Category Archives: Sustainability

Foster students manage the business end of the UW’s EcoCAR Challenge

UW's eco carA team of UW students recently took second place in the EcoCAR 2 Challenge. Its modified Chevy Malibu traveled 48 miles on an electric charge before switching to its biodiesel engine—making it the most energy-efficient car in the 15-school international competition. A brilliant feat of engineering.

Behind that engineering was some savvy business support from Foster School students. Nicholas Wilson (MBA 2012), Tyler Rose (MBA 2013) and Taj Matthews (MBA 2013) served as business managers for the first stages of the three-year project. Alex Ong, a senior studying finance, took the engineering and design team through to the finals earlier this year at General Motor’s Milford Proving Ground.

The son of engineers, Ong has no formal technical training of his own. “But I’m interested in cars and I knew a few things,” he says. “Enough to get the conversation going.”

His role was to manage the project’s six-figure budget, cultivate and communicate with sponsors, and provide financial reporting to funders and competition organizers—GM, the US Department of Energy, and a wide range of transportation and renewable energy firms and organizations.

In Detroit, the team finished first in eight categories, including quickest acceleration, lowest energy consumption and least greenhouse gas emissions. While his colleagues put the car through its paces, Ong presented the team’s financials to a panel of judges representing the sponsor organizations.

It was a unique experience, this working collaboration of engineering, business, communications and visual arts.

“There’s nothing like it at the UW,” Ong says. “It was an incredible interdisciplinary learning experience where you had to work together with people who have no knowledge of your expertise and vice-versa. Otherwise, the whole project falls flat.

“That’s about as real world as it gets.”

The UW has been selected to compete in EcoCAR 3 beginning this fall. Ong plans to recruit fellow Foster students to better distribute the workload and formalize procedures to ensure continuity over the project’s four-year run.

The team just learned that they get to play with a Camaro this time around.

Senioritis? Bah. Count Ong in.

Sustainable Big Macs: The plan for a leaner, greener McDonald’s

McDs_Langert1Imagine going into a McDonald’s and learning that all of the beef used in their hamburgers was sustainably sourced. Not only that, but the restaurants were using less energy, recycling more and adding more fruits and vegetables to their menu. Seem far-fetched? Not when you learn that the company, famous for its fast, low-cost food items, has been developing sustainability initiatives for the past three years. Enter Bob Langert, McDonald’s Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility and keynote speaker at Foster’s Fourth Annual Idea Lab. Speaking to an audience full of MBA students and Puget-sound area business leaders, Langert talked about supply chain, consumer buy-in, and championing sustainable beef at the home of the Big Mac.

Having labeled McDonald’s as a company in transition, Langert hopes that their involvement in the sustainability movement– which he thinks is “too small [and] too niche”– will jumpstart supplier and consumer buy-in. McDonald’s has developed a plan, dubbed “Our Journey Together. For Good”, to make their menu both healthier and sustainable. The plan’s goals include:

  • To begin serving sustainably sourced beef by 2016
  • Add more fruits and vegetables by 2020
  • Reduce fat, sugar and overall calories in their food
  • Provide 100 percent sustainably sourced coffee
  • Reduce restaurant energy consumption by 20 percent
  • Increase in-restaurant recycling by 50 percent.

To achieve these goals, McDonald’s first priority is to address the supply chain—which Langer believes accounts for 80 percent of the corporation’s environmental impact. While aggressive, this certainly isn’t the first time the Golden Arches has addressed food sourcing.McDs_audienceClose

Dressed in chicken suits, Greenpeace activists staged protests in European McDonald’s restaurants with the hopes of raising awareness of deforestation in Brazil due to soya production in the Amazon. As it turned out, Amazonian soya was a major source of soy for McDonald’s food products. Surprising cynics (and probably a few Greenpeace protestors), Langert met with the activists, even traveling to the Amazon with them to get a first-hand picture of the devastation. Within three months, Langert says, McDonald’s was able to negotiate a moratorium on Amazon soya. Reflecting on the experience, Langert said, “[I’m] proud of the work, not proud that it came through a crisis.” The soya-based deforestation problem was a watershed moment for McDonald’s, driving the company’s other environmental initiatives like responsibly sourcing their coffee and their fish—100 percent of which comes from sustainable fisheries. With a focus now placed squarely on their beef suppliers, McDonald’s hopes to do the same for the millions of hamburgers they sell each day.

