Remarks by Faculty Director, Joe Arvai at the Erb Institute welcome back dinner on September 25, 2015

Our Erb Institute community dinner coincides with some big news out of New York. Earlier today, the United Nations announced their post-2015 development agenda, which includes 17 Goals for Sustainable Development.

Many of us came to our work on sustainability in Erb because of our concern for the environment, and six of the sustainable development goals reflect this:

1. Protecting plant, animal
, and microbial life on land;
2. Protecting plant, animal, and microbial life under the water;
3. Responsible consumption and production;
4. Sustainable cities and communities;
5. Affordable, and importantly, clean energy; and
6. Meaningful action on climate change.

But this leaves 11 additional Goals for Sustainable Development that we, as members of the Erb Institute must also consider when it comes to our own work:

7. Eliminating poverty;
8. Eliminating hunger;
9. Promoting global health and well-being;
10. Providing access to quality education;
11. Ensuring equality for all people regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation;
12. Reducing social and economic inequality between and within countries;
13. Unfettered access to clean water and sanitation;
14. Access to fair and honest work, and opportunities for economic growth;
15. Developing resilient infrastructure, and sustainable and innovative industrialization;
16. Promoting just, peaceful, and inclusive societies; and
17. Revitalizing partnerships so that these goals can be achieved.

What do these goals mean to me as the Faculty Director of the Erb Institute?

3-D Amazing Fantasy #15

3-D Amazing Fantasy #15 by Antonio Delgado, on Flickr

They are heartening because, sustainability is our mission. When it comes to the transition toward sustainability, enterprise — large and small — has an important role to play.

I personally do not accept the notion that consumers are the dog, and enterprise is the tail. Instead, when it comes to the role of business in advancing the sustainability agenda, I share the view of the great philosopher, Stan Lee, who wrote in his 1962 book — entitled Amazing Fantasy #15 — that, “with great power comes great responsibility.”

But, if as an institute we look to business to “do better”, we must also ask ourselves to do better. This means working collectively toward Sustainable Development Goals one through six, and,
goals seven to seventeen.

Regardless of how focused we are on individual aspects of a problem, we must remind ourselves to take the broad view of sustainability, and one which looks at the relationship between people and planet from a systems perspective. We need to broaden our gaze to problems and opportunities around the world, and not only in our backyard.

As I’ve gotten to know you, I know you think this way. But, to really do it, we must accept the fact that we all have a lot to learn. The answers to our questions will come from all kinds of people, and from all kinds of places; so we need to be on the lookout for them as effective and credible people of science. And, we need to be on the lookout for them as humble and respectful listeners.

We also must recognize that we will be judged not only by what we know, or what we think, or what we say; we will be judged most critically by what we do and how we behave.

So, as we embark on this new academic year, these are challenges, that I am posing to the Erb Institute as a whole. I also think we’d be wise to wake up every morning, and pose these same challenges to ourselves as individuals.



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By Marianna Kerppola

TEDWomen 2015 was dedicated to “explore the bold ideas that create momentum in how we think, live and work.” Not surprisingly, TEDWomen did not disappoint in delivering an experience that inspired new ideas and challenged old belief systems. As I reflect on the event, I’ve found the following idea to be one “worth spreading”:

Climate Change: Gender equality and climate change are interdependent

Climate change may not seem like an obvious topic for a conference centered on women’s issues. Yet Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and current United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Climate Change, explained that she became involved in climate change because of its direct impact on people. In fact, she states that “Climate change is the largest threat to human rights in the 21st century.” She proclaims that we must change our “business as usual” approach in order to rebalance our currently very unequal world. As it relates to climate change, we should “be on the side of those most affected” and “make sure they are not left behind.” She calls for complete human solidarity to help developing countries grow without emissions.

In turn, Jane Fonda also speaks to the urgency of addressing climate change. In an intimate conversation between Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Pat Mitchell, the trio address wide-ranging topics from leadership to friendship. As the conversation shifts towards conscientious consumption, Fonda points out, “If we begin to use renewable energy, and not drill in the Arctic or the Alberta Tar Sands, there will be more democracy, more jobs and more well being… and its women who are going to lead the way.” For her, climate change is inextricably linked to women’s leadership.

In addition to the incredible talks at TEDWomen, many incredible short videos were shared. One of my favorites was a poem read at the 2014 UN Climate Summit called Dear Matafele Peinem. In the poem, there is a line that says: “We deserve to do more than survive, we deserve to thrive.” While the poem refers directly to climate change, I believe this line fully captures the messages at TEDWomen. As we seek positive momentum for our planet, our organizations, and ourselves, we must reflect on what it is to thrive. Only then can we spark, surface, seduce, sustain, shift and share social change.


