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Nine Common Words Leaders Should Stop Using (And What To Say Instead)

When you spend time in the business leadership world, you start to hear a lot of cliché phrases and vague terms that other managers frequently use. Sometimes they use them to sound smart; other times, they’re just not sure of a better alternative. Either way, these overused words begin to sound like jargon over time, and may lose their meaning when you’re communicating with your staff.

We asked nine members of Young Entrepreneur Council to each share one word leaders often use, but shouldn’t. Here are some key words and phrases to avoid as a manager, along with a few suggested terms to use instead.

Photos courtesy of the individual members.

1. Obviously

I don’t think anyone should be using this word—leaders or any team members. But it is used all the time. I myself find it easy to fall into the trap of using it. Most things aren’t obvious, or at least aren’t obvious to everyone (and if something is actually obvious, you wouldn’t need to waste energy stating it). So when you say “obviously,” you put people around you on the defensive, making them less likely to listen, absorb and productively respond to what you are saying. – Saloni Doshi, Eco Enclose, LLC

2. I Think

There’s no need to use “I think” in a statement. Not only does it diminish your authority, but the phrase is also often superfluous. “I think we should execute on this strategy” just isn’t as powerful as, “We should execute on this strategy.” Your tone can remain open and engaging by cutting out “I think” easily as well. We’ve trained our more junior team members to watch for words and phrases that discredit their opinions, particularly when they speak to the powerful CEOs and executives whom we work with. It’s incredible what a little editing of phrases such as “I think,” “I’m sorry” and “I just thought” can do to balance the power dynamic between “client” and “vendor.”  – Beck Bamberger, BAM Communications

3. Self-Made

Say “teamwork” instead. No one is an island. Thus, even so-called “self-made” people need other people to survive. For a company to be successful, people need to work and act together as one. No one can actually say they made themselves alone. We need family, friends and a team to survive and be successful. – Daisy Jing, Banish

4. None Of Your Business

Leaders should aim to be transparent and vulnerable with their employees in order to build trust. If employees ask a question that a leader isn’t comfortable answering, they should explain why that information is confidential, but give any insight that they can. Simply telling a team member that something is none of their business is never helpful. – Kelsey Raymond, Influence & Co.

5. Should

I’m a direct person with my team and feel that using the word “should” can be ambiguous and leave your team members wondering what you really meant. For example, if you say, “Don’t you think we should do that,” depending on the level of confidence the person has and their relationship with you, it will most likely lead them to just agree when they really don’t. I would simply say, “Let’s do X, because of Y. Do you agree or disagree and why?” – Jennifer A Barnes, Optima Office, Inc

6. Can’t

There will always be limitations of some sort, but the majority of the time, you shouldn’t say that you or your team “can’t” do something. You can use your creativity and the creativity of your team to come up with innovative ideas that take your business to the next level. The more you say you can’t do something, the more your team will think the same, and that undermines your collective progress. Instead, think of what you can do to succeed and go from there. – Stephanie Wells, Formidable Forms

7. Paradigm Shift

It drives me crazy whenever I hear a manager or leader say, “There’s been a paradigm shift.” I always ask, “What does that mean?” I hear it so often that it doesn’t have any meaning. I think that saying, “There’s been a fundamental change in A, B or C,” is much clearer and more direct. Be clear and concise in your communication. Just say what you mean without the jargon or technical terms. – Kristin Kimberly Marquet, Marquet Media, LLC

8. Dynamic

It’s often just a cover for a lack of clear planning and strategy. It’s better to offer a clear solution than to claim that something is “dynamic.” At the very least, give three points around the topic that show you can present your knowledge on it. – Nicole Munoz, Nicole Munoz Consulting, Inc.

9. Yes

It’s easy to be overwhelmed with your team’s ideas and creativity, but saying “yes” to everything can be detrimental to your focus and, most importantly, your productivity. You should always be open to new ideas, opportunities, collaborations and to creating an environment where the team’s ideas are honored and respected. But always saying yes will muddle and distract your mind. Successful people say no to almost everything, and their businesses have skyrocketed. So try to validate your team’s ideas and opinions, but at the end of the day, those ideas should be subordinate to the organization’s goals and policies. By doing that, you’re more likely to increase your own productivity and also your team’s efficiency. – Kelly Richardson, Infobrandz

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Now Is The Time To Finally Start Practicing Gratitude: Insights From Organization Culture Expert Dr. Kim Cameron

As part of our series, Rising to the Challenge: Values-Driven Leadership During the Coronavirus, we sat down with some of the leaders and thinkers we most respect, to get their thoughts on what this moment means and how we can face it with hope and resilience.

Here, we share Part 2 of our conversation with Dr. Kim Cameron, one of the world’s foremost researchers and thinkers in the area of organizational culture and positive leadership. Cameron is a Professor Emeritus of Management and Organization at the University of Michigan, where he co-founded the Center for Positive Organizations. Find Part 1, which covered survivor’s guilt and envy when organizations downsize, at this link.

This interview has been abridged and edited for readability. You can find an audio version of the full interview here.

Please note, as may be evident in the conversation, this interview was recorded prior to the death of George Floyd and the subsequent protests.

You’ve written about the importance of gratitude as an individual practice that, regardless of circumstances, can transform your experience and your wellbeing in the moment. Tell me about it and how it applies to our current context of the coronavirus.

KC: This is difficult to live in all circumstances, of course, but one of the best pieces of advice I have to give is to look for the silver lining. Look for things that are going well, celebrate what’s right with the world.

