Category Archives: Wharton

An Interview with Maddie Macks, VP of Academics for the Wharton Graduate Association

Submitted by Mary Johnston, WG’18

Mary conducted an interview with Maddie Macks, VP of Academics for the Wharton Graduate Association. Maddie is in charge of Academics as part of Wharton’s Student Government, and is one of the founding members of the Wharton Sustainability Club.

 

Q: Why is Sustainability an important topic for MBAs?

A: First, resources are finite, and many industries including agribusiness, CPG, manufacturing, and energy rely on these materials for their business. My peers, as future business leaders, will be in positions where they are making supply chain, sourcing and operations decisions and will need to steward these resources to mitigate risk.

Second, while the U.S. federal government is currently trending toward deregulation, this is not the trend globally, as evidenced by The Paris Agreement. Many of my peers will be working in international companies where these regulations will be increasingly relevant.

Further, business decisions can have a big impact on local communities. For example, public health can be heavily impacted by water and air quality, and degradation of local ecosystems can impact livelihoods.

 

Q: What are other top business schools doing in their Sustainability Curricula?

A: They are ramping up their sustainability presence, offering certificates and more specific coursework. Many are integrating sustainability more into their core curriculum to ensure all students are educated on environmental issues in business. Almost all top business schools have sustainability-focused student clubs to build a community in the space on campus. Stanford, Sloan, Ross, and Yale are a few prime examples of schools that are increasing their presence in the space, and it’s attracting top students.

 

Q: What does Wharton do well now in terms of Sustainability?

A: Wharton has partnered with IGEL to offer the Environmental & Risk Management Major, which is one of the things that attracted me to Wharton. The Energy Club, Social Impact Club, and Agribusiness Club have sustainability-related programming, and as of this year, we have a group of about thirty students starting the Wharton Sustainable Business Coalition, a new club that will be up and running by Fall 2017. This group of students has also gotten to know each other well during the Energy Club’s clean energy trek to San Francisco as well as several student-run happy hours.

 

Q: What are the biggest opportunities for Wharton to increase the presence of Sustainability in the curriculum in the short term?

A: There are two things I think Wharton can do in the short term.

First, Wharton could incorporate more Environmental Responsibility content into the Business Ethics core requirement. This would help ensure that every Wharton student gets more exposure to how decision-making can have environmental consequences.

Second, Wharton could proactively ensure all relevant graduate coursework from around Penn related to Sustainable Business topics is cross-listed with Wharton to help facilitate students taking these classes. For example, the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences has several great courses.

 

Q: And how about the long term?

A: Wharton has an opportunity to continue to develop coursework related to sustainability and look into hiring more faculty who can teach courses and do research in the area. Wharton has such a huge opportunity to influence future business leaders’ decision-making, and making sustainability more present in Wharton’s curriculum would speak volumes to the issue’s importance. For example, the Environmental Risk & Management Major does a great job covering risk management, and I would love to see innovation and the financial implications of environmental choices highlighted more prominently as well. I also think there are opportunities to offer more sustainability courses as part of the Business Economics and Public Policy, Operations, Information, and Decisions, and Management Majors to name a few. Incorporating more of a focus on sustainability, can help Wharton stay on the cutting edge of business trends.

Wharton Has Been Walking on the Circular Economy for Years

By David Mazzocco, LEED AP
Associate Director of Sustainability and Projects, Wharton Operations

 

Interface Logo

 

In anticipation of IGEL’s 10th anniversary, Wharton Operations would like to showcase an IGEL founding sponsor, Interface carpet.  When I joined the Wharton community, I was pleased to hear Wharton Operations used Interface carpet for the majority of our projects.  Early in my career as a young professional making the case for ‘green building’, I found company founder and chairman Ray Anderson’s 1998 book Mid-Course Correction very influential.  It demonstrated how the vision of a single leader can challenge us to make real, sustainable change and, in his words, “become restorative through the power of influence.” Interface’s bold, pioneering vision to create a sustainable company and measure success beyond the bottom line steered the company away from the typical take-make-waste business model toward one that’s “renewable, cyclical, and benign.”  This mission not only defines a circular economy, it has also revitalized an industry.

