Featured Profiles

Student Profiles

Kenneth-baby-cropKenneth Johnson Redeploys His Afghanistan Military Experience in America to Create Sustainable Solutions

As a U.S. Army Fire Support officer stationed in northeastern Afghanistan, Kenneth Johnson, Erb ’15, witnessed the power of sustainable solutions to uplift poverty-stricken residents, transform remote villages and build greater trust and respect. Now, as an Erb Institute student, he is redeploying his Afghanistan military experience in America to create sustainable solutions that would make healthy food accessible to underserved populations, bootstrap troubled inner-city neighborhoods and create hope and prosperity for the future.

“I saw the impact that sustainable solutions had in Afghanistan, and I wanted to dive deeper and refine some of the skills I developed in the military,” explains Johnson, a West Point graduate who earned the Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Army Commendation Medal with Valor for actions in combat. “Pursuing a career in the sustainability space would allow me to serve, do something interesting and make an impact on people and the environment from a business point of view.” Read more

Julia Ruedig, Erb ’15, Sows the Seeds for a Career in Food System Sustainability

Julia Ruedig, Erb ’15, believes more can be done to reduce inefficiencies and improve the sustainability of America’s food system. “Food waste is a big problem that occurs in many areas, including our agricultural supply chains, retail sales outlets ─ and even our own homes,” she says. “Unfortunately, there’s no silver bullet for solving this sustainability problem. The solution will require a widespread approach.”

Putting food on America’s dinner tables consumes 10 percent of the nation’s total energy budget, 50 percent of its land and 80 percent of its potable freshwater. Yet 40 percent of the food in the U.S. today goes uneaten ─ the equivalent of more than 20 pounds per person every month, according to a 2012 report by the Natural Resources Defense Council. The increasing amount of waste is particularly troubling at a time when one in six Americans lacks a secure supply of food. Read more


Berry-Kennedy-Feat-Student-3Berry Kennedy, Erb ’14, Applies Sustainability Principles to Business Practice

Does Berry Kennedy, Erb ’14, have what some might call an “environmental brain”?

“I think I do because I use a systems perspective to see how things fit together, and I draw connections between disparate areas,” she says. “The reason I chose to go into the field of environmentalism and sustainability is because it encompasses many of my other interests in health, poverty and business development ─ all of which are impacted by the way we live and how we use our resources. Understanding any situation within its wider context is the broadest definition of an environmental brain, and it is something I do naturally.” Read more


Leah Zimmerman, Erb ’14, Charts a New Course toward a Sustainable Future

Leah Zimmerman, Erb ’14, could not have predicted the dramatic shift in her career goal that occurred during her second year at the Erb Institute.

“I came to the University of Michigan to study Great Lakes ecology,” says Zimmerman, a Grand Rapids, Mich., native, who spent her childhood summers vacationing along the Lake Michigan gold coast and later worked overseas for six years with Pacific Environment, a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the living environment of the Pacific Rim.  “During my first year at the School of Natural Resources and Environment, I took on courses in Conservation Ecology and Behavior, Education and Communication.”  Read more


Adam Byrnes, Erb ’14, Finding Technological Solutions for Sustainability

Technology holds the key to sustainability, says Adam Byrnes, Erb ’14, who has helped to commercialize several innovations in the field of renewable energy during his prior professional career and current graduate studies at the Erb Institute.  “If we replace the technology we use now with more-efficient new technology, we can improve the way we utilize our natural resources,” he explains, comparing the advantages of say, a Tesla electric vehicle ─ which has a smaller carbon footprint ─ to the disadvantages of a conventional gas-guzzling car or truck. “Similarly, we can use innovative software, such as dashboards and phone applications, to manage our energy needs remotely and increase our energy efficiency.” Software products that allow people to work from home rather than commute and to share and edit documents online, reducing paper usage, are other examples of how innovative technology can drive increased sustainability, he adds. Read more


Ursula-crop-Ursula Jessee,  Erb ’15:  Providing global opportunity through entrepreneurship

As the daughter of an American father and Salvadoran mother who traveled all over the world for the USAID foreign services, Ursula Jessee, Erb ’15, has lived overseas for 19 years and witnessed widespread poverty in developing nations, such as Egypt, Nicaragua and Bolivia. These insights into life at the base of the pyramid have ignited a strong desire to find solutions to pressing societal problems and to improve living conditions for people facing economic hardship.

