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Honoring leaders in sustainability in North Carolina

Sustainable Forest

A food hub for meat farmers and a veteran management consultant in the energy industry received the 2019 UNC Sustainability Awards from UNC Kenan-Flagler’s Center for Sustainable Enterprise (CSE).

Firsthand Foods, founded and led by Tina Prevatte Levy (MBA/MCRP ’09) and Jennifer Curtis (MS ’98), received the Leadership in Corporate Sustainability Award. Chris Vlahoplus (MBA ’91) of ScottMadden Management Consultants in Raleigh received the Distinguished Alumni in Sustainability Award.

As the Center for Sustainable Enterprise celebrates 20 years, we reflect on how far we have come in a relatively short period of time,” said Olga Hawn, CSE faculty director, assistant professor of strategy and entrepreneurship, and distinguished fellow in sustainability. “Taking initiative, being innovative and having a measurable impact are the hallmarks of truly great leaders and our winners represent the breadth and depth of sustainability pursuits in North Carolina.”

Roots formed at UNC Kenan-Flagler

Firsthand Foods works with more than 45 small-scale, pasture-based livestock producers to process and distribute a consistent, sustainable supply of fresh beef, pork and lamb to restaurants and retailers throughout North Carolina.

Curtis and Prevatte Levy met at UNC Kenan-Flagler 10 years ago through the CSE, where they worked on a consulting project, received early-stage mentorship and rigorous coaching. They crafted early drafts of  their business plan in an entrepreneurship class. “Together these programs provided the support we needed to develop an ambitious vision and the tools we needed to execute on a workable plan,” said Curtis.

Jennifer Curtis and Tina Prevatte Levy and Firsthand Foods and UNC Chapel Hill Kenan-Flagler

“To be recognized by the community that believed in us when we started 10 years ago is incredibly gratifying.” They, said Prevatte Levy.

Based in Durham, the co-CEOs were determined to bring a triple-bottom-line approach to doing business in the meat industry. They created both a new market for farmers and jobs, and preserved 9,000 acres of pasture and cropland for local food production. “In creating new market access, we have supported the livelihood of 45 small-scale farmers in North Carolina and directed over $5.2 million in revenues their way,” said Prevatte Levy.

“We started this business because we care about small-farmers and believe in their ability to be environmental stewards,” she said. “And we care about rural communities in North Carolina and want to see them thrive. We are passionate about building a more resilient food community in our region that values people, animals and the environment.”

Pioneer in clean tech and sustainability

Vlahoplus has been at the forefront of consulting for the energy and utility industry for almost 30 years.

He is the liaison for key client relationships and work for ScottMadden, and provides mentorship across the firm. At UNC Kenan-Flagler he has mentored many students and alumni and been a great partner in the UNC Clean Tech Summit.

“He certainly exemplifies the values of UNC Kenan-Flagler and what we look for in our Distinguished Alumni in Sustainability Award winners: excellence, leadership, integrity, community and teamwork,” said Tracy Triggs-Matthews, CSE associate director.

“Chris has had an impressive career with ScottMadden serving as partner and practice area lead in clean tech and sustainability and now is an internal advisor across the entire company,” she said. “Adding to his list of accomplishments is teaching Strategic Value Creation for Energy Companies to UNC Kenan-Flagler MBA students. I’m not sure who is more excited about this, the students or Chris.”

 Chris Vlahoplus and ScottMadden Management Consultants “The same principles that guide the Center for Sustainable Enterprise are ones that I’ve embraced throughout my career,” said Vlahoplus. “I’m honored to be recognized for my commitment to helping businesses adopt sustainability as a blueprint for success.”

“It is special to be recognized for the sum total of a lot of little things done over a long career,” he said. “I am happy to accept this for those like me, who are working day to day and sometimes quietly to advance the sustainability agenda one step at a time. I am reminded that Ross Perot spoke to our MBA class and he famously challenged people to not complain, but ‘pick up a shovel.’”

He feels fortunate to have consulted in an industry – the electric power sector – that has become the center of the decarbonization issue. “Until a few years ago when we dropped below transportation, electricity was the single largest carbon emitter in the U.S.,” he said.

Sustainability was not even on his clients’ radar when he graduated nearly three decades ago and joined ScottMadden. “Coal was king, energy efficiency was an afterthought, and renewables were just a dream,” Vlahoplus said. “Hydroelectric plants and nuclear plants were the only low-carbon sources.”

In the years since a lot has changed for the good, he said. “This is not to say that we don’t still have a long way to go, but I would like to leave you with the thought that there are great opportunities to make a difference if you are willing to pick up a shovel and start working.”

Through its affiliation with the Kenan institute of Private Enterprise, the Center for Sustainable Enterprise assembles and shares thought leadership in research, education and best practice. It’s goal is to empower business leaders in their quest for shareholder value while exercising environmental stewardship and promoting economic development and growth.