I’m going to give you a two or three studies to explain. In one study, there are a group of students who are in a classroom. The students are all asked to keep a journal every day. Half of the students are assigned to write in their journal three things for which they are grateful or the best three best things that happened today. The other half of these students are assigned to simply keep a normal daily event journal: write down events and relationships, problems they faced, whatever.

At the end of the semester, several studies were conducted. One of them was to give everybody a flu shot. Turns out, one week later, those keeping a gratitude journal are healthier. They had more antibodies in their system than the others. People were given a mental acuity test by asking them to memorize information or come up with some sophisticated rules for difficult decisions. There is more mental acuity displayed in the first group than in the second. In fact, grade point average is almost a half a grade higher among that gratitude group.

In another study, people were given a creativity task. Something like, how many uses can you think of for a brick, or a ping pong ball, or a piece of paper? Again, the gratitude group had a broader variety of ideas.

Gratitude is a very well researched topic now, that is, to concentrate on something for which you’re grateful. In fact, one of the most effective therapeutic techniques has been not only mindfulness meditation (loving kindness meditation probably is the most effective) but also to count your blessings. This means , think of all the bad things going on in your life. Think of all the problems you’re facing. Think of all the stress you’re encountering. Now, flip those and ask, “What am I learning? What should I be thankful for? What’s not occurred that could have? How can I be thankful for even the most difficult situations?”

I’m not a therapist or a psychiatrist, but it’s an interesting and very effective therapy that people are using, especially in crises like we are facing right now. Gratitude can seem kind of syrupy, but it actually matters in terms of health, resilience, and performance.

Do you know of any teams that are doing gratitude practices together?

KC: I do. There are a number of organizations with whom we have done some work or research. For example, there’s an experiment going on right now at the University of Michigan involving the business and finance group. That’s approximately 3,000 employees at the university and a very diverse group. They are colleagues from groundskeepers and custodians through people managing multimillion-dollar investment portfolios. So white collar and blue collar employees, all over the campus. A diverse group.

They decided they were going to implement something they simply referred to as “positive leadership culture.” We gave them an assignment to “infect” 90% of the employees in business and finance in 90 days, the 90 in 90 challenge. Well, what does infect mean? It means gain the ability to teach this new set

of values, this new set of principles and implement a 1% change directed at positive leadership. They exceeded the 90 in 90 challenge. All the empirical markers are up, as you might expect. But one of the best things is the custodians and the people who are out in the field, who are in the tunnels, the people in the offices and the administration, they’re all keeping gratitude journals.

The former head coach at the University of Michigan basketball team, John Beilein, who was hired by the Cleveland Cavaliers to be their basketball coach, keeps a gratitude journal. His athletes keep gratitude journals. He starts every entry in his journal with a scripture, by the way, which I think is admirable. John is probably known as the best bench coach strategist in the NCAA. He’s quite an amazing guy, just a wonderful human being who’s decided to take gratitude seriously.

We have at Michigan the head swimming and diving coach, Mike Bottom, who is also an Olympic coach. He was in Rio de Janeiro for the Olympics. He has the swimmers keeping gratitude journals, and they win the Big 10 Championships almost every year. These are Olympic athletes, getting really serious about trying to perform every day. Mike says, “you know what, I’ve got a practice that will help you.” And it sure does.

Gratitude seems especially important right now, now that we’re with our families in home isolation. Reminding ourselves of what we’re grateful for can help keep us calm when we’re a little frayed around the edges.

KC: Frayed around the edges, that’s right. Gratitude is just kind of a grounding technique.

I have a friend who’s little daughter was going to kindergarten, and she just hated it. Didn’t like it at all. Her mom thought, “I don’t know what to do with her because she dislikes school so much.”

The girl’s teacher suggested that the mom get a sticker book and when the little girl came home, her mother would say, “All right, take a sticker and show me the best thing that happened to you today.” As it turns out, her little daughter started really looking for things that she loved to do at school and that would be represented by a sticker. Her mother said they ended up together calling the sticker book her gratitude journal. The little girl couldn’t write it, but she could put stickers in this book to show what she was grateful for. The mother said somehow it resonated with that sweet little girl.

Gratitude is an all ages practice. I have one more question for you. This is a time of unprecedented disruption, but whenever things change, there’s a chance they can change for the better. What are you hopeful for, that we could come out of this period being a better world, being a better place around our offices? What are you hopeful for?

KC: You’ve highlighted it perfectly. We know it will not be the same. We will do interesting things. Technologically, we will do interesting things in terms of leading people, helping people lead themselves, helping people learn how to thrive better on their own as opposed to being dependent on someone else.

I think those kinds of things will happen. But my hope is, and my wish as well, is that we will use this crisis to come together. That rather than dividing us, my hope is that the crisis will cause us to identify our common core: the things we most believe in and trust and the things that bring us together and that we share. That’s what I would hope. That we emerge not only stronger but more loving and collaborative and a group of people who say I’ve learned to love and appreciate you more than I did before.

Find more inspiring insights in this series at this link.

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Three Emerging Swimwear Brands That Blend Luxury And Sustainability That Should Be On Your Radar

Swimwear season is finally here. When you think of sustainable fabrics used in the fashion industry, images of cotton and other natural fibers most likely come to mind. However, when it comes to swimwear, natural fibers are a no-go. Performance is key. 

The use of upcycled synthetic fabrics, slowing down manufacturing, creating timeless designs, and utilizing deadstock materials are just some of the directions in which the sustainable swimwear industry is headed. While the luxury sustainable swimwear market now offers a decent amount of options, I rounded up three brands that you may not know, but that should definitely be on your radar. 


