Student-run impact ventures focused on solar-powered microgrids for rural India and environmentally friendly feminine hygiene products have been selected Gold Level winners of the 2015 Acara Challenge, a competition held by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment in partnership with the College of Science and Engineering and the Carlson School of Management. The top-level teams and other awardees will have the opportunity and resources to further develop their innovative business solutions for environmental and social challenges. Continue reading
Which bag of coffee is more sustainable? Which television emits the lowest levels of greenhouse gases over its lifetime? Does a grass-fed beef hamburger use less water? For many who want to do right by the environment, these questions are not easily answered. Now, imagine that you buy hundreds of thousands of products every year. How would you decide which make the most difference from an environmental standpoint? Whether suppliers’ environmental performance claims hold water? What combination of environmentally preferred purchases is most cost-effective?
These questions are increasingly being asked by sourcing and supply chain managers at the largest global corporations and governments — arguably, some of the biggest buyers in the world. Today, the Global Environmental Management Initiative, in collaboration with the Institute on the Environment’s NorthStar Initiative for Sustainable Enterprise and Climate Earth, introduced a tool that takes a first step at helping answer some of these questions. Continue reading
“Incredible India” is the Government of India’s international marketing tagline, and it is spot on. But when Acara travels to India, the question is not which Himalayan peak to summit. It is, “How can business be used to impact the grand societal and environmental challenges of the 21st Century?”
In May 2014, Acara sought to gain further insights into this question through our most recent study abroad program. We spent three eye-opening weeks in Bangalore, India with 14 University of Minnesota students from engineering, business, public health and design. We were there to discover challenges at the nexus of community development, infrastructure, and environment, as well as the entrepreneurial venture solutions that India’s change makers are passionately pursuing. Continue reading
Four teams with roots in the Institute on the Environment’s Acara program have advanced to the semifinals in the 10th annual Minnesota Cup, the state’s largest venture competition.
Acara is a social entrepreneurship program that helps University of Minnesota students develop impact ventures that address societal and environmental challenges through courses, workshops and field experiences.
The four Acara-based social ventures were chosen from a pool of 1,300 and will be competing against 66 other teams for up to $30,000 in seed money for their start-ups. The ventures are:
- MyRain – supplies drip irrigation systems to small-plot farmers in India
- Pragati Palms – markets sustainably sourced Indian artisan crafts
- Mighty Axe – grows Minnesota hops for local brewers
- BDW Technologies – is instituting a process for genetically engineering probiotic bacteria to counteract infection in farm animals.
In addition, IonE managing director and chief operating officer Lewis Gilbert has been advising another finalist, Kate Thompson of Ground Truth Collaborative.
Learn more about the Minnesota Cup and the semifinalists here.
Photo: Matthew Wildenauer
When you think about Scandinavia, you probably think of its cold climate, warm people and high quality of life. But you may want to add “sustainable business model” to that list.
Robert Strand, assistant professor of leadership and sustainability at the Copenhagen Business School and director of the Nordic Network for Sustainability, delivered his Frontiers in the Environment lecture about the Scandinavian approach to sustainability in the private sector on April 23 on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus.
In “Scandinavia: Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility,” Strand discussed why large corporations are earning a bad reputation among members of the general public.
Our world is more connected than ever. It’s now easy to live in the United States, buy airfare to Europe, send money to Africa and eat food from Asia. And while this global connectivity comes with a slew of benefits, it also opens the door to the spread of disease and potential for worldwide epidemics.
Robert Wallace, visiting scholar with the Institute for Global Studies, discussed the need to rethink how we define “disease hot spots” from locations where outbreaks originate to global centers of capital that drive disease-causing practices in his Frontiers in the Environment lecture on April 16.
In his talk “Global Capital and Disease Hot Spots,” Wallace presented the concept of One Health, a new public health approach focusing on the transmission of diseases from animals to humans.
Water is essential to a healthy life and a healthy business. So as the world’s water resources are becoming more scarce, the private sector is paying attention.
Raj Rajan, global sustainability technical leader and research, development and engineering vice president at Ecolab, Inc., discussed how commercial enterprises must shift the way they think about water in their business models in last week’s Frontiers in the Environment lecture. His talk, “Water Stewardship and the Private Sector” took place Wednesday, Feb. 26 on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus.
(2/27) Eleven teams of student social and environmental entrepreneurs have been selected winners of the 2014 Acara Challenge, a competition co-sponsored by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment and the College of Science and Engineering. Read more
When you think of the economy, chances are the “green” that comes to mind is money, not nature. But what if there wwere truly a green economy – one that accounts for the value of the environment in economic decision-making?
That was the topic of last week’s Frontiers in the Environment lecture presented by Steve Polasky, an IonE resident fellow and Regents professor of applied economics. Polasky delivered his speech, “What IS the Green Economy? And How Do We Get One?” Feb. 12 at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul. While economics and the environment do not always seem to go hand in hand, it was his love for nature that pushed Polasky to pursue economics.
