Thursday, February 23, 2012

Darden Pranks: Section E Mischief Team

Somehow this prank from first-year came up in a lunch conversation I had with some prospective students today...

I know I've posted about Section E pride before, and watching this still makes me laugh.  Per long-standing tradition, our neighbors in Section D made this really loud banging noise that repeatedly disrupted our relatively peaceful Section E case discussions.  It got so bad, at one point, that our Operations professor Raul Chao went to go yell at them on our behalf!

We decided we needed to intervene a little further, so we started by installing a doorbell in the ceiling speaker of classroom 180, and assigned a student with a hidden button in our classroom to ring the chime whenever Section D did their banging thing.  This didn't work very well at deterring them, as you can tell from the video, probably because we set the chime to play soothing saxophone music.  Section D rather liked the chime, actually.

We then decided that we needed to fight with more "explosive" weapons.  We therefore installed a less pleasant sound device under the unlucky chair of one of the unsuspecting students, and I was assigned to pull the trigger.  Not only did we get Section D's attention, but we caught the whole shenanigans on tape!

In short, this video highlights the great sense of community that Darden students find when they enter Mr. Jefferson's university, which for me has been the greatest feature of spending two years studying here.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Darden Business in Society Conference

I'm happy to report that Darden's annual Business in Society Conference was a great success this year!  The purpose of the conference is to establish a dialogue about how business can be used to tackle social and environmental issues.  The conference consisted of panel discussions with business leaders focused on energy, social entrepreneurship, education reform, corporate sustainability, and governmental challenges.

The conference kicked off on Thursday afternoon with a keynote address by Martha Johnson, head of the U.S. General Services Administration and a member of President Obama's cabinet.  Her organization is responsible for guiding $95 billion in annual purchases for the government.  (just to put that in perspective, this is twice the $48 billion of sales that Amazon had last year)

I admire the energy that Ms. Johnson brought to her speech (which you can watch below) and her commitment to guiding the government on a sustainable path.  She also shared her advice for students in finding mentors: find people who will challenge, clarify, comfort, and celebrate.  Each mentor won't provide all of these needs, but assemble a portfolio of mentors that will.

My Friday morning was busy as I was organizing three separate energy panel discussions on energy efficiency, energy policy, and renewable energy financing.  Each panel had a group of strong speakers who shared their experiences.

Energy Efficiency
We brought this panel together because energy efficiency measures are the cheapest way to lower the consumption of fossil fuels.  It's easier to save a megawatt than it is to put up an array of solar modules.

Several insights came from this panel.  First, the importance of data and using automation to help consumers save money.  Adams stated, "there are not enough energy nerds in the world" that will optimize their energy needs to make a noticeable dent in consumer energy usage patterns.  This creates an opportunity for energy management companies to make their products "ubiquitous, like breathing."

Stanton-Hoyle said that the focus needs to be on "efficiency rather than sacrifice."  The "manifest destiny" philosophy in the US towards consumption is a hurdle that needs to be acknowledged in promoting lower energy usage.  Also, the small fraction of a US household's budget devoted to energy impedes behavior change.

All the panelists talked about the importance of eliminating arcane and byzantine regulations that can block energy efficiency programs.  "All regulations are local," said Bixby, and this greatly complicates starting a business in this area.

Energy Policy
The lack of a nationally consistent energy policy in the US frustrates everyone on all sides of the political spectrum.  Policy can give incentives for developing more sustainable energy alternatives to burning fossil fuels with one hand while taking away with the other.

Williams talked about how inconsistent subsidies lead to boom/bust cycles in the wind energy industry.  For instance, the expiration of a production tax credit at the end of 2012 could lead to the loss of over 70% of the current activity (read: jobs) in wind energy.  Blaney spoke about how politicians have undermined the faith and trust in markets to identify the lowest cost clean energy alternatives.  The risk of climate change legislation is already being charged in pro-forma financials for carbon-heavy industries, he said.  "We are already paying for this legislation," Blaney asserted, without getting any of the technological benefits for actually placing a price on carbon.

Faulconer and Mignone talked about the policy-making process.  Industry associations such as the Edison Electric Institute have become the powerful and preferred voice of companies.  "The people with the most to lose are the first ones at the door," said Faulconer, who expressed his frustration with the American Chemistry Council in preventing the transparent labeling of building materials.

The Corporate Sustainability Panel: Kathryn Wilson (Microsoft), Coleman Bigelow (Johnson & Johnson) and Stephen Evanko (Capital One)

Renewable Energy Financing
Seems like all the Darden alums want to be involved in finance!  These panelists talked about the hurdles they have encountered in getting funding for renewable energy projects.  Clifford talked about tax equity and the difficulty with acquiring this in the current economic environment.  He believes that a distributed model of renewable energy generation (think: rooftop solar) is more feasible given the transmission upgrades that would need to be completed to support larger-scale projects.  He described the dramatic cost reductions in solar projects in recent years and predicts that 1/3 of the US will be cost competitive for solar in 2016.

Fedors described his joy in funding a hydroelectric project in Mexico, with its limited red tape and transmission costs.  Regulatory delays and "soft costs" such as interconnection to the electric grid are a big problem for other renewable projects, he said.  Similarly, Mackey described his frustration with siting delays for wind projects.  "It is probably just as hard to site a wind farm as a coal power plant right now," he said.  Clifford closed with a call to action for those in the room interested in the energy industry: "1% of the electrical power industry is a multi-billion dollar business.  You can make an impact."

Drummond Lawson (Method Products) hovers over the "Green Supply Chain" panel, speaking with Jacob Madsen (Deloitte) and Minal Mistry (GreenBlue)

The afternoon panels I attended were insightful as well.  The Corporate Sustainability panel talked about sustainability as a journey and the importance of holding up small wins as beacons for the possibilities in sustainability.  Panelists talked about the importance of joining a company whose value system aligns with your own.  Drill deep to understand how a company defines "sustainability" – it's a vague term defined differently everywhere.  Most corporate jobs that influence sustainability initiatives don't align with a formal sustainability-related position, so you need to find a company that will support your push for more sustainable business practices.  Pick a sustainability initiative that you will be passionate about "so you can get past the 'NO'," said one panelist.

My last panel is a long day focused on the Green Supply Chain.  The panelists spoke about the struggle in getting good data to determine the carbon footprint, energy usage, water consumption, raw materials used, and waste output needed to create a particular product.  "How do we get this 'radical' level of transparency?" asked one of the panelists.  Though seemingly a "boring, tenuous" problem, it actually looks to become much more relevant as consumer demand for goods that cause less environmental harm increases.  Companies will need to take a greater look at the ecology of their products as Extended Producer Responsibility takes hold in Europe, which may integrate environmental costs into product prices.

It was great to finally see the fruit of months of effort in putting together this conference.  As sustainability expands into a business mega-trend in the 21st century, I'm glad that we were able to showcase at Darden some of the work of professionals focused on better business practices.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

MBA Careers for Change

For those interested in what Darden is up to in the sustainability world, here's a newly published video from Darden Media showing some of those who interned at companies promoting social and environmental change (little shout-out to my summer employer at the 2:00 mark).  Also shows some of the thought leaders on the Darden faculty in the business sustainability realm (Michael Lenox, Andrea Larson, Richard Brownlee, and Ed Freeman):

In addition, the annual Darden Business in Society Conference is this Friday, with an all-star group of panelists in Charlottesville to talk about the latest issues in social entrepreneurship, international development, corporate sustainability, renewable energy, and education innovation.  More to come in my next post!