Case Studies

The Erb Institute publishes a wide selection of sustainability related teaching materials. These Erb and William Davidson Institute co-sponsored case studies are available from Global Lens using the keyword search: “Erb” or “sustainability.”

Enter the Sustainability Case Competition:
The Erb Institute is offering a new prize for the best sustainable enterprise teaching cases published each year by the William Davidson Institute’s Globalens division.  Cases published by February 28, 2015 will be entered in the 2015 competition. Click here for details
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Alcoa: The Race to Light-Weighting

August 28, 2015

Alcoa: The Race to Light-weighting (pdf abstract)

Purchase the full report on GlobaLens (Case study #1-430-435) – published 08/2015, 24 pages

Developed by: Pavel Azgaldov, Camila España, Caroline Larose, and Denise Miller under the supervision of Andrew Hoffman and Jordan Siegel, Visiting Associate Professor of Strategy, at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan

Description: The race to lightweighting is well underway with the introduction of the aluminum body Ford F150. Raj Reddy, vice president of strategy for global rolled products at Alcoa, one of the biggest aluminum manufacturers in the world, knows, however, that the competition in the aluminum market will get stiffer with the introduction of more stringent CAFE standards. The company could look to newer bonding technologies and customization of services for its prized clients like Ford to diversify or invest in R&D to increase the ductility and strength of its core products. Students are asked to find strategies to define and boost Alcoa’s value proposition.

Teaching Note: Available to Registered Educators. Please login to view it.

Teaching Points: After reading and discussing this case, students should be able to:

  • Define Alcoa’s distinct value proposition and competitive advantage.
  • Consider Alcoa’s product portfolio and the advantages and disadvantages of being strongly tied to one industry.
  • Decide how Alcoa should respond to increased competition and defend its position in the industry.
  • Consider how Alcoa should respond to aluminum manufacturing in China.
  • Analyze both vertical and horizontal product differentiation strategies to explain how aluminum businesses can compete with one another in a commoditized industry as well as indirectly with those in different industries, such as steel and carbon fiber.

Perdue Farms Inc.: Antibiotic Use in Hatcheries

March 2, 2015

Perdue Farms Inc.: Antibiotic Use in Hatcheries (pdf abstract)

Purchase the full report on GlobaLens (Case study #1-429-418) – published 02/2015, 16 pages

By: Andrew Hoffman

Description: With increasing attention from consumers surrounding food safety and public health, it comes at no surprise that Perdue Farms is considering eliminating antibiotic use in its poultry operations. Perdue is positioned to receive positive responses from reducing antibiotic usage, but the question of feasibility in implementation remains as the producer had previously failed to phase-out antibiotics. From this case, students will structure argumentative thought around causes of CSR strategies and how CSR impacts business operations.

Teaching Note: Available to Registered Educators. Please login to view it.

Teaching Points: After reading and discussing this case, students should be able to:

  • Identify the root cause for pursuing a CSR initiative at a corporate level.
  • Describe how CSR strategies can provide competitive advantages.
  • Review ambiguous data to develop decisions for the feasibility of a CSR strategy
  • Articulate how a first-mover advantage may not be a sustained competitive advantage if competitors implement change nearly simultaneously.

Vodafone Egypt and the Arab Spring: When Government and Business Collide

March 2, 2015

Vodafone Egypt and the Arab Spring: When Government and Business Collide (pdf abstract)

Purchase the full report on GlobaLens (Case study #1-429-417) – published 02/2015, 12 pages

By: Andrew Hoffman

Description: This case centers around Vodafone Egypt and its role in the political instability of Egypt in 2011. The then-president of Egypt asked telecommunication providers to terminate operations to help mitigate the abilities of citizens to rally rapport with the global media and organize local demonstrations. The core dilemma surrounds the idea of how much influence corporations should have on public policy and what a corporation’s role is in relation to politics and/or the government, specifically in areas with political instability and conflict.

Teaching Note: Available to Registered Educators. Please login to view it.

Teaching Points: After reading and discussing this case, students should be able to:

  • Identify how corporate strategy intersects with human rights
  • Explain the interconnected relationship among social media, corporations, and politics.
  • Describe the role of corporate social responsibility in a politically unstable setting
  • Identify complications that impact the bottom line and business strategy of a multinational corporation operating in crisis situation.

Chevron and Chad: A Pipeline Dream?

