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.”

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Recycling at Keurig Green Mountain: A Brewing Problem

June 3, 2016

Recycling at Keurig Green Mountain: A Brewing Problem (pdf abstract)
Purchase the full report on WDI Publishing (Case study #1-430-482) – published 06/2016, 16 pages

Developed by: Alex Truelove, Ryan Moya, Daniel Patton, and Devina Trivedi. This case was written under the supervision of Andrew Hoffman.

Description: Monique Oxender, chief sustainability officer for Keurig Green Mountain Coffee, is carefully considering the criticism the company has received regarding its plastic K-Cups that deliver a single serving of coffee to consumers through the Keurig brewing system. Billions of the difficult-to-recycle K-Cup pods are ending up in landfills. Keurig Green Mountain has pledged to produce 100% recyclable K-Cups by 2020, but how will it achieve this goal? Oxender must address the environmental impact and public scrutiny of the company’s signature product. However, she must find a way to overcome the inconsistent and sometimes inadequate recycling infrastructure in Keurig’s markets. Students join Oxender in finding the best, workable solutions.

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

  • Explore the role companies can or should play in addressing broader systemic challenges.
  • Analyze how one dark spot in a company’s sustainability profile can overshadow the rest of the positive impact it is having.
  • Identify how firms can manage the struggle of finding a single solution for a heterogeneous marketplace.
  • Find solutions for firms in situations in which gut reaction sustainability options are not feasible.
  • Determine how external pressure be leveraged to facilitate internal change.

Dow and the Circular Economy: Trash to Treasure?

March 24, 2016

Dow and the Circular Economy: Trash to Treasure? (pdf abstract)
Purchase the full report on WDI Publishing (Case study #1-430-478) – published 03/2016, 20 pages

Developed by: Sneha Rao, Chris Mills, Imani David and Nicholas Machinski. This case was written under the supervision of Andrew Hoffman.

Description: Erica Ocampo, sustainability and advocacy manager at The Dow Chemical Company, is getting ready to present her report on the pilot Energy Bag program to her boss. The waste-to-energy program has been met with success in converting plastics to energy, but Ocampo is wondering how she can take the project a step further and truly make Dow a participant and leader in the circular economy. Students are asked to identify with Ocampo and develop a plan of action for the company.

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

  • Explain the concept of the circular economy.
  • Identify why Dow is applying a long-term approach to sustainability.
  • Describe what a pilot program is and why it was important for Dow implement such a program.

Kaiser Permanente: Linking Renewable Energy and Healthcare

March 14, 2016

Kaiser Permanente: Linking Renewable Energy and Healthcare (pdf abstract)
Purchase the full report on GlobaLens (Case study #1-430-481) – published 03/2016, 20 pages

Developed by: David Carruthers, Yun Liang, Jonathan Phillips, Julio Villasenor (Erb ’17) and Angela Wan. This case was written under the supervision of Andrew Hoffman.

Description: Ramé Hemstreet, vice president for operations and chief sustainable resource officer at Kaiser Permanente, is thinking about climate change and how he can improve the health of the community by fighting it. As a healthcare organization, Kaiser Permanente knows well that fighting climate change can decrease rates of asthma and other respiratory ailments, spread of infectious diseases, heat stress, and injuries from severe weather events. Hemstreet is looking to a power purchase agreement to green its operations, but he needs to persuade executives and the board of directors.

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

  • Evaluate the potential risks that Kaiser Permanente is assuming with a $25-million investment in a 20-year power purchase agreement and weigh them against the potential benefits given the novelty of this practice in the industry.
  • Discuss the role of sustainability in the conversation of the healthcare industry as a health promoter and inherent polluter and the country’s low heath status despite high healthcare spending.
  • Compare and contrast the inherent differences between not-for-profit and for-profit organizations and the power they have respectively over shifting resources toward sustainable development, be it of energy sources, supply chains, etc.

Volkswagen’s Clean Diesel Dilemma

March 2, 2016

Volkswagen’s Clean Diesel Dilemma (pdf abstract)
Purchase the full report on GlobaLens (Case study #1-430-484) – published 03/2016, 24 pages

Developed by: Chris Monti (Erb ’18), Vitor Lira, Jefferson Sanchez and Namit Jhanwar. This case was written under the supervision of Andrew Hoffman

Description: Martin Winterkorn, CEO of Volkswagen Group, has just been notified that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resource Board will begin investigating claims that some of the company’s diesel engine vehicles have violated emissions standards. It seems that workers installed defeat devices on the vehicles, allowing them to pass emissions tests and meet the tough standards of the U.S. market. The questions students will need to answer are: Who is responsible? And Does Volkswagen take sustainability seriously or has it just been green-washing all along?

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

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

  • Illustrate how corporate culture affects a company’s values with respect to the environment.
  • Hypothesize how companies can balance market pressures, business objectives, and environmental responsibility.
  • Explain how regulatory entities affect a company functioning in multiple markets.
  • Justify the responsibilities, if any, a company has with regard to the environment and public health.
  • Formulate a decision-making process for future crisis.

General Mills Commits to Sourcing 100% Sustainable Cocoa

February 26, 2016

General Mills Commits to Sourcing 100% Sustainable Cocoa (pdf abstract)
Purchase the full report on GlobaLens (Case study #1-430-479) – published 02/2016, 16 pages

Developed by: Rebecca Baylor, Zhanyang Gao (Erb ’17) and Katherine Price. This case was written under the supervision of Andrew Hoffman

Description: Jacob Madisson is wondering how General Mills will make it to its goal of sourcing 100% sustainable cocoa by 2020. Demand is increasing and some are wondering if the supply of the precious raw material will dry up. Prices will certainly increase, nevertheless. With only 10% of its African-based cocoa sourced sustainably, General Mills needs a new strategy. How will the company move forward?

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 prospects and challenges of sustainable sourcing of raw ingredients from international markets.
  • Explore future actions and responsibilities for accomplishing sustainability objectives.
  • Explain the role of business in implementing sustainable sourcing goals.
  • Generalize the learnings of this case to other business challenges and decisions in organizations other than the one analyzed in this case study.

Uber and the Sharing Economy: Global Market Expansion and Reception

February 22, 2016

Uber and the Sharing Economy: Global Market Expansion and Reception (pdf abstract)
Purchase the full report on GlobaLens (Case study #1-430-479) – published 02/2016, 20 pages

Developed by: Qingxu Jin (Bill), Carl Spevacek, Nasreddine El-Dehaibi, and Whitney Johnson. This case was written under the supervision of Andrew Hoffman

Description: Alexander Cooper is gearing up to lead an expansion strategy for the scrappy and super successful car sharing service, Uber. While the company has not been without its controversy, it is making headway in far off places like India. It is looking to scale its model in India, China, and the rest of Southeast Asia, but is increasingly running into regulatory hurdles. Cooper is forced to think hard about what Uber’s expansion strategy should be and how it will impact the company’s operations. Uber currently markets itself based on word of mouth, but in markets like China where two companies dominate 99% of market share, this may be unrealistic. What path should this sharing economy company take?

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

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

  • Explain the benefits of and challenges to the sharing economy.
  • Compare and contrast the sharing economy as an alternative to the existing system.
  • Describe the challenges involved in implementing a U.S. business model on international and global scales, and predict whether or not Uber can generate a profit by expanding globally.
  • Compare and contrast Uber’s business model and strategy with its competitors

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

Now available in Spanish:
Alcoa: La carrera hacia el aligeramiento (pdf abstract)
Purchase the full report on GlobaLens (Case study #1-430-461) – 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.