by Matthew Gacioch

group_3373Set high on the sixth floor of Ross Business School, on August 18th a group of fifteen Erb alumni, External Advisory Board members, and staffers collected for the Ann Arbor Alumni Roadshow. Overlooking the sun-washed city below, the gathering fell on one of those days towards the end of the season that makes you realize just how much we’ll all be missing summer soon.

The Ann Arbor Roadshow was the sixth and final gathering  in a series of alumni engagement events conducted by the Erb Institute across the country, as we work to continue developing our upcoming five-year plan. Led by Erb Managing Director Terry Nelidov and Erb Faculty Director Andy Hoffman, the discussion was stimulated by three questions: What are the current sustainability trends in business? How can management educators respond in addressing sustainability? What should be Erb’s unique contribution within management education?

The conversation began with the prompt that there must be a focus on seeing topics of sustainability as opportunities rather than problems. This distinction can make all the difference in promoting the necessary adjustment within corporate sustainability strategy from being reactive to becoming proactive, which opens the door to thriving in business. That is, after all, one of the Erb Institute’s core motivations. Continue reading

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Best-front_3338-600by Terry Nelidov and Dominique Abed, with Michelle Lin

Terry and Dom met with Laura Flanigan (Erb ‘06), Rosemary Lapka and Michelle Lin (both Erb ‘12)  on a Monday night in August at the  “Little Goat Diner” (Thanks Michelle, for the recommendation!)–a bustling Chicago landmark with a quirky but tasty menu started by Stephanie Izard, a Top Chef winner who is, incidentally, also a U-M grad.  Fortunately, Rosemary came prepared with both U-M and Erb flags (see photos below). Continue reading

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by Emma Wendt

Set in the lovely home of Priyanka Bandyopadhyay ‘09, our July 21, 2014 Seattle Erb Roadshow was an especially lively and intellectually challenging discussion — what I love best about the Erb community.

Our group included nine alumni, ranging from Class of 2000 to 2014, plus two current students, in town for summer internships. (Huge props to the Seattle crew for 100% attendance among those who registered!) Several of the topics discussed had emerged in other Roadshows, such as the relative importance of technical versus interpersonal skills, as well as particular topical areas like water quality and supply chains.

What stood out to me here, though, was the question around what role Erbers can and should take on as a sustainability change agent. While some had obviously Erb-related jobs, many others were taking a more traditional career path, especially the newer grads — and that’s really ok. To make significant sustainability gains, Erb needs to influence across roles, organizations and sectors. Occasionally, this is as a Chief Sustainability Officer. More likely, it will be by equipping real estate developers with green building technologies or helping logistics companies to radically shift how they deliver products and services. Continue reading

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Erb Institute Boston Roadshow

New York to Boston: Oh what a difference 212 miles can make!

by Dominique Abed and Terry Nelidov

On Wednesday, June 25  Mindy Casseres Gomes and Environmental Resources Management served as our gracious hosts at ERM’s beautiful Boston office high atop Beacon Hill. Other participants included Erb alumni Tony Gross, James Aaron, Elizabeth Terry, and guest Rebecca Wilkinson (Assistant VP Corporate Communications in Sustainability, State Street).

Mindy kicked off the discussion with her view that there is now, finally, a clear and pressing need to shift the value-chain perspective upstream by influencing management. The discussion quickly followed suit.  It’s hard to know if the more intimate lunch-time setting contributed to the depth of the Boston discussion, but  conversations were animated and ideas sometimes surprising.

In comparison with New York and San Francisco, Boston themes were more heavily influenced by the quest for thought leadership and the need to work within the Erb’s “sphere of influence,” that is, to concentrate efforts on those areas on which Erb has more immediate influence as an institute, in addition to Ross, SNRE and U-M at large. Continue reading

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Galileo Galilei 2.jpg

“Galileo Galilei 2” by Domenico Tintoretto – [1]. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

By Andrew Hoffman

In the United States, we love to root for the underdog, the voice of reason standing firm in the face of intolerance and resistance.  On the climate change debate, the role model of that figure is the 17th century scientist Galileo Galilei and his clash with the Catholic Church. There are three important components to the parallels between this clash and the clash over climate change. First, Galileo’s work changed how we thought about the universe and our place within it. Second, he was forcibly silenced for holding opinions at variance with those in power, namely the Catholic Church. And third, he used the scientific method to prove the theories, first developed by Copernicus, that so upset the status quo.

Some who challenge the science around climate change have sought to claim the Galileo mantle.

One organization that has been critical of climate science has explicitly adopted the name “The Galileo Movement” and argues that the science behind climate change has been falsely presented as settled.  As they see it, they are the ones who are pushing against the dominant orthodoxy and facing ignorance and intolerance as a result.