Each year, the United States dumps approximately 4 billion pounds of carpet into our landfills; roughly 800 million square yards or equal to covering the floor area of Wharton’s Huntsman Hall 22,000 times over.  According to the Carpet & Rug Institute, 70% of all carpet is replaced each year for reasons other than wear, such as it’s the wrong color, a dated look or a change in tenant.  Carpet manufacturing is also a resource intensive process, consuming billions of pounds of petro-chemical and other non-renewable natural capital to provide the energy and base ingredients in the final product.  Take.  Make.  Waste.  This cannot go on indefinitely.

In 1994, Ray Anderson had his awakening when he realized his company was part of the problem and not part of the solution.  He challenged his company to “make history rather than just making carpet.” With Interface’s “Mission Zero” promise, a new focus emerged: to radically redesign processes and products and to pioneer new technologies and systems to eliminate any negative impact the company has on the environment by 2020.  Their innovative, holistic approach where everything is examined is an example every company should emulate.

In support of Penn’s Climate Action Plan, the Wharton Operations Green Campus program works to minimize solid waste and pursue sustainable building practices.   We must also uphold a level of quality within our facilities that one has come to associate with Wharton.  An effective carpet management strategy is part of that plan.  In 2012, Operations leadership visited Interface and were impressed with their manufacturing process, waste reclamation program and sustainability goals. Working with our vendor Metropolitan Flooring, we began using Interface carpeting almost exclusively.  Through Metropolitan and the Carpet America Recovery Effort (CARE), all carpet removed from Wharton buildings is either returned to Interface to make new product or recovered for other industrial uses.  No carpet enters a landfill.

From a design standpoint, our projects group appreciate Interface’s aesthetic and high quality products that wear extremely well.  Of course from a sustainability perspective, their products meet our requirements to contain high recycled content, natural fiber options and adhere to strict indoor environmental quality standards; critically important for building occupants with chemical and allergen sensitivities.  Stemming from the company’s origins, Interface products are also a modular carpet tile rather than a roll product.  From an operations standpoint, the modularity provides flexibility in patterning, installation and maintenance.  If a tile is stained or damaged beyond repair, just that tile is replaced rather than the entire carpeted area minimizing waste, cost and down time to the affected area.  The damaged tile is then returned to the manufacturer to make new product, completing the cycle.

Other carpet companies have since started following the Interface model to varying degrees.  They provide great products and are used regularly across Penn’s campus.  Interface will always be the standard bearer, however, by taking a leadership role to demonstrate that the principles of sustainability and financial success can co-exist within business.  It created a new level of success that includes cultural dividends.  Innovation and leadership.  Values Wharton knows well.

So, on your next visit to Wharton, look down.  Know that the carpet you are walking on is doing more than covering the floor.  It is part of the solution.

The Win-Win-Win of Impact Investing

By: Nathan Sell*

Ask not what your investment dollars can do for you, but ALSO what they can do for others, and the environment. That’s the idea behind Impact Investing, an emerging paradigm shift in philanthropy. This form of socially responsible investing generates both measurable social and environmental impact as well as returns on investment. Mark Tercek, CEO of the Nature Conservancy and former Managing Director at Goldman Sachs is at the forefront of linking business and the environment for a better world as he discusses in his recent book “Nature’s Fortune.” Tercek, and the new wave of impact investors are proving that your investments can make money AND do good.

Impact investing in the environment is quickly coming to scale as the value of ecosystem services to clean air and water, armor shorelines, as well as climate change mitigation and adaptation is being realized. Cities like Philadelphia are leading the way in green infrastructure investment. Over the next 25 years, Green Stormwater Infrastructure will help the city to combat the extreme weather patterns as well as prevent Combined Sewer Overflows resulting in greener cities and cleaner waters for which the initiative is named.

Novo Nordisk entered China in 1994 and immediately noticed that a diet high in starch was leading to diabetes in a large portion of the population. Combined with rapid pathogen spread due to urbanization, the health of the people in China was (and continues to be) at risk. Novo Nordisk put their efforts toward alleviating some of these health concerns. By training doctors in diabetes care and prevention, the company has helped to save over 140,000 life years. The shared value of impact investment ensures companies like Novo Nordisk remain profitable while helping the communities in which they work.

