Wanted: Triple Bottom Line Leaders

green pencil singleBy Joseph Fusco, VP, Casella Waste Systems, Inc., Board member, University of Vermont SEMBA

I want to share an insight with you.

Before I do, you should know this about me: I am not an expert in sustainability. For most of my life, I never gave it much thought, nor did it interest me. I may have even smirked at the idea once or twice.

You should know this about the company I work for: it is a mundane business. We are not superstars in the sustainability movement. Our name certainly wouldn’t escape from your lips should you be asked to name a fashionable triple bottom line company.

I sit on the board of advisors for a new and unique sustainable entrepreneurship MBA (SEMBA) at the University of Vermont because my company wrestles with this new business paradigm every day.

A few years ago, we had a moment of clarity. Suddenly, we realized our entire existence was based on a business model that was simply unsustainable.

We had to ask ourselves a very important question: what will the world — the planet, our markets, our customers, our communities — expect from us in twenty or thirty years? What will we get paid for?

You should know we came to this simple conclusion: we’ll get paid by helping to solve the problem of the world’s limited resources. At that moment, nearly everything changed — the way we hire, build, and treat people, the investments we make, the way we work with customers, the risks we embrace.

Simply put, all our problems are centered around resource limits — natural, environmental, people, time, capital, and so on. All of our opportunities — profit, growth, contributing to society, creating shareholder value — come from our ability to solve those problems better than anybody else. To do that we have to embrace sustainability. We have to become a different kind of company.

And that transformation calls for a different kind of leader.

So, here’s my insight: our mundane company will scratch and claw our way over other companies to hire people who are great at solving the problems of resource limits, and who embrace sustainability.

We need you. And there simply aren’t enough of you to go around.

We’re not alone — everyone’s problems have changed, everyone’s business model is being threatened. Every company, whether it likes it or not, and whether it knows it or not, faces the challenges of limited resources on every level.

Because of this new reality, there is a desperate need for leaders whose experience and education have uniquely prepared them to make products and services sustainable, and focus on the planet and people, as well as profit. There is a desperate need for leaders who think and act like entrepreneurs, who can creatively destroy outdated business structures, and innovate. There is a desperate need for leaders who reject business-as-usual, who are able to build a problem-solving culture without the smothering effects of fear and control, compliance and obedience.

Unless you are this kind of leader, you are useless to us, and to more and more organizations.

In fact, I think it’s increasingly inevitable that we — and companies like ours — won’t hire anyone for a leadership position who doesn’t bring us two important qualities:

  • A genuine belief that “sustainability” extends to every corner of the enterprise, from the products and services we sell, to the way we manage limited natural, human, capital and social resources, to the way we liberate our people to love the work they do.
  • An education and set of skills that has prepared them to live differently, lead differently, profit differently.

The challenge for us will be to find these leaders, and to be confident they’ve been taught and nurtured in a program that builds expertise in all areas of sustainable entrepreneurship.

Since we’re based in Vermont we’re pretty sure we’ll find them right here under our noses, at the University of Vermont’s (UVM) Sustainable Entrepreneurship MBA (SEMBA). It’s one of a handful of programs we’re confident in; you should be confident that it will offer you the education to be the kind of problem solver our company and many others will scratch and claw our way to hire.

You will have access, and immersion

First of all, it’s in Vermont, which is arguably ground zero for this sort of thing. Go to Manhattan to build spreadsheets full of capital expenditure projections and acquisition pro formas for the old man up in the corner office, but come to Vermont to immerse yourself in the best thinking around sustainability. We’ll give you unparalleled access to the socially responsible entrepreneurs, mentors, and investors who’ve built some of the best brands in the world — like Ben & Jerry’s, Burton Snowboards, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, and Seventh Generation.

Your experience at UVM will include a high-impact, hands-on project within one of Vermont’s globally recognized sustainable brands, within a committed company seeking to build its business around social responsibility and sustainability, or the launch of your own business idea.

Business needs you to develop quickly

Don’t get too comfortable. UVM has built a one-year program designed to launch you to invent or reinvent your enterprise as quickly as possible.

Deep and wide

The UVM MBA not only gives you a solid foundation in business practices, it also features an innovative new curriculum exposing you to cutting-edge thinking in all areas of a great business, and a sustainable organization. You need to be able to solve problems all over the enterprise, so UVM’s academic approach is a tight integration of the best thinkers and teachers from the School of Business, Department of Community Development and Applied Economics, and nationally ranked Rubinstein School of Natural Resources, as well as the Gund Institute and the Vermont Law School.

Sustainable and socially responsible businesses know what we want, and what we need from our leaders. UVM’s SEMBA is one of the programs in the country that is building the type of leader we want. It’s is a tightly woven partnership between innovative companies and educators who share a passion to reinvent the way leaders and entrepreneurs are built for the long-haul, and who share a unique Vermont “DNA” for sustainability.

The business of the future — our business — demands exceptional students and business leaders who are able to master a different, more sustainable way to pursue profits, create value, and leave a significant economic, environmental and social impact.

Our business, and almost everyone else in business I know, is looking for people not content to do things the way they’ve always been done — who know there’s a better way to do business, to build companies and organizations, to build leaders.

We’re looking for people who think differently — and who are ready to embark on a business education that will prepare them to live differently, lead differently, profit differently.

Because the world is too important for business-as-usual.

Joe Fusco is a member of the Board of Advisors for the University of Vermont’s Sustainable Entrepreneurship MBA (SEMBA). He is an advisor to the chairman and chief executive officer of Casella Waste Systems, Inc. on organizational and leadership development, human performance, brand strategy, public affairs, business and market trends, and corporate communications. He also serves as a fellow of the Bell Leadership Institute in Chapel Hill, N.C., and is currently chairman of Vermont’s comprehensive economic development strategy steering committee.

[image credit: Sara Bjork: Flickr cc]

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