King spent her MBA capstone rethinking the mission of her organization. Over the course of the program, King expanded ASSETS from a primary focus on job training to offering credit-building microloans, women’s leadership training, social impact innovation programming, and larger scale social enterprise funding.

“I had the privilege of running a living laboratory with ASSETS that I could play with during my MBA. The input from my classmates and instructors was incredibly valuable. Being immersed in concepts around utilizing business for good was essential in completing an organizational rebuild,” says King.

King believes that executing on the complete agenda in her plan while also engaging in new collaborative multi-sector partnerships can cut the poverty rate in Lancaster by half in the next decade. And she is committed to doing it.

Both Grier and King were able to keep working while completing their MBAs, due to Bard’s low-residency structure. Classes meet once each month, from Friday morning to Monday afternoon, complemented by on-line classes every week, on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. That said, Bard’s program is not an “Executive MBA.” Rather, it is a full 60-credit program, with the same breadth of course requirements and skill development opportunities as a conventional two-year residential MBA.

Bard’s low-residency structure supports students, female and male, to better accommodate a work-school-life balance and oftentimes, parenting. So far, two students have had babies during first year of the program—and both did so without missing a single weekend residency!

“At this stage in my life, with two young kids, a partner with a career, and an organization I was committed to rebuilding, I couldn’t relocate or drop everything for a traditional MBA.” King said. “Taking the train to New York once a month was a great way to get out of town, get inspiration, and work ‘on’ ASSETS rather than always being ‘in’ it.”

Other high impact graduates of the class of 2015 include Christine Kennedy, now Sustainability Manager at the engine manufacturer Pratt-Whitney; Rochelle March, who got her “dream job” at the consulting firm SustainAbility; Amy Davila Sanchez who has become Marketing Manager for Best Friends Animal Society-New York City; Whitney Files, now Chief Operating Officer of Harlem Grown, and Hannah Savage, who joined the energy efficiency team at Eversource. Sarah Bodley manages operations at Empowered Women International, while Jessica Ridgway directs a project for the government of Orange County, NY helping ensure food access for low-income communities.


One avenue to success for Bard MBA’s has been through summer internships with EDF’s prestigious Climate Corps. Mariana Souza is one of five Bard graduate women to join the Corps, which placed her with Baxter International in Chicago. There she focused on the company’s sustainability and energy management strategy. Following her internship, Souza was asked to represent the Climate Corps at a special White House meeting in the run up to the Paris COP meetings.

PM_BCEP-MBA_04-11-15_MG_6189_smallFor her capstone, Souza joined with two other MBA’s to launch a sustainability consulting firm: FWD Impact. Building on learnings from their first year consulting class, NYCLab, plus her Climate Corps experience, Souza’s team completed projects for five clients, including Con Edison, SustainAbility and Pharmavite. Souza said she was well prepared to start a new career in consulting: “Launching FWD Impact in my capstone helped me refine my consulting skillset and demonstrated my capacity to manage projects from business development to client delivery.”

In planning her career post-Bard, Souza worked closely with Bard MBA career coach, Shannon Houde. When Souza got a job offer from one consulting firm in April, Houde counseled her to hold out for the job she really wanted. It was good advice. A few weeks later, Souza received an offer to join the Technology Enablement for Power & Utilities practice at KPMG, one of the “big four” consulting firms.

PM_BCEP-MBA_2014_MG_4580_WebResSouza’s classmate, Justine Porter, also completed a high-impact capstone project. At the end of April, Justine organized a “Community Wealth Building summit” in Poughkeepsie, NY, involving more than 200 leaders from the economically distressed community. Introduced by the city mayor, the event brought Presidents from all five of the town’s anchor institutions to brainstorm how the anchors could leverage their purchasing power and hiring practices to support sustainable local development. Porter’s work out of the MBA program will be to drive the local “wealth building” process that her capstone has sparked.

PM_MBA_BCEP_MG_6539_MedResLibby Zemaitas, a 2014 graduate of Bard’s MBA, was recently featured in Careers 2.0, in an article focused on her start-up business. Up Homes is dedicated to providing affordable, sustainable, manufactured housing. Reflecting on why the Bard MBA program is attracting women with the talent and drive to change the world, Zemaitas said:

“The Bard MBA empowered me to found my own company through three key ingredients: building my leadership skills, learning forward-looking business practices, and expanding my network. I used my Capstone to hone my concept for Up Homes, so after graduation, I was well-equipped to make it a real business.”

Posted on 27 May 2016 | 9:56 am

Bard MBA Alum Spearheads Innovative Climate Push at Etsy

Bard MBA Alum Spearheads Innovative Climate Push at Etsy

ChelseaMozen_EtsyBrooklyn, NY– Chelsea Mozen joined the inaugural class of Bard’s MBA in Sustainability program in the fall of 2012 because she wanted to help rewire the world with clean energy.  Today, one year after graduation, Chelsea joined Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson and other team members at the company headquarters to announce a bold, near-term commitment to achieve “carbon neutrality.” The company pledged to transition to 100% renewable electricity by 2020 and grow a thriving, carbon neutral marketplace in the months, years and decades to come.

Etsy is a major internet retailer, specializing in goods created or curated by their 1.6 million sellers. At the heart of the Etsy climate strategy is a revolutionary approach to solar development that Mozen began to develop in her capstone MBA project at Bard. The core idea: Etsy is using carbon finance to help their network of sellers, employees, and other stakeholders install solar.

etsyEtsy’s global warming pollution comes from the energy used in its operations, and the servers that host the company’s web traffic. But as Dickerson explained, the “dirty secret” of internet retailing is that most global warming pollution arises from transporting goods to consumers. Etsy figures that 95% of its climate footprint comes from transportation.

As a Bard MBA student, Chelsea obtained an internship on Etsy’s sustainability team. Through her capstone project, she began to develop the idea for solarizing Etsy sellers as a way to “offset” the pollution coming from transport. Under the new program, Etsy will utilize verified emissions reductions from the solar installations to work toward the goal of net zero emissions. Etsy sellers will receive discounts for the solar systems in exchange for the offsets, which will be priced at the social cost of carbon.

After her internship, Etsy hired Chelsea into a new position as Senior Energy & Carbon Specialist. Over the last two years, working as part of a team at Etsy and with external partners, including the solar firm Geostellar, Chelsea helped shepherd her capstone vision into reality.  Chelsea credits the capstone process at Bard as giving her the time to puzzle through the many obstacles leading to today’s announcement. “Etsy’s mission is an ambitious one: to reimagine commerce in ways that build a more fulfilling and lasting world.” Said Chelsea.  “Being a part of a supportive and creative academic community while developing the initial structure for the Etsy Solar pilot program was not only essential to its success, but also brought us closer to achieving our mission.”

Etsy Solar has huge opportunity to scale. For every 1% of Etsy’s sellers who sign up for the program,  16,000 homes will become solar-powered. Geostellar CEO David Levine also noted that the program will help tilt the playing field back towards household-owned systems installed by local businesses. Many recently installed rooftop systems are in fact owned by large companies through so called Power Purchase Agreements. The emissions reduction discount will also drive solar development in areas where state incentives are lacking.

At the conclusion of today’s announcement, Mozen was asked to take a bow for her  key role in “cracking the code “ that made the carbon neutral commitment possible.  Chelsea continues to dream big. In her volunteer time, she has been working on a multi-year project to bring community owned wind-power to rural communities in Oaxaca, Mexico.  “What I love about Etsy Solar is that it’s really about shared value creation for our community,” said Mozen.  “By working together we can drive responsible solutions to our collective impact.”

The Bard MBA in Sustainability is one of a select few graduate programs globally that fully integrates sustainability into a core business curriculum. At Bard, students work in collaborative teams learning how to build businesses and not-for-profit organizations that combine economic, environmental, and social objectives into an integrated bottom line that creates both healthier businesses and a more sustainable world. Graduates of the Bard MBA are transforming existing companies, starting their own, and pioneering a new paradigm of doing business that meets human needs, protects and restores the Earth’s systems, and treats all stakeholders with justice and respect.

Posted on 22 April 2016 | 11:12 am

Bard MBA Winter Newsletter

Bard MBA Winter Newsletter

We’ve had an exciting fall and winter at the Bard MBA in Sustainability and are happy to bring you our latest updates in our quarterly newsletter. Enclosed you’ll find lots of great news on the activities of our students, alumni and faculty—who are leading the change towards a sustainable future. We’ll also update you on our upcoming events and bimonthly podcasts.

First, we’d like to introduce and welcome our new Assistant Director of Bard MBA, Caroline Ramaley. In addition to her role as a professor in the Communications, Leadership, and Capstone Sequence, Caroline has helped administer the Bard Center for Environmental Policy for ten years. We are thrilled to have her join the Bard MBA team!
Bard’s MBA program, in the heart of NYC, is one of a select few programs globally that fully integrates sustainability into a core business curriculum. Please let qualified applicants know about our:

  • 2016 admissions deadlines: 3/15 (for scholarship priority) and 5/15 (final deadline)
  • Spring NYC Open House—Wednesday April 27th, from 6:00-8:00 p.m.
  • Upcoming weekend residency visits—these are a great chance to experience our classes and meet students and faculty
  • New option to enable international student enrollment

Students, Faculty, Alumni Leading the Change

Bard MBAs Participate in Case Competitions
Two student teams have recently tested their skills in case competitions:

Simon Fischweicher, Reuben Goldstein Mariana Souza and Martín Lemos (all ’16) traveled to Boulder, Colorado to compete as one of 24 finalist teams in the Net Impact Case Competition, the premiere MBA competition focused on solving real-world sustainability business cases. This year’s competition case centered on impact investing and how foundations can use program-related investments to fulfill part of their charitable distribution requirement.

Nour Shaikh ‘16, Brooke Forde ‘16, Gwen Jones, and Jen Shelbo ’17 are submitting their proposal in the third annual Nespresso Sustainability MBA Challenge at the end of this month. Their charge is to come up with fresh, creative ideas for Nespresso’s Creating Shared Value Strategy.  The team is coached by Lily Russell, Leading Change professor.

Bard MBAs in the Press

Amy Kalafa ’16 blogged for LinkedIn Pulse about how promoting employee engagement can help turn around Connecticut’s slow economic growth.
Miles Crettien’s ’15 Brooklyn-based aquaponics startup was featured in Foragers.
Tony Nogales ’16, a professor at the Culinary Institute of America, has an article coming out in the next issue of Nutrition and Foodservice Edge Magazine.

Bard MBAs Speak Out
Mariana Souza ’16, was invited to the White House in November for a roundtable discussion on climate change. As a 2015 EDF Climate Corps Fellow at Baxter International, she was invited to represent Environmental Defense Fund, Climate Corps Fellowship, and Defend Our Future. She was able to share practical tools and resources with undergraduate sustainability and climate student leaders as well as the university presidents in attendance.

Cindy Wasser ’18 will present at the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) Building Performance conference at the end of February, and Tony Nogales ’16 will speak at the “Menus of Change: The Business of Healthy, Sustainable, Delicious Food Choices” leadership summit this June.

Bard MBAs on the Move
Gwen Jones, current MBA student, travelled to Oaxaca, Mexico with Bard CEP’s January-term class.  She joined CEP Environmental Policy Monique Segarra and a team of eight CEP students to evaluate the process of water reform in the Central Valleys region of Southern Mexico.

Libby Murphy Zemaitis, MS/MBA ’14, closed a $50K pre-seed investment for the company she started while at Bard, Up Homes, and is currently fundraising to manufacture a model home in the Hudson Valley. Libby’s Bard MBA classmate, Robert Ransick ‘14, leads branding and development for the company.

pictured: Uphomes prototype

Justine Porter ’16 is organizing a conference in Poughkeepsie, New York on April 22, 2016 focusing on building community wealth. The event, produced for her Bard MBA Capstone Project, will bring together community stakeholders to discuss and create a shared vision of economic development for the city.

Congratulations! to our students and alums who’ve taken new mission-driven jobs: Martín Lemos ’16 as an Associate in Advisory Services at BSR, Cindy Wasser ’18 as an Outreach and Marketing Specialist at ICF International, Bernell Grier ’15 as Vice President and Director of  Affordable Housing Program Operations at FHLBNY, Whitney Files ’15 as Chief Operating Officer at Harlem Grows, Jessica Ridgeway ’15 as a Planner at the Orange County, NY, Planning Department, and Sarah Bodley ’15 as Operations Manager at Empowered Women International.

Bard MBA Faculty in Action
Lily Russell, Bard MBA Leading Change professor, teamed up with Mariana Souza ’16 to take her “Explain the Chain” website live. Lily’s Explain the Chain movement ignites curiosity in kids about where things come from and go.

Bard MBA Career Coach Shannon Houde delivered the keynote at Hitachi Europe’s Women’s Interactive Network Summit this past November, and she recently published several articles on sustainability and career development, including “Beyond the Big Four: 12 Sustainability Consultancies to Watch in 2016” in Triple Pundit.

In partnership with Central Hudson and Energize NY, a local NGO, Gautam Sethi, Bard MBA Economics professor, will launch a new project on the drivers of household participation in energy efficiency programs. His work is funded by NYSERDA and began at the end of February.

The second edition of Bard MBA Employees and Organizations professor Jeana Wirtenberg’s edited volume, The Sustainable Enterprise Fieldbook: When It All Comes Together, is now available for pre-order. In other news, Jeana will moderate a panel discussion on “Business Risk & Human Rights Risk” at the Skytop Strategies Symposium on Labor, Human Rights and Sustained Company Performance  hosted by Bard MBA in June 2016.

Kathy Hipple, Bard MBA Sustainable Finance professor, has recently joined the Innovation Hub for Resilient Design, an initiative that will fuel economic development around green building systems in VT, MA and NH by creating high-value jobs.

Public Programming

Our Sustainable Business Fridays live noon-time podcast series is in full swing, with exciting discussions in the pipeline. The next podcast, on March 18th, will feature MBA student Alexandra Santiago ‘16 interviewing Talya Bosch of Western Union. Later this semester, we will be joined by Michelle WisemanSilda Wall Spitzer and Latrice Ross. We convene on the first and fourth Fridays of the month, so check out our events calendar and dial in to be part of the conversation!

Bard MBA and Impact Hub, our NYC home, continue to partner to produce a monthly Friday night Sustainable Business Series. These talks and networking events are open to the public.  Join us for our final talk of the semester on March 11th at 6 p.m. with Ron Meissen of Baxter International.


Help Us Find Future Leaders

As we recruit our next group of students to rewire the world with clean energy, reimagine the global food system and reinvent finance, we invite you to be part of the process. Please let folks who want to be part of this work know how to applyto join us.

Working Together + Staying in Touch

Don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you want to learn more about our MBA program, partner on a project, or hire our students. We would love to hear from you.

Posted on 7 March 2016 | 10:19 am




“Uniting big companies with small green businesses, community by community, will infuse our state with new energy and excitement.”

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A look at some striking rankings for Connecticut’s economy offers insight for a sustainable business solution.

As a state resident, and small business owner, I find it alarming that we currently rank 48th in economic growth in the US. This dismal stat is surprising in light of the fact that Connecticut places #1 in per capita income ($70,000 / household in 2015). It would seem then that this income is not being spent in the local economy.

Bear with me for one more set of numbers: A Gallup poll of Employee Engagement, which is a measurement of workforce satisfaction, reports that on average, 69% of workers nationally are not engaged or are actively disengaged in their work. Among the fifty US states, Connecticut comes in 48th on this list as well, with close to 80% of employees not engaged in their work!

Whether ranking 48th in economic woes as well as employee engagement is a coincidence or not, there’s a significant relationship between business success and a happy workforce. So significant, in fact, that Deloitte’s 2015 Global Human Capital Trends survey reveals “…employee engagement and culture issues (are) the no.1 challenge companies face.” The report concludes, “In an era of heightened corporate transparency, greater workforce mobility, and severe skills shortages, culture, engagement, and retention have emerged as top issues for business leaders.” These issues are even more crucial for Connecticut’s business leaders who are struggling to regain their competitive edge against states with a friendlier business climate.


What is an Engaged Employee?

An engaged employee is someone who approaches their workday with enthusiasm, effort and energy. Author and sustainable business guru Kevin Wilhelm describes employee engagement as work that satisfies the “head, heart and hands.” Employees want to see their values aligned with company mission and goals. Especially for millennials, a sense of purpose at work outside of financial gain is important. They want an emotional attachment to their work and the company. Job satisfaction surveys point to several additional factors, among them, opportunities for networking outside of one’s immediate team, good quality relationships between staff and management, and work-life balance.


Benefits of Engaged Employees

Another Gallup study reported the impact employee engagement has on company performance and found the following percentage gaps between the bottom and top quartiles of engagement:

16% in profitability

18% in productivity

12% in customer loyalty

60% increase in quality (fewer defects)

49% decrease in safety incidents

37% decrease in absenteeism

These numbers are based on surveys of large publicly held corporations with workforces numbering in the hundreds up to tens of thousands. In this sector, companies with high marks for employee engagement also enjoyed 29% above average shareholder returns. With that great an advantage, business leaders should be taking notice, and they are. The challenge lies in developing meaningful engagement initiatives that don’t create additional burdens.


Sustainable Living Expos

My partners and I looked at Connecticut’s twin problems of slow economic growth and low employee engagement and came up with a turnkey solution that promotes several key employee engagement aspects and will help spark the state’s economy by channeling spending back into the local economy.

We are well connected with a large network of Connecticut-based green businesses, mostly small and mid-sized companies.   We’ve heard the folks running these businesses – farmers, inventors, restaurateurs, manufacturers, retailers, builders, designers, etc. – all complain about the lack of a cohesive ecosystem in which to market their goods and services. Our firm’s aim is to create a sustainable business ecosystem in Connecticut, and this perspective gave us the idea of connecting these green businesses directly to larger companies that are looking to foster a culture of sustainability among their employees.

Sustainable Living Expos are themed events that take place onsite at companies of 200+ employees. We designed the Expos as a monthly or bi-monthly fun and educational series that take place during lunch break or after work. Themes include Food & Beverage, Energy & Transportation, Home Maintenance & Renovation, Yard & Garden, Wellness & Personal Care, Travel & Leisure. A select group of vendors share samples, explain their product differentiation and offer coupons and other incentives for ongoing interactions. Each Expo also includes related non-profit organizations offering opportunities to volunteer and support their work.

We customize a mobile event app for employees, exhibitors, and organizers to communicate, navigate, and engage with one another. The visitor experience is interactive and includes cross-functional team building challenges; employees can check in with each exhibitor, answer questions to earn points for their team, compete for prizes, request follow up from and rate exhibitors, book mark content, ask questions, answer surveys, and share content with other employees. Staff gains exposure to leading-edge technology, environmentally friendly products, energy saving solutions, child-safe home care, delicious locally sourced food and innovations in everything from Ayurveda to Zeroscaping.

We provide event data that measures and reports engagement and impact, revealing valuable insight into employee behavior and interests.


Benefits to Employees

Hosting a series of Sustainable Living Expos demonstrates the importance of sustainability to the core values of a company. A focus on sustainability gets everyone on the same page and excited about working for a greater good. It creates emotional connections among participants from different departments and ranks. The emphasis on sustainable lifestyle nurtures work-life balance; personal, community and planetary health and a sense of shared values. The Expos engage employees with new information, tools and insight that empower them to become thought leaders in their own social networks and inspire them to apply principles of sustainability to innovations at work.

The impact of a series of Expos is long lasting. Employees discover new resources and leisure activities right in their own communities. They discover exciting and cost-effective ways to lower their carbon footprint and lower their greenhouse gas emissions while supporting local businesses and doing good locally and globally.


Benefits to the Host Company

A report jointly produced by GreenBiz and The National Environmental Education Fund found that: “Front-line employees are often in the best position to identify inefficiencies and propose improvements. Environmental & Sustainability education of employees can improve profitability by supporting greater efficiency through less waste, water and energy usage”

Engaging employees through Sustainable Living Expos embeds sustainability into corporate culture and integrates sustainable principles throughout the workforce, linking the firm’s brand with a positive employee brand. Networking with local vendors and mission-driven businesses helps companies grow deeper roots, cultivates stakeholder relationships, keeps dollars in the community and provides jobs, all while enhancing profitability through employee retention, engagement and empowerment. The visibility of the Expos makes them a terrific vehicle for storytelling as well as delivering metrics that can roll up into reporting and PR, which in turns attracts smarter and more loyal employees.

Measurable outcomes and stories include:

Home energy efficiency improvements

Lower commuter miles and gas consumption with electric vehicles, ride shares and telecommuting

Lower C02 and GHG emissions from purchasing locally and changing eating habits

Fewer food miles

Less food waste

Less packaging waste

More local jobs

Small business growth

More creative and innovative workforce


Benefits to exhibitors

Companies demonstrate sustainability and support the local economy by sourcing locally and encouraging their employees to do the same. Sustainable Living Expos enable green businesses to showcase their goods and services to a guaranteed audience of motivated attendees. By inclusion in the Expos, vendors are differentiated from their competitors. They have opportunities to network with other like-minded businesses, capture leads, build loyalty, brand their business in the sustainable business marketplace and become part of a local sustainable business ecosystem.


Benefits to Managers and HR

The GreenBiz / National Environmental Education Fund report calculates that:

“Losing and replacing a good employee costs companies between 70%– 200% of an employee’s annual salary” and that “employee engagement has resulted in increased employee loyalty, more company pride, and improved morale.”

Management and HR often bear the brunt of employee dis-engagement, finding themselves scrambling to keep up with job vacancies and stop-gap measures. In Connecticut, more workers are moving out than in, and even in a slow-growth economy, it can be difficult to fill vacant positions with qualified personnel – especially when other state economies are growing faster. Companies with engaged employees have notable advantages such as:

Talent attraction and retention

Faster recruiting

Fewer open jobs

Loyalty, company pride, improved morale

Our team aims to break the cycle of disengagement and crisis management with a turn-key solution that doesn’t create more work for company staff. We design each Sustainable Living Expo series around the specific needs, tastes and demands of each of our corporate clients, and then take the burden off their shoulders.



We’re taking a grass-roots approach to Connecticut’s economic woes. Uniting big companies with small green businesses, community by community, we will infuse our state with new (renewable) energy and excitement. By marrying employee engagement to sustainability and community engagement, corporate sustainability culture is strengthened, employees are empowered, the local economy develops and there is synergistic impact. This is not only good for business, it just is good business.




Wilhelm, Kevin. Making Sustainability Stick, 2014. Pearson Education, Inc.

Posted on 4 March 2016 | 1:43 pm

Why Plan a Conference? – What the Poughkeepsie Community Wealth-Building Summit is all about

Why Plan a Conference? – What the Poughkeepsie Community Wealth-Building Summit is all about

During the Spring 2015 semester, Ted Howard, the Executive Director of the Democracy Collaborative, joined one of the online evening classes at the Bard MBA in Sustainability. The last thing that I expected that night was for this lecture to dramatically alter the course of the next year of my life.

It was 7:00pm. I’d just come home from working all day and in all honesty, I was ready to zone out. As the lecture went on, however, I found myself enthralled, taking notes and writing down questions. As my roommates walked by and overheard some of the conversation, they sat down on the couch next to me to listen in.

So, what was the lecture about?

In 2012, the Ohio Department of Public Health reported that the average life expectancy for an African American male in some parts of Cleveland was 64 years old, whereas average life expectancy for white men who lived in the suburbs of the city were 88.5 years. The Democracy Collaborative, an organization founded to address these inequalities by using innovative strategies to build community within neighborhoods, undertook an initiative to change those numbers.

In the face of such statistics, how can an individual or an organization create real change? The answer: by alleviating poverty rates through employment opportunities.

The Cleveland-based group partnered with area hospitals and universities to analyze spending patterns and identify ways in which the institutions could source some of their products and services locally.

The study revealed a number of opportunities. For example, all area hospitals were shipping their laundry outside of the city to be washed. They established an industrial, LEED-certified laundromat and created a number of jobs that paid a living wage.



The group then identified that the majority of lettuce purchased by hospitals and colleges was shipped in from across the country. They opened a greenhouse to grow those products locally.

Together, the laundromat, the greenhouse and several other businesses that cater to hospitals and colleges in the city of Cleveland are known as the Evergreen Cooperatives.

By building businesses that are local and cater to local economic engines, the Evergreen Cooperatives creates stability not only for the individuals who are employed, but also for the larger economy as a whole.

Over the course of the lecture, I couldn’t help but wonder, could this model work in the city of Poughkeepsie?

Though smaller in size, our city, our economy and our statistics are not too different than those in Cleveland.

Photo Credit: Xuewu Zheng

Photo Credit: Xuewu Zheng

30% of commercial spaces on Main Street are vacant. Overall, the Hudson Valley News Network estimates that there is over one million square feet of vacant office space within the city. 30% of city residents have lived below the poverty line in the last year. In a city of 30,000, that means that 9,000 individuals live below the poverty line.

In light of the examples from Cleveland, when faced with the statistics above, the question that we need to be asking is this –

How can we spark collaboration between the city government, county government, city school districts, four colleges and plethora of small businesses and non-for-profit organizations that call Poughkeepsie home?

The Poughkeepsie Community Wealth-Building Summit is our answer to that question. This is our opportunity to start the conversation – to look at how cities such as Cleveland have successfully created employment opportunities by engaging area anchor institutions, to brainstorm with employees of local organizations on ways to increase their involvement, to encourage everyone in the room to view the statistics not as a barrier to success, but as an opportunity to build upon it.

Check out the agenda for the summit here.

Interested in attending? E-mail us at

Photo Credit: Xuewu Zheng

Photo Credit: Xuewu Zheng

Posted on 2 March 2016 | 12:52 pm

The Carbon Pawprint

While gauging my carbon footprint with an online calculator, I look down at my bluetick coonhound, Elvis, and wonder what his carbon pawprint is. Nearby, his buddy Alice, a black and tan coonhound, snores through it all.

Let’s see: They don’t drive; they’ve never flown on airplanes; their trash consists of the one or two plastic bags I use to pick up their poop every day. They each eat two cups daily of high-quality (a code word for “expensive”) dog food.

I Google “carbon footprint of dogs” and am bombarded with a series of responses to a 7-year-old book that claims one pet dog has the same “ecological footprint” — the amount of land needed to produce the energy consumed — as a large SUV driven 10,000 miles a year. The book was written by two New Zealand professors named Robert and Brenda Vale, and it’s titled: “Time to Eat the Dog?

I look down at Elvis and think: not tasty.

Turns out the book devotes only 28 of its 350 pages to pets. The main argument is that the meat consumed by dogs requires a large amount of land to produce. The rest charts all the other areas of our lives that contribute to our ecological footprints.  Clearly, the dog part is a marketing tool.  And I think it’s a bunch of BS.

Elvis’ and Alice’s food has an average animal protein content of less than 25 percent — depending on what flavor is in stock at my local pet store, that would be salmon, lamb, chicken or beef. But for argument’s sake, and to give the Kiwis a fighting chance, let’s assume my dogs are each eating two cups of raw meat a day, or about one pound each.  According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), it takes 13.5 kilograms (almost 30 pounds) of carbon to produce and transport one pound of beef. For each dog, that would total 2,168 tons per year. According to the EWG, a large SUV emits about 11,000 tons per year if driven 1,200 miles per month.

That figure does not include the footprint of manufacturing that SUV in the first place, which would make the figure skyrocket. And remember that my dog food calculations are based on a dog eating one pound a day of raw meat. No matter how much my dogs would like to keep a side of beef in the fridge, in truth, their dog food is made of grains, cereals and “tasty” meat byproducts — meaning the parts of the animal, such as sinew, bones, eyeballs and skin — that many people wouldn’t touch. So, in effect, my dogs are piggybacking on other people’s carbon footprints by eating the throwaway meat that’s discarded from the steaks and burgers.

So now Elvis can rest easy, and Alice can continue to snore. I will feed them again in the morning — and not to myself. As they crunch away, I’ll bask in my superior status as a dog lover, knowing that cat litter often is made from strip-mined clay. No joke.

By Stephen P. Williams MBA ’17 is a published author of both fiction and non-fiction.  You may follow his musings @stephenwilliams on Twitter.

This article was originally published on on February 23rd, 2016.

The Bard MBA in Sustainability focuses on the business case for sustainability. We train students to see how firms can integrate economic, environmental, and social objectives, the triple Bottom Line, to create successful businesses that build a more sustainable world. Graduates of the Bard MBA Program will transform existing companies, start their own businesses, and pioneer new ways of operating that meet human needs, while protecting and restoring the earth’s natural systems. The Bard MBA is a low-residency program structured around “weekend intensives” with regular online instruction between these residencies. Five of these intensives are held each term: four in the heart of New York City and one in the Hudson Valley. Residencies take place over four days, beginning Friday morning, and ending Monday afternoon. Learn more today.

Posted on 29 February 2016 | 2:03 pm

On the Trail of The B Team

On the Trail of The B Team

Two years ago, 14 titans of industry came together and vowed to overcome the massive global challenges standing in the face of prosperity — theirs and everyone else’s. They called themselves the B Team. They were inspired by the work of Lester Brown and the B Corp movement, which takes as a self-evident truth that purpose, not profit, must form the foundation of any business that wants to stick around. B also stands for Plan B — a contingency plan for businesses operating on a planet in danger.

600302_477920335628539_1016951013_n-650x650The B Team formed after a series of workshops with civil society leaders, systems experts, sustainability pioneers, economists and entrepreneurs. The founders included Richard Branson of Virgin Airlines, Jochen Zeitz of the Kering luxury goods group, Guilherme Leal of Brazil’s Natura, Ratan Tata of the Indian multinational behemoth that bears his name, Arianna Huffington of online journalism fame, Paul Polman of Unilever, Mo Ibrahim of Celtel Intl in Africa, and seven others.

Faced with the prospect of more than 9 billion people on planet Earth by 2050, and a diminishing supply of natural resources, these leaders saw a world that would too soon be unable to sustain human life, much less the businesses that connect the human population.

They understood that business had been a major driver of these increasingly catastrophic results — and that the current take-make-waste paradigm of business was irreparably damaging the planetary theater in which it operated. They believed that, since business screwed it up, business had to fix it.

Beyond damage control, however, they believed that effective social and environmental stewardship had become sine qua non to enduring financial success. When fully executed, the new paradigm would enable businesses to thrive, not just to survive. They developed a systemic approach to changing the nature of business — setting an ambitious, impressive, even awesome, set of goals to be implemented throughout their companies:

Two years in, how are they doing? What impact have they had?

A year ago, Jo Confino, writing for the Guardian, called for more than press releases. He expressed concern about lack of funding. On their website, the B Team claims a phenomenal response to their challenges: Through 2014, over 1,200 Plan B kickoff events took place in more than 470 cities and 73 countries, giving shape to their plan. They have 14,500 Twitter followers and regularly provide a digest of news and events in the sector, a kind of Flipboard of the movement. In September 2015, the group staged a conference with passionate presentations by renowned scientists, CEOs, policy leaders and heads of global NGOs.

B Team members have received a great deal of attention in media and at key events. They’ve forged partnerships with organizations like the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and Ashoka, a leader in the social enterprise movement. They’ve joined the 2015 B20 Anti-Corruption Task Force. They’re good storytellers.

They formed partnerships with Transparency International, Global Witness, Global Financial Integrity and OpenCorporates, creating a working group to drive transparency. In January 2015, the B Team presented their Plan B for Business at Davos and committed to annual updates on its performance. They’ve sent an open letter to Christiana Figueres of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, calling for radical progress at COP21in Paris, and now celebrate that.

Is this enough? Are they preaching only to their choir? Will they bring skeptical corporate peers into the fold?

The B Team is targeting its own cohort: mega-corporations arguably more capable of rapid, transformative change than the forces of governments, NGOs or social movements. Many of their executive peers, however, are highly incentivized to conduct business as usual. In their world, intentions are laudable, but results count.

Targets can be set and metrics defined differently — even radically differently — but to persuade the most recalcitrant, the targets must be hit. B Team leaders must provide hard evidence, both quantitative and qualitative, that their paradigm is working inside their own companies.

In the long run, that evidence will secure and hold the attention of their peers and make believers out of those from the religion of growth for growth’s sake, at any cost. They say on their site that they will do this, as part of their future plans. If it can deliver, the B Team will play a crucial role in the unfolding drama of our struggling planet. Let’s stay tuned.

By Gwenyth Jones a student in the Bard MBA in Sustainability program, transitioning from a career in publishing and digital services. Originally published by on February 9th, 2016.

The Bard MBA in Sustainability focuses on the business case for sustainability. We train students to see how firms can integrate economic, environmental, and social objectives, the triple Bottom Line, to create successful businesses that build a more sustainable world. Graduates of the Bard MBA Program will transform existing companies, start their own businesses, and pioneer new ways of operating that meet human needs, while protecting and restoring the earth’s natural systems. The Bard MBA is a low-residency program structured around “weekend intensives” with regular online instruction between these residencies. Five of these intensives are held each term: four in the heart of New York City and one in the Hudson Valley. Residencies take place over four days, beginning Friday morning, and ending Monday afternoon. Learn more today.

Posted on 23 February 2016 | 1:45 pm

Alumni Spotlight: Jessica King, MBA ’15

Alumni Spotlight: Jessica King, MBA ’15

Jess King HeadshotBefore joining Bard’s second class of MBA students, Jessica King had an already accomplished career in community economic development. In addition to her work cultivating future generations of community leaders by serving as an executive director for a service-learning program in Pittsburgh, PA, King also founded The Union Project in 2001, a social enterprise organization.

After 15 years in the field, King was looking for a program that would allow her to stretch the bounds of conventional community development. “I was really interested in becoming more business-minded,” said King. “I was referred to the Bard MBA in Sustainability program because of its integrative, bottom-up approach to business administration. I was able to apply what I was learning in the program directly to my work.”

Bard MBA’s curriculum is specifically tailored to apply classroom knowledge to current industry challenges and its low-residency structure allows its students the flexibility to maintain a career while earning their degree. “While at Bard I was really thankful for the flexibility that allowed me to focus. I was motivated by the stimulation of the innovative classwork and faculty. It’s a very forward-thinking, exciting place to learn.”

King centered her capstone project on alternative finance for social enterprise with the ambition to transform communities through business. King’s project utilized low interest rate loans and flexible terms to invest in a job-creating social enterprises. Her research had a real-life application in a social venture investment in The Lancaster Food Company through ASSETS, the nonprofit organization King directs. This bakery supplies Whole Foods and co-ops from D.C. to New York with baked goods, but more importantly, they create jobs for low-income individuals. The impact generated by alternative finance investments is the focus of King’s work, even after her capstone project. As the Executive Director at ASSETS, she continues to implement alternative finance strategies to grow economic opportunities and cultivate entrepreneurial leadership to alleviate poverty in central Pennsylvania.

ASSETS also uses a microlending concept they call Lending Circles to build credit and peer-to-peer economic support in the community. Lending Circles provide capital to entrepreneurs with challenged credit or limited collateral. Each member of the Lending Circle signs a group guarantee – which means the group is responsible if a member defaults on their loans. The fixed 9% interest rates are low, and the members receive valuable peer support and advice. King has already started to see revitalization in the community. “We’re starting to see traction and a growing awareness about the realities of poverty. There is support and collaboration behind this kind of work now that is very exciting,” said King. “It’s both rewarding and challenging to address economic resiliency and sustainability in the community. Going forward we also need the community gain a deeper understanding of the power each person has as a consumer by influencing what kind of businesses succeed. There is a great deal of individual choice that can be exercised that contributes to social, environmental, and economic change.”

Posted on 22 February 2016 | 11:52 am

Paper Company Fibria on Rethinking Forest Use

By Mariana Souza MBA ’16

The following Q&A is an edited excerpt from a Sustainable Business Fridays conversation Nov. 20 by the Bard MBA in Sustainability program, based in New York City. This twice-monthly dial-in conversation features sustainability leaders from across the globe. 

SustainAbility’s latest research Model Behavior II: Strategies to Rewire Business outlines key forces influencing business model innovation for sustainability, the pivotal role of company culture to foster innovation, and distinct actions that internal innovators can undertake to advance the development of more sustainable business models.

Featuring in-depth case studies about large, multinational companies, this report demonstrates how Fortune 500 companies can innovate their business models for sustainability. The first case study is that of Fibria, a multinational pulp and paper company that successfully has changed company mindsets about how to use its forest assets, and is diversifying to become a sustainable land and forest steward.

Cristiano Resende de Oliveira is a sustainability consultant at Fibria. Rochelle March is an analyst at SustainAbility and a graduate of the Bard MBA in Sustainability.

Bard MBARochelle, why don’t you introduce the SustainAbility paper, Model Behavior II: Strategies to Rewire Business.  