(1/21) Recognizing that the vast bulk of most companies’ carbon footprint rests in its supply chain, the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment’s NorthStar Initiative for Sustainable Enterprise has teamed up with CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project) to help global suppliers reduce their carbon emissions. Six large customers – Bank of America, L’Oreal, PepsiCo, Philips, Vodafone and Walmart – and over 100 of their suppliers are participating in the pilot program. Read more
There you are, hunkered over your sink, hands wrist-deep in hot water, swiping suds over food-crusted dinner plates. That squishy, soapy thing that’s helping you do so many daily chores…ever wonder where its life began and where it will end?
That sponge, like everything on the planet, has a life cycle, composed of all the materials and energy that brought it to your sink and all the tasks it will help you complete until you’ve squeezed the last bit of work from it and tossed it into the trash. Continue reading
(12/6) A student proposal to develop a renewable fuel–enabled free piston engine captured the $10,000 top prize in a Dow Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge Award (SISCA) competition held Thursday at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. Read more
Photo credit: Nancy Johnson, ME Department
Universities, religious institutions, and even local governments around the globe are weighing the pros and cons of divestment – a climate change mitigation strategy that focuses on phasing out endowment investments in fossil fuel companies.
Matthew Fitzmaurice, founder and managing partner of AWJ Capital Partners LLC, explained the opportunities and shortcomings of divestment in his Frontiers in the Environment presentation Nov. 6.
In “Divestment: A Call to Arms vs. Sustainable Investing: A Catalyst for Global Change,” Fitzmaurice argued that divestment, while a laudable goal, may not be realistic for institutions.
When it comes to our food system, it seems everyone has an opinion on how we can eat healthier, feed more people and reduce our environmental impacts. But how can you separate food fact from food fiction?
That was the topic of last week’s Frontiers in the Environment lecture presented by Chris Lambe, director of social responsibility for The Mosaic Company – a crop nutrient production company based in Plymouth, Minn.
In “The Importance of Food Literacy,” Lambe discussed why it is imperative that consumers, producers and policy-makers alike have a basic understanding of how the food system works and the challenges facing food production around the world.
What do eight U.S. states and two Canadian provinces have in Common? The Great Lakes! Recently, Detroit Public Television’s Great Lakes Now Connect invited Institute on the Environment resident fellow Stephen Polasky to join a panel of experts to talk about the importance of investing in natural environments to enhance the quality of the Great Lakes.
It’s easy to understand that clean water is important for drinking, fisheries, irrigation, recreation and other benefits that people reap from the Great Lakes. What may not be as obvious is the effect that coastal and upland habitats have on water quality. Continue reading
Sustainability isn’t simple, but it’s good for the bottom line as well as the planet, General Mills chief sustainability officer Jerry Lynch told University of Minnesota students, faculty, staff and other community members last week as the first speaker of the Institute on the Environment’s Fall 2013 Frontiers in the Environment series.
Lynch discussed some of the sustainability challenges and opportunities the Twin Cities-based food business faces in his presentation, “Inside Food: How a Consumer Company Works Toward a Sustainable Food Supply.”
Spirited voices mixed with the scent of Indian spices in The Commons: Meeting and Art Space at Institute on the Environment last Monday night. Dozens of Acara students, mentors and investors were gathered for a showcase of the 2012-13 Acara Challenge contestants.
Attendees supped on fare from Gandhi Mahal and mingled with the young entrepreneurs before settling in for brief presentations on seven start-ups developed by Acara alumni. The goal of each business – in addition to viability and profit – is to address a social or environmental issue at home or abroad. Continue reading
The MyRain train just keeps on rolling. A couple of weeks ago the Acara Challenge start-up was featured in Bloomberg Businessweek. Now the team has been named to the Fall 2013 Global Social Benefit Incubator (GSBI) online cohort at Santa Clara University Center for Science, Technology, and Society. Continue reading
“I should be ashamed of this, but I’m not.”
After spending the last year in rural India building the MyRain business he co-founded with his partner Paula Uniacke, Steele Lorenz (BS ’10) was ready for some comfort snack food. So when I asked him if he wanted anything from the U.S. before I left, he gave me a list that included items like Little Debbie cookies and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. On the trip over to India, I learned that Little Debbie cookies caused TSA more problems than anything else I have ever carried onto an airplane. They seem to be impenetrable to X-rays. “I should be ashamed of this list, but I’m not,” Steele confided to me. The work Steele has done with MyRain over the past year, however, deserves a whole shipping container of cookies.
After a student takes a course from IonE’s Acara program for budding social entrepreneurs, then what? Do the lessons learned get filed away with old exams and term papers – or do they take on a life of their own?
Of course, each student’s story is different. But for many, Acara turns out to be a springboard to new ideas, opportunities and adventures. Below is a short, informal update on some of the teams and ventures that were part of the Acara program during 2012. Whatever the path, it’s clear that their experience in the Acara program gives them a solid foundation for future endeavors.