If you like old Hollywood glamour blended with sustainability then you need to check out TABACARU SWIM, a luxury swimwear brand designed by Founder/Creative Director, Stefana Tabacaru that’s produced in Los Angeles from entirely upcycled fabrics. Launched late last summer the brand is mostly direct-to-consumer with the exception of a few retailers. 

“Intermix picked up our first collection and while we are really trying to focus on a direct-to-consumer strategy, of course there are a few retailers that are our dream to work with,” says Tabacaru. One of the retailers that align with TABACARU’s customer-base is Moda Operandi, where Tabacaru interned for a year. “Moda Operandi plans to have a trunkshow with our swimwear this summer, and although the date is TBD with so many things happening in the world, I couldn’t more excited!” The brand will also be launching on THE YES this month.

When Tabacaru set out to create her brand she had three goals in mind: to create an entirely sustainable brand, to produce the collection in the US from the highest quality regenerated and upcycled fabrics, and for the brand to have a philanthropic mission

“TABACARU SWIM is committed to nurturing a company that is socially and environmentally responsible and that includes supporting a more conscious level of design and giving back to the global community,” shares Tabacaru. “We source and produce everything in the Unites States, which allows us to ensure everything is ethically made, of the highest quality, and part of a supply chain that is eco-friendly, eliminates waste, supports small American businesses, and helps to keep our carbon footprint as low as possible.”

On what makes her swimwear unique Tabacaru tells me, “I think for me one of the things I wanted to convey was this old school glamour—in the tradition of Helmut Newton or Slim Aarons—there’s so much sexiness, yet there is a dark side to that glamour. It was also important for me to design for real women—not just a model who looks good in anything she puts on,” Tabacaru says. “We really focused on the fit. Like Spanx, it holds in the trouble areas and cuts in the right places so women can feel free to indulge in a glass of Rosé and a bowl of pasta. I wanted to create a line of swimsuits all throughout the day and you throw on a skirt and you look like you are in a timeless outfit.”

The entire swimwear collection is made from an upcycled nylon fabric. “We use Carvico’s Vita collection made in Italy of ECONYL®, which is a 100% regenerated nylon yarn derived from pre and post industrial waste such as discarded fishing nets and carpet fluff (the top part of nylon carpets which are at the end of their useful life),” explains Tabacaru. Instead of these materials being pitched into a landfill at the end of their lifecycle they are collected and turned into a new usable material through a chemical-physical process. Tabacaru is also mindful about not using any plastics in the packaging and shipping of the products. 

“We provide our factory paper envelopes to use for packing instead of the standard poly bags most factories provide for individually packaging garments, and our second collection also has paper hygienic liners as opposed to the common hygienic liner made from a plastic sticker that can take hundreds of years to decompose,” explains Tabacaru. The brand also makes their swimsuit pouches out of recycled satin and offers biodegradable boxes for VIP gifting as well as black paper envelopes for their e-commerce deliveries. With regard to TABACARU SWIM’s philanthropic efforts, the brand donates 20% of their sales to Feeding America


Based in Bali, Indonesia, ISA BOULDER is a swimwear label dedicated to creating hand-made pieces from local artisans that illustrate the duality in nature that is both beautiful yet imperfect.  Launched in 2019 by Cecilia and Yuli, who prefer to stay behind the scenes (and not share their full names) and let the brand speak for itself, the brand utilized sustainably sourced deadstock material from Italy for its SS20 collection and sustainably made knits with no wasted product for its FW20 collection.

“We started working together on this vision of a locally-designed and produced womenswear label with a strong emphasis on Indonesian craft and traditional skills. Both of us are Indonesians, and have lived here for the majority of our lives, so it is important for us that our company can highlight our local artisans’ talents while also being able to challenge our ways of designing clothing,” the founders tell me.

When it comes to sustainability, the founders not only want to focus on working with sustainable materials and production practices, but also designing timeless pieces. 

The ladies explain, “By staying true to our own research process and presenting a collection which we genuinely feel strongly about, we hope that our designs can be enjoyed at a more personal level by our wearers. We also try to work with materials that are very delicate and need a higher level of maintenance, as we believe that one way of ensuring that we do not take clothing for granted, is this act of care we should have for our garments. Through offering a bespoke service, we also hope to create a stronger bond for our customers with their clothing, as it is personalized and customized to their needs.”

ISA BOULDER’s aesthetic is unique—it’s sort of a quirky sexy that incorporates fabrics like satin not often seen in other swimwear brands.

“Sometimes, inspiration can come through draping, or exploring the material itself to see what forms will work well with cartain techniques,” the women tell me when I ask where they get their inspiration. “Certain limitations or material challenges are what will interest us most, because we want to produce high-quality products, even if the design is experimental at heart. Finding the solution to what was initially a design problem will often lead us to work on ideas that we never could have come up with.”

On what folks can expect next from the brand the pair tell me knitwear is next on the agenda. “Like our swimwear, our knits are also all hand-made, so there is this tactility and human touch to it, which we believe is a technique worth treasuring over computerized knitwear,” they explain. “Through ensuring an all-local production, we hope that the techniques and talents of Indonesian local artisans are not lost with time, and consumers’ appreciation for traditional methods are reinvigorated with experimental designs.”


If you are seeking an understated sustainable swimwear brand that still remains sexy, you need to check out RENDL. Designed in Vienna, Austria and founded in 2018 by Rosa Rendl, the RENDL swimwear collection offers a modern twist on sports swimsuits designed with all body types in mind, impeccably made, and combined with environmental and social awareness. 