As explained on their website, anyone who dares to challenge the “climate status quo” is unfairly branded a “skeptic” or “denier” and treated as an enemy to science.  Members of this movement claim to working to both liberate  people from intellectual tyranny, allowing them to “reclaim their lives from media spin and politician’s control” and protect the economy from destructive government intrusion.

But some refute this comparison and believe it is historically and scientifically incorrect.  Merely challenging the mainstream does not qualify a comparison to Galileo.
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By H Dominique Abed

Not to be outdone by his San Francisco brethren, Nemanja Babic ushered us aloft into an A. T. Kearney, Inc. boardroom with a spectacular view of Times Square.

Terry Nelidov led the discussion which, once again, was lively and rich in ideas. Like San Francisco, technology was a big topic, as was the tension between the growing demand for specialization within the MBA function vs. the broader interdisciplinary and global perspective needed for effective leadership and impact. Climate Change, Consumer Behavior, and the importance of the Health Care Sector also emerged as important themes.

Terry Nelidov, Elizabeth Fastiggi, Dominique Abed, Jenna Agins, Sander Dolder, Katie O’Hare, Megan DeYoung, Kate Drummond, Nemanja Babic, Kaitlin Paulson and Charlotte Coultrap-Bagg (not pictured: Adam Carver)

It was fun seeing our recent grads again, current and incoming students Kate Drummand and Kaitlin Paulson, and External Advisory Board Member, Meghan De Young. I also had the pleasure of meeting Elizabeth Fastiggi (Erb 2003) for the first time.  Thanks so much to all who attended and,of course, to Nemanja for hosting!

Terry and I wrapped up our big apple visit at the United Nations where we met with Chubha Chandra of the United Nations Global Compact to discuss the many opportunities for collaboration (more on that from Terry).   We also learned about a cool website clearinghouse that UNGC maintains for supply-chain tools and resources. If you’re interested in human rights, labor, environment and/or anti-corruption in global supply chains, check it out here.  UN Global Compact also offers free webinars which will be of great interest to Erb students interested in these topics.

Stay tuned for news from our June 25 Boston #ErbRoadshow.

Emma is looking forward to Seattle July 21 next and we will both be traveling to Chicago on August 11, details coming soon.

H Dominique Abed is Marketing and Brand Manager at the Erb Institute. You can find Dominique on and Twitter.


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by Terry Nelidov

Emma and I kicked off this year’s Alumni Roadshows with the first one in San Francisco on June 19. Our trip to the Bay Area included outreach meetings with BSR where we brainstormed collaboration opportunities; with Stanford’s Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment & Resources to learn about our peer institute’s priorities for the coming year; with the Young Professionals in Energy club to discuss energy trends; and with Kleiner Perkins where we got an update on greentech investing.

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by Erica Morrell

Local food initiatives have taken off across the country in recent years. Registered farmers markets, for example, expanded nationally from around 3,000 in 2000 to over 8,000 in 2012, and urban farming has exploded across neighborhoods, at schools and in healthcare facilities with over 1,200 community gardens across Detroit alone.

The rise in activities around local food presents a host of novel opportunities and challenges for municipal governments. Urban farming, for instance, may help address inadequate food access by expanding fresh produce options in the inner city, but at the same time it often occurs in violation of standing zoning ordinances and places new pressure on water and sanitation services.

Detroit Garden

A Detroit Garden, Erica Morrell

In an attempt to promote local foods’ benefits and mitigate its drawbacks, cities across the country have created new arenas of governance concerned solely with local food. These arenas frequently include legislation around issues such as the production and sale of local produce and cottage foods, the creation of grants and other aid to facilitate local food efforts, and the establishment of food policy councils (over 200 such councils now exist across the U.S.), among many other features.

While different cities’ local food policies and programs might seem similar on the surface, they often embody quite different guiding values. Take Detroit and Cleveland, for example. Based on citizen demands, Detroit’s government has committed particularly to promoting justice through activities around local food.

The City’s Food Security Policy affirms this in its call to “identify and eliminate barriers to African-American participation and ownership in all aspects of the food system,” “increase the number of culturally appropriate food outlets,” and “ensure that the food needs of young families and the elderly are met,” as does its Food Policy Council vow to conduct business “in ways that embodies a commitment to anti-racist, anti-sexist, and anti-elitist processes and outcomes.”