Rochelle March: Within the broader business community, there is a sense that implementing and integrating sustainability will take something away from the business — like resources or profits. While there are exceptions, that is often the assumption. Our research addressed the question: How can a company inherently generate its revenue in a way that is just most sustainable in general? Last year we released a report, Model Behavior, where we surveyed the landscape to find different business models. Some models you have heard of: crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, buy-one-give-one, closed loop or bottom of the pyramid.

We found that most of these business model innovations were happening at small and medium enterprises, not at large Fortune 500 firms. This is a problem for a number of reasons. For large companies, they are experiencing increasing competition and changing consumers preferences that are disrupting the marketplace. For society, we need entities with scale and impact to be involved in the transition to a more sustainable future.

Model Behavior II began with the intention to inspire these large firms to undergo business model innovation identified in the first report Model Behavior: 20 Business Model Innovations for Sustainability. We found that external conditions and internal business culture can influence this shift. External conditions might be constraints such as climate change, resource scarcity and fluctuations in commodity markets — or areas of momentum — like digitization and the sharing economy. In the context of external conditions, the business culture must also be open to innovate, to communicate, to collaborate. We found that there is often a need for senior leadership to push forward a sustainability agenda that advances innovation. Individuals also play a role in identifying changing landscapes and inspiring conversations about innovation at their company.

Bard MBACristiano, Fibria is a featured case study in the Model Behavior II report. Tell us about Fibria’s external conditions that inspired your sustainability agenda. Who are your stakeholders and what are the environmental, social and financial factors that led to business model innovation?

Cristiano Oliveira: Fibria is part of a long value chain and produces pulp for tissue and paper for an international market. We manage 800,000 hectares of forest assets in approximately 250 Brazilian municipalities to produce short-fiber Eucalyptus pulp.

Due to our significant landholding, we have direct contact and impact on numerous communities in Brazil. Our customers are paper producers, and our customers’ customers are retailers and other distributors. We are quite sensitive to the sustainability pressures that are asserted at the beginning of this value chain, particularly from NGOs and consumer associations to retailers to our customers, and from those customers to us.

It’s important to talk about what happened in the ’90s and early 2000s. It was quite clear to NGOs that an inroad to social and environmental issues was the concept of traceability. How does the item that is sold in Europe get there? How is it produced and under what sort of conditions?

There was significant concern amongst European and American NGOs about deforestation and human rights related to production of forest products. There was a rise of forest certifications, such as FSC and PEFC, that were intended to provide eco-labels for products sold in supermarkets. NGOs put pressure on retailers at the beginning of the value chain to offer products with eco-labels, which put pressure on paper producers, which then put pressure on the pulp producers.

Certifications asked pulp producers to demonstrate conformity with NGO and consumer association expectations about social and environmental management of forests. This was one of the biggest shifts for sustainability for our industry. It was not philanthropy, but instead went hand-in-hand with business strategy and business management.

Bard MBAWhat conditions existed in your senior leadership that allowed for innovation in response to these external pressures?

Oliveira: Fibria’s story is interesting because it starts with the disruption of the business itself. Fibria was started in a time of crisis. One company bought the other in a complicated merger and integration of systems, financials and two disparate cultures in 2009. This creation of a new company led to an opportunity to rethink what the business would look like. The companies that formed Fibria, Aracruz Celulose and Votorantim Celulose e Papel, were both very focused on production. Their missions were to be the biggest, brightest, best pulp producers in the world.

At the birth of a new business, Fibria had a chance to rethink what it meant to be a pulp producer in Brazil. The conclusion at the highest levels of governance internally was that there was an opportunity to think of the company as more than a pulp producer and become a forest company with expertise, skillsets and the wealth of research from four decades of forest management. Fibria wants to be a forest company which produces pulp, but with an intelligence around the forest.

Thinking of a global transition, what are the megatrends? We are in an important year for climate change, and we see a shift in the economy towards bio-products, discussions of climate change. We had discussions internally about culture and company identify in these contexts. It led senior leadership to rethink the strategic mandate and go beyond pulp production. It is a huge shift for a pulp producer to think about other businesses. In terms of production we know forests, but for marketing, we know pulp. We had to bring in different partners, experts and stakeholders to discuss what a shift would look like.

Bard MBAWhat steps has Fibria taken to shift how your business model manages natural, social and financial capital?

Oliveira: The decision to change the business to a forest producer from a pulp producer — without changing our assets — may seem like a subtle distinction. However, it is a huge change in terms of mindset for the business model. We see our assets in a different light. Land that was not ideal for Eucalyptus to produce pulp can now be considered for alternative uses that can add more value to our company and to society.

An innovation committee was created in alignment with our sustainability committee. The company is looking at new factors and opportunities that are relevant world wide to forest products and the positioning of the company. We have a target to shift our business model to increase production of non-pulp products, such as biofuels, bioplastics, sustainable land development or other forest products.

We also have to think differently about how to manage social capital, trust and relationships with neighboring communities. As a company that occupies a lot of space and a lot of landmass, we need to be attuned to the needs of communities and go beyond pure philanthropy. We shifted our posture away from a reactive and defensive one to one where we constantly seek feedback from our stakeholders. We become a better and more robust company when we have constructive conversations with our stakeholders. We have become a company with a social license to operate and face adversity with better tools.

Bard MBA: How is business model innovation fundamentally different than having a CSR or sustainability agenda, for Fibria and other businesses?

March: Innovation can sometimes be captured within the box of technological innovation. Technology is important, but we will have to innovate on business models to generate capital sustainably. One of the tools that Fibria used to look at risk and opportunity identification was extensively mapping stakeholders and the business model. They used these diagnostic tools to articulate where the company was, and was not, providing value for communities and customers. Fibria is evolving into a company of the future and providing a new possibility for the industry.

Oliveira: Previously, sustainability has been seen as a form of protection of values and as a risk mitigation strategy. The Model Behavior II research points at a very different direction. The company can look at sustainability beyond the realm of risk mitigation and into the realm of generating value and creating of opportunities. That is obviously much more exciting.

Bard MBA: What are the most important skillsets and qualities for those who want to make a big change to a company and drive a sustainability agenda?

Oliveira: You must have the capacity for empathy. We are talking about business and it always creates impact and our stakeholders have differing perceptions of those impacts. The capacity to understand our stakeholders’ arguments and how to engage in a constructive dialogue is good for both parties.

The second aspect is the capacity is to see things systemically. Sustainability is never just two aspects or two variables; it is always a more complex picture of interdependent sectors. It is quite rare to have that quality and is an important one to develop.

Posted on 9 February 2016 | 11:35 am

What’s Old is New Again: The Future of Mass Transit in New York City

What’s Old is New Again: The Future of Mass Transit in New York City

brooklyn-79256_1280When New York City was incorporated into the five boroughs in 1898, Manhattan was the heart and business and economic center of the metropolis.

As mass transit and other infrastructure was built, all roads and subway lines led to midtown, often at the expense of better connecting neighborhoods within the outer boroughs and better connecting the outer boroughs to one another.

New York has always prided itself on its mass transit, but any New Yorker will bemoan the pitfalls of daily commuting: overcrowding, delays, litter and more. Despite a population that continues to grow, the city and state resist the New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority’s requests for more funding, and commutes become longer and less bearable.

In a city with expanding population and business centers, it’s important for the government to create new transportation routes to keep up with the rapidly changing economy.

How we used to get around

A hundred years ago, New Yorkers got around by bike, streetcar, ferry, and, in some places, by subway. The subway revolutionized transit in New York and ultimately expanded to each borough. By the 1950s bus lines replaced streetcar lines, cars took over the streets and cycling, as a mode of commuting, was deemed unsafe.

The rent is too damn high! Soon only the oligarchs and billionaires will be able to live in Manhattan. Increasingly, the people that make the city great are living outside of Manhattan and even moving beyond the furthest reaches of the city limits.

With industries and smaller businesses no longer able to afford Manhattan rents, business centers and hubs of innovation are now located in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, Long Island City, Queens and the South Bronx.

Unfortunately, mass transit options have not kept up with the changing city. It makes good business sense to capitalize on connecting us to one another without adding additional cars, or buses, to our already congested roads.

Transportation alternatives

Bike lanes are a low cost way to allow people who do not live near mass transit to get from point a to point b. It has been shown that bike lanes calm traffic and that bike parking and bike share appeal to local businesses because they enable additional customer access and sales.

As a city of islands, it makes sense to utilize our blue highway in further moving our residents around. The City has an ambitious plan to begin East River ferry service to the South Bronx, Astoria, Queens, Roosevelt Island, Red Hook, Brooklyn, Rockaway and elsewhere by 2017. The program will complement existing ferry routes and restore ferry service to the Hallets Cove Area of Astoria, Queens, which ironically lost its ferry in 1936 when the Triborough Bridge opened. The ferry will cost the same as a ride on the subway and will serve communities that already have dense populations, are far from the subway and slated for large population increases because of proposed residential development.

Delays on the Second Avenue subway and the exorbitant cost of building additional subway lines show that the idea of expanding the subway network in New York is a pipe dream. Adding tracks at street level may be a cheaper and better way to go. The idea for a new light rail would utilize tracks embedded on existing streets the same way streetcars used to move people around. There is a proposal to add a light rail line connecting Sunset Park in Brooklyn to Astoria in Queens.

To keep up with a rapidly changing city economy and population, the relative low cost of expanded ferry service, bike lanes and a light rail network is a smart investment. These new networks would shorten commute times and fill the need of locals and how New Yorkers move around now; where they work, play and spend their money.

Image credit: Pixabay

Katie Ellman is an MBA ’17 candidate in Bard College’s MBA in Sustainability program.

Posted on 5 February 2016 | 9:06 am

Everyone Can Be a Sustainability Manager

Everyone Can Be a Sustainability Manager


By Alistair Hall MBA ’17

The International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP) is developing a formal certification process to provide “some definition and standardization of the competencies employers and seekers of consultants can come to expect [from ‘sustainability professionals’].” Certification of sustainability professionals would appear on the surface to indicate that the role has become accepted as a profession and that the field has matured to the extent that it now needs such official accreditation as a CPA or a JD.

However, the environmental and economic challenges that we face together are far too large for us to arbitrarily define who can and can’t be a sustainability advocate. The preliminary criteria ISSP has put forward includes topics like ‘stakeholder engagement,’ ‘strategy’ and ‘program evaluation.’ These are important content areas for a professional to know about, but instead of certifying a siloed specialist, the sustainability profession should seek to include and be open to everyone. In particular, let’s ensure that our profession is sufficiently diverse, before we seek to limit it.

According to Green 2.0, an initiative seeking to address the lack of diversity in the environmental movement, despite recent ‘efforts,’ only 12.4 percent of NGO employees are people of color. Government agencies and foundations barely fare better at 15.5 percent and 12 percent respectively. A 2015 staffing survey run by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) found that 90 percent of sustainability professionals at colleges identified as white or caucasian (myself included).

Seventy percent of respondents also reported that they are the first person to ever hold their position. Since 2012, more than 87 people have entered college sustainability positions (again myself included), representing 87 schools, tens of thousands of students and faculty, and billions in utility and operation expenditures. These are new positions, situated in a young sustainability movement; we need to cultivate greater diversity of thought, experience and background, not hinder it with a certification focused on specific frameworks taught by exclusive schools and tied to a process that rewards privilege.

What does the sustainability movement gain by limiting potential voices and leadership?  Albert Einstein once said, “The significant problems we face today cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” Rather than driving innovation, I see the ISSP certification as an effort of exclusion. Instead of constructing an additional level on the ‘ivory tower,’ let’s get our hands dirty and grow the sustainability garden. Taking a lesson from the principles of biomimicry, the sustainability garden we cultivate would thrive if it had greater diversity, innovation, place-based intuition and systems thinking. Systems thinking is one of the principles of the ISSP criteria, but the society seeks answers reflecting a very narrow definition of the practice.

Many sustainability professionals will tell you that they dream that every single person in their organization will implement innovative sustainability practices. So, let’s embrace being the trailblazers that we are and transform what leadership is and could be. The establishment of stringent, exclusionary criteria that dictates who can be a sustainability professional only serves to limit who earns a seat at the table and reinforces existing issues of diversity in the green movement. Encouraging certification as a job prerequisite will have the opposite of the desired effect. Everyone should be a sustainability advocate, whether they are certified or not.

Image credit: Pixabay

This article is part of a series by students at Bard College’s MBA in Sustainability. Principles of Sustainable Management is a foundational class for all Bard MBA students. It delivers ecological and social literacy, the frameworks and tools used by sustainability professionals, the business case for more responsible treatment of people and planet, systems thinking and integrated bottom line accounting.

The Bard MBA in Sustainability focuses on the business case for sustainability. We train students to see how firms can integrate economic, environmental, and social objectives, the triple Bottom Line, to create successful businesses that build a more sustainable world. Graduates of the Bard MBA Program will transform existing companies, start their own businesses, and pioneer new ways of operating that meet human needs, while protecting and restoring the earth’s natural systems. The Bard MBA is a low-residency program structured around “weekend intensives” with regular online instruction between these residencies. Five of these intensives are held each term: four in the heart of New York City and one in the Hudson Valley. Residencies take place over four days, beginning Friday morning, and ending Monday afternoon. Learn more today.


Posted on 2 February 2016 | 11:29 am

Method’s Saskia Van Gendt on Honing Operations

Method is setting the standard for clean manufacturing. On Oct. 2, Bard MBA in Sustainability spoke with Saskia van Gendt, greenskeeping manager for Method Home. Method designs cleaning and personal care products that work for people and the planet. The company recently opened the industry’s first LEED-platinum certified plant in the Pullman neighborhood in Chicago.

Van Gendt is captain planet for Method Products PBC based in San Francisco. With a background in lifecycle analysis and systems thinking, she applies the science of sustainability with the strategy of business to influence and improve all aspects of company operations.

She leads greenskeeping projects for North America covering packaging, ingredients, supply chain, green building and third-party certifications through Cradle-to-Cradle and B Corp. Prior to Method, van Gendt led material sustainability projects in packaging and green building at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The following Q&A is an edited excerpt from a Sustainable Business Fridays conversation held Oct. 2 by the Bard MBA in Sustainability program, based in New York City.

Bard MBA: Why don’t you tell us a bit more about Greenskeeping, and how your role differs from that of a traditional sustainability manager?

Saskia van Gendt: One of the cool things about Greenskeeping at Method is that we are able to integrate into all different functions of the company. I feel like I’m doing my best when I hear that my colleagues in other departments are leading the charge to get greenskeeping and sustainable practices integrated into what they’re doing. That might be in bringing biodiesel into transportation or hearing the packaging engineers debate how much post-consumer material they can get into a product. That level of integration allows for a lot of really exciting work.

Bard MBA: Tell us about the South Side Soap Box and why you chose to pursue sustainable practices so aggressively at your first owned manufacturing plant.

Van Gendt: We opened our first owned manufacturing facility in Chicago in early 2015. It is the first LEED platinum facility in our industry. As you can imagine, it is a pretty significant investment and it really signals a permanent commitment to remain in business in a region.

By building our own factory and features like a 300-foot tall wind turbine, solar panels and greenhouses on the roof, we finally feel like we have the ability to create a world-class and highly sustainable factory. That was a huge incentive for us so that we could build our products the same way that we always envisioned they would be, and showcase our process and products.

Bard MBA: It is unusual for a cleaning company, especially of your size, to do its own manufacturing. What were the benefits for Method to move away from contract manufacturing and build your own facility?

Van GendtWe did have some amazing contract partners, but we have found that the main advantages of owning our facility is the flexibility that it brings. The inherent condition of contract manufacturing is that your product is being made right alongside your competitors’. We have a lot of unusual packaging formats, product formulations and different innovations that we want to bring to the category. Now we have more control and can be more nimble in those innovations.

We can run smaller tests of different products or prototype new ingredients in small batch formulations. We weren’t able to experiment in the same ways when we were using contract manufacturing.

In addition to the flexibility to innovate in our own facility, we also wanted to have more control over the environmental aspects of our manufacturing. With contract manufacturing, we could source postconsumer recycled plastic packaging, create our own formulations and have some control over our distribution. Now we also have full control over the actual manufacturing and final production stage.

Bard MBA: Method calls your facility the South Side Soap Box. How did you ultimately choose to build in the Pullman neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago?

Van Gendt: We were initially looking at about 150 different sites. Ultimately we landed in Pullman because the community itself was so welcoming. There was a really strong history of steel manufacturing in South Chicago, but over time a lot of the industry has left. We were also considering a site on Lake Michigan, but after meeting with local Pullman aldermen and community groups it became clear that we needed to build and create more economic opportunity there. Before we broke ground, we knew we were committed to hiring locally within the community.

BARD MBA: In the planning phases of the build, how did you identify and prioritize which sustainability priorities would be integrated?

Van Gendt: The business is based out of San Francisco, but we built the facility in the Midwest because it’s highly carbon efficient from a distribution standpoint. Not only are we in the middle of the country from an outbound shipping perspective, we’ve brought a number of supply stages — blowing plastic bottles, decorating, filling and distribution — under one roof. We have removed about 1,000 miles out of our supply chain for each bottle.

The grid (in the Midwest) is more carbon intensive than California’s, so we knew we would prioritize on-site renewables for our operations. We were able to buy a refurbished wind turbine from Germany and three solar trees that rotate to optimize the sun hitting the panels. The plant consumes 50 percent less energy than a conventional facility. We hope to ultimately be net-zero or sending renewable energy back to the grid.

The next priority was water. We are dealing with a major drought in California, so it’s great to know we are manufacturing in a much healthier watershed around the Great Lakes. We also know that our business is to put water into products and ship it around the country. We want to be as accountable for that withdrawal as possible. We have partnered with the Nature Conservancy to provide financial incentives to regional farmers to implement water saving practices. We are also creating about 18 acres of native Illinois prairie land on our own site. Overall, we hope to achieve water neutrality.

Bard MBA: We typically think about sustainability in terms of environmental issues, but the social focus of the plant is really interesting. What types of partnerships and educational opportunities are you bringing to the community? 

Van Gendt: The old model manufacturing was very much at a fortress on the outskirts of community where people went to work. We are trying to build this new model that can be integrated into the community. With green manufacturing we don’t have hazardous chemical, toxic effluents or smokestacks. There’s really no reason to have that fortress mentality.

You wouldn’t build a plant like we have unless you didn’t want people to come see, learn and experience it. The Pullman facility is designed to host visitors and be a real-life classroom to learn about recycling, renewable energy and green chemistry. We are seeing an evolution in the community where people are using the prairieland as a backyard for running and biking.

We are also partnering with a couple of local schools on curriculum around renewable energy and green chemistry. Students then come to the factory (and) you reinforce the classroom learning.

Between students and group visits, we have already had a lot of people coming through the facility. It’s set with a mezzanine that looks over the plant floor where we produce the bottles and batch the product. It has peeled back the curtain and reinforces our overall principles around transparency.

Bard MBA: What do you see in the future of your South Side Soap Box?

Van Gendt: We are a really ambitious company and are excited to see the evolution of the factory over time. We do have space to expand into some of our acreage over time with factory floor or more renewable energy.

I have a background in industrial ecology and would really love to see some co-location benefits of other manufacturing facilities. With the right partners in the future, we could manage waste heat and waste materials in supportive and synergistic ways where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. I’m hoping that we are an inspiration to bring more high-tech manufacturing in Pullman’s future.

Bard MBA: Method is sold in mainstream retailers like Target, Walgreens and Home Depot. You don’t use overt sustainability language in your branding and don’t target “deep green” consumers. That mainstream appeal has been a large part of your success. How you do you manage the line between wanting customers to know about your commitments to being a sustainable brand and wanting to get into as many homes as possible? 

Van Gendt: When we started back in the early 2000s, we wanted to do something a little bit disruptive in the green cleaning space.

Five percent of consumers are specifically seeking green cleaning products. But many others are looking for green and also something else. They might also be looking for a wonderful experience or looking for something that is quite beautiful; that’s why we created those other elements to drive more mainstream appeal.

A customer might be buying our product because the color of the soap matches his shower curtain, he loves the fragrance or he knows it cleans his oven better than any other cleaner. Those scenarios are big wins because that customer may later find out, “Wow, this product isn’t harmful to me or my family.”

Having that multidimensional experience that delivers on a lot of different levels creates a broader market. We have done some research and have found that Method products have become a gateway into green cleaning. Because we are available in mainstream retailers, a customer may buy our products and then will pursue other green cleaning products and brands.

Hopefully, we help customers come into the green cleaning space and stay there.

Bard MBA: What do you wish more people knew about your industry? 

Van Gendt: There are plenty of topics that we find ourselves explaining over and over again about cleaners and soaps. But what surprises people most often is that we are doing a lot of unusual things around sustainability. One of the things that I really appreciate is that the business itself can be a platform for doing those unusual things. We get to test the boundaries around conventional design, conventional supply chains and the sustainability of our operations.

We make soap, but I think it’s so much more than that because we really want to be a demonstrator of innovations. Some days, I feel that we could be making any other product, but the way that we address sustainability challenges is through making soap.

Written by Mariana SouzaSimon Fischweicher and Stephanie Milbergs

Originally published on Friday, January 8, 2016

Posted on 12 January 2016 | 11:10 am

The Road to a Sustainability Career: Grad school or Work First?

The Road to a Sustainability Career: Grad school or Work First?

2-waysBy Eban Goldstein, Director of the Bard Center for Environmental Policy and Bard MBA in Sustainability

To pursue a sustainability leadership career, eventually you will need a graduate degree: typically a masters or law degree for business or policy and a masters or Ph.D for education. One certainly can find entry-level work in these fields with only a bachelor’s degree, but a leadership career generally will require graduate school.

Speaking broadly, sustainability work falls into one of three big buckets.The first is education, including the familiar professions of teacher, professor and researcher, but also rabbi, preacher, imam, artist, film-maker and journalist. Education workers include all those whose job it is to communicate about the moral and scientific dimensions of the sustainability challenges of the coming decades.

The second bucket is policy. Policy is the world of rules: laws and regulations. Young people pursuing a career in policy intend to work “changing the rules,” fighting bad laws and policies and replacing them with good ones. These rules are set at the international level through the United Nations, in national capital cities such as Washington, D.C., or Beijing and at the state and city level — but also increasingly within big companies and large non-profit organizations.

The final bucket is business. If policy work is about changing the rules, green business-people want to “play the game.” Within the confines of the existing rules, they seek to build financially viable organizations that directly solve social and environmental problems. This kind of mission-driven business is a new invention in the history of political economy. In the past 20 years, we have seen the emergence of new companies, and centers within traditional business, that view environmental and social problems not as costs to be externalized, but rather as opportunities to be profitably solved. Careers in this space include all the functional areas of business: management; finance; strategy; human resources; and operations.

Clearly, these categories overlap. Education work is done in the service of driving policy change, and business is often a dominant force in lobbying to change government policy. In addition to driving corporate policy change, sustainability directors can help firms innovate, pushing traditional companies to find new sustainable business opportunities. Nevertheless, it is useful to separate out these tracks when exploring your own calling.

Given this work landscape, the graduate school question for most college graduates seeking sustainability careers is thus: Now or later?

From the point of view of the planet, the answer is now. Consider a student who understands the depth of the sustainability challenges asking, “Should I take time off before going to grad school?” That would be like my dad asking to take time off before going to fight the Nazis in Germany. We are alive at an extraordinary moment in human history, in which we need all hands on deck, attacking problems with maximum skill and ability. Students who attend graduate school right out of college can tool up faster and step into leadership roles more quickly, making a difference soon.

That said, there are three reasons not to go to graduate school right away. The first is if you are unsure of the direction you want to pursue. You don’t need to know your exact career path — grad school will help you sort that out. But you do need to know in which big bucket you want to be, at least initially: business; policy; or education.

The second reason not to go right away is if you are able to land a good job in sustainability education, policy or business instead; that is, a position that really helps grow your leadership abilities. In the down economy and difficult job market of recent years, this has not been easy. If instead you are looking at a couple of years of “time-off,” working odd jobs and taking on low level internships, go to grad school instead.

The final reason not to go now is if you are deeply in debt from your undergraduate education. That said, moderate debt should not scare you off from graduate school. You will need to make the investment sooner or later. The sooner you make the investment, the sooner you will be in a higher paying position, and better able to pay off your loans. The U.S. government advises that students should not take on more total combined debt from undergraduate and graduate school then they expect to earn in their first job. For policy students, that might be $40,000-$60,000; for sustainability MBA’s, $50,000-$80,000. The government also offers a loan forgiveness program for graduates who work for 10 continuous years in the non-profit or government sector after completing their education.

Of course, graduate schools might prefer you to have a few years of work experience. That way you bring more diversity of experience to the other students. But that is the school’s concern, not yours. If admitted, go. Take advantage of the wealth of your fellow students’ work experience to accelerate your career.

Given the amount you will be investing in graduate school, here are some key features to look for in any program worth your money.

Rigorous academics: Beware of “cafeteria-style” programs with two or three core courses, and then a menu of “five from list A and five from list B.” A collection of vaguely related courses is unlikely to provide the core tool kit that you will need. Look for a carefully curated program.

Career focus: Does the program provide a clear pathway to a sustainability career? What kind of career development support is offered? What kind of jobs have recent alums taken?

Accessible, involved faculty: Some masters programs are “cash cows” in which courses largely are staffed by faculty with little commitment to the program or students. This is either because the faculty are primarily focused on their research (or their Ph.D students or undergrad students) or because they are adjuncts with little connection to the program. High-profile faculty research might be eye-catching. However, genuine faculty interest in your work will get you a job.

Commitment to experiential education: Challenging, extended internships or consultancies that are carefully embedded in the academic curriculum are critical for a professional masters degree in sustainability. By contrast, short, low-level internships — internships as an afterthought — do little to advance your understanding or career.

Individual mastery: Masters students should develop mastery of a sub-field in their discipline. This requires a rigorous independent thesis or capstone. Many masters degree programs have dropped the individual capstone, replacing it with a group project, because of the expensive requirement for excellent, one-on-one faculty advising. This is not OK. The thesis or individual capstone is a critical dimension of the master’s experience, and the primary foundation for career success.

The key to career success in sustainability is to go big, as big as you can imagine, in your 20s. For most people, this is the decade of maximum freedom: no kids, no mortgage debt. It is the time to experiment, fail fast and gain the experience and tools to change the world.

Reprinted with permission from the article “From College to Sustainability Career in Four Steps” (PDF), which appeared in the February edition of Sustainability, The Journal of Record.

Posted on 6 January 2016 | 4:47 pm

Catherine Sheehy of UL Environment on Careers

Statistically speaking, about 120 products in your home have the UL certification. UL is a testing, inspecting and certification firm that launched UL Environment to help manufacturers capture value for their sustainability efforts.

Bard MBA spoke to Catherine Sheehy, program manager for UL Environment’s Advisory Services team. With 20 years of project and program management experience, Sheehy manages a range of advisory projects including sustainability training initiatives, sustainability risk assessments and greener market positioning support.

She was a key member of the team that created UL 880 — a Standard for Sustainability of Manufacturing Organizations, UL’s first standard to address social and environmental responsibility issues at an enterprise level.

Sheehy holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame and an MBA from the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland.

The following Q&A is an edited excerpt from a Sustainable Business Fridays conversation Sept. 25 by the Bard MBA in Sustainability program, based in New York City. This twice-monthly dial-in conversation features sustainability leaders from across the globe.

Bard MBA: Catherine, you worked in organization design and change enablement at Accenture, and previously on the Corporate Equality Index for the Human Rights Campaign, and as director of corporate benchmarking services at the Investor Responsibility Research Center. What made you come back to sustainability work after a few years in mainstream consulting?

Catherine Sheehy: Before my MBA, I worked in the Corporate Responsibility and ESG space and with LGBT diversity issues for the Human Rights Campaign. I thought, well, I want to go back and learn better how to do some of the things that I had been doing. I really wanted more corporate experience and decided to go into management consulting immediately after finishing my MBA. I felt that those consulting skills would be really useful for the mission-oriented, sustainability corporate responsibility work that I wanted to do.

At Accenture, I worked on change management, engagement and organizational design. I began to realize that I could use those tools to work on the issues that I was really concerned about and interested in within Accenture.

As part of the DC Accenture GreenTeam, my colleagues and I began to think about our own company’s environmental footprint and how we engaged with our clients. It was great; I was working on environmental and social issues and integrating those issues in the work that I was doing.

Ultimately, I was between engagements and began to think, ”What do I really want to do when I grow up?” I realized that I wanted to get back into the subject matter and content that I care about, and actually focus on the sustainability issues that I worked on earlier in my career.

Bard MBA: What attracted you to UL?

Sheehy: UL was looking at safety in a wholly different way and had created this entity called UL Environment that was looking at the sustainability aspects of safety. Another aspect that really intrigued me about UL in the sustainability space is that we couch everything that we do in science. It’s essential to use rigorous analysis to parse out what we might intuitively think “makes sense” from what the data actually tells us about sustainability issues that we are all concerned about.

Bard MBA: As a safety testing, inspecting and certifying firm, UL may not have immediate name recognition for the average consumer. How do you explain UL’s core offerings, and how the UL Environment services fits in to the broader value proposition? 

Sheehy: UL is a global company with almost 11,000 employees, and UL Environment is a 120-person business line that is innovating on new standards and testing for sustainability.

UL’s tagline is, “We’ve been working for a safer world since 1894.” The 120-year-old company began at the Chicago World Fair in 1893. This newfangled thing called electricity was being showcased in a city that had suffered a tremendous fire just a few years ago. Underwriters were not willing to insure the location where electricity would be housed and showcased, so vendors invited Henry Merrill, a fire safety engineer from Boston, to develop the test and validate that building wouldn’t set on fire.

That was the founding of the organization and fire shock hazard issues is still a core piece of what we do today. We’re a testing, inspecting and certification firm. A lot of people don’t know us because we’re building the code. If you turn your laptop upside down, you will probably see our logo.

About 15 years ago the organization started to think, “What is this thing called safety?” The whole concept of safety had evolved. Customer and client research has shown that UL should look at safety from many angles, including supply chains, labor issues and data integrity.

The environmental angle came from the understanding that sustainability is a safety issue that is bigger than a toaster catching fire. We are talking about the safety of our planet for future generations. We also realized the need for science-based sustainability standards and eco-labels.

Bard MBA: Who are the clients for these new environmental offerings and what pressures lead them to seek out UL Environment services?

SheehyOrganizations seeking support and assistance on sustainability issues often are the same companies we work with on the safety side. So we work with HP, Apple and Walmart and their peers.

So what drives them? It’s mainly just what drives a company to look at sustainability. Some of the drivers are regulatory. But eco-labels, for instance, are often voluntary standards that exist within a marketplace of green-buildings and design. Our clients need some form of certification to participate in those markets and make sustainability claims in the built environment. We are seeing growing concerns about specific issues like chemicals of concern and human health. Products that can contribute to issues, like air quality, are seeking ways to differentiate themselves from other products.

Increasingly there are more B2B drivers: procurement requirements around sustainability are starting to emerge as key issues. Walmart would be the most common example because their vendor requirements really drive action.

Bard MBA: There are so many environmental claims on the market, of varying legitimacy. UL is offering a far more rigorous approach for your clients. What is the conversation like with a big brand about a UL engagement on claims, standards and sustainability? 

Sheehy: A conversation around eco-labels is often around marketing tools: They are great ways to short-cut thinking about very complex sustainability issues. Sometimes the conversation is around risk. A product might claim that it’s “green,” but any uncertainty about that claim can undermine the whole market. Companies want to avoid those situations.

I’ll give you an example: biodegradability is a huge area of concern and focus for the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. They have lodged lawsuits against companies for making biodegradability claims that may not be accurate. Biodegradability requires certain conditions for a product to biodegrade. If a product is not conceivably disposed of to meet those conditions, then it’s not a valid claim. Companies appreciate the rigorous approach UL applies once they are aware of those risks.

We also know that the right answer may not be so obvious. Basic assumptions we all make about sustainability don’t always pass muster. UL can help brands navigate those questions. For example, life cycle assessments are great tools that can shed light on the complexity of issues in the market place. Overall, developing more sustainability competency and awareness in brands and for end-use consumers will help more effectively create sustainable global change that we need.

Bard MBA: UL Environment offers services and guidance on Design for Sustainability. Where in the process would clients approach you for assistance: at the beginning of the design process or afterwards to verify that claims are accurate?

Sheehy: The conversation with clients can begin at different points in that process. The length of an engagement in our certification practice can vary quite considerably, and depends on the customer having their house in order with the evidence we need to certify an environmental claim.

Ingersoll Rand is ahead of the pack, having created a formalized component in the product development process that brings this thinking to bear at the ideation stage. We find that companies will be much better positioned to receive an eco-label if that thinking comes up before any product mock-ups.

If a brand starts from the beginning with the aim to build a sustainable product, the information we need is collected throughout the process. It becomes much easier to justify a claim, and the brand is more likely to discover efficiencies throughout the design the process. It’s good business all around.

Listen to the complete podcast here.

Originally posted on on December 18th, 2015.


Posted on 4 January 2016 | 12:00 pm

Paris, 2020, and the Return of Bipartisan America COP21 Blog 2/3

By Eban Goodstein 

Much of the focus in the Paris climate talks has been on a process supporting deeper cuts in global warming pollution. Should the nations of the earth come back in five years with a new set of proposed reductions? The commitments now on the table have taken us half of the way there, from a business-as-usual 8 degree F warming only a few years ago, down now, post-Paris, to a projected 6 degrees F by 2100.

To avoid catastrophic, runaway warming, we need to get that number down further, to 4 degrees F. But in reality, the road to deeper global warming pollution reductions depends little on the wording of the Paris agreement. Instead, it is a function of the evolution of domestic political appetite for further action, in particular, in the US, China and India, the biggest polluters. Will the politics line up for more aggressive policy steps supporting the 4-degree F target? And if so, how soon?

On first glance, prospects for more medium term action in the US seem grim. As I discussed here, President Obama’s Paris pledge is rooted in a 45 year-old law, the Clean Air Act. Republicans in Congress, and Republican Presidential candidates, have vowed to undo the commitment if given the chance. So at best, a President Clinton is likely to execute successfully on the US pledge, getting the nation on track for 30% reductions below 2005 levels by 2030. To do so, Clinton would have to fend off attacks on the policy from Tea-Party politicians, at both the federal and state level. Given the Tea-Party lock on the House of Representatives, and the extraordinarily partisan nature of the current climate debate, major national climate or clean energy legislation in a Clinton first term seems out of the question.

And for any deeper cuts, new legislation will indeed be required. The EPA leaned very hard on the Clean Air Act in setting the Paris target. There will be no “Round 2” emerging under existing US law in the next decade. Further US action driven by new national legislation will therefore follow the elections of 2020. Or it won’t. The 2020 US political contest will be a critical turning point in history, determining the American response to climate change, in turn driving the global response, and setting the course for the future of civilization on the Earth.

Is it possible to move beyond gridlock on climate? The rise of Tea-Party politics in this decade can be traced in significant measure to Tea-Party strength at the state-wide level in the 2010, off-year elections. Extreme gerrymandering post 2010 then created super safe districts for both Republicans and Democrats. Safe districts rewarded politicians, particularly on the Republican side, who represented radical voices in the party base. Post 2020 redistricting can undo this rigged election system, and restore competitive elections, favoring moderation on both sides.

Back to Paris, and the process going forward. For America to take the next step on climate will require a post-2020 return to bipartisan policy making on climate. By this, I mean 10-20 clean energy Republican votes in the House, and 5 in the Senate. Reasons for optimism about a post-2020 political realignment:

  • US elections in 2020 will coincide with a Presidential race, favoring clean energy advocates who can dismantle the radical gerrymandering of 2010.
  • The decline of the Tea Party base, and the rise of majority minority states and districts, driving politics towards the middle.
  • Rapidly falling costs of clean energy. Solar, wind, storage, and electric vehicles are increasingly affordable (and in the case of Tesla, BMW, sexy), making climate policy smart policy in red states and blue states.
  • Green Economic Success. With California, Germany, and other states and countries pushing the limit, and with car companies delivering on higher fuel economy, opponents of climate action will find it harder and harder to cry wolf on jobs versus the environment.
  • Collapse of Coal, Low Oil Prices & Stranded Assets. The implosion of the coal industry in the last three years has brought home to investors the near-term reality of stranded assets in fossil fuel. With Saudi Arabia committed to pumping its oil as fast as possible, low gas prices will reduce the political clout of oil companies and petro-states, and also stall exploration for new reserves.
  • The growing strength of a morally-based, American climate movement, making the case for the kind of action that science and justice demand. Watch for major post-Paris action from and other groups.
  • Hotter and hotter planet. More and more weather disasters.