“My swimsuits are designed anti-sexy and therefore possibly even sexier,” says Rendl. “I always see the power in women who wear my pieces and I love how they get an awareness of how empowering a well-cut, comfortable piece of clothing made of a high-quality fabric can be. I design conceiving the female body without the need for body-optimization. Once one lets loose of the restricting thought of having to look perfect, it’s extremely liberating and empowering. I think underwear as well as swimsuits for women are often still designed in an unpractical, uncomfortable, and sexist way.”

Most women can relate to Rendl’s perspective. I can think of several intimate brands that cut into my petite yet curvy figure and make me look misshapen when that isn’t the case in reality. Rendl continues, “It is important to create something that empowers women by understanding their needs and therefore I emphasize on comfort, quality and functionality in my line. I think as a result the woman who wears my swimsuits appears confident and empowered—and that’s sexy.”

Rendl gets a lot of her inspiration from the politically charged times we are living in currently. “We live in a time with a movement for a change in consumerism, pro-environmental thinking and back to a more human, social way of creating and consuming. My part of it is to create a slow fashion line that’s not dumping designs and remnant stock season after season. Quite in reverse, I want to create a permanent line of classic, timeless swimsuits that lasts many seasons and doesn’t go out of fashion,” Rendl tells me.

The Signature design characteristics of RENDL are the square neckline, the blocking of colors and shapes, and the linear, streamlined silhouette. “For color and shape inspirations I love to look at modern architecture and mostly female 20th century artists and designers such as Eileen Gray, Katarzyna Kobro, Emilie Flögl, Man Ray, Jean Arp, Sonia Delaunay, Friedrich Kiesler, Kiki Kogelnik, to name a few,” shares Rendl. “I also love the 1990s understatement in fashion. That’s where many of my signature characteristics come from: the square neckline, the spatial, streamlined silhouette, and the muted tones of beige, grey, and green.” 

When it comes to sustainability, Rendl believes in growing her brand slowly, organically, and using awareness in her decision making from material selection, to how items are produced, and how the garments are both distributed and packaged. 

“Being a sustainable brand means rethinking everything. It’s definitely a challenge,” states Rendl. “As a brand I put a strong focus on producing with social fairness and having a regular, direct exchange with my female led production company in Sofia, Bulgaria. I am also proud to work with an Italian fabric that is made of EconylⓇ yarn, a regenerated nylon made of ocean waste. By producing in Europe another focus lies in having a low carbon footprint and in regards to packaging, I am trying to keep it to a minimum and don’t use plastic packaging, instead I use recycled cardboard packaging.”

Rendl is planning to expand her eponymous brand soon with ready-to-wear pieces like tops and slip-on dresses. Rendl tells me, “All very basic cuts, comfortable, made from light materials, and easy to wear.”

Somehow, I suspect whatever she does next it will still be seductive even without her intending it to be so.

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Investigation and Strengthening of Sustainability Content in the Elective Curriculum

Over the past several years, Student Sustainability Associates (SSAs) have investigated the prevalence of sustainability topics in the Harvard Business School (HBS) first year Required Curriculum (RC). The outcome has been an implementation of new, sustainability-related cases into the existing RC curriculum. Interested in building on this work, we sought to develop an understanding of the sustainability course offerings in HBS second year Elective Curriculum (EC). 

With increased interest in environmental topics by incoming students as evidenced by year-over-year growth in interest metrics tracked by the HBS Business and Environment Initiative (BEI) and the founding of the Sustainability Club, we saw sustainability curriculum as a driver for admitted student matriculation into the HBS program. Further, during our own business school application processes, we were struck by how challenging it was to identify HBS’s sustainability and environment related course offerings, and how few there seemed to be compared to the other leading business schools. 

This realization led us to develop a project aimed at analyzing the EC sustainability course offerings, making information about the existing offerings more accessible to RCs during the course selection process and to provide recommendations on how HBS can expand its sustainability course offerings. 


To deliver on our analysis we devised an action plan which consisted of four major parts:

  1. Refining the scope of the project with input from the BEI, SSAs, and HBS Faculty.
  2. Creating an initial quantitative benchmarking of the EC curriculum relative to peer schools and best-in-class sustainability schools to inform the second iteration of analysis.
  3. Further diving into course analysis with input from faculty to identify and recommend EC course offerings and improvement plans.
  4. Circulating the findings of our analysis by:

    • Providing interested RCs with a comprehensive list of sustainability course offerings at HBS, and graduate schools eligible for cross-registration (namely Harvard Law School, Harvard Kennedy School, and MIT Sloan).
    • Working with the BEI to institutionalize this analysis on a yearly basis.
    • Partnering with faculty to develop future sustainability course offerings driven by student input.

Project Findings

In analyzing course offerings at HBS relative to the Stanford Graduate School of Business, the Wharton School of Business, the MIT Sloan School, the Columbia Business School, the Bard MBA in Sustainability, the Duke Fuqua School of Business, the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, and the Yale School of Management, we found that HBS lagged its peers in the quantity of sustainability related business school course offerings. On average, HBS offered less than half as many sustainability related classes per teaching unit than its peers in the EC year, although some HBS courses without sustainability or climate change in their titles included cases and class discussions about these topics.

With these findings, we dove deeper and organized course offerings across schools into the HBS course Units to allow faculty at HBS to analyze their own Unit’s performance relative to other business schools. We found that while most other business schools have a Clean Energy course, a Sustainable Finance course, and a Sustainable Operations course, HBS currently does not offer any such courses.