March 2, 2015

Chevron and Chad: A Pipeline Dream? (pdf abstract)

Purchase the full report on GlobaLens (Case study #1-429-416) – published 02/2015, 20 pages

By: Andrew Hoffman

Description: Chevron Corporation invested in a Chadian-Cameroon oil pipeline consortium in the early 2000s. The project was extremely profitable through the decade, but it was subjected to claims of human rights violations that left a tarnish on Chevron’s name. Chevron is considering divesting its stake in the pipeline as its strategy has shifted since initial investment and it isn’t sure the future stability of the project. Students will gain an understanding of the role of human rights in a complex setting and will be able to articulate challenges of creating an industry within a developing country.

Teaching Note: Available to Registered Educators. Please login to view it.

Teaching Points: After reading and discussing this case, students should be able to:

  • Discuss the intersection of human rights and business policy to determine a balance between the two in a corporate strategy.
  • Identify the opportunities and concerns that arise while building a new industry in a developing nation.
  • Articulate the environmental, social, and economic factors that aid board of directors and upper management in determining the divestment of business operations or investments.

Intel: Undermining the Conflict Mineral Industry

March 2, 2015

Intel: Undermining the Conflict Mineral Industry (pdf abstract)

Purchase the full report on GlobaLens (Case study #1-429-411) - published 02/2015, 20 pages

By: Andrew Hoffman

Description: Intel Corporation is a leading manufacturer of components found in nearly all electronics.Intel became aware that its supply chain for tantalum, tun, tungsten, and gold was fueling one of the deadliest conflicts since World War II. To remedy this, the company broke ground to develop a transparent and conflict-free mineral supply chain, but questioned if its efforts would be followed industry-wide. This case offers students the opportunity to evaluate the impact of a business’s involvement in societal affairs to develop strategies for multiple-stakeholder engagements and in-depth analysis into supply chain management.

Teaching Note: Available to Registered Educators. Please login to view it.

Teaching Points: After reading and discussing this case, students should be able to:

  • Identify how multiple stakeholders cooperate to resolve problems of shared concern.
  • Articulate the degree to which corporations hold responsibility for the impacts of their operations.
  • Evaluate a supply chain to determine policies that increase a sustainable and transparent supply chain.
  • Describe the intersection of human rights, societal issues, and business operations to create competitive advantages.

What is Water Worth?: Nestlé Walks a Fine Line

March 2, 2015

What Is Water Worth?: Nestlé Walks a Fine Line (pdf abstract)

Purchase the full report on GlobaLens (Case study #1-429-415) – published 02/2015, 12 pages

By: Andrew Hoffman

Description: Paul Bulcke, CEO of Nestlé S.A., is confronted with an Internet firestorm after a comment made by his predecessor, Nestlé Chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, in a 2005 interview resurfaces. In the interview Brabeck-Letmathe calls the human right to water an “extreme solution.” Bulcke must make recommendations to lay the foundation for the company’s future direction relevant to water use at its shareholder meeting the next day. The main questions facing him are: How should Nestlé frame its approach to water resource management? And, what type of public relations campaign should Nestlé engage in to counter the negative perception of its water rights policy? In their reading and discussion of the case, students are asked to outline the implications of water being deemed a human right as well as develop and defend a corporate water strategy.

Teaching Note: Available to Registered Educators. Please login to view it.

Teaching Points: After reading and discussing this case, students should be able to:

  • Develop and defend a corporate water strategy.
  • Explain why water stress is a material concern for a growing number of companies around the world.
  • Contrast different approaches to dealing with water-related concerns.
  • Outline the implications of water being deemed a human right.

Theo Chocolate: How Far Should Fair Trade Go?

March 2, 2015

Theo Chocolate: How Far Should Fair Trade Go? (pdf abstract)

Purchase the full report on GlobaLens (Case study #1-429-414) – published 02/2015, 12 pages

By: Andrew Hoffman

Description: Joe Whinney, founder and CEO of Seattle, Washington-based Theo Chocolate, has spent his entire professional career bringing sustainably harvested chocolate to developed nations. His company created the first organic, fair-trade, GMO-free chocolate bar in the U.S., and prides itself on the ethical sourcing of beans from growers mainly located in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Peru, and Panama. Whinney, however, faces questions at home in his Seattle factory after media reports allege the company engaged in “emotional blackmail” as well as “manipulation, guilt, (and) intimidation” in an attempt to convince employees not to unionize. Students are asked to put themselves in the shoes of the protagonist and find solutions to address employee and shareholder concerns in the wake of the media firestorm.