All of these trends will move politics in a bipartisan direction, but ultimately, over the next five years, the Republican Party will need to regain centrist voices in purple states and districts. This scenario is most likely if Trumpisme implodes in an electoral disaster for Republicans in 2016—either with Trump as a candidate or following a deadlocked convention—and the impact cascades all the way down the ticket to state and local elections.

This is not a prediction, just a scenario. One could easily tell a story that extends climate gridlock in America well into the 2020’s. However, the political landscape can change quickly. In 2006, Republicans controlled the Presidency and the Senate. In 2008, the reverse. Just seven years ago, the two major Republican Presidential

Posted on 8 December 2015 | 12:52 pm

From Paris, a Big Kiss to Nixon and (Anthony) Kennedy COP21 Blog 1/3

By Eban Goodstein

In the three years leading to the ongoing Paris climate negotiations, the world has witnessed a truly big pivot. Back in 2012, business as usual global warming pollution was set to heat the world up 8 degrees F by century’s end. Neither of the two biggest polluters, the US or China, had put serious policies in place to address the crisis. But now, if the commitments being made here in Paris are carried through, that 8 degree number will be cut to 6 degrees F.

What changed?

First, the US came to the table. President Obama’s EPA mandated significant cuts from two big sectors, vehicles in 2012, and electric power in August of this year. With the US commitments made, China’s leaders stepped up, motivated by a rising middle class demanding an end to the worst urban air pollution in the world. China pledged to cap coal use by 2020, and cap global warming pollution starting in 2030.

In China, domestic politics focused on cleaning up the air drove the big pivot. In the US, by contrast, increasingly fierce partisan division over action on climate change has produced nothing but legislative gridlock on climate. Blocked in Congress, Obama had to turn to a 45-year old law, the Clean Air Act (CAA), as a basis for action.

Progress in Paris can thus be traced back to Republican President, Richard Nixon. In 1970, Nixon signed the CAA, and also the legislation creating the EPA. The original CAA had nothing to do with global warming. Back then, no one besides a few scientists had even heard of it. Instead, like in China today, the focus was on urban smog and toxic air pollution. The CAA gave the newly created EPA the authority and the responsibility to insure that industry was not putting dangerous materials into the air. The EPA went to work, and over the next two decades, air quality in US cities improved dramatically.

Fast forward to 2007. Climate change had been a global issue for two decades, and yet the US had passed no laws to regulate global warming pollution. Frustrated by the US failure to lead on climate, the Attorney General of Massachusetts, joined by other states, sued the EPA. The suit argued that carbon dioxide and other global warming gasses were “dangerous pollutants”, and therefore, under the 1970 CAA, the EPA was obligated to start regulating global warming emissions. The case went to the US Supreme Court, and in a 5-4 decision, the Court agreed: global warming gasses were indeed dangerous pollutants, and the EPA was ordered to regulate. As in many recent cases, Anthony Kennedy, a Reagan appointee, was the swing vote.

This decision, leveled against the Bush EPA, led eventually to the 2012 Obama EPA regulation requiring a doubling of the fuel efficiency of US cars, to 55 MPG by 2025. And in 2015, the EPA finalized regulations requiring the electric power sector to reduce emissions 32% below 2005 level by 2030. Together, these two US commitments brought China to the table, and have led in turn to the international agreement now being ratified in Paris that can shave 2 degrees off of the planetary warming our grandkids will experience.

A big kiss then goes out from Paris to President Nixon and Judge Kennedy. These Republican politicians represent a historic, deep bipartisan American tradition supporting environmental protection and resource conservation. Lost as we have become in the bitter partisanship of the Tea-Party era, it is hard to imagine that as recently as 2008, both major contenders for the Republican Presidential nomination, McCain and Romney, had been advocates of regulatory action on climate. Pragmatic bipartisan co-operation on environmental protection was a proud hallmark of US politics throughout the 20th century.

In the face of the civilizational challenge of a destabilized climate, can we recapture this tradition of American support across party lines for stewardship of the earth? To sustain momentum, we have to. In the short term, Obama’s Paris pledge can be undone as early as November 2016, depending on the outcome of US elections. Congress could exempt global warming pollution from the Clean Air Act, or a President opposed to climate action could slow-walk implementation of the EPA global warming regulations. If the US backs down from Paris, so too will China, India, and the rest of the world.

Over the medium term, we need to get 6 degrees F down to 4 degrees. The Clean Air Act, while a good start, cannot provide deep enough cuts from the US to get us there. Post 2020, clean energy votes from both parties, in both Houses of Congress, will be needed to avert the catastrophic consequences of a planet headed to 6 degrees F and beyond.

Why 2020? And how do we get from a deeply partisan here to a bipartisan there? More on that in my next post.

Eban Goodstein is an economist and is Director of the MBA in Sustainability and the Center for Environmental Policy at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, NY.

Posted on 7 December 2015 | 8:10 am

Big is Beautiful

Big is Beautiful

By Eban Goodstein republished from

The big question about business sustainability has always been: Can it scale?

Green Giants by Freya Williams

Green Giants by Freya Williams

In her highly readable and well argued new book, “Green Giants,” Freya Williams answers with a definitive yes. The book is subtitled: “How Smart Companies Turn Sustainability Into Billion-Dollar Businesses.” Williams looks at nine billion-dollar brands that have been built on a sustainability mission, and identifies the factors that got them to this scale.

The list includes five companies: Chipotle, Unilever, Whole Foods, Natura and Tesla. In addition there are four product lines or business units: Ikea’s sustainable home products, GE Ecomagination, Nike FlyKnit and Toyota Prius.

Williams provides an elegant framework for analyzing the success of these brands. At the core of course is the sustainability mission, or what Williams calls purpose. She provides an excellent overview of the rise and dominance of Milton Friedman’s shareholder value maximization credo, and details specifically how firms guided instead by purpose are now succeeding at scale in the marketplace. Other chapters focus in interesting ways on more familiar terrain: iconoclastic leadership, disruptive business models, and a “built-in, not bolted on” approach to mission.

Williams is CEO, North America, at the marketing and strategy firm Futerra. She brings her own research background to the particularly valuable chapter on mainstream appeal. Billion-dollar brands can only be built on a “middle green” customer base — the 66 percent of Americans for whom sustainable attributes are nice-to-have, but not must-have. To reach the mainstream, green products need to be personalized, normalized, modernized, priced competitively and sometimes, as Tesla has shown, testosterone-injected.

Bookending the idea of purpose is a final chapter on “behaving your way to billions.” Companies that aspire to succeed on the basis of mission cannot afford to violate the implicit behavioral contract they establish with customers, employers and other stakeholders. Williams highlights Uber as a company that seemed to launch itself around a social purpose, but lost its way in terms of maintaining its behavioral contract with consumers, workers and communities.

Along with Andrew Winston’s “Big Pivot,” Williams is the best book on business sustainability of the last two years. While Winston explores the frontier, Williams shows how sustainability as core business strategy has quickly gone to scale over the last few years. Williams notes that “Green Giants” could not have been written as recently as two years ago, and also offers predictions on the next billion-dollar brands, including Airbnb, Warby Parker and Honest Co. I would add Clif Bar to her list.

The book is particularly useful for introductory courses in business sustainability in that it covers all the key dimensions of a purpose-driven business strategy: mission, leadership, integration, innovation, customer appeal and culture. It also offers through a wealth of examples successful tactics for pursuing each of the strategies.

“Green Giants” does not answer the meta question of whether the Toyota Prius or the Tesla represent fast enough progress on the road to truly sustainable transportation. Nor does the book grapple with the immense challenge of fully engaging gigantic organizations with a top-down social purpose — a key issue, for example, faced by Unilever CEO Paul Polman. But the successful change in direction from the destructive, narrow pursuit of shareholder value that Williams sketches out is inspiring. And her examples show that mission-driven business, and the solutions they innovate, can scale rapidly. On this critical dimension, big has become beautiful. Or as they might say in Paris… “Jolie Green Giant.”

Eban Goodstein is an economist and is Director of the MBA in Sustainability and the Center for Environmental Policy at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, NY.

Posted on 1 December 2015 | 11:38 am

A Conversational Approach to Systems Thinking

A Conversational Approach to Systems Thinking

Maria Seddio is an executive coach and organizational development consultant who works closely with senior leaders and their organizations to define and put into practice a self-managed model for growing and sustaining their businesses. She uses a strengths-based, solution-focused model that draws on the expertise and natural resilience of people collaboratively working within the context of the business.

maria-seddio-1470x894_0Seddio introduces systems-thinking principles and the concept of conversation as a core business process to focus on the invisible “architecture of talk” that supports every business and change initiative.

This Q&A is an edited excerpt from a Sustainable Business Fridays conversation April 24 by the Bard MBA in Sustainability program, based in New York City. This twice-monthly dial-in conversation features sustainability leaders from across the globe. The previous interview was with Jeffrey Amoscato of Shake Shack.

Bard MBA: Maria is the founder of CorpTalk, a communication and strategy leadership program that engages companies, and also the founder of Wash!, a narrative platform for women’s leadership. Maria, would you tell us a bit about your enterprises? 

Maria Seddio: CorpTalk is an executive coaching and organizational development firm where we specialize in bringing a narrative change model emphasizing the importance of conversation and systems thinking into organizations. Our goal is to enable whole systems change through participatory management practices and conversations of inclusion. We look at ways in which conversations drive business outcomes. Whether creating a sense of community or shaping organizational culture, the quality of our interactions and the quality of our discussions drive business decisions, enable innovation and shape the direction of the business.

Wash! is analogous work in a nonprofit. Wash! uses the example of women at the riverbank and in backyards, washing clothes, sharing their lives and supporting each other as a metaphor for creating an egalitarian platform to solve problems and build community. The organizing principles and vision for change are similar in both of these enterprises — CorpTalk and Wash! — to get people talking in new ways about things that really matter. In companies, we focus on such things as leadership development, team development, C-level advisement, innovation incubators and culture change initiatives. Through Wash! we target the same objectives via participatory art, dialogues and discussions that are more personal and closer to the bone. We pay particular attention to the ways in which, as women, we are shaping a new paradigm of what it means to lead.

Bard MBA: For you, it is very important to have conversations about inter- and intra-company dynamics and the individual. Why is the emphasis on conversation so important? 

Seddio: How does work get done? How does any useful process get created? [Through] qualitative discussions that look at what that process serves, who needs to be involved, what is optimal, how people engage and disengage. The lens we use is that any process is in effect a cumulative conversation that gets mapped and [solidified] in agreements that people make in order to have a disciplined approach to working together to realize a product or provide a service.

At the end of the day, it all comes back to the conversation. Whenever there’s a problem, when there’s something not working, someone has to look at it, open up the conversation and put a pain point on the table — allow the problem to be examined. That can only happen if people are talking.

In addition, we focus on conversation because it’s a resource that is available to all of us — no extra budget required. If you chart your time to see how much of your day is spent on communication, it’s really an extraordinary amount of time — all your time. Even the time that we think we are doing things independent of communication we are communicating, through internal dialogues with ourselves, evaluating, assessing interpreting, remembering direct experience or thinking through and preparing information as if we were in conversation with others. This includes time spent sleeping and dreaming.

Conversations transform how we look at problems and explore potential solutions, but also how we experience and come to know each other. A sincere and difficult conversation with someone — at work or at home or with a friend — can transform the relationship into something much stronger. When we first go into organizations we may experience a kind of generalized low-grade fever because people aren’t having the conversations — they are not willing to risk the conflict. Maybe they tried to speak up in the past and it didn’t work out so they’ve opted into playing it safe and have disengaged.

Bard MBA: What is the buy-in from management and senior leadership when you bring up a conversation-based approach that has potential to transform that feeling of stagnation or ineptitude?

Seddio: When I started CorpTalk, I did a lot of research to determine where there was readiness in the marketplace. Only 20 years ago, to bring up conversation as an approach or change methodology was radical. I think it is more accepted now, although I still don’t think most companies are clear about how to integrate it into their cultures.

I identified companies that were more likely to bring these ideas into their culture by looking at certain cultural criteria. I also identified the attributes of leaders who would be ready to bring this model into their companies and teams. Courage is one of the leadership attributes I identified that is especially worth noting — a willingness to look at the complexity of the business and allow problems to surface, in effect, exposing the organization’s flaws knowing that better solutions emerge as a result.

I have been lucky to work with some extraordinary people, CEOs and senior leaders in major companies who are willing to create more open, democratic, talk-friendly environments — they see the merits of getting everyone’s voice to the table. It is essential that the most senior individuals embrace the model because the model sets the context for healthy, change-oriented dialogue which only happens when people are willing to push the edges of conversations and challenge any decisions that result in suffering.

Those are the conversations that we need to have — conversations that alleviate suffering. Even for people who have advanced skills, they are not easy conversations. When the environment is such that people risk speaking up because they may say something that is outside of the norm, there is a problem. The leader needs to support individuals and teams as they speak up — to manage the model across groups and at a variety levels so that everyone is aligned and skilled at working with such transparency.

Bard MBA: Some people argue that we talk around issues by using dialogue to avoid commitment to action when we have urgent problems to solve. Can you suggest a better way to use this approach proactively?

Seddio: It is always the quality of conversation that matters. We are not promoting just any kind of talk — trivial or redundant conversations are crazy-making. People can talk all day but still manage to avoid real issues. They become frustrated because their conversations don’t produce results and complain that nothing seems to change.

But that is because their conversations lack accountability. A problem that isn’t being solved when the conversation goes in circles is usually a problem of accountability. When people become frustrated with each other or disappointed with efforts that fail or miss the mark, it’s an indicator that the conversation needs to change.

Bard MBA: Some tools that you have developed include the core leadership principles: Calm, Confidence and Competency; as well as the elements that support them: Vision, Values, Voice and Velocity. How do you apply these attributes to produce a meaningful conversation? 

Seddio: There are leaders who know how to elevate conversations to transformative levels. They are somehow able to coax people out of their comfort zone, to engage at a more meaningful level. These are the leaders that everybody wants to follow. We did research on leadership attributes that make the biggest difference and ended up with three buckets or behavioral clusters.

The first bucket is Calm — people want to work for a leader who is able to emotionally self-regulate and maintain his or her equilibrium. A good leader is able to focus outwardly on others and on the issues while under pressure.

The second bucket is Competence — we all want to work with people who know what they are doing. Leading means working through uncertainty because inherent in leadership is change. A good leader knows how to work effectively through change.

The third and final bucket is Confidence — research explains that what a person believes is possible is also likely to be realized. Attitudes and beliefs are also contagious so a good leader is able to imbue confidence in others.

Those are the three clusters that we believe make all the difference. They provide evidence of leadership, establish credibility with others and manifest through our interactions and conversations.

The four “V’s” provide a roadmap for developing as a leader. While the roadmap is universal, it is particularly suited for women and men who are looking to introduce a new paradigm or reshape the workplace.

Vision is the ability to paint a new picture, to articulate something new that is true for you and that also inspires others.

Values are important ethical principles that guide your thinking and actions even or especially when the stakes are high.

Voice is the ability to know your mind, to speak to your vision and to advocate for your ideas and principles.

Velocity is the way in which you engage and excite others through inspired conversations and collaborations to accelerate change based on your shared vision and values.

We have complex problems around the globe that need to be addressed urgently. Isn’t it time for us to become more impatient with change? How do we speed things up [and] get out in front of the conversation and not look back? This is what velocity is all about.

Bard MBA: You mentioned deniers of climate change; from a conversational point of view do you have any tips for creating a breakthrough or getting through to them

Seddio: That’s a tough one and a really good question. Generally the place to start with something that is so opposite, so polarizing, is to say: “I’m here — I don’t agree, but I am here,” and to be clear that you find it important to disagree but also that you are committed to creating a path to a better conversation — that you are not leaving the table. Through these very initial conversations we can keep the door open and get a little further along in a very preliminary way.

Stay the course, help the conversation along and trust it will find its way — and thank you for dedicating your energy and time to something that is so important to all of us.

The full recording of this conversation is available

Posted on 23 September 2015 | 8:36 am

Baldev Duggal in His Encore Career: Solar Street Lighting

Baldev Duggal in His Encore Career: Solar Street Lighting

Five decades ago, Baldev Duggal arrived in America with only two things, $200 in his pocket and a passion for photography. Today, his photo imaging company, Duggal Visual Solutions, employs over 300 people and is renowned for its fine quality print and digital graphics displays.

baldev_duggalIn recent years, he’s turned his sights from the static world of photography to the interactive realm of sustainable design and technology. His LEED-certified buildings at the Brooklyn Navy Yard house an exclusive event venue as well as the manufacturing facility for the Lumi Solair solar-powered street lighting system, for which Duggal recently won an EPA Environmental Quality Award.

Rather than looking forward to retirement, he plans to continue expanding his creative vision with new projects that will improve people’s lives around the globe.

This Q&A is an edited excerpt from a Sustainable Business Fridays conversation held May 1 by the Bard MBA in Sustainability program, based in New York City. This twice-monthly dial-in conversation features sustainability leaders from across the globe.

Bard MBA: Baldev, your story is a true American success story. But rather than seeking the riches of a Wall Street IPO, your path seems to be inspired more by art and humanity. Would you please tell us about your early days, what brought you to America and how you built your business here?

Baldev Duggal: I came from India and it all started when my grandfather promised me a Kodak brownie camera if I ranked first in my high school class (valedictorian). Well, he did keep his promise — he gave me the brownie camera, but he failed to give me a roll of film. I asked him, “What am I possibly going to do with this brownie camera if I don’t have a roll of film?” And he said, “What did I promise you, Baldev?” and I replied, “A camera,” and he said, “Well now you have the camera, the rest is your problem.” I think that was what really started me off. I realized then, that you can’t just have a dream; you have to make it come true.

I started Duggal Visual Solutions in my bathtub, where I would wash and develop all of my prints. It took off from there and eventually became the company that I have today.

Bard MBA: Let’s talk about Brooklyn a little bit. You could have chosen to retire early from this business to a warm climate and enjoy your life, and instead in 2011 you invested $5 million to transform a derelict building in the Brooklyn Navy Yard into a model of sustainable design, in a dazzling stone and glass greenhouse. And more recently, you’ve taken over more space in the Navy Yard, refurbishing another old building to LEED gold standards.

Baldev: I began working on the Duggal Greenhouse after watching the movie “An Inconvenient Truth” by Al Gore. The film had a profound impact on me. The next day, I said to my team, “We’re doing great work which has made us very successful today, but I want to take up a bigger challenge.” With all the successes I had, I needed to focus on my passion, which is in sustainability.

Bard MBA: You recently won an EPA environmental award for another venture — the Lumi Solair street lamps that are designed and made right in NYC in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Can you tell us a little bit about Lumi Solair and the risks that this type of technology addresses?

Baldev: With Lumi Solair, we wanted to make a light that requires a minimum amount of maintenance, a light designed for a global village. My passion is not constrained to simply the United States — it also extends to the rest of the world. I believe that we need to light up the entire planet, even if it has to be one Lumi Solair at a time.

My only concern is this: In third world countries, everything that moves or has any value, even infinitesimal, is bound to get stolen. So as we go about solving the world’s problems, we must ensure not to create new ones. Even though I watched the Al Gore movie in 2008, it took me a good six years to come up with something that not only do I absolutely believe in, but a solution that works and improves upon its predecessors.

The main problem with any kind of off the grid or on the grid lighting is that in the event of a flood, the first thing the water hits is the base of the light, which invariably is the place where the electronics are installed. What we did is, instead of putting the electronics in the base, we figured out a way to put the electronics on top while still maintaining the integrity of the aesthetic for the lamp. I think someone has to be pretty crazy to take a 25-foot ladder and go up there to steal something they barely understand. I just don’t see that happening.

Currently, I’m working on the next part of it, the Lumi Lantern. If you look at the Lumi Lantern you would never imagine it to be a solar lantern. It is portable and stands about 10 feet high. Lumi Solair, on the other hand, is 25 feet high so one could consider the Lumi Lantern its portable offspring. The smaller size is what makes the lantern so special. You can take it where you go. Suppose that you are having a party at the beach. With the Lumi Lantern, you no longer need any wires, you can party all night long and you have a constant source of light.

Bard MBA: For the listeners in this conversation, many of them are just getting started on a career path or they’re mid-career or they’re like me and want to continue on a path of building and supporting sustainable businesses and projects. What advice do you have in terms of putting one foot in front of the other and taking those risks? How do we get from here to there?

Baldev: First and foremost, we have to start looking at the fact that not only are we Americans, but also we are global citizens. If China sneezes, America is bound to catch a cold. So, I think we must all work together as a global community towards mutual goals, starting with sustainability, which affects all human beings, regardless of where they are in the world. Once we start to see things in a more expansive way, the next step is to begin solving problems. And one must be creative in his or her problem solving. Let me share with you my five commandments for problem solving:

  1. Identify the problem. This can be hard since some problems are slightly more abstract in nature. What’s more important is to fathom what is the worst that can happen if the whole thing goes wrong.
  2. Learn to use the words yes or no, and eliminate the word “maybe.”
  3. Give yourself and the problem a time frame, and when you do, do not leave it open-ended. For example, tell yourself that you will accomplish something, say by your birthday or Memorial Day. Give it a time. Of course you would not reprimand yourself if you fail to accomplish your goals in the given time frame, but make sure that anything open-ended doesn’t stay open-ended.
  4. Open up your heart. Never be afraid to let your instinct and your intellect work together.
  5. Take a deep breath. When you’re looking closely at the problem, you can get overwhelmed. Allow yourself to step back, take a breath, and keep going until you can see the problem as a whole. Once you identify all the players and chances, you may already have a solution, and if you don’t, you are at least seeing the situation clearly.

With each new morning arises a new challenge. For the past 50 years these five commandments have helped me face every obstacle that has ever come my way. Only by conquering the unknown can one rise above the known.


Posted on 16 September 2015 | 8:15 am

Carbon War Room’s Peter Boyd on the ‘entrepreneurial NGO’

Carbon War Room’s Peter Boyd on the ‘entrepreneurial NGO’

After serving as launch director for the Richard Branson-backed climate think tank Carbon War Room in 2009, Peter Boyd went on to serve as the organization’s chief operating officer until late 2014. Around that time, Carbon War Room merged with the Rocky Mountain Institute.

peter_boydBoyd, meanwhile, has a total of more than 15 years of strategy, marketing, operations and management experience in the private sector, from serving as CEO of Virgin Mobile South Africa to VP of Marketing at Virgin Mobile USA. He recently has shifted his attention to a new social enterprise, Time4Good.

A graduate of Oxford University with a degree in philosophy, politics and economics, Boyd started his career with McKinsey & Co. Parallel to his tenure at Carbon War Room, he served as chair of the U.K.’s Energy Efficiency Deployment Office, advising on accelerating efficiency improvements across the economy. He is also on the advisory board for the World Bank’s Sustainable Development Network, the Corporate Responsibility Officers Association and Climate Nexus.

The following Q&A is an edited excerpt from a Sustainable Business Fridays conversation Feb. 6 with the Bard MBA in Sustainability program, based in New York City. This twice-monthly dial-in conversation features sustainability leaders from across the globe.

Bard MBA: I want to start with a quote from the Carbon War Room’s home page: “Almost all of the technologies needed to meet our global 2020 emissions reductions requirements exist today.”

The organization’s mission is to accelerate adoption of business solutions that reduce carbon emissions at the gigaton scale and advance the low-carbon economy. Peter, can you please get us started with your background in sustainable business, how the Carbon War Room came to be and your involvement as COO?

Peter Boyd: I had been part of Virgin group for some time — I had 10 positions in 12 years. When I was in the CEO position in Virgin Mobile South Africa, we had a conference at Richard Branson’s home. We were checking in on how different businesses were going, but in the down time, we were talking about the issues of the day that were troubling or challenging to Richard and others. One of those was the environment.

So the Carbon War Room actually came out of one of these conversations during that down time. At the time, I was trying to build out a mobile network in southern Africa by trying to use existing infrastructure more efficiently, rather than build out new mass infrastructure. I wasn’t squarely in environment work at all.

But in the environmental discussion, I was able to bring up some models like the, part of Virgin Unite, Virgin’s social foundation. Within that sphere of influence, a major effort to coordinate work on AIDS and HIV in southern Africa, which was near and dear to my heart being a CEO of a South African company where 15 percent of my team had HIV.

The thought was, “Wouldn’t it be great if there was something like that on environment?” — a coordinated effort to bring entrepreneurs together to realize the business opportunities in environment solutions. So the war room piece was far more like a Clinton media war room than a military analogy. How can we get business entrepreneurs all pointing in the same direction?

So a year after this conversation I came back to London and was meeting with the center of Virgin, Richard and others, and they all said, “Remember that conversation we had a year ago? Well, it could actually be happening, and can you help?”

I was in a position to be the launch director, and so there it was, I left with the job. So, having set up businesses before, I was bringing my treatment of problems as business opportunities. We gathered our team around that. It included a CEO from the solar industry, Jighar Shah, and a chairman with a great sustainability background, the former president of Costa Rica, Jose Maria Figueres. And it evolved from there.

Bard MBA: When I contacted you earlier this week, you were working under a tight deadline for something that you said you could announce today. So is our Sustainable Fridays Podcast about to get a scoop?

Boyd: It’s almost a scoop, it’s a 24-hours-after-the-fact scoop. After the merger of Rocky Mountain Institute and Carbon War Room, I saw a great opportunity to move on to the next thing. One of those next things was the B-Team.

The B-Team is where Richard Branson and other business icons came together to focus on using business as a force for good. I have been helping as the climate adviser. What’s happening right now has to do with getting a deal in Paris between governments.

We are rallying the call for very ambitious goals. We wanted to get a letter in Christiana Figueras’ lap that effectively said, “Dear Christiana Figueras, we call on you to call on the governments to put a zero emission by 2050 ambition employed in the text. Whatever that adds up for individual country ambitions, we want the text to include that overarching goal.”

We went live with that letter to her from about 11 or 12 of the business leaders and then managed to get it in the [FInancial Times], Guardian, Reuters. There is a lot of interest in why business leaders would want to cope with this target. This is the voice I think that the world needs.

Bard MBA: Let’s go back to the recent merger you mentioned between the Rocky Mountain Institute and Carbon War Room. Can you tell us how the merger was envisioned to bring the two groups together?

Boyd: Going back a step, the Carbon War Room is solely focused on business solutions to climate change and a solid belief that almost whatever happens in government and whatever happens with consumers, it is businesses providing the goods and services of the system that will power this transition as quickly as we need it.

In working with Rocky Mountain Institute, Carbon War Room found a group with the same belief on how the world must change but with a very different, but complementary skill set. Rocky Mountain Institute has been a real thought leader for 13 years in the areas of energy efficiency. They were creating brilliant answers that were potentially not getting the sunlight they deserved.

So with the merger, you’ve got the Carbon War Room engaging entrepreneurs and investors and RMI producing an immense amount of solid work. Mergers are the order of the day in business, but it doesn’t often happen in the nonprofit sector. It was really nice to see people effectively saying, “Well, we’re actually better together. Rather than making a new, splintered voice, let’s combine to make a voice that is clear.”

Bard MBA: That’s a really interesting, especially as you see thought leaders in sustainability coming from both the non-profit and business sector. Peter, going back to your work specifically at the Carbon War Room, could you describe one project you worked on that had an enormous impact on moving us forward as a planet?

Boyd: One of our first projects that we did, almost before we were launched, and are in fact still working on, is in the maritime shipping industry. This project is also a good illustration of the way we look at a problem, and through it to the solution.

So, the shipping industry is producing billions of tons of carbon dioxide, but only from about 100,000 vessels. If the industry were a country, these 100,000 ships would actually be the sixth or seventh largest country in the world in terms of emissions. Yet, there was an incredible amount of potential fuel savings. We estimated up to 30 percent efficiency and $70 billion a year of fuel was effectively savable but wasn’t being captured.

In turns out that there were critical market failures in the industry. One was information. It was very hard to tell a clean ship from a dirty ship. If I’m on the supply side and my ship has got all the technology it’s hard for me to convey that versus my competitors. Then on the demand side, if I want to ensure my cargo is on a clean ship, it’s hard to pick them out in the marketplace.

The other key market failure was similar to insulating a rented building. The landlord doesn’t want to insulate because it’s not his electricity bill and the tenant doesn’t want to do it because it’s not their building. Turns out, 70 percent of the fuel used in the industry was paid for by the cargo owner, not by the ship owner.

On the information side, we created the first index for ships. Just like you have the Energy Star rating, we created a database online for free on The second track was then saying, “Well, that’s all very well but who is going to act on it?” Instead of going to the policymakers, as the entrepreneurial NGO, we went to the fuel buyers and asked, “Why aren’t you saving $200 million of your $2 billion fuel bill from cargo? You could be, just by using the index.”

It’s a good example where, if you take a step back and say there’s money to be made here, entrepreneurship can really power change without too much meddling or extra regulation from government. We just have to solve those market failures to get money flowing in the right way. We then look at that principle and say which other sectors could we potentially help in the same way.

BardMBA: Are there other specific sectors where you think there is an opportunity to apply this same strategy to emissions reductions?

Boyd: Yes, trucking is one sector that the Carbon War Room is looking into, which is actually quite similar to shipping.

Aviation is another. Aviation is very interesting in terms of efficient fuels because it is economic in the long run but is a very expensive shift in the short run.

In terms of where is the biggest business opportunity? There is a huge business opportunity in energy efficiency, in residential, commercial and industrial.

Bard MBA: You are someone who looks at every problem as an opportunity. How does that relate to your new non-profit, Time4Good?

Boyd: Yes, I am launching a new business, a social business, attacking another market failure that has been close to my heart for the last few years dealing with the kind of people that I’ve been dealing with. Lord Stern has said that climate change is the single biggest market failure that we have.

That got me thinking about other market failures that I can turn my attention towards and one of those is time. This led me to my new business, Time4Good. I am creating a business where 90 percent of the revenue will actually go to charity through a product designed around those whose demand on their time far outweighs their supply.

For those who are at the top of their field, their time will be demanded far more than supply could ever cope with. So the service is for the Richard Bransons of this world. He might get 20,000 business plans a month, each only asks for 10 minutes of his time, but if you’ve got 20,000 of those you just can’t handle all of them.

I am creating a system designed around this problem. For each request, the system generates an email that effectively says, “I only look at business plans on Friday at 10, please buy a charity raffle ticket for that time slot here.”

From there, 90 percent of the revenue goes to charity — 70 percent goes to Richard’s charity, 10 percent to the buyer’s and 10 percent to my basket of charities as well. The idea is to create a triple win. Richard is relaxed, all 20,000 emails are responded to, the requestor knows they are either in this week and preparing furiously or out and buying next week, and the charities reap the benefit.

So that’s the plan, trying to create a market for time.

Posted on 7 September 2015 | 8:18 am

Bard MBA Summer Newsletter

Bard MBA Summer Newsletter


We have had a busy summer here at the Bard MBA in Sustainability and are happy to bring you our latest updates in our quarterly newsletter. Enclosed you’ll find news on our big movepublic lecture seriesbimonthly podcastNYCLab clients, and how the Bard MBA community is making waves.

Bard MBA visits The Hudson Company in Pine Plains, NY during the first 2015/16 Weekend Residency

Bard MBA visits The Hudson Company in Pine Plains, NY during the first 2015/16 Weekend Residency

The Bard MBA in Sustainability welcomed “Cohort 4” on August 21st at the Bard College campus in the Hudson Valley. While Bard MBA classes mostly take place in NYC, we hold our introductory Residency away from the city, creating a retreat-like environment. The annual kick-off party at Director Goodstein’s home has become a tradition our students and faculty look forward to each year. With 2015 set to be the hottest year on record, the students’ return is a reminder of the urgency of all of our work.

Bard MBA is Moving to Impact Hub NYC!

Bard MBA in Sustainability and Impact Hub NYC have entered into an exciting partnership that leverages both of our networks of mission-driven entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs to create a larger community.

All NYC Residency weekends will take place at Impact Hub NYC, downtown on Broadway off Canal, during the 2015-16 school year. Let us know if you want to stop by and sit in on a class, or meet the students and faculty.

Public Event: Thought Leaders in Sustainable Business

Bard MBA and Impact Hub NYC are also partnering to produce a monthly, Friday night Sustainable Business Series. This fall, the talks and networking events are open to the public and will generally feature authors of recent books on business sustainability. Join us for our first talk on September 18th at 6pm, with Benjamin Bingham, author of Making Money Matter and founder/CEO of 3Sisters Sustainable Management. Later in the year, we will be joined by Freya WilliamsDavid BachRev. Fletcher HarperMichael H. Shuman. Please register and look forward to seeing you there!

Dial-in Sustainable Business Fridays Podcast Continues

Our 2015-16 Sustainable Business Fridays live noon-time podcast series kicked off this past Friday with Cohort 3 student Amy Kalafa interviewing Manoj Fenelonof PepsiCo. This was a conversation not to be missed so check out the recording here and look out for the transcript in our Sustainable MBA column in GreenBiz. We convene on the first and fourth Fridays of the month so check out our event calendar and join us.

NYCLab Clients Revealed Soon

A cornerstone of the Bard MBA program is our NYCLab consulting course where students work in teams on real-world sustainability challenges for clients. We’ve been fortunate to work with a top-notch group of clients the past three years and are excited to announce the 2015-16 clients soon. We received our highest application numbers yet and a great pool to choose from- just wish we could take on more clients. Many thanks to those who applied. We were impressed and appreciate the great work you’re doing for business and society.

Students, Alumni & Faculty Making Waves

Bard MBA is proud of are our incredible students, faculty, and alumni. They are out doing big things in the world. Here are a few highlights.

Bard MBA & EDF Climate Corps

Two of our second-year MBA students, Mariana Souza and Brooke Forde wrapped up their summer EDF Climate Corps fellowships at Baxter International and Goddard Riverside Community Center.

Bard MBAs in the Press

Jessica King ’15, Executive Director of ASSETS Lancaster, provides keen insights in It’s going to take all of us to alleviate poverty here.

Libby Murphy Zemaitis ’14 is leading the way to make housing more affordable in the Hudson Valley with her startup Up Homes. The Hudson Valley community thinks she’s awesome too. You can read more in the Poughkeepsie Journal.

Miles Crettien ’15 has been hard at work on his Brooklyn startup Verticulture and was recently featured in Forbes.

Bernell Grier ’15, CEO of Neighborhood Housing Services of New York City, advocates for NYC’s homeowners and her work is featured in Mortgageorb.

Rochelle March ’15 has been doing impressive work at the consulting firm SustainAbility with her report Model Behavior II: Strategies to Rewire Business and a piece in Guardian sustainable business. She also presented on creating sustainable business models at Sustainable Brands: Buenos Aires.

And Our Faculty Are Impressive Too…

Bard MBA Finance Lecturer Kathy Hipple, Sustainable Management Professor Hunter Lovins, and Juzer Rangoonwala ’15 teamed up to write an article in The Journal of Environmental Investing – Really? Teaching Chevron at Bard’s MBA in Sustainability. It provides some great insights into how Bard MBA approaches our curriculum.

Laura Gitman, Vice President at BSR and Bard MBA NYCLab and Strategy professor, spearheaded research on What Does It Take to Be a Resilient Business Leader? GreenBiz also showcased this work.

JD Capuano, Bard MBA faculty for Implementing Sustainability and how to handle data, was featured with this company Closed Loop Advisors in Ten socially responsible startups that are changing the way New York does business.

Working Together + Staying in Touch

Don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you want to learn more about our MBA program, partner on a project, or hire our students. We would love to hear from you.

Posted on 1 September 2015 | 12:48 pm

NRDC: How We Can Transform ‘The Building Blocks of Life’

NRDC: How We Can Transform ‘The Building Blocks of Life’

This is edited excerpt from a Sustainable Business Fridays conversation held April 27 by the Bard MBA in Sustainability program in New York City. This twice-monthly dial-in conversation features sustainability leaders. The previous interview was with Maria Seddio of CorpTalk and Wash!.

yerina-mugicaYerina Mugica is the managing director of National Resource Defense Council’s Center for Market Innovation. The CMI is team of private sector-trained, market-focused professionals within NRDC, a nonprofit dedicated to using law, science and a large membership network to catalyze environmental action.

CMI works to accelerate the shift from centralized industrial-scale production to more sustainable, distributed solutions that offer both strong profit potential and better outcomes for people and the planet.

Bard MBA: Can you tell us a little bit about what led you down your path and how your career has evolved?