After many discussions with the faculty at HBS (such as Senator John Heinz Professor of Environmental Management Michael Toffel and John and Natty McArthur University Professor Rebecca Henderson), the BEI, and fellow SSAs, we interpreted these findings and developed an action plan to improve the schools offerings. Some of the important take-aways were:

  1. EC course offerings are based on student demand. For a specific course offering to exist, students must fill the class through the EC course ranking system. Supply and Demand drive the existence of all EC courses.
  2. To facilitate sustainability related course offerings, data of student demand can be instrumental in making the case for adding a new course.

One immediate outcome of the analysis was the creation of “EC Sustainability Classes Infographic” – an easy-to-read infographic to help current RC students choose their EC courses. The infographic lays out HBS course offerings and Harvard cross-registration opportunities that EC students have successfully taken in the past. 

Recommendations and Next Steps

Based on the business school benchmarking exercise and our conversations with faculty, staff and students, we recommend the following next steps:

  1. Develop a Short Intensive Program (SIP) related to Sustainability to be offered in January 2021.

    • One related offering for 2021 is Tough Tech led by Jim Matheson.
    • We also recommend the creation of SIP that is entirely environmental sustainability focused and ideally has “sustainability” or “climate” in the title, which is important in conveying to students that environmental issues will be central (rather than tangential) to the class.
  2. Investigate new EC course offerings in lagging Units

    • Energy Course – FIN, BGIE, STRAT
    • Operations Sustainability – TOM
    • Sustainability / Clean Tech Entrepreneurship – ENTR (could partner with Greentown Labs in Cambridge)
  3. Survey RCs on potential course offerings

    • Develop sustainability course prototypes and survey RCs just after EC course selection to quantify interest in new courses
  4. Work with BEI to handoff EC Course Infographic for yearly updates and distribution to students.
  5. Work with BEI to ensure sustainability related courses don’t compete for the same time slots in EC year.

A Note of Thanks

We would like to thank Jennifer Nash and Elise Clarkson for their help on this project as well as Professors Mike Toffel and Rebecca Henderson for their continued support. Additionally, we would like to thank Courtney Fairbrother, Leah Ricci, and Allison Webster from the Harvard Operations Sustainability group for their support and input.

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Solving the plastic problem, one cup and bottle at a time

How information, incentives and inspiration can make a difference

We’ve all been there: you’re in a pinch and you’re on the go, but you’re hungry, thirsty, or both. What usually comes to your rescue? Plastic! Whether it’s in the form of drink bottles or takeaway coffee cups, plastic houses our favorite drinks. Yet, we pay too little attention to it: how it’s made before it reaches us or where it goes after we throw it away.

But when bottled and takeaway drinks becomes a frequent habit, the waste piles up. In our use and-throw culture, we throw 2.5 million plastic bottles away every hour[1], each of which take an average of 450 years[2] to decompose. Every 1-liter bottle takes 250 mL of oil to create.[3] You’d think that, at least for the bottles, we can recycle the plastic, but we’re still not very good at that…only 9% of plastics are recycled globally,[4] despite many more being recyclable. Reduction remains the best option, especially when it’s relatively easy and can keep sustainability “top of mind.”

At Harvard Business School (HBS), we sell thousands of plastic bottles and to-go dishes every week (often even when we are indeed dining “to-stay” in the Spangler Center). HBS uses compostable materials for the majority of takeaway, which is certainly better for the environment than plastic, but worse than using reusables in its lifecycle environmental cost. As it’s too easy to forget, even compostable cups require a large amount of material and energy to produce — a disproportionate waste for the twenty minutes that they are used.

Plastic reduction thus intrinsically links to the global climate change crisis we face, and the role business leaders play in addressing it. After all, nearly a third of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions stem from how we make, consume, and dispose of things. It also aligns with Harvard’s own goals: the Harvard Sustainability Plan aims to reduce waste per capita 50% by 2020 from a 2006 baseline, with the aspirational goal of becoming a zero-waste campus.

With this in mind, we sought to understand how we could reduce our waste footprint without sacrificing the convenient options we enjoy. We split this into two parts – Bottles and To-Go Ware. 

Bottle behavior

We began by aligning our project with Restaurant Associates‘ (RA), the lovely staff who run on-campus food operations. After hearing their thoughts, we decided the first step was to understand how students felt about plastic beverages and benchmark best practices with other Harvard schools and organizations.  

We put together a survey, which was filled out by 270 Required Curriculum (RC) students and revealed several insights. We were pleased to find that students were overwhelmingly supportive about stopping or reducing bottled beverage offerings: 80% of respondents felt neutral to very positive about the prospect, and over 90% already used reusable water bottles. We then wondered why, despite such interest, many students were not using existing sustainable options like the Grille’s Freestyle machines, which allowed you to dispense drinks into reusable/polycarbonate cups. We found that there was low awareness about these machines, and that students sought a variety of options in their drink of choice that were not offered through fountain dispensers. Looking ahead, we recommend that HBS increase awareness of these machines and diversify the drinks that are available through them: our survey revealed a particular enthusiasm for sparkling water, which could be offered as a way to increase popularity and early adoption! We also recommend reducing the “real estate” currently devoted to plastic options and swapping free water bottles at events for pitchers/cans, nudging those who might be choosing bottles simply on a whim.

“We use way too much plastic already, but now we have the opportunity to be a leader in sustainability,” “It would be better for the environment if we stopped offering plastic bottles,” and “This is a good idea that will just take some adjusting.”

