To sustainability ‘at lightning speed’

Guest post by Monika Mitchell: Making money while making the world a better place is the mandate for 21st century business. While there are plenty of companies behind the curve who earn billions the old-fashioned way – polluting earth, water and air – modern business is moving at lightening speed towards sustainability.

Bard College, nestled in the Catskill Mountains on the Hudson River, New York State, USA, has introduced a cutting-edge MBA program that combines traditional graduate business school training with sustainable finance. Under the direction of economist and environmental policy expert Eban Goodstein, the Bard program brings the Pacific West’s progressive business education east to the fast-paced financial hub of Manhattan.

Bard’s MBA and companion “Sustainable Business Series” are helping New York City’s business community go green. The Bard Challenge: How do corporate executives and entrepreneurs successfully profit in a socially responsible and environmentally sustainable way? The new Bard MBAanswers that question.

The opening module of Bard’s “2012 Sustainable Business Series” featured the dynamic and endearing mycologist (mushroom science) Sue Van Hook of Ecovative Design and start-up CEO, Jeff Hittner of “ethikus.” The subject for the evening was how to start a sustainable enterprise and even more importantly, how to keep it going. Ecovative, a “biocomposite materials company,” combines the best of both social entrepreneurship worlds: practical solutions that resolve serious environmental problems and dynamic for-profit business innovation. The challenge for Ecovative was to create a product that replaces environmentally destructive Styrofoam. The 20th century brought with it many innovations that resulted in unfortunate environmental consequences. Styrofoam with a lifecycle of 10,000 years is one of these.

In 2007, Ecovative’s founding entrepreneurs, Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre and Ms. Van Hook (former professor at Skidmore College) patented a packaging product “EcoCradle” derived from fungal mycelium that naturally biodegrades over the course of a few months. Ecovative has won major financial support through the World Economic Forum, private grants and multiple awards for innovation. The challenge for the innovative company is to turn a profit! The indefatigable Van Hook has such confidence in Ecovative products that she claims the company will be in the black within the next few years.

Ethikus founder and CEO Jeff Hittner presented his six-month old entrepreneurial venture for sustainable shopping. Consumers can search “ethikus” online or on their smart phone to discover which vendors and purveyors source products ethically. His “consumers who care” approach has led to the first “Shop Your Values” week in the Big Apple in May 2012. Already, 1,700 people have signed up for Jeff’s free service. Shopkeepers and restaurant partners offer locals Groupon-like deals and discounts. Ethikus’ goal is “to help you discover ethical and sustainable stores and restaurants.” Consumers save money by supporting merchants who “support employees, are environmentally responsible and engage with their community.”

Co-founder Jeff led IBM’s Corporate Social Responsibility consulting practice before starting ethikus with brother-in-law and tech guru “Jon.” Jeff, a self-described “partner whore,” believes that collaboration with like-minded individuals and organizations is key to social entrepreneurial success. At Good Business, we agree and look forward to collaborative ventures with ethikusand supporting their innovative and valuable work.

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