Teaching Note: Available to Registered Educators. Please login to view it.

Teaching Points: After reading and discussing this case, students should be able to:

  • Define the core values of a business and determine how they should be applied to a company’s actions.
  • Analyze how a company could follow or deviate from its core values and understand the repercussions of either path.
  • Prepare for handling negative media attention associated with decisions related to the business’s core values.

Tea and Sustainability at Unilever: Turning Over a New Leaf (B)

March 2, 2015

Tea and Sustainability at Unilever: Turning Over a New Leaf (B) (pdf abstract)

Purchase the full report on GlobaLens (Case study #1-429-423) - published 02/2015, 8 pages

By: Andrew Hoffman

Description: Unilever has successfully rolled out an initiative to sustainably source Lipton tea, and Unilever CEO Paul Polman is wondering if the company could apply the same concepts to its wider portfolio of products. The move has triggered change throughout the industry, but questions remain as to whether sustainable sourcing would be as successful with other products. Lipton’s strategy of maintaining price point (shrinking margins) while increasing sales may not be a viable option for Unilever’s other brands. There may be pieces of the supply chain where a sustainability program would lead to higher costs. If Unilever scaled the initiative to the rest of the organization, it would have to find a way to integrate sustainability into its corporate strategy, attempting to reduce environmental impact and boost social good, while increasing profits.

Teaching Note: Available to Registered Educators. Please login to view it.

Teaching Points: After reading and discussing this case, students should be able to:

  • Apply a smaller strategy to the parent company’s strategy and recognize the impacts that the strategy could have on an industry.
  • Interpret the market change that can occur when a company’s sustainability strategy changes.

Tea and Sustainability at Unilever: Turning Over a New Leaf (A)

March 2, 2015

Tea and Sustainability at Unilever: Turning Over a New Leaf (A) (pdf abstract)

Purchase the full report on GlobaLens (Case study #1-429-413) – published 02/2015, 12 pages

By: Andrew Hoffman

Description: Michiel Leijnse, global brand development director of Lipton Tea, faces a very important meeting with Unilever CEO Patrick Cescau in a few short hours, during which he will recommend strategies on how Lipton can become credible with consumers, obtain sustainable certification, integrate sustainable practices into its entire supply chain, and tell customers about it. He has to consider the financial implications of the decision and demonstrate a reasonable return on investment. Would there be a first-mover advantage for Unilever or would the company be paving the way for its competitors to sustainably source tea without the investment? He would also have to recommend a certification agency and craft a plan for implementation of the change

Teaching Note: Available to Registered Educators. Please login to view it.

Teaching Points: After reading and discussing this case, students should be able to:

  • Understand the market for sustainable products.
  • Recognize the importance of having a partner’s credibility and evaluate the risks and rewards of partnerships for both big organizations and local non-profit organizations.

Firestone: Crises Across the Decades

March 2, 2015

Firestone: Crises Across the Decades (pdf abstract)

Purchase the full report on GlobaLens (Case study #1-429-412) – published 02/2015, 12 pages

By: Andrew Hoffman

Description: Ed Garcia, president and managing director of Firestone Liberia, is relishing the moment, reviewing reports coming in from around the world praising his company’s handling of the Ebola crisis when he comes across an article on a subject Firestone executives thought they had long moved past: Liberian warlord Charles Taylor. The report focuses on a PBS documentary that uncovers a trove of recently discovered documents revealing a 1991 deal in which Firestone agreed to pay the warlord $2.3 million in exchange for being able to keep its profitable rubber plantation in operation during a bloody civil war. Students are asked to address the public relations crisis and explore Firestone’s responsibility for confronting past wrongs, striking a balance between social equity and economic prosperity.

Teaching Note: Available to Registered Educators. Please login to view it.

Teaching Points: After reading and discussing this case, students should be able to:

  • Explore the implications of a multinational company entering a developing country/emerging market to do business when the company has more money/power than the country it is entering.
  • Examine the responsibilities of the company to upheaval in the country and identify where the line between government and company responsibility should exist.
  • Determine the balance or allowable imbalance between social equity and economic prosperity.
  • Explore future actions and responsibilities for recently uncovered wrongful actions and how these actions can or cannot make up for the past.
  • Discuss levels of transparency in measuring the social equity and economic prosperity of a country.