Watch the Dear Matafele Peinem poem read at the 2014 UN Climate Summit:


Marianna-HeadshotMarianna Kerppola operates in the nexus of Human Rights + Business + Innovation. She is transforming her broad-ranged corporate skillset of strategy, finance, investments, risk management, sales and marketing into creating social good. Marianna recently launched BetterHope, an online marketplace for clothing made with dignity, with the goal of creating prosperity for women in clothing supply chains. She is also the co-founder of Women Who Launch, an initiative working to create gender equal entrepreneurial ecosystems.




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By Joanna Herrmann

This piece was written after attending the Shared Value Leadership Summit 2015: Business at its Best, May 12-13, 2015 in New York City.

A Farm Business Advisor selling seeds to her client farmer

Farm Business Advisor by Nestlé, on Flickr

In 1970, Milton Friedman stated that the sole purpose of a business was to make money for its shareholders. In 2009, Jack Welch declared “shareholder value is the dumbest idea in the world.”1  

An increasing number of CEOs have joined the latter school of thought. This past February, Mark Benioff (Chairman/CEO of Salesforce) stated that this “still-pervasive business theory is wrong. The business of business isn’t just about creating profits for shareholders – it’s also about improving the state of the world and driving stakeholder value.” Benioff and like-minded CEOs believe that the most effective way to gain competitive advantage and create shareholder value is to serve all stakeholder interests.2   It was on this topic that the Shared Value Leadership Summit 2015: Business at its Best focused.

I first came across the term CSV (Creating Shared Value) in its February 2011 Harvard Business Review (HBR) debut while I was researching corporate strategies for working at the Base of the Pyramid as part of my job with the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (a program of the Aspen Institute). CSV resonated with me so much, that I put applying to law school aside and instead came to study business sustainability at the University of Michigan’s Erb Institute. Continue reading

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This blog was originally posted on the U-M William Davidson Institute WDI Fellow blog.

By Michelle Gross

26 hours on three planes and I finally make it to the Bandaranaike International Airport of Colombo, Sri Lanka. I’m greeted by Angela, the housemother at Grace, and her husband Vicki, who drove all the way from Trincomalee to receive me from the airport. And so we begin the six-hour journey to the Grace Care Center. The GCC, or Grace, a girl’s orphanage and elder care center, is my home base for the next two months while I will be traveling to Colombo and the tea region.

The normal six-hour journey soon turns into eight, due to some roadwork, plus a stop to have a spicy lunch, making my full journey 36 hours door-to-door! That’s the longest record trip for me. But it is made fun with spontaneous stops along the way to pick up coconuts and fruit: pineapple, mangostin, rambutan….mmm… I am back in fruit heaven.

And then when we arrive, I’m greeted by these lovely ladies in the most fashionable way.


Angela and I with King Coconuts


Welcome from Grace Care Center














I came to Sri Lanka, as a WDI Fellow, to develop a business plan to establish a new tea export enterprise from Sri Lanka that will secure the long-term viability of Grace. Zingerman’s is interested in collaborating, as long as there is a fantastic product, and my job is to connect the dots and build lasting relationships with potential business partners in Sri Lanka and a strategy for moving forward. Continue reading

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Andrew Hoffman, University of Michigan

Laudato Si' challenges us to examine the root causes of environmental ills and injustices. Max Rossi/Reuters

Laudato Si’ challenges us to examine the root causes of environmental ills and injustices. Max Rossi/Reuters

One of problems in communicating about climate change is that it has been ghettoized as a strictly environmental message promoted by liberal messengers. This makes it easy for some to dismiss it. But the pope’s encyclical letter “Laudato Si’,” or “Praise Be To You,” kinks the arc of this conversation in some important and long-needed ways.

Whether it causes the profound changes that are necessary to fully address the “unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequence for all of us” that he calls out is now up to us. Our challenge is nothing short of changing our values and beliefs. Continue reading

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By Kathleen Carroll

By Achmad Rabin Taim from Jakarta, Indonesia, via Wikimedia Commons

By Achmad Rabin Taim from Jakarta, Indonesia, via Wikimedia Commons

In April, I traveled to Washington, D.C. to attend “How Business Can Tackle Deforestation,” a conference hosted by Innovation Forum, a London-based organization that convenes organizations around sustainability trends and opportunities for business. The two-day event focused primarily on issues and opportunities related to palm oil, a $40 billion industry which relies almost entirely on converted rainforest land in Malaysia and Indonesia, two of the most biodiverse countries on earth. Though palm oil is in so much of what we consume—in packaged food (like Nutella, peanut butter, and potato chips) and beauty products (lipstick, even shampoo) and laundry detergent—we often have no idea we are consuming it. This trend is expected to continue; the UN predicted in 2011 that demand for palm oil would double by 2020.1  

New standards established within the palm oil industry over the last year, combined with activism to raise awareness of harmful practices, have all led to greater scrutiny of the industry as it faces increased demand to expand from markets around the world. I became interested in the topic of oil palm agriculture after visiting Indonesia last summer and driving by hectares of plantations on its rural island of Sumatra, seated beside protected primary forest areas that house some of the world’s most dense primary rainforest. The intersection of the industry’s challenges with regard to ecology, agriculture, food system sustainability, and nutrition make it particularly relevant within the sustainability space.

