"Many small business owners don't have time to focus on anything but keeping the doors open, so I want to give them the inspiration and tools they need."

Silk Purses from Sow's Ears: A Green MBA Student Repurposes Waste to Help Children in Need

An Early Start on Recycling

Sue Patrolia learned about recycling and environmental issues at an early age. "I have always had an environmental slant to my life. My Dad recycled everything except rubber bands as far back as I can remember. Those rubber bands would drive him crazy!" It's hardly surprising that she found herself combining her business acumen with her commitment to reducing waste in order to pursue an MBA in Environmental and Organizational Sustainability.

Sue has been a buyer at a large department store, started a retail store, which is still successful twenty-three years later, and been a real estate agent. She is now the product manager for a firm that imports woven upholstery fabrics, handling design, marketing, and product development.

Tragedy Leads to Personal Inspiration

The road that led her to Antioch University New England began tragically in Africa:

In January of 2006, my sister-in-law was killed on a family vacation climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. There was a rockslide and the guides all mentioned how strange it was that there was no ice along the path-just loose rock-not enough snow that year. There was a series of disasters the prior year, a tsunami, earthquake, hurricanes, etc. (over 97, 000 people died in natural disasters in 2005), and I just remember thinking it was all caused in some way by what we are doing to our earth and that sooner or later, it's gonna get personal. Mary was killed on Jan 3rd. That was it. I decided I had to find a way to do something so I started researching and quickly found there were not many internships available for people 25+ years out of college. I sent all the opportunities along to my nieces and nephews who were kind of rudderless without their Mom. One day my niece called and said "Auntie Sue, why don't you get your green MBA?" I was at the grocery store at the time. I left my cart, went home, googled green MBA and 6 months later, I was at Antioch.

Blazing a Green Trail

Sue was part of its first cohort. The group has a real entrepreneurial bent; there is a marked desire to turn learning into action. "This program laid out all the problems, possibilities, options, and opportunities for me," she says. "I never once left a weekend at Antioch when I didn't say 'That's what I want to do!'

Almost immediately after entering the program she began to combine the ideas and skills embodied in the Green MBA into her personal work experience. She founded SWIFT, the Sample Waste Initiative for Furniture and Textiles, to explore ways to keep discarded fabric out of landfills. One of their projects is called GIFFT, Green Initiatives for Furniture and Textiles, and finds ways to reuse leftover fabric in quilts, wheelchair bags, and other things designed to help children in need. The program, which teams a recycling company with an organization devoted to making quilts for children in hospitals, was awarded first place in Net Impact's 2008 Green Challenge.

Her practicum project was to work with small businesses to help them operate in more sustainable ways. "Many small business owners don't have time to focus on anything but keeping the doors open, so I want to give them the inspiration and tools they need."

Sue plans to continue her work with small business now that she's graduated. She recently founded Efficient Resource Management (www.ermsc.com), a small business sustainability consulting company. "Profitability and environmental sustainability are parallel issues," says Sue. "When businesses reduce expenses by finding efficiencies in energy use they are also reducing greenhouse gas emissions. When they find ways to reduce their carbon footprint, they will also find ways to reduce costs. I believe small business is the engine that keeps our economy going and that they can be great change agents in their own communities."

Sue Patrolia was among the first students to graduate from Antioch University New England's Organizational and Environmental Sustainability (Green MBA) program on May 1, 2009.