Eric Orts, professor of legal studies and business ethics at the Wharton School, believes the track of his career changed in 1992. That was the year of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, also known as the Rio De Janeiro Earth Summit. Orts attended as an unofficial observer for the U.S. State Department.
He’d only joined Wharton the year before. He watched a record number of heads of state, civilians and business representatives come together to talk about pressing environmental issues, including climate change. He started thinking about not only the intersection between business interests and climate, but of the intersection with business schools as well.
“Seeing that businesses were serious about this, understanding that business has to be part of the solution, and then realizing that I’m in a pretty good position to help push this forward,” Orts told Poets&Quants. “And, frankly, businesses have been ahead of business schools in this area. I’ve found that in the last 15 to 20 years that I’ve been very much active on the academic side of pushing this forward, business schools are playing catch up.”
A RUN FOR U.S. SENATE
Orts, also a professor of management at Wharton, has taught business and MBA students about social responsibility, corporate law and environmental law for 30 years. He’s also studied the complexities of the climate crisis and the solutions business, and business schools, can offer.
Now he’s running for the U.S. Senate. This summer, he launched his first ever political campaign in Pennsylvania’s crowded Democratic primary. He and his opponents are vying for an open seat now held by Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, who has said he will not seek reelection. It will likely be among the most competitive and closely watched races in the country, and it will help determine which party controls the Senate.
Orts’ primary issue? Climate change.
“My career has increasingly been focused on the importance of environmental issues. I’m very aware of how business has advanced the ball significantly in terms of the technologies and the know-how to solve the climate problem,” Orts said.
“There are lots of people in the business world working on increasing energy efficiency, lowering the cost of solar and wind power, improving battery technology, and green steel that doesn’t require burning coal, etc … And this goes to the reason why I’m running for office: We have the solutions in the business community, and we have the technology to solve this problem. The only thing in our way is the politics.”
Orts is taking a leave of absence from Wharton to focus on his campaign. He recently sat down with P&Q to talk about the intersection of business and business students with the fight against climate change. (Read the interview on the following page. It has been edited for length and clarity.)