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.”
Kennedy is passionate about the possibility of changing the way businesses and markets function to make them work for the benefit of society. Over the past two years, the Erb Institute has stoked that passion and given her the tools, experience and understanding to achieve her sustainability goal.
As a member of the Ross School’s Social Venture Fund, Kennedy worked on a consulting project to help Mindful Meats, a company that brings local, organic, pasture-raised meat to market, develop a strategy for measuring its social impact. During her second year on the student-led impact investing fund, she served as director of fund development and spearheaded initiatives to build its organizational capacity, raise its visibility and strengthen its relationships with the venture-investment community. “I enjoyed looking at impact investing from the market level all the way down to the level of the individual social entrepreneur,” she says. Read more
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.”
For her master’s project, Zimmerman led a student team that provided their client, Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, with a well-researched watershed-management plan for Tannery Creek, one of the main tributaries leading into Little Traverse Bay near Petoskey. She also worked as a graduate associate for the Huron River Watershed Council, where she assisted in the design and implementation of a Climate Resilient Communities program that engaged diverse stakeholders ─ including local governments, research scientists and community members ─ in discussions about the projected impacts of climate change in Southeast Michigan. During the summer of 2012, Zimmerman interned with the Erb Family Foundation and helped four Michigan watershed groups build their organizational capacity. On campus, she served on the Student Sustainability Initiative board and supported efforts to introduce sustainability into Michigan Athletics, including an initiative to convert Michigan Stadium to a zero-waste facility.
This summer, however, found Zimmerman miles away from the sandy shores and sparkling blue water of the Great Lakes. She accepted an internship at J.P. Morgan in New York City, where she entered the financial-services company’s Finance Associate Leadership Program. “This is not where I expected to be when I entered Erb,” Zimmerman explains. “Yet, here I am, enjoying it. My love for Great Lakes conservation has not diminished, but my path to impacting the world has shifted.” Read more
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.
Byrnes received an Erb Renewable Energy Scholarship in 2012 that enabled him to research and publish a written report on, solar crowdsourcing, an emerging renewable-energy model that revolves around encouraging communities to invest in a locally placed solar array. Community residents benefit from the energy produced by the array as well as from any return they make by selling surplus energy to the grid. Byrnes put his Ross School business-planning and marketing skills into practice for several months at Arborlight, a University of Michigan clean-energy start-up headquartered in the U-M’s Venture Accelerator. The company, led by Michigan professors Max Shtein and P.C. Ku, has developed patent-pending technology for a long-lasting, mercury-free, LED-based replacement for linear fluorescent tubes. Byrnes and fellow Erb Institute colleague, Daniel Gerding helped Arborlight increase energy efficiency in lighting. Arborlight estimates these efficiencies to eliminate five metric tons of mercy from the U/S/ waste-processing stream annually. The team won a $2,500 prize for the “Most Disruptive Idea” at the 2012 Clean Energy Venture Challenge. Read more
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.”
She says the Erb Institute has provided the time and space, supportive academic community and financial resources she needs to pursue some of her entrepreneurial ideas. The Institute also has reshaped her thinking about sustainability. “Before I enrolled at Erb, I wouldn’t have thought that much about the sustainable aspects or applications of my ideas,” she remarks. “Now I do. That crucial focus on sustainability has been strengthened through my coursework at the Ross School of Business and the School of Natural Resources and Environment.”
During her first year at Michigan, Jessee created entrepreneurial business concepts for two social enterprises that utilize sustainable methods to counter the critical shortage of clean water, electricity and adequate housing in poor rural communities around the globe. ArborAqua, a business model she co-developed with Alex Papo, Erb ’15, proposes using the tropical Moringa tree’s nutritious, roots, foliage and seeds for water purification and the production of food and biodiesel fuel. The multifaceted venture potentially would spur local economic activity among plantation farmers, water entrepreneurs and biofuel distributors. In 2012, ArborAqua won both a Dow Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge Award and a Renewable Energy Scholars Award for its unique approach to water treatment and renewable-energy production. Read more