From enlisting the consulting expertise of famed animal science doctor and autistic activist Dr. Temple Grandin to honing in on their message, McDonald’s approach to the beef industry has been multi-pronged. Recalling his keynote speech at the first annual Ranch Sustainability Forum earlier this year, Langert reiterated the importance of coming together as a community to be more environmentally responsible and forward-thinking. “I kept saying we’re on the same page. We want sustainable beef to sell more beef.” However, Langert knows that sustainability isn’t limited to suppliers. Pointing to the trouble their European restaurants are having convincing their customers to recycle (crew members are manually separating garbage from recycling), Langert acknowledges there’s still a long way to go. When asked if it’s possible that customers are fatigued by sustainability messaging, Langert half agreed, stating that while McDonald’s Chief Brand Officer is coming up with “disruptive ways to reach consumers” he knows that what they’re doing right now is not enough. He added, “The plan right now is not consumer-centric. Our time now is being spent within the supply chain.” That’s not for nothing. Langert said that he continues to be astounded by the progress made on the supply side, stating that “suppliers discussing sustainability is a big deal.”

McDs_qaThere’s no doubt for Langert that McDonald’s has a challenging road ahead to achieve total supplier and consumer buy-in, stating, “When you try to develop something bold, there’s a lot of resistance.” However, Langert maintains that the folks at the Golden Arches are committed to taking sustainability beyond the “small and niche.” Within a few short years, McDonald’s may evolve in to paragon of environmental stewardship in the business world and possibly beyond. We’ll all just have to wait and see.

This event was co-sponsored by Foster’s Net Impact MBA club. Net Impact is a new generation of leaders who use their careers to tackle the world’s toughest problems. They put their business skills to work for good throughout every sector. By doing so, they show the world that it’s possible to make a net impact that benefits not just the bottom line, but people and planet too. Learn more about the club here.

$27,500 Awarded to Entrepreneurial Student Innovators

UW EIC 2014 Winners Korvata and NOVA Solar Window
UW EIC 2014 Winners Korvata and NOVA Solar Window

 

The annual UW Environmental Innovation Challenge (EIC), now in its sixth year, challenges interdisciplinary student teams to define an environmental problem, develop a solution, produce a prototype, and create a business summary that demonstrates the commercial viability of their product, process or service.

23 teams were selected to compete in the 2014 UW EIC. Each of these teams proved that students have the potential to address our most pressing environmental needs—alternative fuels,  recycling, solar power, water treatment—with novel solutions that have market potential. After pitching their innovations to a group of 170+ judges—investors, entrepreneurs, policy-makers, and experts from across sectors—the six teams with the highest scores were awarded up to $10,000 in prize money. Congratulations to this year’s winners:


$10,000 Grand Prize
Korvata (University of Washington)
Korvata has created a cutting edge alternative energy product that allows companies to mitigate their environmental impact by replacing the use of nitrous oxide as a whipped cream propellant.
(sponsored by the UW Center for Commercialization)
 
$5,000 Second Place Prize and $5,000 Clean Energy Prize
NOVA Solar Window (Western Washington University)
NOVA Solar Window combines the power producing capabilities of a solar panel with the utility of a traditional window. The utilization of transparent solar energy technology allows solar windows to provide renewable energy where traditional solar panels cannot.
(sponsored by Puget Sound Energy the UW Clean Energy Institute)
 
$2,500 Honorable Mentions
Loopool (Bainbridge Graduate Institute, Seattle Central Community College, University of Washington)
Loopool is reinventing the garment industry business model by creating a closed-loop supply chain, transforming reclaimed cotton garments and textiles into high-quality, bio-based fiber.
(sponsored by Starbucks) 

Salon Solids (University of Washington)
Salon Solids reduces the amount of plastic waste and hazardous chemical consumption that occurs with most hair products. Its six-ingredient shampoo and conditioner comes in solid form, eliminating the need for the preservatives necessary for a product with water in it, and its packaging is recyclable, biodegradable and does not contain plastic, further reducing waste.
(sponsored by Fenwick & West) 

Ionometal Technologies (University of Washington)
Ionometal Technologies has created a metal plating technique that allows for precise metal-on-metal deposition which can be used to repair gold test boards. The Ionometal printer prints metal plates that are smaller than can be seen with the naked eye.
(sponsored by WRF Capital)

 

Check out what guests, judges, and teams had to say about the 2014 UW EIC on Twitter: #UWEIC2014

The 2014 UW EIC challenges student innovators to think like entrepreneurs

The U.S. Department of Energy recently held its fifth Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy  (ARPA-E) Innovation Summit—an annual event that brings together academics, entrepreneurs, innovators, and thought-leaders to discuss our most pressing energy issues, the technologies being developed to address them, and the market potential of innovative energy technologies.