We also recognize that a minority of students remain skeptical about reducing plastic bottles, but hope that many of their concerns could be addressed through the use of more sustainable materials. We also continue to work out operational, sanitation and price concerns regarding queues, post-pandemic hygiene and affordability. Despite these challenges, we believe we can make a concrete difference to how students view and use plastic bottles on campus, leading them to more sustainable dispensers and conscious consumption. We also hope that the sales and waste data we collect can inform the creation of a “how-to” primer for other plastic-free organizations. 

The cup habit

Our second objective was to reduce the number of to-go cups used on campus. HBS students love coffee and tea, so this had the potential for huge environmental impact – without sacrificing the much needed caffeine intake that fuels our day. Although HBS already offered a “large coffee for the price of small” promotion when bringing one’s mug, we felt the traction this has gained was below potential. We considered several options – a discount for bringing your own mug, a surcharge for to-go ware, a loyalty card – that could more effectively incentivize behavioral change. Based on our survey, research and conversations with RA, we found great support for discounting the price of hot drinks bought in reusable mugs. To calculate how high such a discount could be, we ran a unit economics analysis (armed with learnings from first-year strategy and operations courses) to estimate how expensive it was to produce, buy and compost the cup – externalities to the environment included. We found these costs to be $0.50-0.75 per cup, a discount HBS could offer for those who brought their own mugs without sacrificing revenues (and even increasing them as usage grew!).

We then studied various barriers that prevented students from carrying their own mug. The biggest one, our survey revealed, was lack of awareness. Many students wanted to change their behavior, but were simply not aware that discounts existed or how big the scale of the plastics problem was. We therefore made advertisement and awareness a central pillar of our proposal, offering ideas for using infographics, barista-training and on-campus “influencers” (looking at you, Dean Nohria!) to spread the message. We also found non-monetary blockers to behavioral change — such as the mess of washing the mug or not owning a leak-proof one at all. To address these, we suggested “quick tips” on reusable cup use and recommended replicating the success of company- and section-branded cups by offering all incoming RCs mugs that doubled as college stash.

With these multi-pronged approaches and the support of HBS staff and faculty, we hope we can create stickiness to the habit and crucially, make people think twice before they consume plastic bottles and takeaway cups. To amplify the impact, we aim to monitor and share usage and revenue data following our nudge programs and share them with other schools to inform change. One plastic bottle and coffee cup at a time, we hope these lifestyle changes both create impact and push future business leaders to be concerned about the environment.

[1] Recycle Across America

[2] World Wildlife Fund; World Economic Forum

[3] The Pacific Institute

[4] National Geographic

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Virtual Bike Workshop

Curious about getting out on two-wheels, but hesitant about how to get going? You’re not alone! Join CommuterChoice for a Virtual Bike Workshop on Wednesday, June 17 from 12-1 pm.

RSVP here for the Zoom link   

This everyday biking seminar is geared toward sharing the knowledge and empowerment to take your riding into your own hands, and getting out on the roads, bike lanes, and pathways to get yourself to exercise, run errands, and have fun. Biking is fast, free, and fun (and you’ll get fit), and the experts at MassBike have honed their tips to get you over those barriers. Come with your questions and your stories, and learn along with fellow bikers on campus. You may even gain a bike-buddy to try the commute!

Please join us for a lunchtime virtual workshop to host a presentation and Q&A about riding. The knowledgeable instructors from MassBike will go through the basics in an hour-long presentation, and answer questions coming from our attendees. 

This event is hosted by Harvard’s CommuterChoice and MassBike, but is for everyone! Please invite anyone you’re quarantined with. Please RSVP and you will receive an email with the Zoom invitation.

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Farmers’ Market at Harvard

The Farmers’ Market at Harvard will open this summer, beginning on Tuesday, June 16 from 12-6 pm!

The market will be open every Tuesday, through October 27, supporting the vital local farmers and food artisans who ensure we have fresh and healthy food.

This year, the market will be modified to create a safer shopping environment for everyone, featuring a limited number of vendors wearing face coverings and gloves, hand washing stations, and layouts that allow for social distancing.   

The market will continue to accept SNAP and will offer SNAP-Match thanks to the Cambridge SNAP Match Coalition, with a weekly maximum match of $15.

The market was founded in 2005, and operates on The Plaza outside Harvard’s Science Center (near the corner of Oxford and Kirkland Streets). 

Confirmed vendors include:

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Crimson Kitchen: Free Cooking Classes with Harvard University Dining Services

Have time to cook and a kitchen at your disposal? Let Harvard University Dining Services (HUDS) Chefs Martin Breslin and Akeisha Hayde and Registered Dietitian Emily Bridges walk you through some basic kitchen skills and nutrition information to level up your culinary confidence. Learn and practice techniques using simple recipes that will make you more comfortable in the kitchen. 

Sign up for classes individually or take them all! Each class will have accompanying recipes provided in advance should you want to cook along, or you can just watch, take notes, and cook later! 

Designed to make your kitchen experience both fun and delicious, these sessions are a relaxing way to end your week, with a yummy reward at the end.

(All classes will include suggestions for modifying recipes to address personal preferences or dietary needs. All sessions will also be recorded and posted on YouTube.)

A few days prior to each class for which you sign up, you will receive an email confirmation that includes the Zoom link as well as the featured recipe. 

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How Thrift And Fearlessness Helped An LA Fashion Brand Outsmart Coronavirus

In late February, weeks before California began to lock down its population in response to the coronavirus, House of Woo founders Staci Woo and Mike Badt had been hearing from acquaintances about how, pretty soon, we’d all be wearing face masks. It seemed alarmist and unlikely at the time—the fashion designers’ kids were still in school and no one was wearing a mask—but Woo couldn’t get the image out of her head.