Yerina Mugica: In terms of my background, I would say I started with mainstream business. I was a business undergrad and I had a goal to get a good job when I graduated with a good salary that would allow me to support myself and help my family. I started out in consulting on financial systems and then moved to working as director of product development for an Internet startup.

Through those experiences, I found that I really enjoyed working in the business space but I wanted to find a way to combine my business background with my passion for making a more positive impact in the work that I do. So I decided to go back and get an MBA with a focus on sustainability in 2002.

At that time, only a handful of schools had that kind of focus. I went to UNC Chapel Hill, which had a program that focused on sustainable enterprise along with the traditional MBA. Along the way in that MBA program, I had the opportunity to be exposed to what, for me, was a whole new world around nonprofits as a sector.

Through a number of engagements and partnerships through the MBA program, I had the opportunity to work at an NGO and through those experiences I realized that working at an NGO allowed me to focus 100 percent of my time on work that I found really valuable and value-aligned.

It also allowed me to take a step back and look across an entire sector and think about what are the barriers that are preventing it from moving forward in a more sustainable way? So when I graduated, I decided to pursue the non-profit sector.

I was fortunate enough to meet someone working at NRDC as director of programs. I started talking to him about what I was doing and how I thought that there were opportunities to build upon the power of markets to create powerful change. He basically said, “Well, that’s interesting because NRDC’s been thinking about starting a center around those concepts and we could use some help in thinking that through.”

So I jumped into this consulting role where I helped to conceptualize what a center for market innovation could look like, and it took a few years to get that up and running.

In the meantime I also worked on local policies here in New York City, for example on the hybrid taxi bill and a bill around electronic waste, and I also worked at the federal policy level on energy efficiency. When we did launch the Center for Market Innovation 2007, I was able to move into that space and pursue collaborative opportunities with the market.

I had also built up a better understanding of how policy and business can work together and how they can complement each other. I’m especially thinking about enabling business as the way that we move forward with shifting to a greener economy and a greener environment.

Bard MBA: Can you tell a little more about the work that the Center for Market Innovation does?

Mugica: Our goal at the Center for Market Innovation is to help accelerate the shift to a greener, more prosperous economy that benefits everyone. On the ground we work collaboratively with the private sector as well as public sector and other NGOs to help identify opportunities, demonstrate, support and then scale up strategies that really deliver those profitable solutions.

For example, one of the areas that we have worked on is an initiative called the High Performance Tenant Demonstration Project, where we are working with commercial tenants to help bring the business case for energy efficiency into their decision-making process when they’re moving into a new commercial space.

We do this type of partnership across energy, shelter, water and food, which are the four key areas that we focus on. These are the building blocks of life. They are also areas where we see opportunities for really transformative environmental markets.

Bard MBA: Can you tell us more about the partnerships you forge with for-profit and non-profit actors to forge these markets? 

Mugica: I think our work in green infrastructure is a great example. This is an area where we have partnered with a number of entities to address the problem of stormwater runoff.

We worked with the city of Philadelphia to help think through strategies to bring the private sector investment into the space and help accelerate their ability to reduce problems related to their stormwater overflow and increase their green infrastructure. We also worked in that same partnership with EKO Private Asset Management as well as The Nature Conservancy to analyze and assess opportunities.

The great part of the story is there are tremendous amounts of opportunity in this space. In fact, there are much more cost effective ways to address stormwater runoff through green infrastructure than through only investing in more traditional routes such as rebuilding stormwater processing facilities that are extremely expensive for cities and don’t necessarily provide all the additional benefits that you get from green infrastructure. We’ve been able to work with these partners to identify a path to increasing investment in green infrastructure at the same time reducing the cost the city would need to comply with its stormwater regulations.

This approach happens to have the benefit of providing more green space and greater economic opportunity within the city as well.

Bard MBA: Given your experience, what do you think are the key elements of a successful, collaborative partnership?

Mugica: That’s a great question. The first thing is having a clear shared mission and having clearly defined roles for what each partner brings to the table. From the starting point, make sure we’re all aligned and moving toward the same goal. There are going to be times where the partners don’t agree on everything, so focusing in on what is the goal of the partnership, and making sure that we do agree on that goal and on the strategy for moving it forward, is a critical first step. For us, that’s been shown time and time again in the partnerships that we form.

Bard MBA: What are you most looking forward to with the work that you’re doing at CMI and your sustainability career in general?

Mugica: There’s a lot of exciting stuff that is coming up. One of those includes that we are moving toward an approach that is much more integrated. Instead of looking at each of these areas — food, shelter, energy and water — independently, we’re looking at taking a more integrated approach. So, working on revitalization by bringing together more affordable housing with more green space that addresses stormwater issues as well, or incorporating improving access to healthy food as part of the definition of a sustainable community.

Just taking a more holistic approach is an exciting approach as we move into more projects.

The full recording of this conversation is available.

Posted on 16 August 2015 | 8:39 am

Shake Shack’s Supply Chain Guru on Sourcing Better Burgers

Shake Shack’s Supply Chain Guru on Sourcing Better Burgers

Jeffrey Amoscato is vice president of supply chain and menu innovation at Shake Shack, which describes itself as a modern day roadside burger stand company, known for selling fresh, locally sourced food in sustainably operated kitchens.

jamoscato_horizontalSeven years after Amoscato opened the second Shake Shack in New York City, the company boasts operations across the United States and in six countries. How do you run an international operation but source from local farmers and artisan bakers?

Amoscato said one answer is that Shake Shack keeps the menu small so that the company’s sourcing team can be engaged with artisanal and local suppliers. Its menu uses a core ingredient list of 55 to 60 items as staples and then regularly considers 300 or so specialty items.

“In order to be a part of each community, we commit to supporting local makers,” he said.

Since 2012, Amoscato has been director of supply chain responsible for all purchasing, culinary and quality assurance functions of Shake Shack. This year he became vice president of supply chain and menu innovation.

This Q&A with Amoscato is an edited excerpt from a “Sustainable Business Fridays” conversation March 27 by the Bard MBA in Sustainability program, a graduate program at Bard College in New York. This twice-monthly dial-in conversation features sustainability leaders from across the globe.

Bard MBA: Tell us about how you moved from the fine-dining side of Union Square Hospitality Group to purchasing for Shake Shack.

Jeff Amoscato: A year and a half into making the Museum of Modern Art restaurants’ purchasing better and more efficient, I began to wonder, “What’s my next step? I think we can do something more as a company.” We had all these restaurants that were buying from similar suppliers. How could we harness all that spend together and get a better price, get a better deal and be at the top of the list for quality suppliers?

I eventually came down to the corporate office with those ideas to do group purchasing for all of Union Square Hospitality Group. Through that, I began getting really involved with Shake Shack. There were so many opportunities to use our buying power with all of the restaurants, but Shake Shack was a very different challenge. In fine dining, when prices go up on one item, the chef can maneuver the menu mix to keep the menu mix pricing steady. Shake Shack has a set menu. When beef goes up, it’s not easy to just move to a fish, chicken or pork item. We needed a very different outlook and strategy.

We were planning our first international opening in Dubai. We went from really not knowing a whole lot about our specs in our foods to a crash course. We needed to learn everything about our food in order to understand what we could really manage on an international scale. It was a lot of fun, but very time-consuming — time-consuming enough that I was offered one of the first positions as a corporate employee with Shake Shack. Prior to establishing the Shake Shack team, we were integrated with the USHG (Union Square Hospitality Group) home office. Fast-forward to now: I oversee our domestic and international supply chain, our culinary team and our quality assurance.

The fun thing now is coming up with the new menu items, sourcing new ingredients and watching over the whole process from sourcing, safety, distribution, pricing and costs. And with all of that, we get to figure out how to integrate the new item into the hands of training and operations in order to roll it out to all of our locations.

Bard MBAOne reason Shake Shack has been so successful and has resonated with so many people is this heritage of fine dining. How does that background inform the way Shake Shack does business?

Amoscato: There are a number of us in the company who came from fine dining. When we think about how we open new locations and how we operate on a daily basis, we have a history and a mindset that we are working from that is not traditional of a multi-unit chain.

Bard MBAWhat have been the challenges and benefits of having a small menu from a sourcing and supply chain perspective?

Amoscato: The menu is deceptively small! We have so many artisanal and local suppliers that we work with from our custard calendar flavors to our holiday specials. Outside of that core ingredient list of about 55-60 items, we are now looking at 300-400 additional specialty items. In New York, we work with bakers, chocolatiers, beverage makers and sausage makers.

The menu doesn’t look big, but in order to be a part of each community we commit to supporting local makers and integrating those high-quality flavors.

Bard MBAPeople love Shake Shack because of those local products, but you also know that you need to have a lot of potato buns and high quality beef and dairy. How do you go about procuring large quantities of beef in particular, and how has that market changed and grown over the history of Shake Shack?

Amoscato: Beef is a good example to use. At the beginning we had one location in New York City with relatively low volume. At that time, we worked very closely with Pat LaFrieda Meats to help identify the right Shake Shack blend of meat. Over the last six years, we have really dug in to understand where our beef is coming from. I get to travel to the different parts of the U.S. to see the ranches, the feedlots and ultimately the harvesting facility where the raw material comes from. As we have grown, we have continued to build relationships with these companies and farmers.

I’ve driven around Kansas in this guy’s pick-up, going from farm to farm learning how he chooses cattle from a particular farmer. We let them know how important their decisions are to us because it dictates what ends up on our griddles. We want humanely raised beef coming from people who are doing the right thing for their farms, their land and their animals. The farmers feel great about where their beef is going when we let them know how passionate we are about having the best product.

For all of our suppliers, we prefer to go meet them face-to-face. We want to shake hands with the people making our food. I love going on factory tours — it’s so cool to see the food system in the U.S. and learn how to make it better.

Working closely with our potato bun supplier has gotten us to the point where we have non-GMO buns. I have no idea if they were going to do that without us asking and pushing. We had to do this for the international market and realized there was no reason to not also roll out non-GMO buns for the domestic market. It took time, but we are so proud to offer non-GMO buns across all our markets.

Bard MBA: It’s great you can meet so many of the farmers. Does Shake Shack have set guidelines and criteria for all of your suppliers?

Amoscato:  Right now it’s more of a one-on-one in-person relationship. You can send out a scorecard, but unless you get on the phone or sit down at a table with someone and share a Shack Burger, it’s not going to carry the same weight.

That said, we are getting to the point where we want to have a more documented system. We are getting into these really hard questions about,  “What does this mean for us?“ and are developing the criteria we want for our suppliers and ourselves.

Bard MBA: Who is at that table talking about those criteria for aligning sustainability and quality?

Amoscato:  It’s an internal conversation and an external conversation. We recently spoke to a meat supplier to get the producer input about how to shape and guide the policy we are putting together. We have our own internal markers and often look to our mission to Stand For Something Good as a baseline for all our decisions.

Bard MBA: As the average American becomes more interested in food that is not grown in a conventional, commodity-driven market, are you sensing shifts in your supplier space?

Amoscato: There are several companies out there, including Shake Shack, that are pushing for a better source of food. That pressure is going to help us, and the whole supply chain. It’s going to take more than one company or one person and all boats will rise with the tide. As other companies ask for better production, handling and animal care methods, the market will drive the industry towards a system we want.

If there are enough of us that want it, the industry will supply it. It is a gradual increase that requires us to keep working with and speaking with our supply base to let them know how we plan to grow, what we want them to provide and how we want them to grow and improve with us. If you build those relationships correctly from the beginning, you will get there.

Bard MBAHow can people with MBAs in sustainability add value to a company such as Shake Shack?

Amoscato: I’ve worked with a number of MBAs. One in particular stands out who brought a really great sustainability lens to us — he is now the CEO of the Natural Gourmet Institute. Anthony Fassio is from an egg-farming family and brought an agricultural perspective to the team. He brought a true passion for food, experience and vision and I still think about conversations we had that impact the way I make business decisions.

Bard MBA: As director of menu innovation, if you could add any item to the Shake Shack menu what would it be?

Amoscato: If anyone from my culinary team is listening right now, they know the answer. I love a good fried pickle. It’s really simple and so good.

The full recording of this conversation is available here.

Posted on 7 August 2015 | 8:47 am

Biking for change

Biking makes people happy. It’s proven by science, and this fact is at the root of why biking makes so much sense at every level. Even two centuries after its invention, the bicycle continues to delight users across ages, genders, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Biking in the U.S. is an $81 billion industry between retail, supplier, and services. There are many cases that show that improvements in biking infrastructure can also improve local economies, not only from increasing activity for businesses, but also in the savings afforded to bikers. According to Smart Growth America’s National Complete Streets Coalition, an advocacy group that works to make communities and neighborhoods better through improvements to infrastructure, says

People living in Dallas, TX save an average of $9,026 annually by switching from driving to taking transit, and those in Cleveland, OH save an average of $9,576. The total savings from biking, walking, or taking transit instead of driving can really add up across a city, ranging from $2.3 billion in Chicago to an astounding $19 billion a year in New York City.”

In my home city of New York, I have personally saved an estimated $1,000 per year since I started riding my bike instead of taking the train, which allowed me to spend a little more on rent, in a neighborhood that’s close enough to my office for the daily commute to be bearable. Importantly, the economic benefits of biking are not necessarily about growth in the traditional sense. Rather, they are about an improved quality of life for bikers, pedestrians, and drivers alike.

Infrastructure is key. Globally, there are now well over a billion cars on the road, with the most per country in the US and China. In Beijing, the past twenty years have seen a total transformation from being mostly bikes with just a few cars, to being mostly cars with a few bikes. Car use of course is a complicated issue, with other factors weighing heavily on the continuous growth of the auto industry, like oil and gas prices, and technology developments in hybrid or electric vehicles. Nonetheless, biking is impacted heavily as car use changes, and it is imperative that infrastructure be developed with bikers and pedestrians in mind, as well as cars.

In New York City, we still need a greater cultural shift before biking can truly be embedded in our way of life, but we’re making progress. Compared with bike-friendlier cities like Copenhagen, one big difference is that most drivers in New York don’t know what it’s like to ride a bike in the city; in Copenhagen, a majority of drivers also ride bikes, so have a greater awareness of bikers, which helps to keep the streets safer for everyone.

In developing nations, biking can have an altogether different kind of economic impact. Though biking is an activity that is performed by people of all socioeconomic backgrounds, the reasons that people ride can vary greatly. Generally speaking, middle and upper class riders tend to do it for enjoyment or exercise, whereas lower-income riders rely on biking as an affordable means of transportation. Organizations like Bikes Not Bombs and World Bicycle Relief recognize that bicycles are also tools of empowerment and mobility—both physical and economic—and are working to provide both bikes and mechanical skills to people who need them most. The Earn a Bike program, started by Bikes Not Bombs and since adopted at local bikeshops, other nonprofits, and community centers globally, teaches young people to retrofit a bike, which they get to keep when they’re done, learning invaluable mechanical skills in the process. Similarly, World Bicycle Relief not only donates bikes to people in Africa, but also provides training so that riders can keep their gear working well. They’re now distributing about 50,000 bikes each year, and continue to mine the connections between biking and social enterprise, microfinance, education, mechanics, and the environment through their work.

The benefits of biking are many. Whether you’re in a rural or urban environment, the right bicycle infrastructure can have a powerful impact on mobility and development, be it through better access to education or work opportunities, or a more fun way to get to the farmers’ market. As our populations and cities continue to grow, biking should play a big role in making more sustainable choices for the future.

Written by Sarah Bodley, BardMBA ’15

Posted on 27 July 2015 | 12:07 pm

Locally Sourced Menus: More flavor, More Nutrition and Better for Your Community

Is there anything better than a fresh, ripe, juicy tomato? Yes. When it’s used to make your favorite dish and it tastes better, costs less, and contributes up to 4x more to the community. Is it possible? Yes, if those tomatoes were purchased from a local grower. From farmers markets to CSAs, school cafeterias and grocery stores, the market for local food in the Hudson Valley is expanding rapidly. Enhanced national awareness and concern for food traceability has increased consumer interest in locally and sustainably sourced food items across the country, and noticeably so here in the Hudson Valley (HV).

The Hudson Valley is home to over 3,100 farms producing more than $322 million of food annually. Often referred to as the “Bread-basket of New York State,” the Valley’s high quality soil and ample water supply give this region all the essential tools and resources needed to cultivate delicious, nutritious food. Yet despite the ideal market environment, the American Farmland Trust estimates a New York farm is lost to development every 3.5 days.

Why are farms disappearing and what can we do to prevent it? Answer: Patronize local businesses that support area farms. In other words, dine local.

Located in a region driven by agriculture and rooted in community, Hudson Valley businesses have the perfect conditions to take advantage of this growing trend. But, this type of behavior change doesn’t come easily, particularly when it comes to the food we consume. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the typical American meal contains, on average, ingredients from at least five countries outside of the United States. The fresh vegetables on your salad travel an average of 1,596 miles before reaching your plate and the fruit for your breakfast oatmeal racks up an average of 2,146 miles. Several studies have found that purchasing local and sustainably grown produce not only reduces carbon emissions, but is fresher, higher in nutrients and more flavorful. And local, sustainably grown meats contain more antioxidants and good cholesterol than their factory farmed alternatives.
Encouraging consumers to support area farms when they cook at home as well as when they eat out would amplify the economic and health benefits of purchasing food grown locally. Just to put the power of consumer demand in perspective, if residents in the Hudson Valley and New York City spent 10% of their food dollars on food produced in the region, the result would be nearly $4.5 billion in sales alone. This 10% shift would generate vast opportunities for expansion of the HV’s local food marketplace. A recent study conducted by Re>Think Local and Civic Economics found that Hudson Valley restaurants keep more than 2.5x more money circulating in the local economy than corporate chains. That’s 2.5 more dollars towards the salary of a local waitress, or 2.5 more dollars donated to a local foundation — the list goes on — that’s the beauty of keeping hard earned dollars within our communities; a far greater percentage of revenue is recirculated directly back into the local economy.

It is impossible to discuss food systems without mentioning restaurants, and here in the Hudson Valley, we love to dine out. As one of the most powerful industries in New York State, with over 44,569 locations generating over $34.5 billion in sales, the restaurant industry has the opportunity to benefit immensely from this growing trend and simultaneously support farming communities throughout the state.

Chefs and restaurant managers have expressed great interest in the trend already; in 2013, The National Restaurant Association (NRA) surveyed 1,300 professional chefs on which food trends and culinary themes they expected to be most popular in the following year. The survey found three of the top six in the “Top 20 Trends” for 2014 were local sourcing of meats, seafood, and produce. The NRA estimates – even 10 years from now – local sourcing is expected to remain a top priority, indicating that the popularity of local food is not simply a short term fad, but here to stay.

So, are you joining the local food movement, if yes, how? Tweet me your favorite recipe, farm market, or restaurant on Twitter: @JessARidgeway. Do you know what’s grown locally during spring in the Hudson Valley? And how does your go-to “main street” restaurant measure up?

Are you interested in learning more about how you can capitalize on the local food economy in NYS? Stay tuned for the next blog in this series which will focus on building sustainable and profitable relationships between food growers and preparers.

By Jessica Ridgeway @BardMBA ’15 republished from Re->ThinkLocal blog.

Posted on 20 July 2015 | 12:38 pm

Four Multinationals Shifting Their Business Models for Sustainability

Four Multinationals Shifting Their Business Models for Sustainability

The company Novelis moved to working with recycled aluminum in a bid to find a more sustainable business model. Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The company Novelis moved to working with recycled aluminum in a bid to find a more sustainable business model. Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

By Lindsay Clinton, Director, SustainAbility and Rochelle March Bard MS/MBA in Sustainability ’15 and Analyst, SustainAbility republished from The Guardian.

Last year, the CEO of Fortune 250 energy provider NRG wrote a letter to shareholders about the lack of innovation in the energy industry. “There is no Amazon, Apple, Facebook or Google in the American energy industry today,” David Crane wrote. “NRG is not that energy company either, but we are doing everything in our power to head in that direction – as fast as we can. But we need to pick up the pace further, and that is what we intend to do.”

Although NRG’s portfolio still includes 30% coal-generated power, it is repositioning itself and its business model to guide energy users from a grid-based power system to a distributed generation system. It’s also developing products and services related to electric vehicles, rooftop solar and home energy efficiency.

As business leaders begin to see themselves as part of a larger system that is grappling with challenging business conditions – in NRG’s case, climate change risks, the possibility of a price on carbon, and disruptive innovations in renewable and distributed energy – many recognize the need for dramatic shifts in the way they do business. They also see new opportunities to help their customers adapt to and thrive in a more sustainable future.

In a forthcoming report on business model innovation, Model Behavior II: Strategies to Rewire Business, SustainAbility tells the stories of four multinational companies that have shifted their business models to become more sustainable.

For Novelis, rather than continuing to source virgin, primary aluminum, it moved to recycled aluminum because it made more financial sense and would position the company to be resilient to climate change.

To differentiate itself from competitors at the high and low end of the market, Starbucks realized that green building provided more value to numerous stakeholders.

Fibria acknowledged that while demand for its traditional paper products would remain strong for years, it was risky to depend on historic patterns of demand and began to shift its mindset about how to use its forest and land assets differently.

And as part of a larger effort to retain its core customers – farmers – Syngenta changed its sales approach to focus more on what farmers needed to capture extra value from their yields.

The new models adopted by these companies are more financially sound in the long term. They also provide increased value to communities, employees, the environment and future generations. Ideally, the business case for a shift towards greater sustainability is clear for large companies. But the link between sustainability and financial gain may be murky for some companies or industries, especially when those industries have historically externalized costs. Nonetheless, part of the appeal of system-level transformations, including business model shifts, is reconsidering the economic landscape so that new, radical and more sustainable developments also make financial sense.
What might the future hold? What if pharmaceutical companies contributed to disease prevention alongside treatment, or if food and beverage companies profited based on improved nutritional outcomes? What if entertainment companies educated their audiences as much as they amused them? Could oil and gas companies take the lead in the transition to a low-carbon economy, becoming the key to rapid scaling of renewable energy? Or might agricultural companies become profitable by prioritizing the value chain livelihoods and ecosystems upon which they depend? These are the kinds of business model shifts towards sustainability that we need to see to ensure a sustainable future.

In the past, sustainability innovation has been focused on creating new products or processes that incrementally enhance an established business or brand. But companies must be more ambitious in their innovation aims, and business model innovation provides a path forward for companies that wish to prepare for and succeed in a more resource-constrained future.

For any one company, business model innovation for sustainability will derive from a confluence of three key factors: evolving external conditions; the company’s underlying culture and capacity to innovate; and the actions and intentions of the sustainability innovator.

The companies and innovators that focus on these factors will create business models that can initiate and thrive in a more sustainable future. This will require ambitious leadership from inside companies: both CEOs and individual sustainability innovators must stick their necks out to create and support a vision of what a new business model might look like.

NRG and its CEO have set the bar high for other companies in the energy industry. In a series of upcoming posts, we will examine how each factor drives business model innovation for sustainability.


Posted on 22 June 2015 | 2:27 pm

Want a Sustainable Future? Educate for it!

Jaimie Cloud, Founder of the Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education, with other education reformers, is looking to change K-12 education to create citizens ready for the challenges of the 21st century and beyond.  She has built principles and curricula supporting Education for Sustainability. The list of school districts that she has helped transform are on the Cloud Institute website’s client list.

Education for Sustainability stands in contrast to Educating about Unsustainability: the depressing story of how much is wrong with the world and how horrible we are as humans for destroying the planet and each other.  While many feel that “fear, doubt and uncertainty” is an effective way to wake people up, Cloud believes that it has the opposite effect on the psyche.  The brain shuts down when it perceives a threat and stops participating, leaving the body to fight or flight.  A disengaged brain is not effective if you’re trying to change mindsets. Jaimie tells a story about her preschool daughter coming home sad that “air pollution is bad.”  She didn’t fully understand why or even what air was but while she knew that bad stuff was out there, she didn’t know what she was supposed to do about it. What a burden for a 3 year old!

Educating about Sustainability presents a hopeful view of a new future: good food, community, living within planetary boundaries, meaningful work, and joy.  Jamie feels, however, that prior efforts at this lacked the competencies for building this wonderful future. She has set out to remedy that.

Educating for Sustainability (EfS) is based on the belief that we must create new neural connections.  Cloud suggests “an alternative to the air pollution story teaching children about the reciprocation of plants and humans:  humans breathe out CO2 which plants use to create food and give out O2 that humans can breathe in to support life.”  What student wouldn’t appreciate plants after that type of lesson? Of course this is a very simplistic view of the CO2 problem, as it relates to climate change, but it’s a foundation level appropriate for pre-school that can then support advanced learning in planetary systems as a child progresses through school.

Cloud’s journey toward EfS begins in Evanston, Illinois, as a student in one of the first Global Education schools.  It was 1968, the Vietnam era. The world was in turmoil, and schools were not immune. Global Education was created by professors at various universities with schools of education who came to believe that U.S. schools didn’t prepare their students for the complexity, diversity and uncertainty of the world around them. They came together to create curricula to ready students for the 21st century, which was still 30 years away.

Students, even as early as 6th grade, began to track data about the planet: the loss of languages and biodiversity, the changes to the atmosphere.  The data they collected showed that many aspects about our planet were in decline. Cloud felt like “the boy in the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes.  Didn’t anybody else see the problem?”

In 1987 with the Brundtland “Our Common Future” report that there was a name for this: unsustainable.  The 1992 Rio Summit then created Agenda 21, a roadmap for sustainability.  Within this was Chapter 36 delineating the first set of competencies needed to educate young people for the future.  Using her early schooling and the UN’s new competencies, Cloud began collecting and collating curricula for Educating for Sustainability from around the globe: working with NGOs, University Centers, Ministers of Education, local schools.

Today, there is more pressure for schools to reinvent their curriculum through the lens of sustainability.  The Center for Green Schools from the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) has a goal that every school becomes a green school in this generation. The U.S. Department of Education has set 3 pillars to define a Green School: 1) health of occupants, 2) green building and 3) curriculum and instruction.  The first two pillars have more data and better defined standards. The third pillar is less defined and caught in the trap many feel that that EfS, Educating about Sustainability and Education about Unsustainable are equivalent. Outcomes of these different pedagogies need field analysis.

A three issue series in the Journal of Sustainability Education, seeking to bring the field together in a coherent manner, is being guest edited by Cloud.  The first was issued in late 2014. The theme is an invitation to scholars and thought leaders to weigh in on the essentials. A matrix of their work was created that spanned nine competency categories. The second issue, currently being edited, is a meta-analysis of the information received using grounded theory methodology to create benchmarks and measure impact.  The third issue will call for exemplars based on the nine competencies matrix and the meta-analysis.

What Cloud is doing is somewhat risky. Even Cloud Institute’s framework could need to change based on the creation of the new pillars. “But it’s worth the risk so that there can be a meshed framework”, says Cloud.  She believes that “one big area that needs to be included as a standard now as a result of our consensus process is the epistemology of thought: cognitive frameworks or ‘thinking about thinking.’ ”. It is difficult to shift mental models if you can’t recognize them or have language to describe them.

With all this is exciting work, there is still frustration.  Many sectors—government, business, energy, food, design—are addressing global un-sustainability, but to date, K-12 education has not been invited to the discussion table. There is little investment from the corporate or philanthropic worlds. Cloud has three ideas for why this is the case:

1)   Education, for good reason, is not considered innovative. For many, school was the least creative experience of their lives and they’ve had to unlearn mental models that keep them from building a sustainable world. To transform society we need to transform education. This is a daunting task.

2)   Investment in education is considered a 20-year payback and there aren’t 20 years to make the shift. “This is a classic misunderstanding of the power of youth leadership,” says Cloud. Young people are not afraid of innovation and their minds are creative, as long as they are given permission to use them. Adults who will not change their mindset for their own sake will break through mental brick walls for their children. See organizations like Teens Turning Green or Two Angry Moms.

3)   On the school side, branding as “Education for Sustainability” sounds like there is an agenda.  However, once educators see the curricula and programming they realize it is a curriculum based in meta-cognition, science, math, humanities and everything that goes into a good education.

The biggest barrier is understanding what EfS is all about. The EfS standards complement and can help make come alive the non-negotiable standards being imposed on school districts.

Some of the most enthusiastic supporters are underserved communities. The whole idea of sustainability is built around a positive reinforcing loop of justice, community health, and elimination of poverty. For teachers, it’s not just another set of standards they need to meet; teachers are remembering why they became educators.

I can’t help but be excited every time I talk to Jaimie. It is “joyful work” for her.

How can we all help her bring the vision of EfS to life? As a parent, you can encourage your local schools to engage in the EfS revolution. As an educator, build the competencies into your curriculum.  As a sustainability leader, bring educators to the table. As a citizen, support and advocate for systems that make a difference.

Originally published on Fairy Ninjas, Christine Kennedy’s personal blog. Christine is a scientist and engineer who sparks connections between people and ideas. She has experience with product development and sustainability impact metrics. Her objective is to make science accessible and relevant to a diverse population driving better social, economic and environmental solutions. She completed her Bard MBA in Sustainability in May 2015. You can follow her @CKennedySTEM

Posted on 16 June 2015 | 10:38 am

Impact Investing, A Brief Overview

What is known as the current Impact Investing movement emerged in the mid-to-late 2000s. A driving force behind this emergent field has been the Rockefeller Foundation with investments of more than $50 million to date.

Some of their key investments have focused on supporting the start-up of the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN), B Lab and its Global Impact Investing Rating System (GIIRS) as well as pioneering work in launching social impact bonds in the UK, which is ahead of the US in number of deals deployed, though the US is quickly catching up.

The motivation behind many funders of this effort is an acute awareness that the resources philanthropy has available to solve intractable social and environmental challenges are completely insufficient. In comparison, there is $210 trillion available in private markets to fuel impact projects.[1] In the US, there are estimates of $999 in the US capital markets untapped for every $1 invested in an impact framework.[2] The challenge is how to align that private capital with public need – either through building the framework for traditional interventions (NGOs and charities) to perform to financial and and outcomes-driven metrics and/or building new businesses and enterprises that are investor-ready and impact-driven.

An interesting and underappreciated intersection in this field in the US is the work of Community Development Financial Institutions. The CDFI Fund was started with the US Treasury in 1994 as a bipartisan act of Congress to promote access to capital and promote local economic growth in low-income communities.

CDFI focus over the past 20 years has been primarily around economic/social impact. In 2003 however, 12 CDFIs banded together as the “Triple Bottom Line Collaborative” to add an environmental focus to their work as CDFIs. This included a detailed metric to assess the impact of the loans the organizations made for affordable housing and businesses. As well, they analyzed federal funding sources that could capitalize their lending, and proposed federal legislation to capitalize energy efficiency loan funds serving low-income communities.

More than ten years later, Impact Investing hits the scene with virtually no crossover between the instigators of Impact Investing and CDFIs, despite having very similar missions and structures. As well, Impact Investing has its own measurement and ratings systems (GIIN’s IRIS and B Lab’s GIIRS).

Expected returns and sources of capital are two areas where the fields currently diverge. Traditionally, CDFIs source low-cost capital from the Federal Government (US Treasury & SBA) and from Banks (who are seeking credits under the Community Reinvestment Act). On average their cost of capital is below 3%. They then lend the capital at market or slightly higher than market rates to higher risk borrowers who are working to achieve a social/economic impact, usually around housing or business development.

Impact Investments tend to be much more varied, and include more early stage equity investments in companies with high growth potential as well as social/environmental impact. However, Impact Investing also encompasses deals that resemble traditional CDFI lending, with lower returns and higher social outcomes. Another key development within Impact Investing are social impact bonds – leveraging public or private capital for early interventions into a defined, measurable social problem that government is paying for, such as prison recidivism.

In institutional work within a more traditional CDFI space and immersion in the Impact Investing in a UK-based program, I have seen virtually no cross-over between the two approaches. I do predict that CDFIs will voice frustration at the attention (and capital) the Impact Investing new kids on the block are getting, Impact Investing will reach some new levels of innovation that CDFIs have not, Impact Investing will realize CDFIs have some wisdom and experience under their belts and ultimately, SEC investing rules will open a much wider and more flexible range of private sector investment capital, and these impact worlds will more seamlessly blend. Time will tell.

[1] Rockefeller Foundation

[2] Nonprofit Finance Fund


By Jessica King @BardMBA ’15


Posted on 12 June 2015 | 2:51 pm

Public-Private Partnerships and Community Engagement Creating a More Resilient New York City

Public-Private Partnerships and Community Engagement Creating a More Resilient New York City

Superstorm Sandy was a wake-up call for New Yorkers. Since the storm, terms like resiliency and sustainability have become pillars of both Mayor Bloomberg and de Blasio’s programs. For me, the storm transformed combatting climate change from an interest to a life’s mission. It brought the dangers to the steps of my apartment. I remember how the neighborhood I grew up and lived in, the Lower East Side, was plunged into darkness. I remember seeing a river flood down Avenue C that night and the destruction that was left the next morning.

streetWith Superstorm Sandy on my mind, last week I attended a community meeting about plans to prevent destruction from future storms. The initiative, called the East Side Coastal Resiliency project (ESCR), will be designed to mitigate future climate change and flood risks on Manhattan’s East Side. It is an example of how public-private partnerships that engage with community stakeholders can help develop more resilient and sustainable cities. The project is set to begin work in 2017 and finish by 2019. Between now and 2017 engineers will run feasibility tests for the proposed designs along the river, and the public and private partners will be holding a series of community engagement workshops to gauge community needs and preferences.

To fund the ESCR project New York City has received $335 million in federal funding from the Office of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). In June 2013, HUD and the city launched the Rebuild by Design competition to find the most innovative, practical and resilient design to protect the area from Montgomery Street to 23rd Street on Manhattan’s eastside. In June of 2014 Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), an urban design firm, was selected as the winner of the Rebuild by Design competition. Following BIG’s selection, they were joined by a team of New York City public agencies, including the Departments of Design and Construction, Parks and Recreation and Office of Recovery and Resiliency, and private sector partners, including environmental engineers from AKRF, ARCADIS, CH2M Hill, Mathews Nielsen and urban design experts from Starr Whitehouse and One Architecture. The project already includes nine organizations and, according to one representative from AKRF, it will include well over a dozen by project completion.

At the meeting I attended the conversation was about the section of the East River Park between 14th and 23rd street2Street. There were a number of proposals that fall under three categories: berm/levee; flood wall; or deployable walls. More specific ideas included a berm that could function as a very large, grassy bench or raised park along the river, a protective pavilion beneath the raised FDR Drive, a flip-down canopy of walls that double as benches, and a wiggle-wall across the street from the river. For each idea the speakers described the pros and cons based on cost, urban design and resiliency. After the ideas were presented, local attendees voted on their preferred proposals during smaller breakout sessions.

It was exciting to see the number of name-tagged individuals at the workshop representing the various firms, all in the business of creating a more resilient city. Because these firms are working with the city, they are not just in the business of resiliency; they are also addressing local needs. As part of the RFP for the ESCR project, all firms are required to participate in the community engagement workshops. These workshops might slowdown the project’s launch, but they help avoid more costly delays from community disapproval once building is underway. Community members not only have the opportunity to voice their preferences among the proposed designs, but these meetings also provide a platform for sharing additional information. The urban planners and engineers were able to learn about preferred entrances to the park along the river, which sections are considered the most secluded and dangerous, and which overpasses and crosswalks across the FDR drive are the safest and most accessible. One of the design leads from BIG told me they want to do more than secure the area from the flooding; they want to use this as an opportunity to improve the area as well.

Although I am still worried about future hurricanes, I felt invigorated after the ESCR Project workshop for three reasons. First, New York City and the federal government are taking the threats from climate change seriously. We obviously need to emit less greenhouse gases—well below current levels. But, we also need to be realistic about the many risks we may be too late to prevent. Resiliency means both reducing emissions to more sustainable levels but also planning our towns, cities and infrastructure with sea level rise and severe storms in mind. Second, it was invigorating to see how the need for resiliency is creating opportunities for teams of businesses. Just like manufacturing weapons for World War II provided a boost to a depressed American economy, building the infrastructure to prevent costly damage from future storms can lead to economic development, opportunities for business and jobs. Third, taking on resiliency development via private-public partnerships with meaningful community engagement is ensuring that these developments are democratic. Resiliency efforts defeat their own purpose if their creation destroys valued community assets. Personally, I hope that this type of community engagement and public-private partnerships become more of the norm for all development, not just for preventing the next flood.


Posted on 1 June 2015 | 4:28 pm

Four Bard Graduate Students Join EDF’s Climate Corps

Four Bard Graduate Students Join EDF’s Climate Corps

Mariana Souza, Bard MBA '16 will be a Climate Corps Fellow with Baxter International in Chicago.