A central message of the three-day summit was the importance of entrepreneurship. Keynote speakers like U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Thomas Friedman stressed the importance of commercializing new technologies. Their message was clear: it’s one thing to develop a breakthrough technology. It’s another thing to turn that brilliant technology into something commercially viable. If you want to advance energy innovation and solve our energy crises, you have to think and act like an entrepreneur.

Pure Blue Adam Greenberg
Pure Blue Technologies, UW EIC 2013

For the past five years, the UW Environmental Innovation Challenge (EIC) has been delivering that same message to innovative and entrepreneurial students from colleges and universities throughout the Pacific Northwest. Each year, interdisciplinary student teams are challenged to define an environmental problem, develop a solution, produce a prototype, and create a business summary that demonstrates market potential. The quarter-long process culminates in a large, DemoDay-like event where a select group of teams pitch to a group of 150+ judges—investors, entrepreneurs, policy-makers, and experts from across sectors. The top teams are awarded up to $10,000 in prize money, and everyone comes away with valuable feedback and experience to help them realize the market potential of their innovations.

The 23 teams selected for this year’s UW EIC run the gamut of clean technology and environmental innovation: Loopool is addressing waste in the garment industry by creating a closed-loop supply chain that transforms reclaimed cotton garments and textiles into high quality, bio-based fiber; NOVA Solar Window combines the power-producing capabilities of a solar panel with the utility of a traditional window, providing renewable energy where traditional solar panels cannot. Korvata, in response to the harmful environmental effects of greenhouse gas emissions, has created a mixture of proprietary gasses to replace the use of nitrous oxide as a whipped cream propellant.

For the next month, these competitors, along with 20 others, will refine their prototypes, perform market analyses, hone their pitches, and prepare to prove that their innovation has the potential to succeed in the marketplace—and transform our world.

Follow the progress of the 2014 UW Environmental Innovation Challenge:

The who, what, why, and Howe of Impact HUB Seattle

Impact HUB Seattle
Impact HUB Seattle

Impact HUB Seattle makes a great first impression.  It has that industrial chic thing down to a T: exposed brick, grand staircase, rustic wooden beams. There are Herman Miller chairs and 24” monitors at every desk, state-of-the-art meeting rooms, hot showers for bike commuters, and blazing fast internet, of course.   But the HUB is more than just a pretty face. It’s a space where entrepreneurs, nonprofits, and innovative start-up companies work side by side with the shared goal of making the world a better place.

“That’s Mark,” says HUB Seattle founder Brian Howe, waving at a young man through the glass walls of a sleek conference room.  “He’s the CEO of Moving World. It’s a for-profit start-up that connects professionals with vacation volunteer projects that match their skill sets.”  He turns and gestures in the other direction. “Two offices down,” he continues, “is the Seattle Good Business Network. They promote the benefits of buying and thinking local.” The HUB is filled with start-ups and nonprofits like these – organizations committed to treating contribution to the common good with the same reverence as financial gain.

Howe’s fascination with entrepreneurship began in law school, when he and an MBA student were assigned to help entrepreneurs in underserved communities with their business plans and legal issues. “It turned out I enjoyed the business side more than the legal side,” says Howe. So after getting his law degree, he set out to build his entrepreneurial expertise and earn what he calls a “poor man’s MBA,” competing in the UW Business Plan Competition with Safety Innovation, a company that produced protective garments for hospitals.

Impact HUB Seattle founder Brian Howe
Impact HUB Seattle founder Brian Howe

As Howe became more confident of his start-up skills and his law firm found its niche serving impact entrepreneurs, he found himself spending more time helping clients with introductions to investors, writing business plans, and polishing pitch decks. He was passionate about the work, but it did not match the billable hour model of a law firm. Howe asked himself, “Is there a business model that allows me to do the work that I love doing?” His answer: Yes, start an incubator.

Howe went looking for inspiration and came across the global HUB network, an ecosystem for social entrepreneurs. Started in London in 2004, the HUB network had grown to about 40 outposts worldwide, and one had just opened in San Francisco. “I fell in love with the energy of the space,” says Howe, of his visit, “and thought, this is it. I don’t need to reinvent the wheel. I need to bring this to Seattle.”

Roughly a year later, HUB Seattle has 500 members who use the space to work on their start-ups, hold meetings and workshops, and share ideas with a community of like-minded entrepreneurs. The HUB’s “everything under one roof” model means that members can help each other with just about every aspect of running a start-up, from accounting to web design. HUB Seattle has built partnerships with organizations like Social Venture Partners and Bainbridge Graduate Institute, aopens its space up for community events like Startup Weekend, film screenings, and Tech Meetups.