Impact investing also has the potential to bring promising technologies to scale. Without investment, it’s possible that companies like d.light may never have gotten off the ground. With the help of investment, this for-profit social enterprise has been able to sell affordable solar lamps to those without reliable power. The result? D.light is bringing safe, bright and renewable lighting to people around the world, allowing students to do their homework, families to cook, and an overall better quality of life to over 34 million people.

Impact investing may prove better for people and the planet than charitable giving. Investing in businesses that do good by people and the planet can ensure the success of their mission, allowing for long term solutions, rather than a potential band-aid in the form of a grant or gift. If your investment could benefit the triple bottom line, rather than just YOUR bottom line then you’ve found the rare win-win-win scenario. The next time you invest, think strategically about what your money can really do.

*Nathan is a recent graduate of the Master of Environmental Studies program at the University of Pennsylvania and a current ORISE Fellow with EPA Water.

3rd Plasticity Forum comes to NYC June 24th

plasticity_high_newNY small PNG

By: Nathan Sell*

The 3rd Plasticity Forum kicks off next week on June 24th in New York City.  Originally launched in Rio at the Earth Summit, and last year in Hong Kong, New York is an opportune location for Plasticity’s first US forum, given the innovative work America’s biggest city has been undertaking.  Many may wonder, what is Plasticity, and why should I care?  To begin, consider this: how long could you go without using or wearing an item made of, or containing plastic? A day? An hour? A minute?  Plastic is cheap, versatile and convenient.  Because of this we view many plastic products as “disposable,” but even if their functional life is a short, like a stir straw or a soda bottle, their actual lifetime is decades or centuries. Despite our best intentions, only 10% of the plastic we use is recycled, much is landfilled, and still a great deal ends up as pollution, often in the “great pacific garbage vortex” where ocean currents move much of our plastic waste debris.  This debris is confused for food by many marine animals from birds to fish and turtles, and wreaks havoc on delicate ecosystems.

We should remind ourselves that plastics are made from a non-renewable resource which takes a great deal of energy to extract, refine, mold, and transport.  This begs the question, why would we throw this stuff out?  When we take this into consideration it becomes clear that there’s a great opportunity in changing the way that we use and reuse plastics.  We need to take a look at plastics from their formation (cradle) to their disposal (grave).  Better design (sometimes referred to as “design for the environment”) can make plastic products more easily recycled, diverting waste where it can be used as a raw material again (cradle to cradle). Reducing the amount of plastics in products, light-weighting and biodegradability are all solutions that need to be brought to scale in the plastics industry.  Technologies exist that can turn plastics into fuel (low-sulphur diesel fuel, giving an air pollution improvement along the way), making plastic waste a desirable system input.  These technologies should be considered prime investment opportunities.

Plasticity Forum will bring together leaders in industry including Nike and Dell together with leading advocates of responsible product use/reuse such as Interface and the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute.  Altogether, the forum will be the most influential dialogue on plastic pollution, design, reuse and innovation, all of which need to scale for us to bring out the opportunities that these issues represent.  Make sure to register and be part of this important conversation.

www.plasticityforum.com

View the Plasticity Forum Trailer Here

 * Nathan Sell is a recent graduate of the Masters of Environmental Studies program at the University of Pennsylvania and is the current IGEL Coordinator.

Investing in America’s Public Water Systems: Making Public-Private Partnerships Work

By Aubrey Sherretta

Water is taken for granted. As noted by Dr. Jim Hagan at the “Investing in America’s Public Water Systems: Making Public-Private Partnerships Work” conference co-sponsored by United Water and Wharton’s Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL) on May 6, 2014, people see water as a common good and a human right. Therefore, they are less willing to pay the true price of maintaining this essential resource.