Mariana Souza, Bard MBA ’16 will be a Climate Corps Fellow with Baxter International in Chicago.

Bard graduate students will be helping companies and colleges save money and slow down global warming this summer.  The Environmental Defense Fund has selected two students from the MS programs in Environmental Policy and two MBA in Sustainability students as Climate Corps Fellows. They will be embedded in leading organizations nationwide, providing expert hands-on support to manage and reduce both energy bills and pollution.

On the MBA side, Marianna Souza, MBA ’16 will be headed to Chicago to Baxter International, and Brooke Forde, MBA ’16 will stay in New York City to work with the Goddard Riverside Community Center.  Representing the MS programs, Jillian Corley, MS ’15 will be working with the Alamo Community College system in San Antonio, and Christina Wildt, MS ’15 is headed to Hanover, NH where she will be working for Dartmouth College.

The highly competitive program selects around 60 graduate student fellows each year, from MBA, engineering and public policy programs. Last summer, dual-degree student Rochelle March MBA ’15 / MS ’15 served as a Climate Corps Fellow, where she helped develop a green construction program customized for new Dunkin’ Donuts restaurants. March researched energy efficient and sustainable construction methods and equipment to be integrated into Dunkin’s prototypical specifications as well as for Dunkin’ Donuts restaurants wishing to implement more green construction methods.

Brooke Ford, MBA ’16 will stay in New York City to work with the Goddard Riverside Community Center.

Brooke Ford, MBA ’16 will stay in New York City to work with the Goddard Riverside Community Center.

“EDF does an excellent job of preparing fellows and facilitating the program.” said March. “I loved working with Dunkin’ and having the opportunity to help them design an impactful initiative that will benefit the company and its many stakeholders.”

Christina Wildt’s work at Dartmouth will focus on design of a distributed, renewable energy system. “It seems as if Dartmouth has already picked the lowest hanging fruit, with a comprehensive approach to energy efficiency,” said Wildt.  “I’m thrilled to help the college construct a plan to move into the future of energy management. I can’t wait to get started.”

The Bard Center for Environmental Policy believes that to solve environmental challenges and achieve sustainability in our institutions and in society, government and business policies must be grounded in the best available science. The Bard MBA in New York City focuses on the business case for sustainability. We train students to see how firms can integrate economic, environmental, and social objectives, the integrated bottom line, to create successful businesses that build a more sustainable world.



Posted on 4 May 2015 | 1:54 pm

Bard MBA Spring Newsletter

Happy Spring! The Bard MBA in Sustainability Team is thrilled to launch our quarterly newsletter to keep you informed of our latest student, faculty and program updates+partnership opportunities. Enclosed you’ll find news on our New York City activities, NYCLab consulting projects, published works by our students, and application deadlines. We are very grateful for all of your support and interest in our program as we graduate our second class of passionate and mission-driven MBAs. Don’t hesitate to contact us at anytime with questions and ideas. We would love to hear from you.

Bard’s MBA program, in the heart of NYC, is one of a select few programs globally that fully integrates sustainability into a core business curriculum. Please let qualified applicants know it is not too late to apply for next fall: we will accept inquiries as late as June 15th.

Impact NYC

In the spirit of Earth Day, last week two MBA students took their Capstone Projects to TechDay New York. Jeff Leatherwood ’15 showcased his environmental podcast business The Roundary, while Libby Murphy ’14 exhibited her new company focused on sustainable, affordable living: Up Homes. In March, Libby was also featured in Career 2.0 The Climate Scientist Turned Sustainable Entrepreneur. Make sure to check out her inspiring career story!

Earlier in the year, the Bard MBA hosted ISOS’ GRI G4 training in our NYC classroom. We also sponsored the Food + Enterprise Summit at Industry City in Brooklyn, NY. Leading up to the conference, students served as mentors to growth-stage food and farm enterprises and provided feedback about their business plans. Also in the sustainable food sphere, Bard MBA helped sponsor Tedx Manhattan “Changing the Way We Eat.” Amy Davila Sanchez ’15 wrote about the experience for the Bard MBA Blog.

RFP On the Way

The Bard MBA has a deep focus on experiential, real-world learning. One of the our main avenues is our first-year NYCLab consulting course, under the leadership of Laura Gitman, Vice President at BSR. Our students are currently wrapping up sustainability and strategy projects for ConEd Solutions, HSBC, and Inward Point. Look out for our RFP mid-May and consider applying to be a client for the 2015-16 academic year.

Additional experiential learning opportunities are incorporated into our curriculum and program through company visits. This spring we had the pleasure of visiting two B Corporations in the Brooklyn Navy Yard- IceStone and EcoLogic Solutions. Simon Fischweicher ‘16 recounts the experience visiting these two sustainable businesses in The Brooklyn Navy Yard: A Hub for Innovative and Mission-Driven Business.

Staying on the B Corporation theme, we took an after work field trip to Etsy to tour their beautiful Brooklyn headquarters and meet with their Sustainability Director Devon Leahy. First year student, Mariana Souza, tells us about it here.

Student Voices

Bard MBA students have had their work featured in various publications. Jessica King ’15, Executive Director of Assets Lancaster, had a great piece published in Lancaster Online: Big Ideas Needed for Small Enterprises. And Ian Edwards ’15 published Sustainability: What’s the End Game?in TriplePundit.

Through our Sustainable Business Fridays program, students have the chance to develop thought leadership in the sustainability space. Over the last semester, students interviewed Joel Salatin of Polyface Inc., Kristen Sullivan of Deloitte, and half a dozen more sustainable business leaders. Check out their interviews in our regular GreenBiz column, or listen to the podcasts here.

Staying Connected

As our next group of graduates heads out in the world to transform existing companies and build their own mission-driven organizations, they know there is a lot of work to do: rewiring the world with clean energy, reimagining the global food system, reinventing finance. Please alert folks who want to be part of this work about our program. We invite them to apply to be a part of our 2015-16 MBA class and the integrated, low-residency sustainable MBA program at Bard.

We look forward to hearing from you!


Posted on 1 May 2015 | 10:22 am

Good Food Takes Manhattan, BardMBA in NYC @TEDx

Good Food Takes Manhattan, BardMBA in NYC @TEDx

By Amy Davila-Sanchez MBA ’15 BardMBA in NYC.

image-3March marks the start of spring– the season when visions of fresh greens, rhubarb and spring berries excite locavores across the nation. Over the past five years, March has also marked the celebration of TEDx Manhattan, a privately organized TED event meant to effect change in the way we eat. TEDx Manhattan brings together legions of good food aficionados with an appetite and passion for sustainable food systems. A day for FOOD-SPIRATION- including talks, spoken word, and lyrical styling of vegan hip-hop artists. Every session inspires and motivates action. Here are some highlights from this year’s event:

Stefanie Saks:  Author of “What The Fork Are You Eating” and mother of two boys. Saks feels constant pressure to bring sugary foods into her home. Thus, she has decided to actively involve her boys in the kitchen to change their eating habits with cooking fun, healthy options of their food favorites. Perhaps Saks made the most compelling statement of TEDx Manhattan when she compared children to a luxury car: “ We place the highest quality super premium gasoline in a Mercedes, yet we fuel our children – our most precious assets – with processed foods full of sugar and empty calories.” According to Saks, we can drive change through small adjustments in our diet, implemented little by little, that add up to make a big difference in the long run.

image-3Stephen Ritz: A South Bronx teacher like no other and a firm believer in the transformative power an urban agriculture curriculum can have on school-age children.  Ritz founded the Green Bronx Machine, a non-profit organization on a mission to improve the eating habits of children, stating that kids, who learn to grow, eat and love vegetables perform to higher academic standards. At TEDx Manhattan, Ritz unveiled Green Bronx Machine’s plan to launch PS 55’s National Health, Wellness and Biodiversity Center, a state of the art facility with year-round commercial vertical farming, food processing and a training kitchen which runs on net positive food and energy.

Michele Merkel:  Co-Director of the Food and Water Justice Project–  an organization that seeks to leverage the judiciary system as a vehicle for positive change in our food system.  Through the Food and Water Justice Project, Merkel pushes for factory farming transparency, pursues accountability of the meat industry, and defends local fracking bans. As a former employee of the EPA, Merkel quit the agency when she felt she could no longer effectively do her job. Today she sues the EPA when it comes to unregulated Confined Animal Feeding Operations  (CAFOs).  At TEDx Manhattan, Merkel drew a parallel between the civil rights movement and the current food movement: “As consumers, we need to stand up to the imbalance of power that currently exists between corporate interests and individual well being. We need to build political power when it comes to food. Eating is a moral act. If you eat, you have a stake in the current food system.”

image-1Robert Graham– MD, MPH, ABIHM, FACP. Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Integrative and Holistic Medicine. Graham currently serves as both the Director of Integrative Health and Director of Resident Research at Lenox Hill Hospital.  According to Graham, food is simultaneously the root cause and solution to obesity and many other health ailments that plague society. Graham is known to prescribe his patients a regime of “Yoga and Meditation” paired with a 365-day plant-based diet.  According to Graham, there needs to be a tighter connection between food and medicine. To achieve this, Graham has been training doctors to cook plant-based recipes along with establishing a rooftop garden at Lenox Hill Hospital.

Nikiko Masumoto – Farmer and artist who operates her family’s 80-acre farm in Del Rey, CA – Masumoto Family Farm. Masumoto reminded the TEDx Manhattan audience of the shortage of farmers our country will face as almost 50% of farmers will retire within the next decade. In response to this, farming needs significant acts of radical resilience. Masumoto brought the TEDx Manhattan crowd to its feet with a spoken word piece of her authorship that transported audience members to an alternate reality ruled by foodies who worship the NFL – National Farmers League. In this reality, the best and brightest are dedicated to working the land.  Men and women behind the harvest of bounty are revered as heroes. This alternate reality of Masumoto’s imagination could be ours for the taking if we choose to change the way we eat.

Amy Davila Sanchez is a marketing and sales strategist for Greyston Bakery, a benefit corporation based in Yonkers, NY, that bakes the best brownies in the world. She holds over a decade of experience in marketing analysis, marketing strategy and brand development in the food industry working for companies like General Mills, Red Bull and Nestle Purina Pet Care.

Amy can be found here on Twitter.

Amy currently pursues an MBA in Sustainability from Bard College.


Posted on 27 April 2015 | 11:57 am

Feeding the Starving Artist

I had the pleasure of joining a recent, open-ended panel discussion about alternative models for the arts, at the Dance/NYC Junior Committee‘s meeting on April 7th. The group had invited a few of us with different backgrounds and experience to share our perspectives on sustainability and the arts. I was there because for years I’ve been walking the line between being a dancer, an arts manager, and now, a student of sustainability, nearing graduation from the Bard MBA in Sustainability in May. The other two guests were Raja Feather Kelly, a creator, performer, and arts manager who has done fantastic work with the likes of David Dorfman Dance, Zoe | Juniper, Reggie Wilson and others, on top of his own career as an art-maker; and Eric Ho, the founder of miLES, a civic startup that opens storefronts to possibilities by activating urban neighborhoods for pop-up entrepreneurship, for example, providing alternative spaces for dance performances and events.

Our conversation was fluid, but we kept cycling back to a few key themes. We hadn’t defined any particular challenges to address, but it was clear as we spoke that funding and presenting work (presenting, in this context, refers to the practice of venues hiring artists for a fee, to present their work) were key issues for everyone around the table, especially since the economic landscape in both arenas has been changing. There are lingering recessionary effects on our community, as well as changing funder priorities on many levels, which seem to be contributing to more funds being directed toward presenters. The idea is that presenters will use those funds to provide reasonable fees to the artists they hire. However, it also feels like the fees from these presenters are on the decline, and we discussed the fact that the “ease” of crowd funding may be leading presenters to put the onus on artists to raise their own funds, rather than affording them the commissioning and presenting fees that they once could. An added factor may be that, as ever, the population of performing artists and creators is growing, so every year more artists are competing for the same, or shrinking, pools of funds and opportunities to be presented.

As the group delved into this discussion, we all acknowledged that there are myriad ways to approach these challenges. And that there can’t be one single solution. Raja posed an important question early on: what does it mean to be an artist in this time? This, to me, is the crux of the conversation. Beyond the microeconomic challenges described above, we are also at a fascinating point in history, with enormous global changes occurring more rapidly than ever before. Innovation in art is as prominent as in any other area, and while we continue to build on our past, we also strive to find new ways of commenting on the world around us.

One response to the challenges of arts funding that we all acknowledged is the sharing, or collaborative, economy. The dance community is incredibly self-supporting. Dancers attend each others’ performances, choreographers share dancers with one another and work around each others’ rehearsal schedules, and we all donate to each others’ crowdfunding campaigns and “like” each others’ Facebook posts to no end.  I believe that this sharing–already so embedded in our way of life as artists–could be formalized, perhaps through peer-to-peer lending networks or a greater shift toward cooperative action.

There are a handful of groups that have formalized alternative models with some success. A cooperative theater company, Immediate Medium, supports more than 30 individual artists’ work through one larger organizational structure; Wow Cafe Theatre, another collective theater company, coined the term “sweat equity” to describe their shared efforts in putting on performances; and of course, umbrella organizations like the Field and Fractured Atlas have been around for decades, providing fiscal sponsorship and administrative support to individual artists in exchange for an annual membership fee.

We may not have walked away from our meeting with any one solution to the arts world’s problems, but it was incredibly heartening to know that the community as a whole is talking about these issues. Working for a small nonprofit or as an individual artist on your own can be an isolating experience, and it’s important to remember that we are part of a larger community. Collectively, we feel the great opportunity and urgency to keep this dialogue alive, and keep pushing for positive change.


Written by Sarah Bodley BardMBA ’15

Posted on 27 April 2015 | 11:33 am

How Becoming a B Corporation Helped Etsy Further Align their Social and Environmental Ethos

How Becoming a B Corporation Helped Etsy Further Align their Social and Environmental Ethos

By Mariana Souza BardMBA ’16

Etsy1A group of Bard MBA students and friends toured Etsy HQ in Dumbo, Brooklyn, and learned how being certified as a B Corp helped Etsy become even more socially and environmentally conscious.

Etsy’s mission is to reimagine commerce in ways that build a more lasting and fulfilling world. As of January 2014, Etsy has 40 million members and over 1 million active shops in 200 countries. In 2013, their sellers grossed more than $1.35 billion in sales.

Etsy did not launch with an explicit mission statement – the founders shared a similar ethos and could agree if a business decision felt “etsy” or not. As the business grew, thought leaders including E.F. Schumacher and Bill McKibben helped the business begin to verbalize and clarify the source of those intuitive responses. The Etsy team continued to refine their mission to support more durable and human-scale economies and chose to pursue a B Corp Certification in 2012.

The B Corp Certification requires companies to complete an online assessment for social and environmental performance and integrate B Lab commitments into governing documents. Companies who commit to B Corp certifications are applauded for committing to serving a purpose higher than financial return, and, perhaps most notably, a willingness to be transparent with their stakeholders about how values are driving action. The third-party certification also provides a network of other B Corps to share learnings.

BardMBA students and staff meeting with Etsy's VP of Values and Impact, Matt Stinchcomb

BardMBA students and staff meeting with Etsy’s VP of Values and Impact, Matt Stinchcomb

The Etsy ethos and mission had already led to the development of socially and environmentally responsible practices which aligned with the Etsy culture, including bike-lending, supporting local small food businesses, composting, and beginning to track energy consumption.

On our tour, we learned how the B Corp assessment proved to be an invaluable toolkit in systematically assessing existing practices and identifying gaps and opportunities for new initiatives. Companies are given a publicly available score if they qualify to be a B Corp – a metric that incentivizes companies to continue improving.

For B Corp nerds, Etsy scored 80 points on the B Corp 200-point scale for their first assessment, the minimum score for consideration. In 2013, they had jumped by a whopping 25 points to a score of 105. The tour of Etsy offices in Brooklyn provided an illustration of the substantial commitment to working within the B Corp framework. In addition to leadership-driven changes, Etsy hosted a staff-wide B Corp Hack Day after the first assessment. Employees were invited to spend an entire day learning about the assessment and developing initiative and program ideas to improve the score. The engagement of the staff was astounding and final presentations lasted for hours.

Here are just a few of the ways Etsy leadership and employees improved their work environment and business using the B Corp assessment framework:

  • Entryway was lined with a wall of hanging plants
  • Floors are made from recycled tires
  • Dog-friendly office. In fact, a pug joined us on our tour
  • Tackled waste by reducing the number of waste bins around the office, creating a central trash location with clearly labeled Recycling, Compost and Landfill bins. Etsy also weighs all of their trash and automates analytics and tracking.
  • Partnered with local coffee shops for employees who bring in reusable Etsy-branded coffee thermoses.
  • Hired Office Hackers whose sole responsibility is to improve the office environment for all employees.
  • Much of the décor and furniture is sourced from Etsy sellers.
  • Easty – bi-monthly catered lunches for the entire staff operates as an incubator for new local chefs and caterers.
  • Staff eats in the Greenhouse, a lunch area with lots of natural light and a whole wall of plants and fresh herbs.

Etsy as a service and brand resonates with millions of people – it was refreshing and exhilarating to feel the ethos of the website reflected in the employees and physical space they occupy.

Mariana Souza is a first-year student of the Bard MBA. She is passionate about the intersections of sustainability, tech and open data. Mariana is a graduate of Boston College with a BS in Environmental Geosciences.

Posted on 20 April 2015 | 11:01 am

Speaking Truth About (and To) Power

Speaking Truth About (and To) Power

By  originally posted April 17, 2015 on
These images were purchased from
Join the Power Dialog: why students visits to their capitols can help #seizethegrid

As Sierra Club’s Anastasia Schemkes fires off her clarion call to students to #seizethegrid to secure 100% clean electricity, Prof. Eban Goodstein, Director at Bard College, invites students to take one, simple action that could transform the GHG profile of the US electric grid: join Power Dialog to meet up with the state leaders, at your DEC, who will decide in 2016 how to implement locally EPA’s Clean Power Rules. As students “who speak for the future,” call upon your state leaders to deliver standards that will reach deeper towards that 100% clean energy goal!

So is a trip to your capitol really worth your time?

Mark Kenber, CEO at Climate Group, says “yes.” He has repeatedly witnessed how “sub-national governments are disrupting the high-carbon status quo. Regional political actors can be powerful catalysts for change – particularly when states command significant levels of autonomy in power generation.”

So are you ready to act now?

Join Eban’s Power Dialog movement… And join Eban, Anastasia and Mark live in conversation at #cleanenergyu, 12-3 ET April 22. Read more from Eban below.


With the planet heating up fast, and legislative action on global warming stalled out, what can students do to change the future?

Be part of a Power Dialog with the head of your state Department of Environmental Conservation. One year from now, in April 2016, more than ten thousand students will meet in their state capitols with officials in charge of implementation planning for the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

Over the next year, everyday folks can have big impact on the scope and direction of state implementation of the EPA’s Clean Power Rules. These rules mandate global warming pollution cuts in the electric power sector. By 2017, each state is required to come up with a plan to meet the targets set by the EPA. My home state of New York, for example, has to cut the emission rate from the power sector by at least 44% by 2030; in Ohio the number is 28%; in Texas, 38%. These are big numbers. They need to be bigger. State level plans can be more ambitious then the EPA requires, but this will happen only if people demand it.

“State agency leaders are already seeing their calendars fill up with meetings with utility executives and coal industry CEO’s. Why not the rest of us?”

The Power Dialog is a movement to get hundreds of college classes – and ten thousand plus students – to take a field trip to meet with DEC heads in every state. State agency leaders are already seeing their calendars fill up with meetings with utility executives and coal industry CEO’s. Why not the rest of us?

Typically, it is the state DEC that is the lead agency in drafting these plans. With the action now beyond the partisan wrangling of Washington and the state legislatures, there is room for citizens to have a real voice. DEC officials will welcome visits from unusual suspects. Hearing the voice of students and others who speak for the future can provide them with the information and inspiration they need to do the right thing.

If you are interested in helping organize students at your college or university to take a trip to your state capitol in April 2016 to meet with top state officials, please sign up here. As we move forward with an organizing plan, we will connect you with other interested groups in your state, and will develop and circulate learning materials to prep your group for the conversation.

Learn more about the EPA’s Clean Power Rule here, or listen to a podcast by Resources for the Future’s Dallas Burtraw about the EPA’s program and the importance of state level engagement. Then we’ll help you schedule your trip to Juneau, Nashville, Salem, Tallahassee, Boston or Peoria.

-Eban Goodstein, Director Bard Center for Environmental Policy, and Bard MBA in Sustainability.

Ready to diversify the voices in your state capitol to call for higher clean energy standards to #seizethegrid? Join Eban’s Power Dialog movement…

And join Eban (@BardMBA), Anastasia and Mark live in conversation at #cleanenergyu, 12-3 ET April 22.


Posted on 20 April 2015 | 9:56 am

Do What You Love

Do What You Love

The work we choose to do is a manifestation of personal intention, something we will into existence through hard work, creativity and perseverance. Work is an extension of our character and upbringing, our intention to create something, and make a lasting impression on the world through this effort.

Finding what one loves, on the other hand, cannot be willed or wished upon. Yes, it takes hard work, 10922273_662895700481383_409459144976744994_obut of an entirely different sort. It takes patience, acceptance and awe-inspiring reverence for a process of self-discovery and openness to its ambiguity. Love exists in free space. It is a confluence of forces coming together to foster the growth within us toward our ultimate nature of being.

Founding a company is such a marriage of work and love. One cannot will a company into existence from sheer passion alone. One cannot calculate every move or rationalize every decision it takes to start a company. Before launching onto the voyage of starting a company, sit with it. Think on what it is you truly want to create and do in the world, what you want to spend an enormous amount of time and energy creating. Starting a company is a passionate and extremely personal experience, one that ebbs and flows, constantly evolving towards greater complexity and/or simplicity and eventual form.

Someone looking from the outside might see this evolution as pivoting—being wishy washy. In reality, it is the process that founders go through to understand what it is they truly want to do. Founding a company is an experiential and creative process, one that requires iterative and tangible adoptions of a vision. If the founder cannot, from time to time, distill the thoughts and assumptions she holds into a tangible, moldable form, she cannot know what it is she is creating. Only through iterative acts of creation and reformation, can the founder craft a sustainable vision of what her creation will become.

Founding a company is a life decision, it is an extension of the love and passion one has for life. It is living life with freedom and the ability to create value for those you love and care for. It is creation carrying great responsibility, with potential to impact the people, places, and overall planetary systems surrounding the company’s geographic and economic location. When faced with deciding which path to take, one only needs have the courage to follow what you truly, deeply feel to be in line with the vision he holds for a happy and fulfilling life.


Miles Crettien is Co-Founder of the aquaponics start-up, VertiCulture Farms LLC, based out of Brooklyn, NY. He has dedicated his career and a large part of his life to the pursuit of bringing sustainable agriculture to a grand scale. Miles is currently an MBA in Sustainability candidate at Bard College. To see his other work please visit

Posted on 16 April 2015 | 12:04 pm

Big Ideas Needed for Small Enterprises

Big Ideas Needed for Small Enterprises

By Jessica King BardMBA ’15, originally published Tuesday, March 31, 2015 via LancasterOnline.

I have failed at my job.

JessicaKingI am Executive Director of an Economic Development organization whose root mission is poverty alleviation. But in our city of 60,000 people, the poverty rate has increased 50% over the past decade.

To my credit, I’ve only been in my role for a few years and have spent most of that time developing new programs and shaking the trees for funding in response to government cuts.

To the credit of my peers in the nonprofit sector, we can’t do it all, especially with under-funded organizations and a historic “charity mindset” that works to alleviate symptoms rather than creating empowered, intelligent, coordinated approaches to structural change.

Government is often a scapegoat in these situations, but they also aren’t solely to blame. Lancaster City consists of a tax base where 30% of the population lives below the poverty line and 65% of the city budget is spent on the police and fire force and their rapidly escalating pension costs alone. Most of those public employees also live outside of the city, which removes a middle-class demographic from a population that skews heavily toward poverty. The City’s main way to increase revenue is through property taxes on a geographically constrained and nonprofit-heavy (i.e. tax-exempt) tax base. There is only so much they can do to proactively fight poverty.

To the point of individual responsibility – while this may sound like heresy in a conservative community like Lancaster – pulling oneself “up by the bootstraps” is virtually impossible if you don’t have boots. The roots and depths of poverty are deep and depend on the individual (both those in poverty and those exploiting the poor), the community and political and economic structures.

In light of the challenges faced by the nonprofit sector and government, I believe the largest current opportunity in the fight against poverty may be in the private sector. After all, it is the largest segment of our economy. In 2014, Government represented 13% of the US economy and nonprofits somewhere around 5% – leaving the vast majority of economic activity in the private sector.

While the federal government stagnates and nonprofits work to align our scarce resources, short-term hope lies in private sector businesses that operate with multiple bottom lines; not maximizing profit at all costs, but also considering the sustainability and health of the community as a whole when making business decisions. We need more companies that are innovating to fill gaps in the market. We need consumers who think about where their goods and services come from and how their spending decisions contribute to the problem or to the solution. Most importantly, we need businesses that pay living wages and work to employ those in our community with barriers to employment or who are working at minimum (or poverty) wages. After all, the surest path out of poverty is a good job.

Through our traditional work with underrepresented entrepreneurs, Assets helps people create their own jobs through self-employment. This includes training and innovative lending for those that can’t access traditional capital. Last year, we also launched the Great Social Enterprise Pitch – a social enterprise idea incubator and business planning competition with the Lancaster County Community Foundation, to spur additional private sector social enterprise growth. The hope is that these local social enterprises will create new economic opportunity around poverty alleviation.

In the past year, we have also been able to attract new government funding to make a low-cost loan of over $500,000 to a local social enterprise working to create “thriving wage” (a step above living wage) jobs in Lancaster City. As that loan is repaid, it will be recycled to make more impact loans supporting job-creating social enterprises in areas where jobs are needed most. The “social return on investment” of this kind of work is significant: for every dollar spent by a social enterprise, over $2.23 is returned to society in total benefits, primarily by reducing the cost of public assistance to those who were trapped in poverty and are now employed at family-sustaining wages. So while this type of lending may not have a huge financial return to Assets, the net value to the community is tremendous. We expect the capitalization of this loan pool will amplify the efforts of entrepreneurs to make a deeper financial and social impact in the local economy.

We can’t afford to fail in the fight against poverty. This means aggressively seeking new approaches, assessing impact and quickly adjusting course when needed. We have to do this work differently if we want to see different results.

Jessica King is executive director of Assets Lancaster, a nonprofit that provides “microenterprise” support, teaching entrepreneurs how to start and grow early stage companies.

Posted on 7 April 2015 | 11:09 am

The Brooklyn Navy Yard: A Hub for Innovative and Mission-Driven Business

The Brooklyn Navy Yard: A Hub for Innovative and Mission-Driven Business

Written by Simon Fischweicher BardMBA ’16

If we want to create a more sustainable economy, disruptive change is needed across all business sectors. When imagining how to disrupt traditional business practices one simple but very useful tool to start with is The Three R’s: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. At their root, radical initiatives like Patagonia’s Worn Wear program or the passive house are based on these three R’s.

Last week, a team of Bard MBA students visited the Brooklyn Navy Yard to see how two businesses, IceStone and Ecologic Solutions, have developed their business models around the Three R’s. Before our site visits we walked around the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The home to these two businesses is a success story of reuse in itself. After nearly 150 years of use as a shipyard, the Brooklyn Navy Yard was closed in 1966. However, the existing infrastructure did not go to waste. The City of New York has transformed the space into a story of successful urban revitalization by collaborating with the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation (BNYDC). According to BNYDC, currently the navy yard has over 330 industrial tenants that employ over 6,400 people, and is home to a growing green industry.



Our first stop was IceStone, a B Corporation driven by their mission to transform waste glass into beautiful countertops.  IceStone’s entire manufacturing process is housed in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. It is where they experiment with different color glass samples, test for toxins and create their unique countertop slabs like Gotham Grey or Forest Fern from a mixture of glass chips, finely ground glass and cement. All of IceStone’s countertops are made from recycled glass, and do not contain any toxic pigments or hazardous polymer or petroleum-based binders. Their product is durable and keeps waste out of landfills and toxic fumes away from their workers and customers.

IceStone also incorporates the Three R’s and social responsibility throughout its business. The plant at the Brooklyn Navy Yard utilizes an operating water recycling system and electric-powered forklifts. Furthermore, IceStone recognizes that as a mission-driven company they need to engage their employees. For this reason, IceStone is 10% employee owned—with a goal of 20% in the future. IceStone also provides its employees with an important voice through the company’s management council where an employee representative occupies one of three seats.

As a founding B Corp, IceStone is a company that is changing the way businesses interact with the planet. However, as a mission-driven company they do face a number of financial challenges. Their commitment to non-toxic materials and resource preservation make their final product more expensive than traditional granite countertops. However, these commitments also make IceStone a more resilient company. By using non-toxic materials and sourcing recycled glass only, IceStone has minimized their risk from lawsuits and scandal regarding working conditions both in their factory and from their suppliers. Finally, as IceStone’s Director of Marketing Sarah Corey explained to us, IceStone’s sustainable countertops tell a story. And, it is a story that big-name customers like YouTube, Jet Blue, Martha Stewart, MTV Real World and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are buying.

EcoLogic SolutionsEcologic1

The second stop was EcoLogic Solutions, another B Corporation. EcoLogic Solutions manufactures and distributes environmentally friendly cleaning products and technologies.

Right when you walk into EcoLogic Solutions’ office you can tell it is not your normal enterprise. The wide-open office is covered in plants, there’s a bike rack next to the reception desk and the conference room is an old shipping container. However, the main attraction is by the sink, where EcoLogic’s revolutionary Electro Chemical Activation (ECA) system is on display. The system is an on-site cleaning product generator. As one of the founders, and our tour guide for the afternoon, stated, “it can replace your chemical storage closet!” Following the initial installation, the only required inputs are water, electricity and salt. In the return, the salt water system creates a lye-like cleaner and a natural disinfectant agent. EcoLogic Solutions used biomimicry when creating the disinfectant. Its properties are based on the human bodies solutions to infection. The solution kills agents that are dangerous to humans, but nothing else.

The on-site generator not only produces a safer cleaning product, it also saves customers money and helps reduce waste. After installation, customers never need to buy a cleaning product again. This means more savings and less plastic containers produced and disposed, a triple win! Furthermore, the system can flow directly into dishwashers and soap dispensers. It is also possible to use this product as a misting system, as exemplified by Amtrak, which uses a misting system to clean and disinfect train cars. Other businesses like Whole Foods have made the investment as well.

EcoLogic Solutions’ on-site cleaning product generator has the potential to seriously disrupt the cleaning supply industry. Their generator is a good investment, especially for institutions with big cleaning bills like restaurants, hotels, train stations, airports and universities. However, these big cleaning supply companies should be even more nervous because EcoLogic’s next goal is to develop a smaller, cheaper unit for residential use.

Looking Forward

Companies like IceStone and EcoLogic Solutions are shaking up their industries. You can hear the pride and excitement in the voices of their staff. IceStone and Ecologic Solutions both have innovative products and working with a Development Corporation like the BNYDC has also played an important role for these companies. It has provided marketing opportunities and a platform for collaboration. From rooftop gardens to recycled countertops, there’s a lot to be excited about at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Posted on 1 April 2015 | 2:13 pm

The True Cost of Education

Over the past few months, I have been increasingly frustrated by the rhetoric in the press and government debate around science in the context of climate change and natural resource scarcity. It comes from all sides and even, insidiously, from “supporters”.  The National debate, on this and other topics, has been reduced to slinging sound bites of rhetoric from all sides.  Our citizens do not critically assess their points of view or the data being shared on the national stage.

Therefore, I was pleased to hear the announcement of the “Free Community College” plan from President Obama during the State of the Union.  I understand the long, difficult political road a federally funded education plan is on.  At the elementary and secondary level, 87% of education funding comes from non-Federal sources.[1] There is precedent for the Community College program in Tennessee but it is funded at the State level and the funds are a gap filler, after Pell and other grants, for students carrying a 2.0 GPA or higher and who do community service.[2]

The GOP is opposed to any additional federal spending on general principles.  In the Libertarian response to the State of the Union, Arvin Vohra, vice chair of the National Libertarian Committee, states that making community college free to all would cheapen the market value of such an education and “without subsidies and costly mandates, competition will force colleges to decrease their tuition or go out of business…Massive student debt would be a thing of the past.”[3]

I don’t have such a simplistic belief in the power of the market.  The dynamics of technology advance make Associate Degrees in technical fields even more important to increase the home grown talent for corporations and small businesses alike.   In fact, a scarcity of technical trained workers will drive corporations to sponsor education for their employees and put small businesses at a competitive disadvantage.  The unintended consequence is a market for skilled workers which does not operate under the conditions of perfect competition required for a truly “free” market.

There is historical precedent back to Thomas Jefferson – the Libertarian Founding Father – for federal funding of education.  In Jefferson’s Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge, and in Ordinances predating the Constitution, educating the citizenry was seen as the responsibility of the federal government to “promote the general welfare” and to have voters that can make adequate assessments at elections.[4]

There are more powerful reasons to make community college education available to all.  For many, pursuing 4 years of college is a financial fantasy.  I was one of those students: bright, motivated to work, but not willing to go into massive debt that would follow me even after I entered the workforce.   A technical Associate Degree provided me with highly skilled employment at low cost and my employer subsidized the remainder of my Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering.   A larger financial consideration is the high attrition rate of college freshman who enter a program they are unsure of and waste time and money to learn they don’t want to be there; a debt with little to no ROI or employment as a means to pay it off.

Dogma from the economic right is predicated on removing government funding that interferes with the market so that the natural economic forces can do the job of stabilizing our democracy.  However the crises facing our society – food and energy supply, waste management, water availability, lack of jobs at a living wage – also interfere with a truly free market and are at a stage where intervention from government and businesses are necessary for solutions.

[1] From the U.S. Dept of Education website


[3] From the Libertarian Response to Obama’s SOTU Address January 20, 2015

[4] See A Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge (1779) and the League of Women Voters website “The History Of Federal Government In Public Education”


Blog Originally published on Fairy Ninjas, Christine Kennedy’s personal blog. Christine is a scientist and engineer who sparks connections between people and ideas.  She has experience with product development and sustainability impact metrics.  Her objective is to make science accessible and relevant to a diverse population driving better social, economic and environmental solutions.  She will complete the Bard MBA in Sustainability in May 2015. You can follow her @CKennedySTEM

Posted on 27 March 2015 | 11:53 am

Show Land the Money

Show Land the Money

By: Amy Davila-Sanchez Bard MBA ’15

As a society, we are approaching crucial times as it pertains to food. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations projects that by the year 2050, population and economic growth in developing nations will double the demand for food on a global scale. Much of the increase in demand will come from urban cities. According to the United Nations, by the year 2030, five billion people will live exclusively in major cities across the world.

In the United States, rising demand for food is not created equal; demand for processed, mass-Fruitproduced food is giving way to rising demand for local organic food. According to the United States Organic Food Market Forecast and Opportunities Report, the compound annual growth rate of organics is expected to reach 14% by 2018.

In light of the growing demand for good food, one would expect that land close to a big urban metropolis like New York City would be conserved for farming operations at a rapid pace. Surprisingly enough, that is not the case for New York City’s closes food shed, the Hudson Valley. Over the last three decades, New York has lost 452,000 acres of land to developers. The Scenic Hudson Food Shed Conservation Plan reveals that of the current 730,000 acres dedicated to farming in the Hudson Valley only 11% are conserved for agricultural practices, leaving 89% of acreage at risk of development to sub division housing or strip malls.

We stand before a new generation of farmers ready and willing to continue in the tradition of farming yet facing a wide array of challenges, the biggest of which are access to land and capital.

Access to Land

New Farmers often find land that is priced many times beyond what they can afford. Form Farm2000 to 2011 farm values in New York increased from $1,090 an acre to $2,140. In scenic areas like the Hudson Valley, new farmers often compete for land with wealthy city dwellers looking for spacious second homes.

Purchasing land is not the only option available for new farmers. Land leases have become more common to this new generation of farmers. Agreements can be made with investors or foundations that purchase land for benefit of conservation easements, then allowing the new farmers to cultivate the land. Currently there is no system in place to match new farmers to land investors. Farmers that operate under this model attribute their lease agreement to good fortune and luck rather than an existent ecosystem that promotes these exchanges.