The Innovation Forum conference underscored many of my (incorrect) preconceptions about the industry and about notions of sustainability within the private sector: Continue reading

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By Tamar Koosed


Robert Stansfield/DFID, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s been really fun exploring BoP ventures here at the Erb Perspectives Blog and hearing from some of you about the work you’ve been doing on the topic. We close our series acknowledging the progress that’s been done around poverty reduction and touching on the next generation of challenges for companies looking to create shareholder value and improve the standards of living for low-income communities.

Oftentimes, in our quest for improvement, we focus on the negatives, also known as “lessons learned” if you are in the international development field or as “opportunities” if you are in the private sector. We took on this focus while writing this blog series, pointing out why so many BoP ventures have failed and what strategies they could implement when trying again.

However, we, as a global community, have done a lot to reduce poverty in the last 20 years. According to the World Bank, in 1990, 42% of the world’s population lived below the $1.25/day poverty line. That rate fell to 21% in 2010.1  Poverty was halved and this is no small feat.

Many economists attribute this largely to the rapid growth in GDP in populous and initially impoverished developing countries, like China and India. But the trend is true for all regions, when there’s growth there are declines in absolute poverty. Good macroeconomic policies and ensuring there is rule of law are important contributors to growth, but so are trade and the ability of the country and its citizens to be integrated into the global economy. Businesses have an important role to play in this regard and promote GDP growth by selling and buying products and services.

But it will take more work and incredible ingenuity from businesses, and governments alike, to move the remaining billion people across the poverty line. Many of those that were lifted out of poverty were just below the $1.25-a-day threshold, making it harder now to get people who are deeper in the poverty cycle above the same mark. Importantly, the remaining billion are also the hardest to reach in countries that are already growing or are living under unstable and failing governments. Continue reading

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By: Kristine Schantz

By marissaorton (Sweatshop project  Uploaded by Gary Dee) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By marissaorton (Sweatshop project Uploaded by Gary Dee), via Wikimedia Commons

Today’s global supply chain creates economic opportunity overseas and cost savings for U.S. businesses, but comes with limited visibility and control of the working conditions where goods are sourced and manufactured. At a recent gathering sponsored by the Erb Institute, students explored supply chain sustainability in an effort to better prepare ourselves to address this issue as business professionals.

U-M students do not need to travel far to view an example of the domestic impact of global manufacturing. Our once booming “Motor City” now offers only a fraction of the manufacturing employment it once did, as automotive supply chains now source parts from around the world to assemble domestically under U.S. American logos. These practices raise many questions for both consumer and business: What exactly is ethical sourcing, how deep into supply chains are companies required to go and what tools are available to assess and implement supply chain sustainability efforts?

By practicing global sourcing, companies take on risk associated with the working conditions and broader governance context of their overseas suppliers, including labor and human rights issues, environmental standards and safety concerns. This reality, coupled with an increasingly curious and informed consumer public, forces businesses to look further along their supply chain than ever before. The tragic Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh captured the concern of the public and major clothing companies, from H&M to Walmart. The multinational corporation response to these incidents has varied. While some maintain a “we didn’t know, this is our suppliers’ responsibility” stance, others have delved into navigating this ambiguity and complexity with responsible sourcing initiatives and reinforced transparency efforts. Continue reading

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Andy-cropRemarks by Faculty Director, Andy Hoffman at the 2015 Erb Institute Graduation dinner

Mark Twain once said, “the two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”  Here at the Erb Institute, we know we had no involvement in that first day.  But we hope we had everything to do with the second.

Here in your years at Michigan, you took classes and learned about the issues we face and the models and tools for addressing them.  But the key to this second day is that it is not what you learn in class; it is developed in the “in-between” time.  It is not something you can intellectualize; it is something you have to feel in your heart.  It is not what you know; it comes down to what you believe. It is about learning the conviction of your beliefs.  Finding a purpose that goes beyond a job or a paycheck, beyond what you want for yourself, and leads you towards a devotion to something bigger.  And, I believe, this is what will make all the difference in your years ahead.

You develop this by first putting yourself in the company of others who think and feel deeply about the same things that you do, and second by taking the time in reflection to discern what you truly believe.  The opportunity to do that here is, I believe, something you cannot get elsewhere – this community and this culture to lay the foundation for your calling or your vocation. It is what will get you out of bed every morning and what will get you through the tough times.  And you will have tough times.

There are days when I get tired of this stuff and have to turn off the radio when I hear another news story about climate change.  And there are days when I get discouraged that change is just too hard…when a US Senator throws a snowball on the Senate floor to “prove” that climate change is not real, or the State of Florida can ban the use of the words “climate change.” But I keep trying.  Let me offer three of my own beliefs that keep me going. Continue reading

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