Meanwhile Cleveland’s officials have pledged to advance development (especially economic and sustainable) through their local food policies and programs. The City’s Urban Agriculture Overlay District zoning provision was adopted as a means to “promote urban agriculture while simultaneously creating economic development opportunities” as was its Ordinance No 210-11 endorsed to foster “economic opportunities that create living-wage jobs, a unique Cleveland, and economic sustainability within the City” by facilitating local mobile food entrepreneurs. In 2012, Cleveland celebrated the Year of Local Foods to “advance sustainability…while boosting the local economy.” Continue reading

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By Daniel Gerding (’14), Berry Kennedy (’14), Makely Lyon (’14), Joshua Rego and Emily Taylor (’14)

The Challenge
One of the greatest environmental problems of the 21st century may not be environmental at all. The United Nations Environment Program’s 2012 Foresight Report states that the most critical emerging environmental issue for the 21st century is not climate change, energy or water, but “aligning governance to the challenges of global sustainability.”[1]

Progress towards sustainability is unlikely to occur unless effective management tools are designed to incorporate environmental factors into corporate decision-making. Even the most innovative new technologies or green methods require an implementation plan.

We propose a simple way to address both governance and resource management in the corporate context.  Our book “Designing Innovative Corporate Water Risk Management Strategies from an Ecosystem Services Perspective,” (available on demonstrates that while the particular circumstances or scientific underpinnings of the situation will vary, natural resource challenges are likely to share a few common characteristics from a management methods perspective.

To business managers, many natural resource challenges provide new issues for a company to address and may require new types of knowledge that are not traditionally found within the company. Natural resource challenges commonly involve uncertainty of political context and scientific precision. Lastly, many natural resources (and the ecosystem services on which they depend) are public goods, requiring the company to interact with an entirely new set of public and private stakeholders in order to address the issue.

Our Research

Our team created a framework for identifying existing management responses to natural resource challenges from within “analogous” organizational responses to environmental and resource challenges. As is the case with many of the sustainability challenges facing corporations today, the management analogues that we dissected were applied in similar cases of managerial novice, political uncertainty and forecasting ambiguity. Further, we examined attempts at resource management that, given the nature of our ecosystems as shared resources, required collaboration among numerous stakeholders and even unusual allies.

After conducting an extensive search for appropriate organizational analogues, we deconstructed each case to determine the underlying mechanism driving effective management outcomes. Because the analogues were pulled from both the public and private spheres, these mechanisms had to be adapted to the corporate context, as well as the natural resource issue chosen as the focus of our study: freshwater scarcity. Read more about the team’s research


While the preservation of ecosystem services presents a complex issue for corporations, our work shows that solutions to environmental challenges need not start from scratch. Our goal is to show that these issues are not so difficult as to warrant paralysis. We urge readers to look beyond industry, sector and natural resource type in their efforts to build more sustainable companies. We hope all are emboldened to redesign internal processes and management styles in order to equip their company for whatever political, economic or operational challenge the quickly evolving natural resource landscape brings their way.

In many ways, our conclusion for companies is what we learned as students and the questions we ask our readers will be the same questions we will ask of ourselves in our jobs, as we act as official or unofficial champions of sustainability. We will have to understand underlying drivers, use this understanding to draw solutions from seemingly unrelated sources and then creatively apply these solutions to our own situations.

We hope that readers of our work will be inspired to step back and reframe the challenges that they face, empowered by the responses already at work around the world today.

[1] “21 Issues for the 21st Century: Results of the UNEP Foresight Process on Emerging Environmental Issues.” United Nations Environment Program. 2012.

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glasssby Todd Schifeling
Over 2,600 exhibiting companies and 67,000 industry members attended the 2014 Natural Products Expo West in March. This international group congregated to learn, network, and arrange deals over an intense few days of activity.” The exhibit was a maze of booths, each one stocked with product samples ranging from energy bars made with ancient grains and super-foods to enzyme-based hand sanitizer. Exhibiting companies competed to lure retailers and distributors, identifiable by their distinctive and large shopping bags, into signing contracts.

The Growing Natural Foods Industry: Increased Health Awareness or the Power of Trendy Diet Buzzwords?

In the midst of the networking buzz, each exhibitor sought to differentiate their brand and products. The natural products industry has always been active in introducing new products outside conventions. One presenter, Loren Israelsen of the United Natural Products Alliance, cited a lengthy list of innovations the industry can claim to have introduced to the American public, including whole grains, fermented, organic, non-GMO, allergen free, gluten free, Ayurveda, therapeutic mushrooms, grass-fed, cruelty free, cage free, fair trade, unpasteurized dairy, ancient grains, soy, beet juice, and bee products. Israelsen noted that all of these products had previously been unavailable, but the natural products industry has popularized them, often overcoming early ridicule to do so.

As the industry has prospered , with event organizers expecting “natural product” revenues to grow to $226 billion by 2018, new trends and challenges emerge. As an example, the differentiation imperative has progressed within niche products. Coconut water has now become an oversaturated market, so companies are developing further refinements such as organic coconut water and coconut water that is made solely from coconuts (a very clean ingredient list, indeed). Continue reading

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