The days of organizations pillaging the land and communities in the name of Maximized Profits are on the way out. Climate change and a rapidly increasing global population makes it all but a requirement for businesses to take sustainable responsibility for their actions. If not, government reprimands and social push back, alike, are likely outcomes.
Even some of the most global and respected brands remain vulnerable to environmental or social disapproval. Take Volkswagen. Months ago, after being exposed for cheating on diesel emissions testings, VW is still reeling from the consequences. Europe’s largest car manufacturer has had five consecutive months of decreased car deliveries and registrations in it’s home country of Germany and Europe as a whole. Meantime, brands like Fiat have collected some of the new market share.
So it’s not surprising that business schools around the globe are putting an emphasis on training their students to view their organizations and the world with green lenses. The most recent to do so is New York University’s Stern School of Business. Stern announced today (Feb. 18) the launch of its Center for Sustainable Business, the result of a decade-long partnership and the recent support of $1 million in funding from the Citi Foundation.
‘A BETTER WORLD THROUGH BETTER BUSINESS’
The center, which boasts creating “a better world through better business,” is headed by Founding Director and Clinical Professor of Business and Society Tensie Whelan. The appointment was announced last June and Whelan officially joined Stern last November. And it’s hard to imagine snagging a better person to lead the Center.
“It shows a lot of imagination from the leadership at Stern,” Whelan says, noting her more than 25 years deeply ingrained in environmental and sustainability issues. Most recently, Whelan spent 14 years as the President of the Rainforest Alliance where she grew the NGO’s budget from $4.5 million to $50 million. She’s authored multiple books and has served for organizations such as the National Audubon Society, the Environmental Defense Fund and Social Accountability International, among many others.
Whelan, who notes she’s been “loving the transition” from the nonprofit and NGO world to an elite business school, says the Center’s early work will be focused on research, coursework, internship programs and events.
ADDRESSING A ‘PET PEEVE’ AND RESEARCH GAP
“I think we’re at a moment in time where all business will need to take into account environmental and social issues risk management,” reasons Whelan. “We’re going to have supply chain disruptions related to environmental and social challenges. We’re going to have energy disruptions and water disruptions. There’s going to be a set of environmental and social problems that will absolutely affect businesses if they’re not managing correctly for them.”
That’s the bummer news. The glass-half-full view, Whelan says, is the market is open for new opportunities, innovations, ideas and services. “I think that companies are seeing that using a sustainable approach will help them reduce risks, costs and waste and create more efficiencies. And those that are really mainstreaming sustainability will be seeing increased innovation and competitive potential.”
And for Whelan and those involved at the Center, it begins with research.
“One of my pet peeves has been the lack of comprehensive methodologies for business cases about sustainability,” says Whelan. “You’ll see studies that say Wal-Mart has saved X amount of money on energy efficiency, for example. But there are so many different aspects to that.” Whelan also says she’s heard many anecdotes from companies claiming that applying a green lens has helped with recruitment and retention of talented employees. “But nobody has really studied that in any consistent way,” believes Whelan.