So what’s next for HUB Seattle? Howe is thinking globally. “The HUB is arguably the largest network of impact entrepreneurs in the world,” he says.  He plans to develop a globally dispersed consulting network made up of HUB members who can share their talents, collaborate on ideas, and help each other change the world.

Foster Idea Lab participants brainstorm sustainable solutions

Looking for a challenge? How about trying to cut total emissions from the global commercial aviation fleet in half—even as it doubles from 20,000 to a projected 40,000 planes—by 2050.

That tall order is the very real pledge of the world’s aviation industry.

And leading the quixotic charge is the Boeing Company, whose Bill Glover provided the keynote for the 2013 Foster Idea Lab, a kind of high-level sustainability brainstorming session hosted by Net Impact at the University of Washington Foster School of Business.

Glover, the vice president of global business development and policy at Boeing Commercial Airplanes, offered a portal into his firm’s efforts to produce more efficient, lower-emitting aircraft through innovative on-board technologies, smarter materials and an all-out push to develop a jet-worthy renewable fuel.

He recounted Boeing’s catalytic effort to drive the first successful biofuel-powered commercial airplane flight, and its legacy in thousands of subsequent test, demonstration and commercial biofueled flights in the past few years.

“Now we need to industrialize it,” Glover said. “Make this work on an industry-wide scale to drive down the carbon footprint of aviation. That’s one of the great opportunities that we have. We’re at the beginning, and we have a long way to go.”

High-level brainstorm

Facing the big challenges of sustainability was the theme of the Idea Lab. Some 40 senior sustainability officers from a wide range of companies huddled with each other and with Foster MBA students to cross-pollinate solutions to the challenges of their organizations to operate more sustainably. Among the organizations participating were Microsoft (the Idea Lab sponsor), Boeing, Starbucks, Amazon, T-Mobile, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and many others.

The event was organized by the Foster School’s chapter of Net Impact, the international MBA organization devoted to inspiring a new generation to use their careers to tackle the world’s toughest social and environmental problems.

National Champs

Foster MBAs won the national Net Impact Case Competition in 2011 and 2013, and reached the finals in 2012. At the Idea Lab, Gabe Jones, Ryan Scott and Chris Walker of the winning team reported on the school’s most recent victory this past February at the University of Colorado.

The case challenged student teams to navigate Newmont Mining’s efforts to begin mining gold in a fictional African nation. The Foster team’s winning solution was centered on the creation of a Trusted Partners Program—a kind of independent escrow account managed by Newmont executives, stakeholders from local and national government, and NGO partners—that would manage profit sharing to benefit both company shareholders and local residents in the areas of environmental, social and educational.

The plan was simple, feasible and implementable. Said Scott: “The question we kept asking ourselves was, what will the board do next week? After we finish our presentation, can the board actually act on this? I think that’s what earned us the win.”

Water, plastics, and dirty data

Foster Net Impact’s faculty advisor Elizabeth Stearns closed the event with a bracing reminder of our rampant overuse of water, plastics and “dirty” data.

The senior lecturer pointed out the tens of gallons of water it takes to produce a cup of coffee or glass of wine, the hundreds of gallons to produce a t-shirt or can of beer, and the thousands to produce a pair of blue jeans or a bar of chocolate.

And she challenged anyone who produces packaging to consider the effect of plastics—300 million tons produced annually, 90 percent of which can be recycled but only 10 percent that is recycled.

Stearns called for a new paradigm. “It’s not enough to recycle,” she said. “We should be focusing on upcycling—the cradle-to-cradle creation of something for the expressed purpose of later being reused, perhaps as something else.”

As for dirty data, Stearns reported that the computing industry and the “cloud” are consuming 623 billion kilowatts of energy and 5.5 billion gallons of water annually, producing 50 million tons of toxic e-waste, and emitting 680 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions—2-3 percent of the world’s total emissions.

“We have to start rethinking our business processes in every industry,” she said. “If we don’t, we won’t have a business.”

But Stearns also pointed out that there are “lots of wonderful solutions out there.” As exemplars, she cited Singapore’s successful gray-water-to-drinking-water company NEWater, the collapsible, upcyclable container used by Japan’s I LOHAS, and the comprehensively sustainable Belgium-based cleaning products company Ecover.

“When you work in sustainability, it’s easy to feel that there isn’t a way out, that the situation is hopeless,” Stearns said. “But the people in the room are already convinced that we have to do things more sustainably. We just have to know that we can do things more sustainably.