“I had access to opportunities that other people didn’t have, based on where I was born and my parents’ status,” Jessee explains. “My calling in life is to devise ways to address these inequities and to bring promising opportunities to those who are less fortunate.” Read more


Alumni Profiles

Laura Rubin, MBA/MS ’95, Spearheads a River Renaissance Along the Huron

A decade ago, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Dexter and other southeastern Michigan communities located within the seven-county, 900-square-mile Huron River watershed had a disparaging view of the meandering waterway, which flows more than 125 miles from its headwaters at Big Lake, near Pontiac, to its mouth at Lake Erie. Today, those same communities, representing a half-million residents, are celebrating a “river renaissance,” spearheaded by Laura Rubin, MBA/MS ’95, executive director of the Huron River Watershed Council, or HRWC.  Established in 1965, the HRWC is Michigan’s oldest watershed council and works with a network of 500 volunteers to inspire attitudes, behaviors and economies that protect, rehabilitate and sustain the Huron River system. Read more

Cynthia Koenig, Erb ’11, Wello WaterWheels rolling along in India

Watch Cynthia in the University of Michigan’s new Public Service Announcement (1:20) 
Wello has come a long way since Cynthia Koenig, Erb ’11, arrived in India in September 2011. The Wello team co-created the WaterWheel 2.0 and 2.5 prototypes with consumers in rural India, validated the design through a pilot that reached 1,500 people, and sold out its first WaterWheel production run.

As of mid-2013, 50 WaterWheels were in daily use in India. The rolling plastic drums outfitted with handles are directly impacting the lives of 100 primary users and up to 300 others indirectly. Koenig estimates that WaterWheel users spend two hours less each day collecting water than they would otherwise. “With better, more reliable access to water, men tend to share the burden of water collection. This means that women have more time for other tasks, girls are more likely to attend school and the health of the entire family improves,” Koenig explains.  Read more


Richard Bole, Erb ’06, Creating Walkable Neighborhoods in Downtown Cleveland

Like other aging industrial cities in the Midwest, Cleveland suffered from economic decline that left its once bustling warehouses and office buildings standing vacant and lifeless. Some people saw an eyesore. But Richard Bole, Erb ’06, saw a huge market opportunity to build green in Cleveland’s urban core and to create a healthful, walkable, sustainable living environment that would draw residents back to the city. It was also a chance to live his principles of sustainability.

“My goal is to get as many people as possible living and working in dense, walkable urban and transit-oriented neighborhoods,” says Bole, who launched his green real-estate development and management company, Ajala Communities, now the Ajala Group, in 2006. “By providing an efficient place to live with access to public transportation, I am giving residents an opportunity to reduce their carbon footprint and environmental impact. I also hope they will gain a renewed appreciation for social diversity.” Read more


Mary Fritz, MBA/MS ’13, Creating Opportunity through Collaboration

As the Erb Student Advisory Board’s VP for academic programming, Mary Fritz, Erb ’13, saw a need in core MBA classes for more sustainable-business case studies. Soon, she and co-author Rich Grousset, both Erb ’13, were creating their own case study in cooperation with REI’s Kirk Myers, the manager of corporate social responsibility who formerly managed one of two Utah stores featured in the case study. REI is the U.S. sales leader in outdoor recreational apparel and equipment.

Under the supervision of Damian Beil, Ross associate professor of technology and operations, and Wallace Hopp, Ross School associate dean of faculty and research, Fritz and Grousset created a case emphasizing  operations and management principles while asking students to determine whether renting is more sustainable than selling.  Read more


Michele Diener Good, MBA/MS ’08, Sustainable Hospitality Pioneer

When Michele Good (nee Diener), Erb ’08, steps into the lobby of a major chain hotel property these days, she sees green – not the color, but rather the green design, construction and operations that have been implemented to achieve environmental sustainability. A decade ago, such eco-friendly measures were less common in the hospitality and tourism industry, which lagged other sectors in creating initiatives to green up the built environment.

“Over the past seven years, sustainability initiatives and programs have become standard, mainstream practices in most hotels, meeting facilities and convention centers,” Good explains. “There’s definitely been a huge shift in this industry.”  That turnaround has been achieved, in part, through her own efforts.  Read more