 Access to Capital

 Slow Money is a great resource for new farmers looking to finance their sustainable food enterprises. Slow Money’s mission is to save farmland and support a new generation of farmers in reengineering the local food industry. Slow Money’s state of the sector report surveyed individuals and organizations that are actively investing in local food system and sustainable agriculture. From 2009 to 2013, Slow Money tracked a total of 968 deals amounting to $293 million in investments. Year over year the numbers from the study show upwards trends in investment, yet the growth is modest in relations to the demand within the local sustainable food space.

More needs to be accomplished in an effort to bring capital into the sustainable food space. A good example of innovation in the capital raising space for farms is Barnraiser. Barnraiser is a crowd-funding platform focused exclusively on sustainable food ventures. Barnraiser is on a mission to raise one billion dollars through its social funding efforts.

Will access to land and capital be enough to meet the nutrition needs of a growing and health aware population?

What other solutions exist to meet the growing demand for local and organic food?

Learn more in my next blog. In the meantime feel free to share your ideas directly via twitter.

Posted on 27 March 2015 | 11:21 am

A Conversation with Clifford Rosenthal

A Conversation with Clifford Rosenthal

A conversation with Clifford Rosenthal former Chief Executive Officer of the Federation of CliffordRosenthalCommunity Development Credit Unions (the Federation) and Director at the Consumer Protection Finance Bureau (CFPB) written by Bernell K. Grier, Bard MBA ’15

On February 16, 2015 Mr. Clifford Rosenthal was so kind as to allow an interview with him at his home in Park Slope Brooklyn. The questions asked of Mr. Rosenthal were open ended and resulted in a flowing conversation revealing a rich history of his involvement with community based financial institutions with a focus on the credit union movement. It became a unique opportunity to learn the history and future of community development financial institutions (CDFIs), community development credit unions; as well as a bit of leadership advice.

Bernell: My capstone project at Bard College MBA in Sustainability involves the expansion of Neighborhood Housing Services of New York City, enabling a CDFI to offer first mortgages to low- moderate income families seeking to buy homes in New York City. I having learned of your current study regarding the history and future of CDFI’s, as well as your experience leading The Federation ask if you could you share with me your experience and thoughts regarding credit unions and CDFIs.

Cliff: Running the Federation for 32 years exposed me to a lot of pain. The Federation is an association of credit unions around the country—all of whom are very mission driven, all of whom are highly committed to low-income folks. I have written a couple of articles; one about leaving The Federation and succession planning that you may find that interesting. The other was about the culture shock of going to the Consumer Protection Finance Bureau (CFPB).

I came to this out of a radical left wing perspective. A Russian historian, in graduate school, I found it an interesting time to be at Columbia, with the uprisings and activism. I began working in the cooperative movement in 1970 as a volunteer, and organized a food coop in my building in Washington Heights. I was involved in the cooperative movement throughout the 70s. I found credit unions in the late 1970s when I worked with a farmer organization in DC who said, “We want a credit union to serve the employees and clients of farm work organizations.”

What attracted me to the credit union movement was that these were cooperatives that were sustainable, financially. Credit unions have a 100-year history, going back to 1908. The first one in the country (there wasn’t even a name for credit unions back then) was called St Mary’s Bank. It still exists in New Hampshire. There is a certain elegance to the idea of pooling money and relending it; starting from a very low-cost overhead base and volunteer support. This was a very compelling idea.

When I came to credit unions in 1980, there were 20,000 of them separately incorporated. Today there are 6,500. Five years from now there will be 4,000. There has been a relentless process of consolidation, merger and sometimes liquidation. We have seen it in New York as well. It is a very tough business to be in and it will become tougher.

To some degree the banking environment has become more sophisticated. The choices available even to low income people have multiplied. Their expectations for the level of service have multiplied as well. For the 25th anniversary of the Federation in 1999, I did a video called “Dollar by Dollar,” interviewing folks who have long been involved in the credit union. I Remember Ruth Atkins, an African American women up in Union Settlement in East Harlem who had been on the board for many years. Ruth said, “Back in the 50s and the 60s, women just did not get credit and I as a single mother—it was not possible for me to get credit from any source.” Initially, the core idea of the credit union was saving money and providing loans. But in the end transaction business and transaction expectation is very costly. You need economy of scale enough to do it.

People have other options even low-moderate income people. Some options are good and some not so good. I think an analogy to some degree is the historically black colleges and universities. As segregation begins to disintegrate and as African Americans have other places to go, those colleges are in distress. I think of North Carolina where there were lots of black credit unions in the 40s and the 50s, started through the auspices of the local Department of Agriculture (and similar entities). They were the sole source for African Americans to get loans. When they were based upon communities of people who knew each other, then they enjoyed extraordinary success for decades. As the banking opportunities opened up for employment, for credit and the middle class began to form. Persons who came to the credit union were not motivated by the pure motives of the people in the 40s and 50s and the desperation of it. We saw failures, we saw corruption, we saw all sorts of things. It is very painful for me to think about this.

In terms of the sustainability of these institutions, it has become a much more complicated business. It has become a much more highly regulated business. The Patriotic Act and the ways in which credit unions have had to become an agent of the Federal government rather than the private lending operation make it all vastly more complex.

There are 100 million members of credit unions. They have reached scale in that sense but the purity of mission has been diminished, generally speaking. The largest credit unions resemble banks; a billion dollar credit union is a big deal. The biggest is Navy Federal with $60 billion in assets and 4 million members. It advertises in the NY times. However, New York institutions that have been around for decades are struggling. I helped to organize the Lower East Side Credit Union. It is very successful now. It has taken in a number of CDCs that have not thrived. Union Settlement ran into problems in the 90’s and went out of business a year ago. Only the fact that the Lower East Side Credit Union was able to take them via a merger mean that services continue in East Harlem. Lower East Side Credit Union is now a $40 million institution that started with scraps and CRA concessions from Manufacturers Hanover Trust. The credit unions’ current products include home purchase loans for single family homes; loans for limited equity cooperative buildings and their individual unit owners; consumer credit; and small business lending. Over the last ten years the portfolio of mortgages are now up to 40%.


Bernell: What would happen if CDFIs did not exist?


Cliff: I asked people at the CDFI fund what if it did not exist. In 1989 I did a study about the lending of Lower East Side Credit Union. We looked at every one of the first couple of hundred loans they gave and asked that question. The fact is that there still are informal lenders, internet based payday lenders and so forth that offer high cost loans. I believe without credible community lenders it will be much harder for individuals to obtain credit at an affordable rate. I think we probably will go back to 30 years in history where credit was only available to a certain few; with certain individual’s ability to own anything being much diminished.


Bernell: I sometimes think there is a conspiracy involving who will be renters versus owners. I have attended forums where the topic has been how to lend to ethnic groups, millennials, and seniors who have been deemed to be a poor risk. To me owning property brings a power with it. Do you believe there may be a plan designed to have property ownership be in the hands of only a few?


Cliff: Capitalism runs in cycles; boom and bust cycles. We have seen a bust. But I guess the victims tend to be the usual victims. I don’t so much ascribe intentionality to it but I am not sure whether that becomes a distinction without a difference at some point; which is to say it may not be some sort of a grand plot but it happens almost inexorably as if it were a plot.

Then there is the question about minority talent: is it going into commercial banking anymore? There probably is no really great push to recruit minorities. So when you talk about not being attendant to the needs of certain communities you may not find motivation to engage. Perhaps the best and brightest go into investment banking, as it is much more lucrative. Some of the techniques of commercial banking, historically, lending based on character, you don’t see anymore. Probably the credit training programs don’t exist anymore; like the Chase credit training program. I think there are a number of those factors coming together resulting in inequities in the market.


Bernell: Do you still believe there is a future for credit unions and CDFIs?


Cliff: You are asking a really tough existential question. In my darker moments I think I spent 30 years on this and there will be very few survivors because of this consolidation trend. The loan funds have done pretty well; the mortality rate among the non-regulated institutions is not that high. The CDFI fund has made a big difference in the sustainability of these institutions to provide funding. But I believe financial institutions have moved away from significantly supporting CDFIs.

I do think there is a future for the sort of community-based work you are doing, having the specific knowledge of a community, its borrowers and their needs. The theme of inequality is not going to go away. The strings of inequality have come to an insufferable point. If a financial institution has lost the talent, orientation, organization to do the work itself, then using an intermediary is helpful.

My last word of advice to you, Bernell, is don’t leave this business. It may be a bit lonely but you have a rare and very valuable skill and commitment. If it is possible to do anything in this environment it is up to folks like you.

* Clifford Rosenthal was the CEO of the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions for more than 30 years. His concept papers and draft legislation in the 1980s provided the initial impetus for the development of the national CDFI movement, which he helped found and lead. After leaving the National Federation in 2012, he joined the new federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), running the Office of Financial Empowerment, which is the focus for policy- and program-development that addresses the needs of low-income consumers.

Rosenthal is currently a Visiting Scholar at the Milano School of the New School for Public Engagement in New York City. He has authored various articles and monographs about credit unions and financial services for low-income consumers, including Credit Unions, Community Development Finance, and the Great Recession, published by the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank in 2012. He has been recognized for his work by the Opportunity Finance Network (Ned Gramlich award), the National Credit Union Foundation (Herb Wegner Award), the Insight Center for Community Economic Development, the Lawyers Alliance of New York, and other organizations.

He was trained as a historian at Columbia University. His book, Five Sisters: Women Against the Tsar (with Barbara Engel) has been used in college courses for more than 30 years.


Posted on 17 March 2015 | 2:47 pm

What’s the True Impact of the Alternative Economy? Researchers Decide It’s Time to Find Out

What’s the True Impact of the Alternative Economy? Researchers Decide It’s Time to Find Out

In the shared cellars at Jasper Hill Farm, cheese from their own creamery and others around the area ripen. Photo courtesy of Jasper Hill Farm.

In the shared cellars at Jasper Hill Farm, cheese from their own creamery and others around the area ripen. Photo courtesy of Jasper Hill Farm.

And they found that successful initiatives are investing in human relationships, not faceless call centers or centralized headquarters.

Eban Goodstein & Robin Hahnel posted Mar 03, 2015 on YES Magazine

It is increasingly apparent that today’s economy is not working for most of us. Growing inequality of wealth and income is putting the famous American middle class in danger of becoming a distant memory. Most American children now face economic prospects worse than their parents enjoyed. We suffer from more frequent financial shocks and linger in recession far longer than in the past.Our education and health care systems don’t stack up to those of other countries with similar living standards. And if all this were not enough, environmental destruction continues to escalate as we stand on the verge of triggering irreversible, and perhaps cataclysmic, climate change.

One key lesson that emerges about these innovations is the importance of good, old-fashioned, face-to-face relationships.

Yet, beneath the radar of the mainstream media, a diverse and energetic new generation of business models has cropped up in response to urgent, unmet needs. We’re talking about innovations like worker-owned cooperativescredit unions,community-supported agriculturesharing platforms and businesses, and community energy enterprises. (You may have seen organizations like this in the “new economy” section of the YES! website. But in this project we are calling them part of a “future” rather than a “new” economy because some initiatives, such as cooperatives, have been with us for centuries.)

How important are these innovations? Doing something differently isn’t inherently “good”—despite Americans’ perennial love of the next new thing. How well do these models really perform when it comes to providing prosperity for their workers and others who depend on them? Do they really deliver on their promise of distributing social and financial benefits broadly while restoring the environment?

We at the Economics for Equity and the Environment (E3) Network—more than 300 progressive environmental economists nationwide—decided it was time to find out.

We didn’t want to rely only on traditional economic measures of success, such as income per capita, because these measures ignore things we thought were important, like equality and job satisfaction. Meanwhile, exciting stories of the next great thing presented without quantifiable measures of achievements were inadequate as well. To study these initiatives in a systematic way and understand more clearly what was going on, we needed a new methodology.

Our steering committee, which is composed of senior economists, devised a multidimensional framework for analyzing the future economy. First, we asked researchers to succinctly describe the innovation they were studying. What are its main features? How does it differ from other efforts that try to address the same problems? Does it contribute to building institutions such as common land ownership, cooperative enterprise management, public-private partnerships, or collaborative intellectual property?

Next, researchers were asked to present evidence—statistical wherever possible—of how the project they were studying affects five different areas: livelihoods and opportunities; empowerment and social relations; equity; environment; and resilience.

Finally, researchers probed the initiative’s ability to grow and be replicated. Are there legal or regulatory barriers that limit the innovation’s emergence or success? Can it expand from a neighborhood to a municipality, or a region? Does the innovation generate unintended consequences, desirable or otherwise?

We selected six research teams of economists from around the country to look at future economy innovations in the following six places:

1. Cleveland, Ohio
The Greater University Circle Initiative (GUCI), a job creation and community building venture involving wealthy institutions in the inner city.

2. Portland, Oregon
Verde, a green community development and job creation initiative in a neglected urban neighborhood.

3. Hardwick, Vermont
Building an environmentally sustainable local food cluster.

4. Pioneer Valley, Massachusetts
The realities of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).

5. Vancouver, British Columbia
low-carbon urban neighborhood energy utility.

6. Worldwide
Craigslist, Couchsurfing, and Neighborhoods: Online platforms for exchanging and sharing goods.

You can see that the projects our researchers studied were tremendously diverse. And what they found was intriguing, even startling in some cases.

Researchers also found that new business models need specific regulatory and policy environments to thrive.

One key lesson that emerges about these innovations is the importance of good, old-fashioned, face-to-face relationships in developing strong place-based initiativesIf some of the old economy’s hallmarks are faceless call centers and centralized headquarters, successful future economy initiatives are investing in human relationships. The crucial element in Portland nonprofit Verde’s success in creating jobs and green spaces has been its ability to partner with other local and regional organizations, including a tight-knit neighborhood-based coalition of four dynamic nonprofits that calls itself Living Cully, named after the neighborhood where it works.

Likewise, the Greater University Circle Initiative of Cleveland rests upon a dense network of connections between local foundations, universities, hospitals, community organizations, cooperative enterprises, and job-training programs—all designed to serve five low-income neighborhoods. And the success of the food business cluster in Hardwick, Vermont, rests on collaborations between local farmers, seed companies, food processors, and distributors, as well as a key food advocacy nonprofit that serves the entire community.

Researchers also found that new business models need specific regulatory and policy environments to thrive. Although there is nearlyuniversal love for community-supported agriculture—6,000 businesses and counting—U.S. farm policy gives the advantage to large-scale farmers who grow hundreds of acres of corn, wheat, or soy, leaving CSA farmers to struggle to pay themselves and their workers a living wage. And Anders Fremstad’s research on sharing platforms suggests that the Ubers and Airbnbs of the world will need regulations and user agreements before they are able to take care of workers and sharers.

There is a bright spot where government and future economy already meet: Economist Marc Lee found that Vancouver, British Columbia, had built a solid business model for its False Creek district energy utility, which is providing 70 percent of the neighborhood’s commercial and residential heating from sewer lines, while running a financially viable operation.

This first round of groundbreaking analyses establishes a practice of asking hard questions of new business models. If we are to truly build a more equitable, restorative economy, we need to engage business owners, communities, civic organizations, customers, and active citizens everywhere in a lively public conversation about living and working in the future. The Future Economy Initiative is a tough-love contribution to driving that dialogue forward.

Eban-Goostein-hed-100Eban Goodstein, E3 Network and Future Economy Initiative steering committee member, founded and directs two graduate programs in sustainability at Bard College as well as the C2C Fellows sustainability leadership program. Robin Hahnel, director of the Future Economy Initiative, is professor emeritus from American University and research affiliate at Portland State University.

Posted on 16 March 2015 | 2:42 pm

Libby Murphy BardMBA ’14: The Climate Scientist Turned Sustainable Entrepreneur

Libby Murphy BardMBA ’14: The Climate Scientist Turned Sustainable Entrepreneur

Warning! This is not a traditional Career 2.0 story. This woman did not plunge into a new profession after years pursuing another career. This is a story about doing what you love, finding your passion and going after it, no matter how big or overwhelming it may seem. It’s also a great business idea that we just can’t resist sharing. Originally published March 6th, 2015 on the Career 2.0 column via

For someone who is intent on revolutionizing the manufactured housing industry, it’s pretty ironic that Libby Murphy lives in the same house where her grandfather was born in New Paltz, not far from the Catskill Mountains in Upstate New York.

But really it isn’t all that surprising that a woman who aims to bring affordable, modern and eco-friendly homes to the masses cherishes her old home and the sense of belonging.

“Our housing market is so broken, environmentally, socially, and economically. I want to build homes that are light on the earth and on your wallet. We are not aiming for niche. Everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy a beautifully designed and sustainable home, not just higher income people. This is our chance to change all that.”

Growing up, Murphy always gravitated toward science. So it was no surprise when she headed to Vassar to study geology followed by two master’s at Bard, one in climate science and policy and the other in sustainable business. Throughout her studies, Murphy has worked in the field. She spent over two years with a Tidal Power start-up and then worked with a Hudson Valley initiative to turn farm waste products into fuel. For the past seven years, Murphy has been a sustainable business consultant on a freelance basis and since 2012 has been a climate specialist with the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation.

“I’ve never wanted to be one of those people stuck in an office working on a project without seeing the bigger picture of how it impacts society and tackles the Water Meadow along the Camel Trailproblems we face today. I’ve always wanted to take science a step further and fuse it with business and economics.”

The MBA was a revelation for Murphy. “We were studying different types of companies with sustainable products and how they grew. And it always struck me how people would get distrustful, almost offended, when they realized some of these businesses had to form partnerships with bigger firms – companies like Walmart for example – in order to bring their products to the market. It really frustrated me because it’s elitist. I have the privilege to be able to shop where I want but most people need to go where the prices are the lowest. To be unwilling to work with these bigger firms is keeping sustainable products out of the hands of customers who deserve them just as much as you and I.”

The fact that many of the ‘green’ companies she was studying were so dedicated to minimizing their environmental impact that they priced themselves out of thegrid market was not lost on Murphy either. “The intent is great, but the effect is minimized because it reaches so many fewer people due to the cost.”

Although she has been working in governmental organizations on and off for years, Murphy knew the start-up environment was more her thing and took the opportunity of her final MBA project to do a market analysis and business model of a concept she had bouncing around in her head.

“I got obsessed with this idea of bringing more balance and moderation into products; making sure that the price point is just as important as sustainability. You might have to give up a little bit in terms of efficiency to get that balance but in the longer run when costs come down you can gain back those efficiencies. My hope was that the analysis would show the potential for the business and I could run with it after graduation.”

Boy, did those numbers look good. And the business?

kitchen“We design and manufacture modern ‘manufactured’ homes. I like to avoid the term ‘mobile home’ because historically it has such a negative connotation, but UpHomes plans to change those perceptions through innovation. We are starting from scratch and redefining the prefab market by marrying design and affordability with sustainability.”

Murphy didn’t have to look far for a partner. Her classmate’s husband, Blake Goble, is an architect and immediately took to UpHomes when Murphy presented the concept of balancing the impact of materials, energy efficiency, the design and economics.

The approach could be loosely described as being the “IKEA kitchen of houses”. Customers can combine the 250 comparisonsquare-foot modules as they wish and design the home online with the help of a consultant. UpHomes meet the federal HUD standard and can be rapidly manufactured and easily transported. Prices start at $100K.

It’s been overwhelming at times starting something so big, but Murphy is in this for the long run. “I’m looking to create something that lasts. I don’t want to get in and cash out, and I’m not interested in working with people like that. I want to develop partnerships with developers and small businesses and, longer term, look at the disaster recovery and public housing market.

“To get over the day-to-day self-doubt about tackling something so huge has been hard, but you just have to push through it. I think I’ve got what it takes, but I’ve got to admit it’s been a lot harder than I thought it would be. I’m just taking it day by day for now.”

Libby Murphy’s tips
  • It’s very helpful to have start-up experience. You can recognize and avoid pitfalls in advance.
  • Be able to learn – be teachable and open – and surround yourself with like-minded people.
  • When you start your own company, that’s when you start asking for favors.
  • Be ok with a lot of risk and uncertainty, not to mention stress. Reassure yourself and keep moving forward.
Posted on 13 March 2015 | 12:11 pm

Wangari Maathai Is My Sustainability Hero

Wangari Maathai Is My Sustainability Hero

by Jacqi Rose, Bard MBA ’15

Wangari Maathai was my kinda lady. When my teen sisters and their friends prattle on and on
about Miley Cyrus and how excited they are about the new Hunger Games movie, I can’t help but think ­ “Wow, I’m old.” Not because I dislike Miley or The Hunger Games ­ that song “Party in the USA” was super catchy! And I like dystopian sci­fi stories with teen female leads. I have the reaction that I do because I’m finally at the age where I see and want better role models for my sisters. Is Katniss the cat’s pajamas? Yup. But her life may be a little extreme for my sisters to mirror. Now that I’m grown up and have a more broad perspective, I want to teach them to look up to women like Wangari Maathai.

Wangari was the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree. Not just the first woman in her family, or the first in her village, but the first woman in East and Central Africa. Whoa. She became chair of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy at the University of Nairobi in 1976 (yes, she was only 36), and an associate professor for the same department a year later. Again ­ the first woman to do both. Wangari Maathai was an active member of the National Council of Women in Kenya from 1976 to 1987. Ever the overachiever, she was the chairwoman for the last six years of her membership. While serving on this council, she also started to talk to people about community­based tree planting. This was the beginning of the Green Belt Movement (GBM), the focus of which is to fight poverty and to conserve the environment through tree planting. As a student in the field of Sustainability, I give a ton of credit to trees. Our mutual love of trees is the simplest explanation for why Wangari Maathai is my Sustainability Hero, but the list of reasons never really ends.

Wangari-Maathai-by-Martin-Rowe200My first introduction to Dr. Maathai was when I took over a small Shaklee distributorship from my grandfather when he passed away. A few years after Wangari won the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize (yes, she has one of those too), the Shaklee Corporation teamed up with her for their “A Million Trees, A Million Dreams” campaign. Shaklee donated $100,000 to the Green Belt Movement for tree planting, and encouraged their members to plant trees all over the US and Canada.

“Shaklee led the way in achieving carbon neutrality in 2000 and has mobilized its networks to plant a million trees for the planet, which is not only a great achievement, but an inspiration to all of us ­ especially in the corporate sector.” ­ Dr. Wangari Maathai

In 2009, Dr. Maathai joined the CEO of Shaklee, Roger Barnett, to plant their one millionth tree. And I had a new role model.

I want my sisters to know about Dr. Maathai not just because I want them to plant trees and win Nobel Peace Prizes. I need them to understand that the world is not all lollipops, rainbows and One Direction ­ and when life gets hard, it’s important to fight. Dr. Wangari Maathai stood up for what she believed in and fought with determination and grace. The title of her Memoir, Unbowed, is quite fitting. There were times when she was beaten, jailed and threatened with death. In 1998 she was trying to save protected land in Nairobi and the consequences involved henchmen, stones, whips and clubs. Yet Wangari Maathai remained… Unbowed.

I encourage everyone to dig deeper into the life of Dr. Wangari Maathai. Her life was too rich to do justice in a blog post. Read her books (if you buy Unbowed from a Shaklee distributor, Shaklee will plant 5 more trees!), watch the Documentary “Taking Root: the Vision of Wangari Maathai”, volunteer for the Green Belt Movement, I don’t know… maybe plant a tree! Most importantly, tell the young girls in your life who Wangari was and what she stood for ­ we could all use a good role model. The planet lost a hero in September of 2011, but her mission and passion will continue to inspire.

Jacqi Rose is an MBA in Sustainability Student at Bard College, works for Hudson Solar, and is the founder of the Wild Rose Natural Health Center. Talk to me!:

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content other than my ramblings:­bio.html

Posted on 9 March 2015 | 2:58 pm

talk Sustainability, but speak Business

talk Sustainability, but speak Business

Katie Mencke, Bard MBA 2015

Try to talk about “natural capital” or “ecosystems services” to business leaders. Their eyes get glazed. Not only are these terms too academic and scientific for the business community, there is great discomfort in discussing anything the company has no perceived control over. To dig deeper into how companies are learning the language of sustainability and applying it to their business, I spoke with six organizations that advise businesses on sustainability and external impact assessment. Several themes emerged from these discussions that gave rise to best practices in communicating sustainability, increasing sustainability-literacy and propelling organizations toward complete integration of sustainability metrics in corporate management systems.

Sustainability integration can be broken down into three stages ranging from physical impact measurement to the integration of sustainability into the core management systems that drive business strategy. While “talking sustainability” at each stage, it is important to “speak business” to convey relevance and inspire the organization to reach for the next stage of sustainability integration.

Stage 1: talk Sustainability, but speak Efficiency

Stage 1 is the gateway to true sustainable transformations. Characterized by physical impact measurement, such as carbon emissions, water footprint and material consumption, sustainability’s proverbial foot in the door is “efficiency.” In business language this means resources, raw materials, time, space; man-hours per widget, rolls per square feet of factory, utilization rate…. These are the things that business can control directly and about which operations managers feel comfortable engaging in discussion. Language representative of Stage 1 sustainability integration includes:

  • Increased efficiency
  • Reduced turnover
  • Reduced intensity
  • Increased throughput
  • Footprint

Stage 2: talk Sustainability, but speak Value

Stage 2 begins to connect the measured impacts of Stage 1 to monetary value. All the efficiencies, reductions and increased throughput can directly and confidently be translated to money saved and earned by internal accountants. Inspired by the first stages of sustainability success, organizations become more willing to explore other areas of the value chain out of their direct control on which they could have significant impact. This is the stage at which the language of “materiality” can be introduced as organizations begin to realize that programs to improve sustainability metrics are significant to the bottom line and are important in the eyes of the SEC (in the US) and important stakeholder groups. The physical impact assessments of Stage 1 also leads to risk assessment and valuation of loss should they no longer have access to a raw material or lose the right to operate in a stressed region. Smart organizations develop sustainability strategies to take advantage of cost savings and reduce future risk. Talking Sustainability, but speaking Value uses such language as:

  • Cost reduction
  • Risk management
  • Value chain
  • Supply management
  • Engagement
  • Materiality

Stage 3: talk Sustainability, but speak Competitive Advantage

Organizations move from Stage 2 to Stage 3 when they realize that sustainability offers a competitive advantage. The sustainability metrics and value capture implemented in Stages 1 and 2 become embedded into the corporate management systems rather than as separate, “tacked-on” exercises. The reactive nature of Stage 1 and 2 strategies to improve efficiency and reduce risk transform into proactive strategies for process and product redesign that capitalizes on consumer demand and decouples the growth of the company from increasing resource scarcity. These strategies become central to the overall business strategy and are directly linked to the business mission and purpose. The lines defining sustainability and business-as-usual bleed together as organizations move toward integrated reporting. The value of ecosystem services finally becomes an approachable topic for enhancing corporate strategy. The use of conventional sustainability terms increases at organizations in Stage 3 with such phrases as:

  • Societal Value
  • EP&L (Environmental Profit & Loss)
  • Natural capital and ecosystem services
  • Regeneration
  • Life cycle assessment
  • Circular economy

By addressing each organization in the language appropriate to their respective stage, businesses can be made more comfortable with the changes they need to make to become more sustainable. It is important to recognize that metrics and values used throughout the process, which is seldom linear, are only representations of what matters; the process of sustainability integration is a tool that is best used in the spirit of making a more sustainable world. In the words of Albert Einstein, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

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Katie is a Strategy Analyst with over 10 years of experience advising B2B and B2C clients on capital investment strategies through linking market trends to company assets and capabilities across forest products, pulp and paper, and consumer goods. Currently based in Beacon, NY, she is passionate about improving the sustainability of the things we use every day by integrating of sustainability into corporate decision-making processes.





Posted on 3 March 2015 | 10:24 am

At Work – When Women Prefer Gents

At Work – When Women Prefer Gents

Written by Kerry Sinclair, BardMBA ’15 originally published via LinkedIN

Recently, I was surprised to learn of findings from a 2014 Gallup report, concluding that women still prefer to work for men. Rebecca Riffkin said “Women are more likely than men to prefer a female boss”that 33% of women who would rather have a male boss and only 20% of women favor working with other women.

But how true is that really? Harvard Business Review conducted a survey to see if these assumptions were factual, and found that “likability and success actually go together remarkably well for women” – proving that women leaders are actually perceived as slightly more likable than their male counterparts.

….46% of employees have no gender preference in leadership at all.

Data tells us that women are generally liked, and 46% of workers tell us that there is no gender preference for leadership – and yet a Catalyst study revealed only 14% of women hold top-level jobs in 2011. So what’s the hang-up?



It is naive to assume that organizations, and the individuals that create them, can subvert those foundational elements of human socialization

Many women can pinpoint a time during childhood where the expectations of gender began to form a worldview; it may have happened when some friends decided to play sports or take part in activities typically reserved “for boys”. Choosing to be a ‘guy’s girl’, as I did, challenged and perplexed our parents and their friends, but it also placed us outside of traditional peer groups. It is naive to assume that organizations, and the individuals that create them, can subvert those foundational elements of human socialization. A pivotal moment for a girl is when she realizes that pursuing her own interests may draw the suspicion of her peers and appear as a challenge to the community. That moment echoes through adulthood when a woman is positioned as an outlier professionally, by taking on roles that few other women have stepped into.

Around the world women are driving change and asserting influence through increased education, more active participation in government as well as in business. The Center for American Progress reported on late-stage development in the U.S:

  • Women account for 60% of undergraduate and master’s degrees, including 47% of law and 48% of medical degrees
  • More than 44% of master’s degrees in business and management, including 37% of MBAs
  • Are 47% of the labor force and 59% of college-educated, entry-level workforce

“Occupational segregation and reduced working hours, … explain around 30 percent of the wage gap, on average” – IMF Report on Women & Macroeconomy

Power structures are still dangerously unequal, however:

  • Women represent 20% of global political leadership
  • Women spend on average 2.5 hours a week engaged in unpaid labor
  • Tax disincentives: the tax wedge applied to secondary earners—often married women—will be higher than for a single but otherwise identical woman (IMF. 2013)

A well-known adage maintains that “behind every great man is a greater woman”, which is quaint at best and serves to diminish the direct impact women have at work while reinforcing patriarchal values, relegating women as support systems and subordinate to men. Girls may be encouraged to “think outside the box” and are taught that it is ok to be ambitious and innovative, but they are also cautioned not to be “bossy” or demanding so as not to disrupt the flow of status quo social architecture. And those who do will be forced to forfeit their femininity, in order to be “accepted” by members of the ‘Boy’s Club’. As a result, Matt Symonds of Forbes points out:

Today, women occupy just 4% of CEO spots at Fortune 500 companies, and fewer than one in five corporate board seats is held by a woman”

This script has been handed to young women for centuries, and directly contributes to and may cause much of the violence and oppression against women. Effective leadership requires confidence in one’s self and the confidence of others who are willing to be led or guided. When a woman is told by both genders that she isn’t made of the stuff to lead, because women, as a class or category, do not have the skills, characteristics or intellect required to lead, she may second-guess herself. When insecurity replaces confidence as a driver, it can undermine even the most promising or capable leader. As anyone who has been an outlier might attest, navigating an unwelcome terrain while remaining legitimate requires adopting a protective veneer of sorts, i.e. an intimidating presence to thwart pushback – and for some women who are fighting to be heard or trusted for their counsel, it has proven an effective style for management and career development.

That style is no longer working, now that the critique is from both men and women. In the next few decades’ women will be facing increasing competition for top positions from other women. It’s important that the structural dynamics of organizations are designed to enable women as leaders and colleagues. And it’s also important for men to understand these dynamics, so they can help to create change.

Growing up men are taught to compete with other men, and often for the attention of women. Thus they acknowledge the inputs of men with more gravity than they acknowledge the input of women. They are taught to compete for power and prestige – and women are considered a reward for those who achieve that status. Alternatively, women are taught to compete with each other, not for power or influence, but rather for the attentions of the men with achieve a certain level of that status. Women are taught to attract a husband by being pretty enough, and also smart enough to secure him. And although antiquated as a perspective, it’s still very alive and relevant in our culture.

“She’s too pretty/smart, I could never be friends with her”

Women who take issue with working for other women – especially those who are “smart and beautiful” confer power to that stereotype. Saying, “She’s too pretty/smart, I could never be friends with her”, is a flippant statement common among women, when discussing other women. The ways in which patriarchy insidiously situates itself into the interior and collective lives of women are evidence of these beliefs i.e. that establishing friendships with women who are smarter or more beautiful will dampen ones chances to attract a man. Men are the ultimate “prize” and women are the “competition”.

The Defensive Offense

Social values get translated into workplace relationships. If women experience being in the company of a woman who is perceived as “superior” as a disadvantage, then it is less likely that they will want to take direction from her. And if the woman responsible for delegating tasks and executing projects feels insecure or under suspicion, she may necessarily adopt an “offense as defense” in order to deflect and pushback from her direct reports – male or female. Finally, while it’s true that some men may react strongly to taking orders from a woman, others may get off a bit easy in this dynamic relationship, as they haven’t yet been socialized to take seriously the tension between women. Just as the adjectives used to describe women are flippant or dismissive in nature i.e. “catty”, “bitchy”, “nervous”, or “too aggressive” – the attention that is given to woman-on-woman conflict is similarly treated by categorizing it as lacking weight, seriousness or merit (“that’s just how women act.”).

“Since women make up half the world, their role in achieving sustainability objectives cannot be over-emphasized”PriceWaterhouseCooper

Because many women have been indoctrinated into that rhetoric, men have generally not been forced to step outside the box of the dominant culture. Although today’s workplace is still dominated by men and so reinforces patriarchal norms, women have become central drivers of productivity. As more men recognize the critical market insights and organizational capability that women bring to leadership, women will be less pressured to diminish their own value or be put at odds with each other whether as colleague, employee or director.

And personally? I just want to work with people who are committed to their team and to the mission, and who keep focus on gaining a competitive edge.

Posted on 25 February 2015 | 10:18 am

Entrepreneur Derek Handley: How The B Team Aims to Transform Business

Entrepreneur Derek Handley: How The B Team Aims to Transform Business

This Q&A is an edited excerpt from a Sustainable Business Fridays conversation Sept. 26 by the Bard MBA in Sustainability program, based in New York City. This twice-monthly dial-in conversation features sustainability leaders from across the globe. Originally published on Friday February 20, 2015 as part of The Sustainable MBA series on

Derek Handley is an entrepreneur, author and investor embedding the B-Team‘s vision of people, planet and profit derek_handleyinto everything he does: the businesses he works with, the networks he’s involved with and in New Zealand, the country he calls home.

He is The B Team’s entrepreneur-in-residence, an adjunct executive professor at AUT University, chair and co-founder of NZX-listed Snakk Media, a director at Sky Television, a New Zealand Arts Foundation trustee and an astronaut-in-waiting at Virgin Galactic.

Bard MBA: What led you to join the movement of redefining business for both society and the planet?

Derek Handley: In 2010 I was starting to think about my next move and realized I didn’t know anything about sustainable business, sustainable capitalism, ethical capitalism, compassionate capitalism, social entrepreneurship — whatever you want to call it.

I realized I didn’t know anything about the frontier of what I believed would be the remodeling of business, the remodeling of capitalism that this generation and this century will eventually be responsible for. So I decided that I would donate a year of my life in 2012 to any combination of organizations that could help me learn. I would give my time, my entrepreneurship abilities, my marketing and digital-media understanding to any non-profit or university or idea that could put me in a place to be exposed to the best thinkers in the world on everything from microfinance to impact investing to sustainable strategies to environmental strategies.

I didn’t really know what it was going to be. I just decided that it was going to be a year of time, kind of like an MBA, to go and start a new business that modeled as many of those things that I learned about.

Bard MBA: How was the B Team created?

Handley: After selling my previous business, one of the first things I did was buy a ticket to space with Virgin Galactic. As a result, I met its founder, Richard Branson. I told Richard my story and intentions for 2012. He said that there are a number of people around the world who think the same way.

We’re not quite sure about how we’re going to get there. “But what I would like to do,” he said, “is collect a group of them from all around the world who may not know each other, who may not realize that they are all trying to achieve and accelerate a similar vision of the role of business in society, and create a team. And get them to work together and get them to aspire to elevate this message and make it part of the zeitgeist, and convince more and more business leaders to see things the same way.”

In addition, maybe that team can start to work together on the initiatives each of them is doing. Not only act as a united front from a public standpoint, but also in their own businesses and in their own lives, help each other achieve more than they could if they were alone.

So that was all over a game of pool. I told him if he needed anyone to create that organization that I had a year to give and that he could have some or all of it. By the end of that evening, we agreed that by February 2012 I would start and create with him and many others what is now known as the B Team.

Bard MBA: What is the B Team and their role in the world?