Water systems in the United States are severely degraded, costing local governments millions in leaks and repairs, and replacing these long-outdated water systems would cost trillions of dollars, according to panelist Rich Anderson of the U.S. Conference of Mayors Urban Water Council. Facing diminished federal involvement and tight budgets, local governments must seek more creative ways to fulfill their communities’ operational and infrastructural water needs. Panelists at Tuesday’s event agreed that partnerships between municipalities and private enterprise, or public-private partnerships, may help manage the cost, increase the value, and improve the quality of water services—a win-win solution for all stakeholders.

According to panelists, each community is different and there is no cookie-cutter business model for the structure of public-private partnerships. How to implement and structure a public-private partnership depends on the nature of the community, their government, their water infrastructure, and on the investing party. But there are also many ways to coordinate all of the pieces. For example, panelist Patrick Cairo, Senior Vice President of United Water explained how the company collaborated with Bayonne, New Jersey to set up a forty-year leasing agreement in which the city government maintains ownership of the system and control over the rates; United Water operates and maintains the system; and KKR – a private equity firm – provides funding.

Financial institutions are willing and able to finance infrastructure projects when a professional water service provider and operator, like United Water, is at the helm to ensure that the system is well run. This concession structure, known as United Water’s SOLUTION, was designed to allay public fears around selling a community asset, and it can be structured in a way that puts a ceiling on rate increases.

What all successful public-private partnerships do have in common is the long-term committed support of businesses, local government, and environmental or other stakeholder organizations for sustainable water systems, panelists agreed. When the public sector respects the private sector’s need to earn a return on its investment; and the private sector recognizes the public sector’s need to be responsive and accountable to its constituents; a successful partnership will ensue. As such, these collaborations require both partners to operate with a high degree of transparency and communication with the community.

There is a pressing need to bring the issue of water sustainability and infrastructure to the public sphere, given what almost all knowledgeable observers agree is the extremely run-down state of most of the nation’s 50,000 plus water utilities.

More generally, public-private partnerships also could present increased opportunities for sustainable water solutions through cooperation across municipalities as well as within them. They could also allow communities, governments, and enterprises alike to “do good” while financially doing well, which was a bottom-line message from many of the conference speakers.

The Malaysian Airlines Flight Disappearance and the Future Epic Battle between Data for Good and Evil

By Gary Survis*

It was only a matter of minutes after the discovery of the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 that questions began to be asked about the data.  How could a Boeing 777 jet airliner disappear without a digital trace?  What about the data the airplane collected?  What about the tracking data?  The transponders?  How about the satellite “pings”?  What can  the cell phones’ GPS’s tell us?  It was assumed that the quickest path to answering questions about the mysterious flight disappearance was to decipher the big data digital stream that the plane must have created.  One response was a “crowd sourced” effort to use big data to locate the plane.  People believed that in this age of data omnipresence that leveraging data to solve the mystery was the obvious next step.  Some of the same people who feared the NSA’s intrusions and monitoring, were hoping that data held the answer to this enigmatic puzzle.

Malaysian flight 2

But, as the story began to unfold, it became apparent that whoever was perpetrating this “deliberate” act also understood the power of data.  The slow discovery that the transponder and ACARS system (used to transmit maintenance data to the ground) were “turned off” showed a high level of sophistication and knowledge of the data a modern jet creates.  In fact, during a typical 6 hour flight, an airplane will create between 250 and 500 Megabytes of data.  Those responsible for taking action on this flight understood data, how it might be used to locate the plane, and the need to control it.

And so it seems that we are embarking on a journey to a new era where there will be an epic battle between those that will use data for good and those that will seek to control it for evil purposes.  Today, when we talk of big data, we recognize that we are only in the early stages of this transformation.  The internet of things promises even more data in the future from a multitude of industrial devices and sensors.  Who controls this data and for what purpose will be one of the defining discussions of our age.

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One area where there is hope for data being leveraged for good is in the area of sustainability.  We face many seemingly intractable challenges to our future including feeding our population, evolving to respond to the reality of global climate change, and managing our finite resources in the face of unrestrained development and growth.  The list of projects where big data is being used to attack these issues is encouraging.  Space Time Insight is using geospatial visualization to help utilities deliver the smart grid and integrate more renewables into their mix.  Google and the University of Maryland are partnering to develop satellite driven high resolution interactive maps that can track deforestation due to fire, logging, and other sources.  Companies like Monsanto and DuPont are developing “prescriptive planting” technologies that gather and then feedback data to farmers on everything from planting depth, distance and farm machinery productivity.