By the middle of March, the virus was surging in California, and it was fast becoming apparent that more Americans were likely to start wearing masks. So the couple decided to repurpose their downtown Los Angeles factory, which usually makes chic beachy dresses and bags the brand is best known for. Within days, they were offering cotton masks in stylish designs on their website and shipping donations to local hospitals. Weeks later, a business that might have shut down for good is starting to see the kind of high-volume orders that make for profitable trade in the garment industry.

Woo and Badt aren’t alone. Companies around the world are engaged in perhaps the first global business pivot since World War II in response to the pandemic. GM switched from cars to ventilators in just under a month. Distilleries are making hand sanitizer, while Uber and Lyft shifted from transporting people to delivering essential goods.

It’s too soon to tell when, or if, these companies will return to business as usual. But House of Woo’s story offers smart lessons for entrepreneurs that will apply long after the virus has been brought to heel.

Woo has always been thrifty. During the company’s early days, she’d hunt for cashmere fabric at the Rose Bowl flea market, Badt recalls. Leftover fabric from cutting and sewing that other brands would toss, Woo catalogued and stored, not really knowing what they might be good for. That meant her initial run of hundreds of masks didn’t cost a penny in materials since she had 22 years’ worth of high-quality scrap material saved up.

Woo and Badt didn’t have a long-range plan when they produced those first masks. They just knew they wanted to keep their business afloat while doing something to help their community at the same time. So they began by donating boxes of masks to hospitals, tucking a photocopied flier inside asking medical workers to tell their friends and snap a photo of themselves wearing Woo’s designs. The grassroots marketing campaign worked. A local TV station caught wind of the effort and produced a story, word spread on Instagram and Facebook, and orders started to pour in via the company’s website.

Woo says she and Badt had to make rapid decisions along the way, with little idea of what would stick. At first they felt uncomfortable charging enough to cover their costs while medical workers were scrambling for protective gear, and they wanted each purchase to cover several donated masks. Then they had to secure more fabric, eventually getting a supplier to donate some. Eventually, through trial and error, they found a pricing structure that satisfies demand and allows them to donate masks while ramping up production to meet orders from bigger companies that can afford to pay more than what it costs House of Woo to manufacture.

Woo and Badt may have been both lucky and smart: They run a small shop with all production happening locally, they had plenty of spare material on hand, and they’re obviously savvy about marketing. But they also have an outlook that every entrepreneur should think about emulating.

Prepare For The Worst

Being prepared is a mindset, not a shopping list. If you are ready for a shift in demand, you’ll be able to handle a major disruption better than others. Producing their clothing locally costs House of Woo more than it does competitors who source from Asia, but they make up for it by getting new designs produced in hours instead of months.

“One of the things that makes us so malleable is being small,” Woo says. “There’s no red tape to go through. You put a piece of fabric on a sewing machine and let’s see what happens.”

Be Nimble

Be willing to experiment and learn. Those first face masks were made when the market hadn’t yet materialized. They cost less than their production bill, and the designs, prices and marketing all had to shift with a fast-changing reality as the virus spread.

“It wasn’t mulling over ‘Can we use our inventory for this?’ It was ‘Let’s try it,’” says Badt.

Anticipate The Next Hurdle

Even now, as larger orders start to make House of Woo’s mask business financially viable, Badt says he and Woo are thinking ahead to when those customers inevitably question whether paying a premium for domestically produced goods matters. It’s not a new conundrum for them.

“It felt good to keep everyone working, especially when the majority of the country was shut down,” says Woo. “In a sense, anyone that does buy masks from any number of amazing garment companies doing this right now, it’s all helping domestic production and the workforce.”

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What You Can Do Now To Maximize Paycheck Protection Loan Forgiveness

After a bumpy start in round one, the second round of PPP funding appears to be reaching the people who need it. According to a joint statement by Administrator Jovita Carranza and Secretary Steven Mnuchin, 2.2 million PPP loans have been made to small businesses in round two, with a total value over $175 Billion. . That’s already more loans than in round one, with some funds still remaining to be to be distributed. Additionally, the average loan is $79,000, which is $127,000 less than the $206,000 average loan amount for round one. That means more smaller businesses with less revenue obtaining much needed financing. 

But getting a loan is just the first hurdle.  Once business owners get financing, they must then figure out how to use the funds in a way that maximizes loan forgiveness. As has been the case with this program from the beginning, we have some initial rules, additional guidance and a lot of unknowns. As always, we’ll do our best with the information that we have to give some guidance on how this forgiveness will work. 

The current forgiveness rules

Under the Interim Final Rule on Additional Eligibility Criteria and Requirements for Certain Pledges of Loans (Interim Rule 4.14.20), the amount eligible for forgiveness depends in part on what you spend the money on for the eight weeks following your lender disbursing your funds. Forgiveness can be up to the full principal amount of the loan plus accrued interest if the loan funds are spent on the following: 

  1. payroll costs including salary, wages, and tips, up to $100,000 of annualized pay per employee (for eight weeks, a maximum of $15,385 per individual), 
  2. covered benefits for employees (but not owners), including health care expenses, retirement contributions and state taxes imposed on employee payroll paid by the employer (such as unemployment insurance premiums),
  3. owner compensation replacement, calculated based on 2019 limited to eight weeks’ worth (8/52) of 2019 net profit,
  4. payments of interest on mortgage obligations on real or personal property incurred before February 15, 2020,
  5. rent payments on lease agreements in force before February 15, 2020 and
  6. Utility payments under the service agreements dated before February 15, 2020

At first glance, these rules seem straight-forward. Six basic types of expenses count toward forgiving the loans. However, a few actions may reduce your benefit, including: 

  • You spend less than 75% of the loan on payroll costs
  • You reduce full-time employees compared to 4.1.19 – 6.30.20 
  • If you reduce your employee’s salary or wages to less than 75% of the base salary or wages of such employee during the prior quarter 

The rules have huge gaps, and not all of these ambiguities have been clarified yet. My intention is to help you focus on what you can control and navigate the rules the best you can with the information you have. 

