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Honoring sustainability

There was a lot to celebrate at the 2022 UNC Sustainability Awards and Graduation event.

The big news was the announcement of an $11 million gift to support the Center for Sustainable Enterprise and renaming it as the Ackerman Center for Excellence in Sustainability (ACES) in the honor of the donor, the late Charlie Ackerman (BSBA ’55).

“UNC Kenan-Flagler was a first mover among business schools to offer a comprehensive curriculum in sustainability in 1999,” said Olga Hawn, associate professor of strategy and entrepreneurship and ACES faculty director, in announcing the news.

“It is thanks to Tracy Triggs-Matthews, associate director of the center, and Al Segars, former faculty director, who met with Mr. Ackerman when he visited the School in 2011,” she said. “He was very impressed with the full scope of our work – from teaching to extracurricular programs to research to stakeholder outreach – and how our graduates leave UNC Kenan-Flagler prepared to implement what they have learned to change the world and how our research can have an impact on the practice of business.”

Each year the UNC Sustainability Awards recognize leadership and best practice in sustainability and awards a North Carolina business and a UNC Kenan-Flagler graduate.

The Distinguished Business in Sustainability Award is presented to a business that exemplifies three criteria: initiative, innovation and impact. Undergraduate Sustainable Business Club members researched businesses in North Carolina that are leaders in sustainability, nominated 12 organizations and pitched their finalists to MBA Net Impact Club members who determined the winner.

Triggs-Matthews presented the award to Dinesh Tadepalli, co-founder of Incredible Eats. The company is on a mission to reduce plastic usage by replacing plastic utensils with edible options.

“Dinesh discovered a problem when he was getting ice cream with his child,” she said. “Throwing away the cup and plastic spoon and seeing how many were already in the trash provided that light bulb moment, asking ‘Why is there so much plastic and what can be done about it?’ He took the initiative to solve this problem. What he and his team came up with is an innovative solution to plastic spoons – edible spoons. Dinesh sold his home in California, emptied his savings and moved his family to North Carolina to start Incredible Eats, even as he works full time for Intel. He refuses to take a paycheck from Incredible Eats until his products have real impact on plastics in the ocean.”

Tadepalli brought his family to the event “because he wants them to understand that he is doing this for them and for the world and that is why he is so busy all the time,” she said.

Chantarella De Blois (MBA ’16) received the Distinguished Alumni in Sustainability Award. De Blois is vice president at Total Impact Capital, one of the first impact-investment firms in the U.S.

“Her career has truly been guided by values, including a thirst for knowledge and tools to maximize impact,” said  Jeff Mittelstadt (MBA ’07), professor of the practice of strategy and entrepreneurship and ACES executive director, when he presented the award.

He quoted De Blois: “To me, there’s no point in promoting a return on investment if you don’t take into account the health of our planet at the same time. At the end of the day, climate issues exacerbate every issue, whether that’s poverty, migration, hunger, armed conflict, health or inequality. It has the potential to completely undo value creation at a large scale and in all sectors.”

As is true with many sustainability leaders, her career has taken twists and turns, including working on sustainable development projects in Latin America, as a financial business analyst at Intel, as an investment analyst at Gilder Gagnon Howe & Co. in New York working on including ESG metrics for a $7 billion fund, and as a corporate sustainability strategy consultant in the Middle East. Her work at Total Impact Capital seeks to unite impact capital with high-quality investment opportunities that are financially sound, make the planet a better place and have the potential to scale significantly.

De Blois is deeply engaged at UNC Kenan-Flagler, said Mittlestadt. “She frequently speaks with our students and interns, and has provided feedback and guidance as we created the India Impact Challenge and Launching Investment for Future Transformation (LIFT). She is giving of herself and of her knowledge, sharing experiences and expertise. Her leadership is driven by commitment to save our planet, equity and justice using the skills she developed, in part, here at UNC Kenan-Flagler and throughout her career.”

Eliza Quanbeck (MBA ’22), who served as Net Impact president, received the Susanna Schick Award. She embodied the club’s core values of sustainability and innovation and led it in words and actions. The award is named in honor of sustainability champion Schick (MBA ’09), who died in 2020.

The Net Impact Award went to the MBA Impact Investing Network & Training (MIINT) student team who represented UNC Kenan-Flagler in the finals of the global MIINT competition hosted by the Wharton School.

The event also celebrated the 76 students, representing 22% of the Full-Time MBA Class of 2022, who earned the Sustainable Enterprise Concentration.

Bank of America was lead sponsor of the event and Gina Hall, senior vice president of business provided remarks on Bank of America’s work in sustainability. Bank of America also is a founding sponsor of the center’s Invest for the Future initiative and the LIFT competition.