In Burlington, VT Students Meet Green-Business Pioneers
by Bret Nolan Collazzi, MBA '13 (1/14/13)
Part I of SGE Club’s Burlington-Boston Trek includes visits to Ben & Jerry’s, Seventh Generation, My Web Grocer, Native Energy, and Vermont Smoke & Cure.
Burlington, Vermont has spawned some of the nation’s most iconic triple-bottom-line businesses – and in mid-December members of the Sustainable Global Enterprise (SGE) Club visited with industry-leading firms such as Ben & Jerry’s, Seventh Generation, and Vermont Smoke & Cure during a first-ever career trek to the Green Mountain State.
In typical Vermont fashion, top executives were eager to share the strategies and outlooks that set them apart them from their more traditional competitors.
Ben & Jerry’s CEO Jostein Solheim explained how his firm purposefully seeks to raise the bar on social issues by paying above-market wages, sourcing from family farms, and openly advocating on national controversies (during Vermont’s marriage equality vote, the company renamed its Chubby Hubby ice cream flavor “Hubby Hubby.”)
Seventh Generation’s director of social responsibility, Reed Doyle, described how the rise of “light green” consumers – those who are curious about natural products but less involved than their “dark green” counterparts – has led the household goods company to develop more user-friendly packaging for its detergents, cleaning sprays, and other products.
Not all speakers agreed on all points. While Solheim described Ben & Jerry’s sale to the multinational public company Unilever as the best way to expand its global impact, Vermont Smoke & Cure CEO Christopher Bailey (Johnson ’03) explained how he took pains to fund a recent expansion strictly with patient equity (also known as “slow money”) because he feared typical investors’ expectations might have forced him to grow too rapidly, jeopardizing the firm’s mission to support small farmers.
One area of consensus among all firms was that product quality must come ahead of any social or environmental goal; if you’re not offering a product consumers want to buy, they each said, no business can be sustainable.
Jessica Saturley, who as SGE Club co-president organized the trek, described the maiden voyage as a way to deepen Johnson’s connection to alumni and employers in New England, where many students hope to work in the near or long term.
“MBAs interested in sustainability-oriented careers often have to look outside traditional recruiting channels for employment,” noted Saturley. “Visiting such an engaging, diverse group of companies on the trek helped illuminate the amazing range of opportunities available to MBA students who combine business sense with an interest in environmental and social issues.”
Other companies welcoming the SGE Club during the two-day trip were Native Energy, which helps finance renewable energy projects through carbon offsets, and My Web Grocer, which designs online sales and marketing platforms for supermarket chains. Trek participants also had a chance to meet a broad swath of Johnson and Cornell alumni during a dinner reception at Burlington hotspot The Daily Planet.
The SGE Club Burlington + Boston Trek was made possible by generous support from the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise, the Career Management Center, and the Office of Alumni Affairs.
Pictures provided by Hanson Boyd, MBA '14.