And these are but a few of the many very promising uses of big data in sustainability.  On March 27th, the Wharton School’s Initiative for Environmental Leadership (IGEL) will be hosting a conference to examine this topic entitled Sustainability in the Age of Big Data.  Companies such as Shell, SAP, IBM, Dow, and others will be grappling with both the power and promise of big data in the sustainability space.  The hope is that business will begin to harness the immense potential of big data to be used for good and begin to solve some of our society’s most pressing problems.

It is still early days in defining how we will use all of this data that we will be creating in virtually every aspect of our lives.  At Syncsort, where I work, we are helping the Fortune 100 begin to discover how to employ this data in transforming their business.  I remain optimistic that good will prevail over evil.  But, I am also realistic.  With open source technologies like Hadoop, massive open data projects, and increasingly inexpensive computing technology, it has never been easier for those that wish to use data for evil to have sophisticated tools previously available only to governments and the largest commercial enterprises. As with the Malaysian Airlines flight disappearance, people want data to be used for good, but it can also play a more sinister role.  Let us hope that we truly understand data’s power and that good prevails over evil in this epic battle for the future of big data.

*Gary Survis is Chief Marketing Officer, Syncsort Data Integration, leading Syncsort’s global Big Data integration marketing team. Gary is a seasoned marketing executive with experience combining traditional and digital marketing tools to provide practical solutions to today’s marketing challenges. He is also currently a Lecturer at Wharton and a Senior Fellow at Wharton’s Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership. 

PennSustains Competition

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The Penn sections of the Society of Women Engineers, Engineers Without Borders, and SEAS Green proposes a competition centered around sustainability. Sustainability is supported by three pillars: people, profit, and the planet. By maintaining these factors and practices that contribute to the quality of environment on a long-term basis, we can support the growth of our community and society as a whole. Continue reading

Energy Efficiency: Still Wasting in the Building

by Silvia Schmid

CompositeSAP

Last week’s conference “Building Energy Efficiency: Seeking Strategies that Work” offered the opportunity to discuss the many barriers to advancements in energy efficiency beyond current standards. The event was cohosted by the Wharton Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL), the Institute for Urban Research at the University of Pennsylvania, the Wharton Risk Management and Decision Processes Center, and the Wharton Small Business Development Center, in partnership with the Energy Efficient Buildings Hub and sponsored by SAP. Speakers and panelists provided valuable insights on the current status of energy efficiency in buildings, addressing topics ranging from consumption measurement and increased transparency, to some of the psychological challenges inherent in adopting more energy efficient behavior. The common message throughout the day was how much remains to be done to make energy efficiency a mainstream priority.

Continue reading

Clean Energy Challenges and Opportunities for Investing in Sustainability

by Sharon Muli*

BaxterJason Baxter of Drexel University

If the Earth had six massive solar installations measuring 200 miles long by 200 miles wide filled with 10% efficient solar cells, it could generate enough energy to meet global demand.  While this is a powerful vision that demonstrates the high potential of solar power, it sounds like a rather absurd thought. Yet this image raises a fundamental question; how can we take better advantage of solar power?

This issue was discussed during the Clean Energy and Sustainability Investing Workshop at the Wharton Social Impact Conference on November 16, 2012, organized by the Wharton Social Impact Initiative.  This year, the theme of the conference was “The Finance of Impact:  Innovative Approaches to Social Change”. The discussion of photovoltaics (PV) emerged as a clear example of how financial investments and technological development can lead to more sustainable change. Continue reading

Wharton IGEL and Benjamin Franklin, Penn’s Founding Father Figure

by Peter Woolsey*

Were you aware of the fact that Benjamin Franklin, founder of the University of Pennsylvania, discovered the North Atlantic drift in his voyages across the Atlantic? He also tamed electricity, advocated a frugal use of resources, and laid out a series of rules for a sustainable lifestyle. Continue reading