Handley: The B Team’s role in the world is to catalyze a better way of doing business for the well-being of people and the planet. Not at the expense entirely of profit, but integrating a new model that understands that all three of them are reliant on each other.

The moniker under which it’s named after is for a Plan B. Basically, a Plan B for how we run businesses. Plan A is what is currently driving us into the ground and also isn’t being used to solve social and environmental issues that we need to figure out in the next 20-30 years. There are so many cyclical and systemic problems with the way we do things today that there is more than enough to work on.

Bard MBA: Who is the B Team?

Handley: Sixteen leaders from around the world. Most of them business people. Some of them are hybrids like Muhammad Yunis, who is known as the father of microfinance and now known as the father of social business. His definition of a social business is a business that works purely to solve a social problem and is a non-dividend-paying entity.

So you can put capital into it to fund the business, it has a business model to solve a problem that would normally be ascribed to charity or government, and it uses all its profits after it has returned the original capital towards scaling the solution to the problem.

Zhang Yue is from China. He started off in boilers, ended up in air conditioning and now has moved on to construction. In the air-conditioning industry, he revolutionized energy efficiency and started to rethink how buildings are built. He totally redesigned how to build skyscrapers offsite, with bringing it to the construction site and putting it together like a Lego set. Those buildings are five times more efficient than the average building. They only produce 25 tons vs. 3,000 tons of construction waste on site, and they use no water while another building would use 5,000 tons of water on site to build.

Another B-Team member is Arianna Huffington, who is currently on a mission around the world. She launched a book called “Thrive” around the role of business driving well-being in the workplace.

There’s a whole set of different individuals who have allocated different work streams they are looking at. Our website spells out our agenda — the key areas of business that we fundamentally believe need to change. The challenges that the B Team is working on at the moment include the future bottom line, future incentives, future leadership and future investment.

Bard MBA: What is the unique role the B Team sees itself playing?

Handley: People didn’t join as companies. They joined as individuals who believe in a cause. It’s not a traditional membership organization. It’s a global leadership collective in this space — each person is well known in his/her own country — a collection of national icons who are global players.

As it grows, it will start to look at how to create more of a movement that can expand and include thousands more.

The full recording of this conversation is available.

Posted on 23 February 2015 | 9:10 am

Bard MBA Featured on Green Gotham

Dr. Eban Goodstein, Director of the Bard MBA was a recent featured guest on the NY City talk show, Green Gotham. Goodstein and the host of Green Gotham, Lew Blaustein, had a wide-ranging conversation about the role and history of Bard’s MBA in Sustainability, how the program differs from conventional MBA programs, and “tools for changing the rules”. This edited video captures the highlights.


Posted on 18 February 2015 | 11:29 am

Fear-Based Marketing Has No Place in the Mainstream Climate Change Debate

Fear-Based Marketing Has No Place in the Mainstream Climate Change Debate

originally published by Ian Edwards BardMBA ’15 on TriplePundit

The underwhelming launch in August of Milton Glaser’s new graphic campaign — “It’s not warming. It’s dying” —

When it comes to climate change, voting, marching and innovating are “achievable, empowering, scalable and marketable,” argues Ian Edwards — and are far more successful than fear tactics.

When it comes to climate change, voting, marching and innovating are “achievable, empowering, scalable and marketable,” argues Ian Edwards — and are far more successful than fear tactics.shows in dreary shades of green the many ongoing branding and marketing challenges of the climate change movement.

The prolific graphic design genius behind the happy and ubiquitous “I ♥ NY” slogan (that single-handedly rebranded a struggling city in 1977) can’t even get it right.

His design of a green disk shrouded in a deathly black fog is dull, and the tagline is just plain wrong. The planet is warming according to the many scientific minds at the United Nations’ International Panel on Climate Change, as just one source blaming humans for making climate change worse. Additionally, the people living here are indeed threatened, but this big orbiting rock will outlive us all.

With an issue as polarizing as climate change, accuracy is important.

The ‘sustainability’ conversation – of which the climate change discourse is a critical subset — needs recalibration, traction and a spark that will ignite it in the mainstream beyond the lukewarm response to the crisis to date. How much more evidence do we need that the language of fear, which Glaser uses, fails to engage and inspire action?
The term ‘sustainability’ was adopted to make “save the world” earnestness palatable for stodgy boardroom meetings — and to let businesses seem like they are part of the environmental solution. At its core, ‘sustainability’ is about surviving, rather than thriving. No wonder it doesn’t change behavior.

It’s often not even genuine: As the Economist recently made vivid, so-called ‘sustainability’ programs in most business are misnamed when they are simply efficiency programs veiled in do-gooder activities for PR gains.

‘Climate change’ — or the more provocative term ‘global warming’  — is also abstract and, as is the case in the U.S., politicized beyond meaning. Despite compelling science and super storms, it is mired in the language of faith, or humanity’s birthright entitlements, or government overstep.

If there is any success in marketing climate change awareness, it’s not yet in the mainstream marketing channels that speak to everyone, but in the domains of non-governmental organizations that preach primarily to the converted. Groups like World Wildlife Fund and  have a head start in using clever, stakeholder-engaging marketing to link the way we live with the effects of climate change. The Guardian ran arepresentative list in 2013.

As a progressive consumer, I can send a few dollars to save a whale or spotted owl or starving child in Africa, but saving the climate needs a whole lot more engagement and sacrifice. Which may explain why Glaser’s latest effort to woo the mainstream with fear falls short.

Twenty years ago, social marketing researcher Kim Witte established a framework that tracked campaigns — like health ads for anti-smoking, HIV/AIDs prevention and teen pregnancy awareness – that used shame, fear and blame to scare people into better behavior.

“The minute that perceived threat exceeds perceived efficacy [the ability to effectively respond], then people begin to control their fear instead of the danger and they reject the message,” she says in The Use of Fear Appeals, an undated presentation available online.

Someone might agree with Glaser and might even be scared by his campaign — but they also feel powerless and, as a result, ignore it.

Except, it’s not like we haven’t tackled abstract environmental bogeymen before.

In the 1970s we dealt with the scary issue of ozone depletion caused by chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in common products like aerosol cans. I remember the advocacy messaging in my comic books. By the 1990s, we marshaled a U.S. response to the dangers of acid rain through emission caps and the Clean Air Act.

Why not climate change?

As a top-line summary: The deniers’ work to sow doubt is effective, and the fix seems way too painful. We need better terms of reference. We need to put the focus on the parties who can actually get creative ideas in place and at scale.

As an alternative to ‘sustainability,’ the term ‘resilience’ is a great word – offering hope, the sense that we can rebound and that something can be done. Tom Steyer’s NextGen Climate is focusing the fight in the right arena – the ballot box, the stalled government process and candidates who believe in addressing climate change. The NYC People’s Climate March on Sept. 21 has the potential to vividly prove the widespread solidarity on this issue, swing momentum in the conversation and bring groups like into the mainstream. And, if the viral spread of the Tesla Motors brand is any indication, the public is hungry for exciting alternatives, innovations and evidence of humanity’s ability to practically address the environmental challenge.

All of which points to an opportunity to reframe the overall conversation – in which marketers can be pivotal and constructive. To borrow from Witte, we might ask ourselves what allows the mainstream to feel effective in changing our collective ‘risky’ behavior as it relates to climate change? Voting, marching and innovating are achievable, empowering, scalable and marketable.

Image credit: Flickr/takver

Based in New York City, Ian Edwards is a Sustainability Communications consultant and Sustainability MBA candidate at Bard.

Posted on 10 February 2015 | 4:13 pm

Bard MBA Students Featured in Regular Column

Bard MBA Students Featured in Regular Column

These days, heroines and heroes are just a phone call away.Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 3.28.44 PM

Amy Davila Sanchez ’15 and Sarah Bodley ’15 are the latest Bard MBA students to host a sustainable business leader on Bard’s Sustainable Business Fridays program. On this twice-monthly call-in show, open to folks across the country, students invite the people doing some of the most interesting work in the world onto the phone for an hour-long conversation.


The calls are live to a dial-in audience, and also available online after the call as podcasts. Excerpts from the SBF conversations run in a regular column on—starting out above the fold on the site—providing our students with international exposure as emerging thought-leaders.


Davila Sanchez, and Bodley talked with Sophia Mendelsohn, Sustainability Director for Jet Blue. The call was wide-ranging, but with a central focus on driving sustainability to improve people’s lives. Mendelsohn got started in the business when she was working in China, and found herself talking “with children who had never seen a sunset because there was so much coal and soot in the air.” While at Jet Blue, she has been working on initiatives to save fuel, bring composting to airports, and a recycling effort connecting more than 50 airports and 800 flights a day.


Commenting on the experience of organizing and leading the interview, Davila Sanchez explained: “Sustainable Business Fridays has given me direct access to leaders at the forefront of business and sustainability. It feels great to lead the conversation and share it with the Bard community.”


Sustainable Business Fridays launched along with the Bard MBA program in the fall of 2012. Over the last three years, Bard graduate students have interviewed over two dozen leaders in sustainable business, including at GM, Cambell’s Soup, Pfizer, Hess Corporation, Unilever, and Green Mountain Energy. Students have also talked with Joel Salatin, sustainable agriculture pioneer, Derek Handley who was tapped by Richard Branson to run The B-Team, and Tamra Ryan, the founder and CEO of the Women’s Bean Project in Colorado.


Sustainable Business Fridays has created some engaging long-term opportunities. Through SBF, Nancy Acevedo ‘15 interviewed Bill Thomas, head of sustainability at HSBC, about their Sustainable Leadership Program, a unique initiative that has put hundreds of top HSBC management through a multi-day leadership intensive on climate change and sustainability. She followed up with a longer conversation that led to an invitation for Nancy to head to the UK to participate in the training herself. She is now working on her capstone project further analyzing the effectiveness of the HSBC approach for driving organizational change.


“Sustainable Business Friday has given me the opportunity to connect with business leaders who are influencing change and driving the conversation about integrating sustainability in business,” said Acevedo. “As a student, it was an empowering experience to lead a dialogue addressing some of today’s complex business sustainability challenges.”


The overarching purpose behind Sustainable Business Fridays is to teach our students to aim high. In our tightly networked world, why not talk with your heroine directly? Maybe she or he will offer you a job changing the future.

Posted on 6 February 2015 | 2:36 pm



ShannonWhen the Bard MBA launched three years ago, we had the luxury of scouring the globe for the best career person in the business to work with our students.

Luckily, the search led us to Shannon Houde. Shannon runs Walk of Life Consulting, an international career advisory business focused solely on the sustainability, social impact, international development and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) fields. She also authors the “Dear Shannon” column in, providing timely insight on sustainability career issues.

Shannon developed a unique six-month workshop for our second-year MBA students, with monthly instruction accompanying our residencies, regular office hours, and 90 minutes of one-on-one advising for each student. The workshop series offers students a positive transition into their post graduation career at the intersection of business and making a difference. Students gain increased clarity, confidence and practical tools to produce tangible results in an impact career transition and job search.

This careers program is a uniquely designed and market-tested course covering three key stages – Aim Your Compass, Map Your Story, Step into the Market. Each of the three stages is critical to job readiness success in the impact sector and addresses individual needs. The program helps students create personal competitive advantages through designing and writing marketable resumes and personal branding tools.

The student response has been very enthusiastic. “Shannon was a huge help to me, pointing out how I wasn’t telling a consistent story to pitch myself and my resume”, says Libby Murphy, MS/MBA ’14. “ She helped weave all of my different jobs and experiences into one, clear path directed at what I wanted to do. The outcome was a concise “About Me” I was able to use on my LinkedIn and more. Hugely helpful.”

Rochelle March, MBA ’15 adds “Shannon keenly described the sustainability landscape, providing invaluable advice on how to get where I want to be. Her support has been extremely useful in helping me understand my place in the sustainability microcosm, and where and how I can best apply my skills and talents.”

Beyond the formal advising provided by Shannon, Bard’s MBA program takes advantage of our location in the heart of New York City to provide unparalleled networking opportunities in the sustainability space. Because all of our core business classes fully integrate sustainability, students are exposed to a constant flow of top sustainability practitioners as guest speakers. Our students work directly with business clients in our NYCLab. They also have a chance to interview their personal sustainability heroes and heroines in our Sustainable Business Friday series– and also see their interviews published in GreenBiz. Finally, high-level conferences and workshop opportunities covering all sustainable business happen daily in New York City, and our students often gain complementary or discounted access.

The MBA experience at Bard culminates in a nine-credit capstone in the second year, providing a final, focused avenue for career development. In the capstone, students pursue either an entrepreneurial vision, or else, further develop specific business competencies, and land internships. In their capstones, Bard MBA students have developed a smart-grid company, a women’s bike touring company, and a mobile home manufacturing business. Capstone internships this year include sustainability projects at, among other companies, Etsy, Dunkin’ Donuts, AccountAbility and Christie’s.

The Bard MBA is empowering students to change the world through their work. Shannon Houde provides expert guidance into that world, and the other dimensions of the MBA program specialize in opening doors.

Posted on 29 January 2015 | 12:52 pm

JetBlue’s Secret for Sustainability Liftoff: People

By Sarah Bodley, Amy Davila Sanchez, Rochelle J. March and Stephanie Milbergs originally published on January 23rd, 2015 in as part of the Sustainable MBA series.

This Q&A is an edited excerpt from a Nov. 21 Sustainable Business Fridays conversation held by the Bard MBA in Sustainability program, based in New York City. This twice-monthly dial-in conversation features sustainability leaders from across the globe.

As head of sustainability for JetBlue, Sophia Mendelsohn is responsible for both the long-term vision of environmental responsibility and the operational reality of implementing change.

Through change-management, Sophia has worked to bring composting to airports, and established a recycling system that connects more than 50 airports and 800 flights a day. She also works on fuel savings and a program that has offset over 200 million pounds of carbon.

Bard MBA: How did you first get into sustainability?

Sophia Mendelsohn: China got me thinking about corporate sustainability. I lived and worked there for 10 years while I was in the manufacturing and export business. There I first-hand began to see the chemical impacts on people and the environment: grey skies and speaking with children who had never seen a sunset because there was so much coal and soot in the air.

This started my very personal motivation to look for companies that wanted to integrate environmental practices into the core of their business model and manufacturing processes. That was well over eight years ago.

I took my first sustainability job in China where I was head of sustainability at Haworth Incorporated for Asia Pacific, Latin America and the Middle East. Over there I focused mainly on two categories: chemicals in manufacturing of furniture and sustainable wood sources. We looked to take out the bad chemicals that negatively impacted air quality and increase the good stuff like sustainably harvested wood products.

When I returned back to the U.S., I actually found my job at JetBlue on LinkedIn, and applied emphasizing my previous experience in changing and growing systems.

I am thrilled to say that the area and the sustainability industry has only grown since I began years ago, and that the processes that were unique at the time are now commonplace.

Bard MBA: How did JetBlue start on its sustainability journey, and what were the key motivators behind that beginning?

Mendelsohn: Environment conservation, what’s beneficial for people and financial savings all come together to make the case for creating a sustainability position at JetBlue. The same combination makes the case to motivate others to work on that subject and under that context.

When JetBlue started, we always had people at the core who were primarily delivering customer service as part of the business model. JetBlue started with the idea that the better you treat people, both your own and outside of the company, the better the experience, the better the product, the better the profit.

From that, JetBlue grew up with a very strong CSR in philanthropy. It grew a robust and generous program focused on community needs like literacy and the importance of play in areas where underprivileged children don’t have access to playgrounds.

Also, about three or four years ago, the competitive landscape in all of corporate America, as well as in aviation, began to change. There was a general realization across board rooms that social responsibility only could not cover the responsibility of externalities, natural-resource use and disposal. When we talk about sustainability or corporate environmental responsibility, ultimately we are hearing a call for protecting ecosystems for the benefit of people, communities and the economy.

At the end of the day, we are all cemented around these issues in some way socially. When things like climate change, natural-resource use and extraction became more visible on the radar of corporate America within the communal dialogue of our country, that’s when JetBlue said, “Let’s have a special department focused specifically on resource consumption and waste, and that will be the basis of our sustainability.”

Bard MBA: You speak about putting people in the center and emphasizing a people-oriented focus in educating consumers about JetBlue’s sustainability initiatives. Can you tell us more about that?

Mendelsohn: One of the ways we educate consumers on what we’re doing — and I’m not sure “educating” is the right word — is more like sharing. We all work very hard to create these programs, to fund them, to execute them and, ultimately, sharing them is easy. That’s the reward at the end of the journey, and getting positive feedback from customers and crewmembers is part of the validation process.

We have the privilege of being able to put videos on board. If you’ve ever flown on JetBlue, you know that every single seat has a great TV, and it’s a wonderful way to communicate with customers about the projects we’re doing. That’s a very valuable source of communication that is unique to JetBlue, even within the airline industry.

We also, of course, use social media. JetBlue is one of the first companies to really use Twitter to deliver customer service. Who knew that a corporation could be hilarious in 140 characters? In particular, people want human-interest stories on Facebook and want to feel good.

They don’t just want to know how much they are charged for a ticket — that’s a very transactional engagement with a customer. For us, the ticket and the social media [are] the platform, and CSR and sustainability are the content that we can use to leverage that social media.

For example, one of the most fun ways we share with customers is by painting planes. Planes are enormous and when you see a plane at events with a special message, you can’t miss it; it is actually even more powerful than that TV right in front of your face. Most recently, we painted planes for firefighters and for our country’s veterans.

These aren’t just faceless, they are big rollouts where we honor the individuals. We roll out the plane with great fanfare for the first time because it engages our crewmembers, because it engages customers. It’s not every airline that will paint a plane for corporate responsibility.

Posted on 27 January 2015 | 9:47 am

Pitfalls in Measuring Corporate Sustainability

Pitfalls in Measuring Corporate Sustainability

By Amy Kalafa originally published January 21st, 2015 on

6093690339_a09493f126_z-300x175Are you one of those people who gets excited when the price of a Tesla    becomes almost affordable, or when you can buy a toothbrush made from  recycled plastic, or a lipstick certified cruelty-free? If so, then you may be glad to know that there are a whole host of tools in the business world that give companies a way to report on their corporate sustainability practices.

Business directors are fond of the phrase, “What gets measured gets managed.” According to a 2013 report by KPMG, 86 percent of large American companies use some form of sustainability reporting, up from 74 percent in 2008.

To date, all sustainability reporting in the U.S is voluntary self-reporting, but a growing number of indexed stock portfolios are based on corporate environmental and social governance (ESG) metrics. Firms like MSCI and ENSOGO scrutinize report contents and provide detailed evaluations to stock analysts, and companies that don’t file a corporate sustainability report are now perceived as laggards in corporate citizenship.

The Dow Jones Stock Exchange even has its own index — the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) — for publicly-traded companies.

The field of sustainability reporting is still a bit of a minefield, however, stewing in an alphabet soup of acronyms. Analysts struggle to standardize metrics and measurements. Reports may not be comparable from year to year, as the frameworks for measurement continue to evolve. Worse yet, companies are free to define their boundaries in whatever terms they choose. Some will interpret boundaries in the broadest sense, reporting on the environmental impact of all of their suppliers (Walmart, for example, asks each of its suppliers to file a sustainability report), as well as the impact of their products once they’ve been purchased and used by consumers. Others ignore these factors and only report on their corporate offices or factory floor.

A close examination of a number of reports reveals that some are difficult to distinguish from a company’s regular annual report to stockholders. Accomplishments in energy conservation and public relations are highlighted while indirect costs such as water pollution, carbon emissions, and other health and social impacts are glossed over. Some reports seem to be based on a loose definition of sustainability that refers only to the financial sustainability of the company.

Globally, Brazil, Denmark, France and South Africa now require companies to file sustainability reports. Shareholders, analysts and investors are also putting on the pressure by requesting disclosure on matters of corporate sustainability. This phenomenon is certainly having an impact on business performance, with those companies that do file reports performing significantly better in the markets than their non-reporting peers.

Even for smaller companies that can’t afford to hire consultants and purchase software, self-reporting raises issues and awareness about which sustainability aspects are most relevant to the business. The process obliges managers and directors to acknowledge the cost of depleting natural capital and damaging the environment whether directly through pollution or indirectly through energy consumption, waste and employment practices. According to a report by Ernst and Young, sustainability reporting gives companies a better reputation, meets the expectations of employees, improves access to capital and increases efficiency and waste reduction.

Most companies that make the commitment to report use some version of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) standards. These standards guide a company through a comprehensive sustainability audit, with sections on human rights and resources, environmental impact,  and consumption of natural resources, as well as fossil fuel. In addition to a numerical rating system, GRI requires a narrative approach. As a result the reports can run over 100 pages. Datamaran, Governance and Accountability Institute and RobecoSAM are among the new businesses that are crunching data and developing software to simplify the process of sustainability reporting.

Another framework in development, the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) may ultimately displace GRI. SASB aims to disclose the risks that sustainability issues have on a company’s financial bottom line. Its goal is to integrate sustainability measurements into the annual 10-K reports required by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for all public companies in the U.S. If SASB can succeed in demonstrating that sustainability issues would materially affect a ‘reasonable’ investor’s assessment of a company, it could come to be required by the Securities and Exchange Commission. For the first time in the U.S., sustainability reporting would be mandatory.

Though all the acronyms are still baffling, with an environmental crisis looming –and consumers, investors and other stakeholders demanding corporate accountability — we can bet that sustainability reporting will soon become a big business in its own right. As that happens, the demands of the marketplace will vie with regulatory frameworks to determine which metrics and standards will become the norm.

Image credit: Flickr/teegardin

Amy Kalafa is a TV producer, filmmaker, author and current student at Bard MBA in Sustainability. Her work in the fields of sustainable food, clean energy and mental health has earned international recognition and awards.

Posted on 21 January 2015 | 1:24 pm

Is It Time to Stop Hating the Car? Maybe Not

Originally published on, Jan 7th, 2015


By Reuben Jaffe Goldstein Bard MBA ’16

With electric cars finally making it to the market — at prices that are cost competitive with traditional gasoline-powered cars — many of us are breathing a sigh of relief: There is a viable alternative that will allow us to keep driving.

Fluctuating fuel prices and pollution are not the only costs associated with driving, however. Heavy reliance on automobiles wears down transit infrastructure and encourages sprawl development and other unhealthy practices. If people really wanted a greener world, we would drive less, not just make our driving greener.

Since electric cars still need roads, the challenge of funding road maintenance and expansion remains. Upkeep costs used to be fully funded through the gas tax, however according to The Economist, this has not been the case since 2008. As a result, the federal government has to step in to cover the shortfalls at the state and local levels, resulting in the borrowing of $41 billion from the treasury to fund road maintenance. While roads have become more expensive, there appears to be minimal transition away from the lifestyle that already exists. There has been little headway in finding alternative forms of transportation that would divert people from driving. Several state governments, most notably Florida in 2011, have even killed plans to develop high-speed rail projects.

The problem is exacerbated by the United States’ relatively low population density. Geographically, the U.S. is the size of China, but it has only a fifth of the population. Outside its cities, the U.S. is particularly sparsely populated. This is an opportune environment for car travel. Cars encourage people to live wherever they want, which drives suburban sprawl. A famous map shows how much land would be required if the entire world lived like New Yorkers. All of humanity could live comfortably in an area the size of Texas.

Cars themselves consume a substantial amount of resources:

A new car requires 260 gallons of gasoline to produce, while weighing close to 3,000 pounds. For people who claim to be environmentalists, this is the opposite of living small.

Due to their size, the mindset in the United States says that roads are for cars, and cars cannot share. Cars compete for road space with bikes. (The picture below shows the amount of space necessary for the same number of people to drive compared to bike.) The two cultures do not get along well. The relationship is so poor that it inspired the article, “Is it O.K. to kill cyclists” in the New York Times on Sept. 9, 2013, illustrating that bikers are treated as second-class citizens.

Americans view the right to have cars on the road the same way we treat gun ownership. When New York City rolled out the Citi bike share program, Dorothy Rabinowitz said: “Envision what happens when you get a government that is run by an autocratic mayor.” Failure to pass a congestion tax in NYC has kept the congestion intolerable, with politicians electing to look out for their suburban driving constituents over the efficiency of the city.

There is good news though: Americans may have hit peak driving. It appears that the nation’s annual miles driven are on the decline, while public transit usage is going up. Cities are growing at a faster rate than the national average, partly due to the fact that cities are able to integrate walkability (the ability to walk around the city and not rely solely on your car), which leads to healthier communities and people.

We hated the car when they were getting 10 miles to the gallon. As cars became more efficient, we began to forgive them. We have slowly stopped hating the car, but maybe we shouldn’t.

Posted on 8 January 2015 | 1:24 pm

Bard MBA ’15 Candidate’s Brooklyn-Based Aquaponics Startup Fully Funded!

As if finishing up year 2 of your MBA in Sustainability wasn’t enough work, @BardMBA ’15 candidate Miles Chrettien decided 2015 was also the year to launch a startup, Verticulture.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Miles and his partners Jacob, Peter and Ryan launched a successful IndieGoGo crowd funding campaign at the end of 2014, raising more than their stated 10k goal to build a commercial rooftop aquaponics farm prototype in Brooklyn, NY.  Curious yet?  Thought so…check out this video below for some inspiration, innovation, execution and gratitude.


Happy New Year everyone!

Posted on 6 January 2015 | 3:42 pm

Could 3-D Printing Bring the World Closer to the Circular Economy?

By Simon Fischweicher Bard MBA ’16

The movie “Wall-E” portrays a dystopian future in which humanity has abandoned an Earth covered in skyscrapers of waste.

Sci-Fi cartoon? Yes. A plausible vision of the future? Maybe.

Society’s waste puts our planet’s ecosystems and natural cycles at risk. Plastic waste is especially bad as it can take up to 1,000 years to decompose. Less than 10 percent is recycled. Creating new, raw plastic is fossil fuel intensive and environmentally taxing. Is the only answer to abandon the planet to Wall-E?

Maybe not. 3-D printing could offer a dual solution, allowing transformation of plastic waste into new plastic products.

3-D printing can revolutionize where products are produced and how they look. It could lead to more local production and greater efficiency of design. Designers can scan a person’s jaw or use computer software todesign a chair using the biological structure of a leaf. They hit go and their item is “printed” into existence. 3-D printers generate less waste since they use additive manufacturing rather than injection-molding — or milling, where products are cut away from larger pieces.

3-D printing is nota green panacea, as a study by the University of California, Berkeley’s mechanical engineering department found. It is still limited in capability, it’s costly and most 3-D printers are more energy intensive than other manufacturing methods. Furthermore, certain 3-D printers and filaments — the thermoplastic polymers melted into form by the printer — create significant waste, as well as toxic fumes. Inkjet 3-D printers, which use deposits of hot liquid material to bind a bed of powder, create a significant amount waste. Additionally, scientists from the Illinois Institute of Technology and the National Institute of Applied Sciences in France studied emissions and toxicity of 3-D printing materials: They found that certain materials like Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) filament, resulted in toxic fumes dangerous to humans.

Appropriately employed, however, 3-D printing plastic waste could help create more sustainable manufacturing. Answers to the challenges are emerging: 3-D printers that utilize Fused Deposition Modeling or FDM methods — imagine shapes formed by hot glue gun that deposits layers of liquid plastic — do not create waste. Methods using Polylactic Acid (PLA) filaments were nontoxic and had no health risks. 3-D printing still has limitations, but, using FDM printers and PLA filaments, waste and toxicity can be eliminated.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the developing world: It is estimated that there are around 15 million waste pickers globally. These individuals collect, sort and sell recyclables to make a living. In India, the social enterprise Protoprint is empowering urban waste pickers to produce 3-D printer filament themselves from the plastic waste they collect. Protoprint collects the filament and sells it to customers, who are glad to purchase a recycled substitute to new plastic filament.

Other 3-D printing enthusiasts have gone a step further, creating small-scale 3-D printers that can actually melt plastic waste and print it into products like water collectors, plastic tools and small rafts. Researchers at Michigan Technological University created the Recyclebot, which uses the RepRap self-replicating 3-D printer to turn plastic waste into plastic filament and then directly into the end product. Combine this innovation with aportable, solar-powered 3-D printer, also tested at Michigan Tech, and you’ve got a self-sufficient production tool that could generate economic prosperity throughout the developing world.

Application of these practices will not be limited to waste pickers in the developing world, however. Plastic waste, unemployment and demand for goods are important issues in the developed world as well. Local recycling and waste centers could purchase 3-D printers and double as production hubs. Imagine a one-stop shop where you can drop off recycling and design and print a new iPhone case. 3D Systems, a publicly-traded company, has already released personal, high-quality 3-D printers like the Cube 3 that use 25 percent recycled plastic filament. At present, you purchase the filament from the company. However, as the technology improves, 3-D printers should allow users to use their own plastic waste to make new water bottles, containers, toys, tools and parts at home or in the office.

In the not distant future, imagine a world where nothing is wasted: Excess food is composted or fed to livestock; metal parts are smelted and reused; paper, glass and plastic are recycled. And, any additional plastic waste is sold to local 3-D printing shops or used in personal 3-D printers at home or in the office to make new containers, tools, parts, furniture or whatever is needed. It’s not too late to save the planet from becoming Wall-E’s graveyard of wasted plastic.

Posted on 7 November 2014 | 3:00 pm

Trucost shows companies the dollar value of natural capital

Trucost shows companies the dollar value of natural capital

This post was originally published on Nov. 17th, 2014 at and was written by Christine Kennedy and Katie Menke both BardMBA ’15 candidates.

Libby Bernick’s job is to put numbers on nature.libby-bernick

She is senior vice president for North America at Trucost, a research firm whose unique expertise places monetary value on environmental performance. The aim is to help direct the flow of capital toward more sustainable business models and solutions in the marketplace. Its latest work is an app, developed with Ecolab, which puts a real price on water risk based on market price and local scarcity.

This Q&A is an edited excerpt from an Oct. 3 Sustainable Business Fridays conversation held by the Bard MBA in Sustainability program, based in New York City. This twice-monthly dial-in conversation features sustainability leaders from across the globe. The last interview was with author Christine Bader.

Bard MBA: How did Trucost develop its expertise in valuation of natural capital?
Libby Bernick: The company was originally founded by several folks from the investment community who thought it right that investors are asking about environmental risks in their portfolios, but weren’t sure that the right questions were being asked. What came out of that was the Trucost Environmental Register: a database that covers about 94 percent of listed equity globally, about 4,800 of the world’s largest companies, and it includes quantified information on more than 100 environmental metrics, as well as the business value at risk.

What is central to that database was the Trucost economic input-output lifecycle assessment model [I/O LCA]. It’s something that Trucost customized specifically to look at a wide range of commodities and energy flows throughout the global economy. The economic I/O LCA model and the Trucost Environmental Register database are unique to Trucost. Along the way, we amassed a large library of publicly available databases and tools. To some extent we’re agnostic as to the information that we use — we want use best in class information, whether it’s what Trucost has developed or whether it’s publicly available information.

Bard MBA: What questions are organizations answering using natural capital and ecosystem valuation?

Bernick: The first question that businesses or investors ask is, “How much natural capital is my business using?” Or, “How does my business depend on natural capital?”

It’s not always apparent because there are many businesses whose risks are embedded deep within their supply chain. The starting point is to understand in what ways, positive and negative, does my business depend on natural capital to grow revenue.

The second question is, “Now that I know how much my business depends on natural capital, how much of that natural capital is really available to me? Am I using more than what’s likely to be there in the course of my business?”

I would say that the third set of questions is, “How do I build a more resilient supply chain or portfolio? What are the environmental risks within my investment portfolio and in my enterprise?”
Bard MBA: What are some of the complications in assessing monetary value?

Bernick: One of the thorniest issues is having site-specific data. We did some work earlier this year measuring the benefits of different kinds of agricultural practices related to soy and palm oil. We created a framework for valuing the benefits of more sustainable agriculture but then we had to gather the data. One of the issues is balancing what a business needs to know with the amount of data that needs to be captured.

Questions we ask early on in the process are: What is the business decision that we need to inform? How detailed does it need to be? Are there proxies that we can use in lieu of site-specific data? It is vital to understand how a business will use the information and make sure the data and valuation is sufficiently robust to support that kind of decision.
Bard MBA: Are there any specific resources where Trucost is on the frontier of natural capital valuation?

Bernick: An area where Trucost has pioneered is our ability to quantify and measure supply chain performance. We developed an I/O model from raw materials sourcing all the way through business operations. We’re able to do that very quickly and efficiently. Our work both in measuring the performance of an investment portfolio and measuring the company supply chain draws on that tool and technique.

Another area where we’ve done a lot of research that has been helpful to businesses and investors is how water scarcity is linked to its value. We’ve looked across every country and their purchasing power and how that relates into the water scarcity models.
Bard MBA: You have been in the sustainability field for a long time. What progress excites you?

Bernick: I have been doing this for about 30 years now and I continue to be excited about what we can do to move business forward in a way that helps them grow revenue with less dependence or more thoughtful dependence on natural capital.

I continue to see examples where companies are making greener products that will change the game. More traditional businesses are starting to report on their greener products. It’s exciting to see multinational businesses that are recognizing an opportunity and market demand to develop greener products and services. I’m trained as a scientist and an engineer, so I’m also excited by the conversation that’s evolving around science-based targets.

The full recording of this conversation is available here.

Posted on 6 November 2014 | 11:29 am

Author Christine Bader explains corporate idealism

Author Christine Bader explains corporate idealism


This post was originally published on Sept. 19th, 2014 at and was written by Eban Goodstein.


 After working for close to a decade for BP on projects in Indonesia and  China, followed by a stint at the U.N., Christine Bader was ready to dive back into the multinational CSR work that she loved. And then the Deepwater Horizon disaster hit, exposing a very different BP. In response, Bader sat down and wrote “The Evolution of A Corporate Idealist: When Girl Meets Oil.” In a review, The New York Times calls it “thought-provoking” and says, “If the book doesn’t leave one convinced that every multinational has suddenly developed a guiding conscience, it does offer some encouragement that many are on the way.”

This Q&A is an edited excerpt from a Sustainable Business Fridays conversation held Sept. 5 by the Bard MBA in Sustainability program, based in New York City. This twice-monthly dial-in conversation features sustainability leaders from across the globe. The previous interview was with Jeana Wirtenberg, on her book “Building a Culture for Sustainability.”

Bard MBA: Why did you write a book about corporate idealism?

Christine Bader: This is a story that needs to be told. I got really frustrated with the public conversation after every corporate disaster, whether Deepwater Horizon, the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh or even the financial crisis. The public conversation seemed to be, “Oh great, another example of why big business is evil and full of greedy people.” Well, it isn’t true, and if we believe that is the story, then it only leads us toward solutions that are aimed at getting the bad guys.

I wanted to reframe this conversation and focus on the people like me, people who are working deep inside the companies, far from the cameras, and try to understand even with the best intentions why do we fail and what do we need in order to succeed?

Bard MBA: Tell us how girl met oil.

Bader: I graduated from Yale with my MBA in 2000, and like many of your students and graduates I was totally idealistic and convinced that business could be a force for good in the world, and I could help make that happen. I joined BP because the company then was run by John Browne. He was the first head of a major energy company to acknowledge the realities of climate change and urge action, and he was equally outspoken and progressive on human rights. I thought, what an amazing opportunity to be on the inside of a big corporation that’s really trying to transform its industry, and more broadly trying to transform the way that business is done.

I was supposed to be a commercial analyst crunching financial and production data to analyze the assets in BP’s portfolio that it acquired through a merger, and there was one project in particular that was proving very interesting. It was a liquefied natural gas project in West Papua at the eastern tip of Indonesia, a big gas field that sat very close to the surface. There were lots of complexities from a social and human rights perspective: We were to relocate 127 households to make way for the plant, partner with the Indonesian military — not known for their good community relations — and work in an environment that had historically been neglected by the central government, so there was very little there in the way of infrastructure or social services. So the more that we looked at this project, the more than we realized that we needed to put some full-time bodies on these issues. And again, this was in the fall of 2000; corporate social responsibility wasn’t nearly as ubiquitous as it is today.

I put my hand up and said I would love to focus on these issues full-time. Remember, this is my first job out of business school. I had the full support all the way up to the top of the company to spend money, to bring in experts to try to advise us on human rights, on how to do the resettlement to international standards, and everyone that I worked with inside BP, even the most hard-nosed engineers, seemed to understand how important human rights and community concerns were to the success of the business. So here I am going, “Big Oil is awesome!”

Bard MBA: And how did it go?

Bader: Obviously I did not transform the whole of BP. But I know I made a difference to those 127 households around the project in Indonesia and I know I made a difference to the tens of thousands of migrant workers and communities living around the petrochemicals project I worked on in China. That’s not bad. I know it’s not good enough, but that’s not bad.