What does this actually look like 

Because lenders are the final arbitrators for forgiveness, the process and therefore the results may differ based on your lender. But according to Interim Rule 4.14.20 the documentation you’ll need for loan forgiveness includes:

  1. If you have employees, you should submit Form 941 and state quarterly wage unemployment insurance tax reporting forms or equivalent payroll processor records that best correspond to the covered period (with evidence of any retirement and health insurance contributions). 
  2. The 2019 Form 1040 Schedule C that was provided at the time of the PPP loan application must be used to determine the amount of net profit allocated to the owner for the eight-week covered period. 
  3. Whether or not you have employees, you must submit evidence of business rent, business mortgage interest payments on real or personal property, or business utility payments during the covered period if you used loan proceeds for those purposes.

Let’s break down what this looks like for each business 

Sole-Proprietors with no employees 

This is the easiest case because you’ve already provided the documentation you need when you applied: your Schedule C. You divided line 31 by 52 and multiply that by 8. Let’s say hit the maximum $100,000 threshold. That would result in a forgivable loan amount of $15,385. That amount is presumably automatically forgiven (assuming you apply for forgiveness), since the SBA has not asked for any additional information. So, there’s no need to try to figure out how to pay yourself over the eight week period in order to obtain forgiveness. Keep in mind these rules have been known to change mid-stream so you may consider transferring the forgivable portion from your business account to your personal account. 

In addition to the owner compensation, the Interim Rule says you must submit evidence of business rent, business mortgage interest payments on real or personal property or business utility payments during the covered period if you used with. 

Lastly, sole proprietors must have claimed or have been able to claim these expenses on their 2019 return. Make sure to check the expenses that you’re trying to claim with what you already submitted. 

Business owners with employees 

Things get a bit more complicated for business owners with employees. To be eligible for forgiveness you have to submit form 941s or similar payroll documentation to document what you paid employees during that period. And as with the sole proprietor, you have to submit evidence of business rent, business mortgage interest payments on real or personal property, and business utility payments during that covered period. 

You also have the additional step of verifying you have the same average # of full-time employees (FTE) for the following eight weeks as you did from February 15, 2019 – June 30, 2019 or from January 1, 2020 until February 29, 2020. If you don’t meet this requirement, your forgiveness amount is reduced by the following equation. 

Payroll Costs X FTE 8 weeks from loan origination / FTE from 2.15.19-6.30.19 or 1.1.20-2.29.20

Even if you did reduce your employees during either of your time frames, you can get full forgiveness if you eliminate that reduction by June 30, 2019. You can find an additional support sheet here.

So, if your total payroll costs are $50,000, but you had four employees from both 2.15.19 – 6.30.19 and 1.1.20 – 2.29.20, the amount of forgivable payroll costs gets reduced by 75%. You can obtain full forgiveness again if you bring back the employee by June 30th. According to the most recent FAQs, you can also get full forgiveness if you offered to rehire the same employee, but the employee declined the offer (See FAQ 40). 

This formula works well if you can easily assess your average full-time employees and your workforce was steady for the periods in questions. The formula is more difficult if there is a lot of fluctuation between full-time employees.  

For the reduction based on salaries, you have to calculate payroll costs minus the amount of any reduction in wages that is greater than 25% compared to the most recent full quarter, for any employee who did not earn during any period in 2019 wages at an annualized rate more than $100,000. 

This formula seems much more complicated to determine, but from the language it will be good for you to determine: 

  • The total base salary for or wages for each employee for the last full quarter before the date you received your loan
  • Note any employees whose salaries have been reduced and did not earn an annualized rate more than $100,000 for any period in 2019  
  • Track the amount, if any of reductions in salaries for any of those employees 

As with the restoration of employees, you can obtain full forgiveness if you restore wages. 

What you can do now 

These rules are far from definitive, and we can all hope for additional guidance soon. In the meantime, here are some things you can do right now to help prove and maximize your loan forgiveness process: 

  • Calculate your payroll costs for the next eight weeks.You can find help calculating payroll costs here.  Exclude any amounts of annualized salaries over $100,000. Check those payroll costs against the 75% threshold for loan forgiveness. 
  • Get on the same page with your payroll processor to ensure the amounts you expect are being paid with PPP funds 
  • Figure out your average FTEs for 2.15.19 through 6.30.19, as well as 1.1.20 through 2.29.20
  • Estimate your business rent, mortgage interest and utility amounts that may be used for forgiveness and make sure those won’t be more than 25% of your loan. 
  • Track how you spend your PPP funds and be able to link them back to qualified spending. I’ve seen some people even set up a separate account for these funds. 
  • Keep in touch with your lender and ask for any information they have on forgiveness (they will likely say we are waiting on additional guidance). 
  • If and when additional guidance does come, you can find it here

I know this is a lot of wrangling. I have a couple of final notes. 

Remember, you must apply for forgiveness within 90 days of the end of the eight-week period. Lenders have 60 days from the date you apply to decide whether you qualify.  It’s also important to note that you are not allowed to deduct any expenses you paid the forgivable funds with. Whatever is not forgiven is paid back at a 1% interest rate.

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