Having had my heart broken by Big Oil [after the Deepwater Horizon spill], I have actually come back around to believing that the business can be a force for good in the world — but I know it’s not going to happen by accident. So I am no longer that girl who fell in love with Big Oil 15 years ago. But I am still a corporate idealist.

Bard MBA: In your book, you focus on some critical challenges facing corporate idealists.

badercorpidealcoverBader: First, no one gets rewarded for what doesn’t happen and a lot of work that this corporate idealist community does — whether their title is in CSR, sustainability or ethics or compliance or procurement — is about preventing bad things from happening, and it’s very difficult to reward for. One of the women I interviewed for my book works in supply chain for a very large multinational; she told me how livid she was when one of her company’s internal awards, which are very prestigious, went to a colleague who managed a big safety disaster. She thought, “Are you kidding me?! I prevented 20 of those.”

Second, like any big organization, big companies get siloed. Sustainability and human rights tend to cut across so many functions inside a company that things can fall through the cracks. The director of corporate citizenship at Microsoft told me, “I have a horizontal job in a vertical world.”

Third, people lie. Factory owners lie not because they like exploiting people or want to put their workers at risk, but because they think that failing one audit is going to mean losing the contract. There are some brands that are moving towards longer-term relationships with suppliers to try to deepen their relationships and say, “Don’t lie to us, just tell us if there’s a problem and we will work together to fix it.”

Finally, so few executives ever bear witness to the impacts of their decisions on the people and on the communities at the far reaches of their supply chains. The international labor standards team at Disney told me how their team was able to arrange for Disney’s CFO to visit factories in China where Disney-branded products were made. They did that visit like they do all other visits — unannounced audits in a random selection of factories — and they saw some good ones and they saw some that were not so nice, and that trip has enabled the team to continue to get senior-level support for their work.

Bard MBA: So being a corporate idealist requires patience?

Bader: This was really the punchline for me. It was really what helped me reconcile my time at BP. We have to recognize that we are working on the thorniest issues at the heart of globalization and no one individual, or team, or even company can change these overnight, so a lot of this work is slow. But the people who I spoke with really inspired me with their faith that they were moving their big supertanker companies in the right direction.

I interviewed a former Gap employee who told me about visiting suppliers in India. At the end of the day the guy showing him around said, “Okay, I am going to take you to one more that is not on your list. It supplies the domestic market.” They walked up a few stories in this residential high-rise, into this room, and he said it was filthy and there was a kid working one of the machines.

I asked him, “How did you feel when you saw that?” He said, “It actually was one of the moments when I felt like all the work that we had been doing trying to improve labor conditions in supply chains over the past 20 or 30 years made a difference. Because if the factories that we source from today looked like that 20 or 30 years ago, then I know we have made progress.”

The full recording of this conversation is available here.

Top image of Christine Bader courtesy of the author. The full recording of this conversation is available. The Bard MBA’s Sustainable Business Fridays conversation resumes Sept. 26, with Derek Handley, former head and now consultant to B-team.

Posted on 5 November 2014 | 11:10 am

Lew Blaustein: Bringing the passion of sports fans to sustainability

This Q&A is an edited excerpt from a Oct. 31 Sustainable Business Fridays conversation held by the Bard MBA in Sustainability program, based in New York City. This twice-monthly dial-in conversation features sustainability leaders from across the globe. The previously published interview was with Dale Sands, who spoke about his work with the U.N.’s Private Sector Advisory Group for the International Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction.

Lew Blaustein writes at the intersection of sustainability and sports at the GreenSportsBlog. He is president of Lewis Brand Solutions, focusing on green sponsorship and media, matching greening brands with green properties. All programs that LBS works on must provide tangible environmental benefit as a core element. Blaustein also hosts “Green Gotham” on New York cable television.

Bard MBA: So, green and sports — how did you find yourself working in this unique nexus?

Lew Blaustein: When I tell people I work at the intersection of green and sports, they are like, what? But it makes sense when you think about it. On the one hand, you have sports — there probably are not too many things that are as universally followed as sports; 70 percent of humans are sports fans, at least casually so. Yet sports, the who-wins-who-loses part is trivial. And that’s coming from a sports nut. Even I have to admit, it’s the fun-and-games part of life.

On the other hand, sustainability is very important. We’re talking about the survival of life as we know it, for goodness sakes. I am talking about trying to reverse the climate change and carbon train wreck so that humanity and other life can survive. But the truth is that not too many people, relatively speaking, care about it even though it’s so important.

My interest, as someone who has been in the sports world and then the sustainability world, is how to bring those two together. The passion that sports fans bring to the world while saving humanity — that’s what I’m interested in.

Bard MBA: Who is the target audience of your GreenSportsBlog?

Blaustein: I’d say the audience includes practitioners, professionals, team owners and players — all of the above.But let me take a step back about this intersection of green and sports. There’s something called theGreen Sports Alliance, which is a trade group of venue operators — stadiums and arenas. This includes team executives, leagues and sponsors who all come together over the greening of sports. I believe they have had four annual summits so far, the last of which was in July in Santa Clara, Calif., (and) drew 700 people.

The Green Sports Alliance audience, I believe, is my audience. This includes C-level executives and directors of stadium operations, both domestically and people who write in from Ireland, Australia, etc. who are interested in putting on green events. We also get some eco-athletes or former athletes who are interested in this topic. We get folks who are trying to sell greener products and services to these teams, we get sports fans that are looking for something different who are interested in the environment as well. So the audience is definitely a mix.

Bard MBA: Do you see the industry as a whole moving more toward sustainability, and is this due to direct financial returns or more related to image?

Blaustein: I would say that I do see the industry moving in that direction, absolutely. For example, the National Hockey League has a sustainability director, and that didn’t exist five years ago. The NBA doesn’t have a sustainability director per se, but they have one person at the league office that, I’d say, half of his responsibility is sustainability. You see the same thing with major league baseball.

But what is the motivation? By what I’ve observed, the first reason they’re doing it is because of financial reasons. While sports leagues, especially the major league level, are awash in cash, most of that cash goes to pay labor — players. So in terms of the margins, if they can improve their profitability by being more energy-efficient, they are going to do it. This is particularly true for minor league teams or a smaller college sports team that has a smaller fan base. Even if you save $25,000 in a season or $50,000, that is a huge deal.

Now, getting greener to have a better relationship with their fans — that is the most powerful possibility of the green sports movement, and is also the slowest to come online. Getting fans engaged is more complex. In some way, it’s seen as more political, and most people think all fans really care about is winning and losing — to an extent that’s true, but that’s not the only answer. You can see that in über-green places such as Portland and Seattle, which is where the Green Sports Alliance formed because their population base cares so much about sustainability.

Bard MBA: What about areas where green is not as popular? Is anything happening there in terms of sports and sustainability?

Blaustein: Yes, so an interesting case study has to do with the Seattle Mariners baseball team and its home stadium, Safeco Field. BASF is a big chemical company from Germany who, over the last 10 years, has made a major shift to making their products more organic, biodegradable and sustainable. BASF had never sponsored sports but approached the Mariners about being a sponsor and the Mariners agreed. However, BASF said, “We don’t just want to be a traditional sponsor. We want to be the zero-waste sponsor of Safeco Field.” Zero waste meaning that stadiums and arenas are diverting at least 90 percent of waste from landfill. BASF did very traditional sponsorship things such as signage at the stadium, but they also sponsored the stadium to be zero-waste, and created something called Sustainable Saturday where you can bring stuff for recycling and repurposing. There was also a sustainability-related trivia contest on the scoreboard, sustainability-themed sweepstakes and other things that are by nature associated with traditional sports, and it’s been a big success.

So, BASF has gone beyond Seattle and to the University of Colorado — in very green Boulder, Colo. — to the University of Michigan and the University of Texas, where they may not be pursuing zero waste but are making major steps in greening their athletic departments.

BASF is reaching areas where sustainability is lesser known, but it’s still successful. They’ve gone from not being involved in sports at all to having five or six engagements similar to what they did at Safeco Field. This kind of movement, I think, will only increase.

The full recording of this conversation is available. The Bard MBA’s Sustainable Business Fridays conversation resumes Jan. 9 with Paula Luff, VP of CSR at Hess, about her perspective as a CSR practitioner at a global integrated energy company.

Posted on 31 October 2014 | 12:09 pm


Featured on the homepage of the New York Times

410,000 peaceful protesters descended on New York City to demand world action on climate change as part of the People’s Climate March. Bard’s Graduate Programs in Sustainability, including the MBA in Sustainability and Center for Environmental Policy, were there to proudly support the March. Bard MBA students also interviewed marchers to find out why they were marching and what climate solutions excite them the most – check out the inspiring video and slideshow below (and share it with your friends)!


Posted on 23 September 2014 | 5:16 pm

Sustaining profits: Going green can improve the bottom line, even for small businesses

Sustaining profits: Going green can improve the bottom line, even for small businesses

By Brett Johnson
September 8, 2014 at 12:45 PM
(Originally posted on

Transitioning to Green CEO Jeana Wirtenberg: “95 percent of sustainable projects are either cost-neutral or positive.” – (PHOTO BY AARON HOUSTON)
Small business owners have offered sustainability gurus every excuse in the book.

Their plans for eco-friendly infrastructure reforms were shelved because they were a resource drain … their 200-page-long PowerPoint presentation about energy efficiency was disregarded because, well, it’s 200 pages … they can’t even think about going green because it takes too much green.

But persistent advocates and now state initiatives are doing what they can to ease the process of implementing sustainability into a business — and show it’s the right thing to do for many reasons. Including the bottom line.

For Jeana Wirtenberg, sustainability has long been a no-brainer for small businesses.

As CEO of Transitioning to Green, a consulting and training company in Montville, she works to help businesses understand how these practices will lead to cost savings, talent attraction and an enhanced reputation.

“There’s many who still think that being sustainable is somehow anti-business,” she said. “That’s not true at all — in fact, it’s the opposite. It’s a necessary part of any business with long-term goals.

“Research has shown that 95 percent of sustainable projects are either cost-neutral or positive in the long term. It’s misleading to say these things are (too expensive); when in fact, you’re going to save and make money.”

But not all of the state’s small businesses have gotten her memo.

A survey done by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Institute for Sustainable Enterprise, of which Wirtenberg is a co-founder, found larger companies are much more often adopting sustainable practices than smaller companies.

That means that a grand majority are lagging behind, given that small and midsized companies make up an estimated 90 percent of all New Jersey businesses.

That’s not for a lack of trying on the part of Wirtenberg, who has written two books about sustainability while launching initiatives aimed at supporting it through education and consulting services.

She and others are battling preconceptions about sustainability and doing all they can to get small businesses on board.

In her experience, that may take something as simple as just telling a small business where to start.

“A lot of small companies just don’t know what to do in the beginning,” she said. “They’re overwhelmed with the 100-some different things (a business) could be doing.”

And, she added, often what small business owners will opt to do for an initial project is something far too ambitious.

Her idea is to start out with small wins: change the light bulbs, coach employees in energy-saving behaviors and commit to improving just one area at a time.

Wirtenberg and her team have assisted in the process of implementing sustainable practices at larger companies, such as Novartis and Wyndham Worldwide. There’s a big difference between what those companies can do and what a small business on a limited budget can do.

Yet there’s some advantages that a small business has when integrating sustainability into what it does.

“The great thing about a small business is that it doesn’t have the same bureaucracy as a large business; therefore, it can get to action immediately,” she said. “It’s also easier to see the results more directly, whereas a large business has trouble quantifying it with all the associated variables.”

There’s two ingredients that a company of any size requires for going green: innovation and champions who will take charge.

That’s where the employees come in, according to Kris Kohl, president of Moorestown-based HRcomputes, which offers sustainability guidance centered on human capital.

“For (sustainability) to work at all — it takes getting employees excited about buying into the process by welcoming their solutions as well,” she said. “Anything that empowers employees makes them happier, and in turn, increases productivity.”

Not only is it a way to help in the retention of current employees, but there’s ample research into sustainability being a factor in a company’s ability to attract new ones — especially young talent.

According to a TD Bank survey released in June, half of millennials are likely to evaluate an organization’s environmental impact when looking for a job. More than a quarter said they would outright refuse a job based on poor environmental practices.

Of course, this is tough to quantify — making it difficult to justify the investment for a small business.

“I like to think of sustainability as a journey,” Kohl said. “Companies at the beginning of the journey, still at the exposure level, may not think as much about those intangible things. They’re still trying to figure out: ‘Can I save a little money on my energy, or my fuel?’ ”

For those whose bottom line is what pays the bills, the returns have to be assured.

But some of what Kohl and Wirtenberg say should be done requires no money whatsoever, such as unplugging every electronic device in an office and only re-plugging what’s actually being used.

Even what does cost something has an associated return-on-investment timeframe, Wirtenberg said, and the potential benefit is best for those who aren’t stalling.

“From a financial standpoint, companies are acting way too conservatively in terms of investing in sustainability,” Wirtenberg said. “If they act sooner, even if requires taking on some debt, it increases the direct and intangible returns.”

The problem: Unlike larger companies, small businesses typically don’t have people dedicated to sustainable projects.

As one potential remedy to that, New Jersey’s Small Business Development Centers last month launched an initiative — funded by a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — that provides free access to consultants.

Ed Kurocka, who is managing this grant program for the NJSBDC, said the hardest part about getting the small business community involved is convincing them that there’s no catch.

“The thing that we need to impress upon business owners is that this is not a regulatory thing,” he said. “This is totally outside the realm of enforcement. We’re not looking to report back after an off-site visit that someone isn’t in compliance. It’s more about helping people get on the right path to sustainability.”

The initiative, referred to as the New Jersey Sustainable Business program, also recognizes businesses’ efforts through a registry program. Businesses that can demonstrate at least five measurable practices that make a positive environmental impact can fold the program’s registry emblem into its marketing.

“And if a customer has a choice between two dry cleaning shops, both of which offer identical services at a comparable cost, are they going to go with the one that has an official sign stating that it operates sustainably or the one that doesn’t?” Kurocka said. “It may be the deciding factor.”

E-mail to:
On Twitter: @reporterbrett

A starting point
Melinda Dower, sustainability consultant for the New Jersey Sustainable Business program, named four areas a small business can look to for eco-friendly investments that may end up paying off:

Small businesses often find energy savings of 5 to 20 percent via efficiency improvements such as lighting upgrades, timers and heating/cooling upgrades.
Waste disposal and regulatory costs can be reduced by switching to non-regulated materials and reducing the volume of waste generated.
Transportation costs can be reduced by reducing vehicle idling, better maintenance of vehicles and inexpensive technologies that maximize routes.
Water use by a company can be reduced by installing water-efficient equipment, appliances and plumbing fixtures throughout its buildings.


Posted on 16 September 2014 | 1:23 pm

“What Skills Do You Need to Work in Sustainability?”

“What Skills Do You Need to Work in Sustainability?”


What Skills Do You Need to Work in Sustainability? 

Written by and posted on behalf of Rochelle March (Master’s in Environmental Policy and MBA in Sustainability Candidate 2015)

I remember visiting a college friend in Switzerland after my first year of undergraduate school, where we mutually declared, “I just want more skills!” At the time, I still had three more years of undergrad left, a couple years of work experience ahead of me, plus three more years of pursuing two masters’ degrees to acquire all these untold skills I felt sure I needed. Well, looking back, I think my friend and I had the right idea.

This summer, I am an Environmental Defense Fund Climate Corps fellow working at the donut headquarters of Dunkin’ Brands, where I call upon a lot of skills, and some of which I didn’t think would ever come in handy. 

First of all, the application for EDF Climate Corps called for all kinds of skills. Not only were former test scores, syllabi and technical writing samples required, but also long and short answer questions to gauge the intent of candidates. I employed my writing and grammar skills, honed through long nights of paper writing and grammar-policing relatives, to write sound pieces of why I wanted to be an EDF Climate Corps fellow.

The interview with EDF was over Skype and consisted of an array of scenario-based questions, interpreting charts and graphs, answering technical business questions, and a detailed walkthrough of my resume. Tough. However, I had done so many presentations in graduate school, answering questions on the spot came easily. Also, going through art critiques in my studio classes in undergraduate where I pursued an individualized degree in landscape architecture, conditioned me for scrutiny and creative responding. I got the job.

The EDF Climate Corps training week, this year in Chicago, was a great experience where I met other fellows and listened to lectures from energy efficiency experts. There also was a pitch competition on the last day, where participants had one minute to pitch an innovative technology idea to the group at large. One of my favorite classes in college was an advanced poetry workshop. I wrote a limerick poem for the competition about demand response. I won.

While at Dunkin’ Brands, I am helping to roll out a new green building codes project that requires a ton of different skills, and I love it. When I’m not crunching numbers and researching energy efficient construction, I am creating content for their communications platform or developing an employee engagement sustainability strategy.

I work with a team, collectively replete with skills, but it sure does help to have a variety of my own or, at least, have enough to understand where my team members are coming from. Tackling the technical and business aspects of the project is very satisfying, but perhaps even more fulfilling, is realizing there is a place for all these other skills I’ve developed over the years—like graphic design, psychology, learning other languages and, dare I say it, poetry.

Acquiring a variety of other skillsets only helps as I try to solve the often multi-faceted and interdisciplinary challenges inherent in sustainability issues. If I were to tell a newcomer to the sustainability field what skills they should have, I’d say as many as you can! There is a basis of business, scientific and technical knowledge every sustainability professional should probably know, but the field is growing into so many diverse and applicable subsets, there is a place for everyone to play to their individual strengths.

Posted on 25 July 2014 | 4:06 pm

Three Transformative Business Sustainability Trends

Emerging trends that can re-shape standard business practices.

Written by Jeana Wirtenberg, Ph.D., President & CEO, Transitioning to Green, LLC and Bard MBA in Sustainability Professor

(originally posted in Stanford Social Innovation Review:

Sustainability has come a long way in the last 30 years. Fewer and fewer business leaders are asking, “Why should my company take action?” and more and more are asking “How?”—how do they create impactful programs that will take root, deliver return on investment, and drive innovation across the business?

To answer that question, I spent two years embedded within nine major companies—none of the “usual suspects” on sustainability. I explored the intricacies of their sustainability programs: what worked and what didn’t, and which ideas remained ideas and which became reality.
In doing research for my book on building a culture for sustainability, I identified three powerful answers—three emerging trends that can re-shape standard business practices, and therefore shape a future in which sustainability considerations are no more unusual than budget considerations.
I call these transformative impact practices in sustainability, or TIPS, and they form a powerful core for changing business culture and mindsets in ways that make sustainability and social responsibility indelible. Here’s a look:
Sustainability and corporate responsibility are not just top-down mandates, worked out by executives closed off in a conference room. In fact, sustainability works best with the opposite approach: executives working with customers and other external stakeholders to determine what to do and how to do it. It’s what the business world calls co-creation, and it’s one of the most powerful TIPS emerging in the sustainability space.
Here are a few examples of the kind of co-creation that, if adopted more broadly, will help take private sector sustainability to the tipping point:

Co-Designing Products: Rather than engineers designing sustainability-enhancing products that nobody may buy, companies are increasingly bringing customers into the product development process. These co-created products can reach the greatest possible market and enhance customers’ own sustainability goals, making the product seller and buyer part of a seamless green business strategy.

Ingersoll Rand, which manufactures heating and cooling systems used by businesses and consumers, has launched a system for determining its customers’ sustainability objectives and how much they’re willing to pay for products that support those objectives. This enables the company to “upgrade” products in ways that bake in a new generation of sustainability features that people will actually buy and use. In doing so, it makes a real contribution to protecting the environment—especially considering that its customers are heavy energy users.
Co-Creative Planning: Co-creation should start in the planning stages, and incorporate customer, employee, community leader, and other stakeholder voices from the outset. Co-creating sustainability strategies is the best way for companies to ensure that their work will take root and have impact.

Several companies are already doing this. Alcoa, for example, uses co-creation to set up its community initiatives. Instead of dreaming up nice things to do for the community, it created a deliberate process and trains people on the front lines (for example, plant managers) to use the process to engage stakeholders, analyze and evaluate needs, and determine priorities. This Community Framework system teaches people that meeting community needs is part of their job; it also guides them through the steps needed to do so strategically.
Companies are increasingly adopting bottom-up approaches to sustainability that make employees a vital part of the innovation process. Bringing employees into the innovation process is precisely what many businesses want, and it’s a particularly powerful concept when applied to sustainability.
Deep change in business—change that’s truly about social good and sustainability—is no longer as much about what happens at the highest levels of a company, but at the mid- and front-line levels. The latter are the ones who make business decisions and take actions daily that make or break whether sustainability happens.
In addition, once a movement is bottom-up, it’s hard to stop. And that’s exactly what we need! It also has the added benefit of being visible to others, giving it a multiplier effect.
At Alcatel-Lucent—a telecommunications company in a male-dominated industry—a few women in France got together and brainstormed about how to create a program to help women unleash their potential. They created a group called StrongHer, which has since grown to more than 950 members (18 percent of whom are men) in 51 countries. The group collaborates on an internal social media network and organizes local events. Senior management has taken notice, and now regularly consults the group’s leaders and sees it as a model for their industry.
At chemical company BASF, everyone in the company—including scientists, sales people, and those on the factory floor—have individual sustainability objectives and have articulated sustainability in their own words and for their own jobs. It’s a top-down requirement aimed at unleashing bottom-up thinking and action that senior executives couldn’t dream of.
While companies are often accused of having a quarterly-earnings mentality, more and more corporate leaders are including longer-term growth concerns into their strategies. Sustainability requires a long view, and companies are starting to incorporate sustainability programs into a longer-term vision for their companies—not in conflict with shareholders but as a way to satisfy them.
This is important for any company operating today that wants to thrive tomorrow, and it means planning for a whole new world of customers, employees, environments, and constraints. Sustainability is critical to future-proofing any company.
BASF has created an environment for strategic planning and business operations that may sound at odds with the near-sighted company stereotype. It’s focused on 2050 and has found ways to make future orientation part of corporate strategy, product development, and partnership creation. In particular, it’s looking at the role it will need to play as the global population reaches a projected 9 billion—something that will happen in our children’s lifetime.
An exploding population coupled with the rapid growth of the middle class in developing countries, in conjunction with ever increasing demand for ubiquitous connectivity around the world, means exponentially more people using the smart devices supported by Alcatel-Lucent’s IP, ultra-broadband, and cloud networks. That’s why the company’s Bell Labs founded a global research consortium called GreenTouch—to achieve the goal of making telecommunication networks up to 1,000 times more energy efficient than they are now.
The choice is deep change or slow death, because the products the world needs and the talent companies need to produce those products are going to be very different in a world that’s flatter, hotter, and more crowded.

Posted on 24 July 2014 | 4:21 pm

New Greenhouse Gas Rules Will Cost Taxpayers Very Little

New Greenhouse Gas Rules Will Cost Taxpayers Very Little

This post was originally published on on June 2nd, 2014 and was written by Eban Goodstein.

China agrees to halt subsidies to wind power firms

As director of a graduate program in climate science and policy, every day I look into the faces of my 24 year-old students, and think about the world 30 years from now. In 2044, I will be an old man — 84 — and my students will be my age now, 54. At that time, in a very profound way, we will know the future of the earth.

We will know whether we can meet the needs of another 2 billion people on a planet where resource scarcity and conflicts — over oil, water, food, topsoil, forests, fish, biodiversity — are already severe. More fundamentally, we will know how hot it is going to get. Will global warming drive the planet 4 degrees (Fahrenheit) hotter or 11 degrees (Fahrenheit) hotter within my students’ lifetimes?

To put those numbers in perspective, during the last Ice Age, when my office here in New York State was under a thousand feet of ice, the world was only 9 degrees F colder than it is today. So in 2044 we will know if we were able to rewire the world with clean energy, and prevent a swing in global temperatures of Ice Age magnitude, only in the opposite direction.

Today, the Obama administration appears set to take a step in the right direction, announcing caps on global warming pollution from existing electric power plants. Depending on the final details of the plan, it will likely move the US close to target reductions announced in Copenhagen of 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and a 30 percent reduction by 2030.

What will a 17 percent by 2020 cut cost ratepayers? Very little. According to Dallas Burtraw, a senior economist at the non-partisan thank-tank Resources for the Future: “there are multiple approaches [to achieve this goal] that would have nearly unobservable effects on consumers”.

The Natural Resources Defense Council sponsored research showing that a larger 2020 cut— 25 percent below 2005 levels — would actually save consumers $37 billion while creating over 200,000 jobs. And even an industry-sponsored study that looked at reductions of 40 percent below 2005 levels by the later date, 2030, found moderate overall costs: 0.2 percent of GDP.

Assuming that a post-2016 administration keeps the nation on track, Obama is set to deliver on his Copenhagen pledge, with a no- to low-cost option for ratepayers. Given today’s polarized climate politics, that is a decent start — but only a start. According to the World Bank, if the U.S. and other countries only meet their Copenhagen targets, the world will still likely be 8 degrees F hotter, and rising, by the end of the century.

As the planet gets hotter, and unprecedented, extreme weather events rock the U.S. and other countries, the politics for deeper reductions will start to line up. In the interim, we can look to Germany for inspiration and leadership. During one day last month, the country produced an eye-popping 74 percent of their electric power from renewable energy.

This record was just for one afternoon, with favorable winds and lots of sunshine. But Germany is headed towards a goal of producing 80 percent of their total annual electric power from renewables by 2050. And the rapid ramp-up of solar power over the last decade in that country has driven solar electric prices down to “grid parity”: any new solar installations cost German ratepayers zero relative to new coal, gas or nuclear sources. Steep cost declines for renewables globally are one reason why the U.S. can also now cut global warming pollution at a low upfront cost, with the shift to renewable energy soon returning economic gains.

The recently released National Climate Assessment has made it clear that climate change is here now, already threatening south Florida with rising seas, exacerbating drought and fire in west the southwest; and causing more extreme flooding across the country. But past mid-century, global warming impacts will dominate the lives of my students. Germany’s goal of 80 percent renewables by 2050, replicated globally, would be enough to stabilize a recognizable climate. This move by Obama’s EPA is a critical step down that path. Anything less will challenge the foundations of civilization itself.

Eban Goodstein, an economist, is the Director of the Center for Environmental Policy at Bard College and a member of the Scholars Strategy Network.

Posted on 4 June 2014 | 1:05 pm

How Tom Polton CARES about sustainability at Pfizer

How Tom Polton CARES about sustainability at Pfizer

This post was originally published on on May 15th, 2014 and was written by By Eban GoodsteinChristine KennedyRochelle J. March and Christina Wildt

poltonAt the $51 billion pharmaceutical company Pfizer, sustainability starts with getting medicines to the patients who need them, then travels back up the supply chain, to responsible manufacturing and efficient operations. In the following conversation, Tom Polton, senior director of product stewardship and environmental sustainability at Pfizer, explains how he works to drive alignment with both the top and bottom line dimensions of sustainability.

At the same time, the company also pursues a broader stewardship agenda defined by the acronym “CARES.”

This is an excerpt from an April 4 Sustainable Business Fridays conversation held by the Bard MBA in Sustainability program, based in New York City. The twice-monthly conversation series features sustainability leaders from across the globe. The last interview was with Dave Stangis of Campbell’s Soup Company.

Bard MBA: Could you start by giving us a brief overview of Pfizer and what environmental sustainability looks like there?

Tom Polton: We are a research-based pharmaceutical manufacturer. We have 56 manufacturing plants around the world operating in 175 markets. We have our own research and development sites as well as institutions that we partner with to find new medicines, and all of that is what makes up Pfizer. As a company, we are committed to improving health and well-being at every stage of life.

In terms of my role, I lead the product stewardship and environmental sustainability programs. About five years ago, we launched our environmental sustainability program which has as one of its focus areas product stewardship. The product stewardship organization looks at the environmental impact of our products throughout the lifecycle: from discovery, across our supply chain, to the end-of-life disposal of our products. Our Environmental Sustainability program is really a matter of partnership and influence across the organization. We’ve established an environmental sustainability council that includes leaders from our business units that provide continuity across the organization around the opportunities and issues with environmental sustainability.


Polton cites green chemistry as important to Pfizer. Image by Garsya via Shuttershock

Bard MBA: And how has the company evolved to get to this point?

Polton: While the environmental sustainability program is relatively new, we have had a long history of energy and climate change and green chemistry initiatives. In the energy and climate area, we have had a program for more than 10 years. Cumulatively, we’ve reduced emissions 35 percent or so through two public goals. That’s a mixture of more than 1,500 projects in the last five years of small-scale energy efficiency opportunities and several large renewable energy installations.

All in all, those projects have tremendous financial payback as well as having the environmental benefits. We also have been focused on green chemistry for more than a decade; that’s the pursuit to eliminate hazardous solvents. We’ve been active in that space and have been able to implement enzymatic chemistry to replace solvent-based chemistry for many steps in the synthesis of two of our high volume processes.

Bard MBA: Where is Pfizer headed?

Polton: Looking forward, we now have a new set of 2020 environmental sustainability targets. We’re looking at an ongoing 20 percent reduction again in greenhouse gas emissions from our 2012 baseline. And reaching that for a third time will be quite challenging. We don’t have it fully mapped out, and it may take some transformational thinking. The low-hanging fruit in many cases has been taken, yet we do feel like there is an opportunity to continue this effort.

We’ve also added public goals to reduce our waste generated by 15 percent and water use by 5 percent. And admittedly, these are challenging goals in many cases because we are consolidating processes and trying to maximize the effectiveness of our manufacturing sites, while always remaining focused on quality and compliance. In the midst of bringing on more processes, the question is, are we still maintaining that efficiency?

Bard MBA: You’ve established and achieved some impressive goals. How do you maintain the momentum of your sustainability initiatives?

Polton: One of the key ways that we maintain momentum is by involving our colleagues in all areas of the business. Sustainability is engaging to employees, and we are trying to leverage that where we can. One of the things that we have done in our New York office is put together an exhibition on our environmental sustainability accomplishments. It’s interesting that sometimes when I do presentations to colleagues, I’ll talk about these grand goals and the external ratings. And they’ll say, “That’s fine, but why do I see so much paper printed? Why do I see the lights on when I come by on the weekends? Is the paper really recycled?” So sustainability is a local initiative as well and engaging employees in that effort is a great opportunity.

Bard MBA: It sounds like a core aspect of Pfizer’s journey towards sustainability is the environmental sustainability council. Could you speak a little more about the council’s role?

Polton: We meet on a quarterly basis and to date, there are folks on that team that live and breathe sustainability, and they are well briefed and understand the key trends and key opportunities. Then, there are folks who have gotten more involved in sustainability through their participation in this council. Part of the council’s role is to help these colleagues see the value of environmental sustainability for their part of the business as well as outside of the office. We also bring in external speakers who can help to educate our business contacts and others around emerging issues in sustainability. Our Council members then become a conduit within their own organizations, hopefully distributing information that we generate and definitely connecting us with their business associates.


Pfizer’s Prevnar 13 vaccine protects against diseases caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae. Image courtesy of Pfizer.

Bard MBA: Where do you see corporate sustainability going in the next five years?

Polton: I do think that it is here to stay. There is an evolutionary process in organizations that starts with eco-efficiency opportunities. One of the acronyms that we use around here is “Pfizer CARES about the environment.”

The CA stands for customer advantages. And I think that’s where the next trend is. People aren’t necessarily willing to pay extra for a “greener” medicine. There may be some consumer products where we do see people pay extra for a greener product, but for the most part you need to provide that customer with an advantage through environmental efficiency. For example, reduce the amount of waste they have to discard from the use of your product or eliminate the need to refrigerate your medicine.

The is responsible manufacturing. We do believe that’s how we will differentiate ourselves, and that people do want their products to be from responsible manufacturers. The E is for efficient operations. That’s where many companies start their sustainability journey, but the program needs to advance beyond that. The last letter is S for stewardship, which we see as addressing the issues of concern in the communities where we live and work.

So that’s where I see the field going. Getting consumers to value all of the elements of environmental sustainability that go beyond efficiency.

The full recording of this conversation is available. The Bard Sustainable Business Fridays conversations have ended for the semester, but will resume in September.

Image of Tom Polton courtesy of Polton.

Posted on 28 May 2014 | 7:40 pm

Dave Stangis stirs in sustainability at Campbell Soup

Dave Stangis stirs in sustainability at Campbell Soup

This post was originally posted on on April 17th, 2014 and was written by  Eban GoodsteinIan EdwardsMeghan Ryan and Christina Wildt

stangis-550x413-courtesyThrough Campbell Soup Company’s iconic soup division alone, the $8 billion business sells 2 billion cans of soup per year — which represents 60 percent of the so-called “wet soup” market in the United States, and a sell-through that reaches 100 million households per year.

That’s a lot of sustainability touch points, as the following conversation with Dave Stangis, vice president of corporate social responsibility and sustainability at Campbell’s, explains. He describes how Campbell’s integrates “sustainability as core business strategy” — everything from how it impacts growth goals and resource management to innovation and reporting.

This Q&A is an excerpt from a March 28 Sustainable Business Fridays conversation held by the Bard MBA in Sustainability program, based in New York City. The twice-monthly conversation series features sustainability leaders from across the globe.

Bard MBA: Could you give us an overview of what sustainability means at Campbell?

Stangis: When we talk about it inside the company, we really do talk about building a strategy that drives innovation, cost reduction, time to market and better decisions. And that discipline of sustainability expands every day to new areas such as procurement and sustainable agriculture. Our philosophy is to move from people doing good work to business processes. We leverage all of the tools a business has to drive group performance and integration from training to recognition to even executive compensation. So, that’s really the high level, the framework in terms of sustainability: the long-term destination goals to drive change, culture and performance. And there’s also the integration piece: How to turn it into business process from just good ideas.

Bard MBA: What has your role as a public company done to your sustainability strategy?

Stangis: I would say that being a publicly traded company forces us to be very diligent on how we make the case. There are a lot of things that we do that we need to be able to explain in fairly strong detail. This happens because we are a public company. I feel like if we can’t deliver a convincing case to our investors, then we shouldn’t expect our CFO to be comfortable with our story either. That’s my job: to make sure my CFO has what he needs to understand it and communicate it.

The other thing that being a public company helps with is I have a lot of engagement with socially responsible investors. We do investor outreach. We have analyst meetings that are focused on sustainability. We talk to shareholder advocates on particular issues. They hold Campbell stock but they are interested in particular issues that we are engaged with. These are all ways that we can learn about future issues and bring that knowledge into the company.

Bard MBA: How do you account for sustainability in terms of costs?

Stangis: It’s a double-sided story, right? So, if I’m the chief procurement officer, a lot of what I see in sustainability looks like added cost, at least insoup_FunGi_Flickr the near term. If we are trying to put in more sustainable packaging or if we have commitments around gestation [crate]-free pork, these may look like added costs in the near-term, so we have to work with our procurement organization. No one wants added costs. Our customers don’t want them, and our chief procurement officer, whose basic job is to supply quality ingredients at lower costs, doesn’t want them either. But it may be a near-term cost with which we are trying to minimize long term costs and position the company better.

But for example, on the supply chain side and the manufacturing side, much of the work that we are putting in place around renewable energy, water conservation and energy savings are saving money. We’ve put in projects that are delivering upwards of $60 million in savings over the last five years. We’re also seeing savings from sustainable infrastructure projects as well as sustainable packaging and lightweight transportation.

Bard MBA: What is the source of your commitment to sustainable practices? Why is Campbell leading and other companies are not?

Stangis: I had the benefit of working at another company and creating this function from scratch before I came to Campbell. That helped me come in with the right mindset. It took some negotiation and collaboration here, but it was the setting of these long-term goals. That was not the norm at the time.

The concept of decoupling growth from environmental impact was really unique at the time, too. Companies were trying to make incremental steps, like 5 percent or 10 percent, but what those big goals do for you is enable informed risk-taking and innovation. Long-term goals extend your story and they drive change in companies. Incremental goals don’t drive change. They just focus a little bit of attention. It’s just doing the same thing a little bit differently or a little bit better.

The goals that seem impossible are the ones that force behavior change and force people to ask themselves new questions. And it drives a ripple effect all through the company. More and more companies are doing this now. We’re all learning about how to move this from a nice-to-do sustainability exercise into a business tool set for the company.

The full recording of this conversation is available here. The next Bard Sustainable Business Fridays conversation will be April 24 with Jeana Wirtenberg, president and CEO of Transitioning to Green and author of Building a Culture for Sustainability.

Photo of Dave Stangis courtesy of Stangis.

Posted on 18 April 2014 | 1:17 pm