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.

On Thursday evening SunEdison graciously opened their Montgomery Street doors to host our SF Alumni Roadshow, which brought together 15 Erb alumni to help us think through priorities as part of Erb’s 2014-20 strategic planning. We had a solid hour and a half of discussion around the following questions: 1) Where is business sustainability going over the next 10-15 years? 2) How should management education respond to these big-picture trends?; 3) What should be Erb’s unique contribution to sustainability within management education over the next 3-5 years?

The ideas came fast and furious. When all was said and done, Emma and I took away the following key learnings from the discussion.

Sustainability trends

  • Increasing understanding of scarcity of resources (including water), and the impact of this scarcity on business
  • Products and services must offer additional value to consumers besides sustainability (e.g. Nest is a cool gadget; energy efficiency is a side benefit)
  • Big Data and focus on collection/analysis for both business and sustainability value

Management education

  • Must increase the rigor of technical and technological know-how
  • Tension between drilling down on practical/vocational skills vs.  broader systems thinking and sustainability knowledge
  • Integration of sustainability into core business education

Erb’s unique contribution

  • Desire to integrate business thinking into environmental science, and environmental science into business
  • Opportunity to increase interdisciplinary partnerships within U-M, with outside universities, and across industries
  • Diversification of our student body, experiences and faculty — globally, culturally, and topically (especially on the social side of sustainability)

San Francisco has kicked off a great event, reminding us of the tension between big-picture thinking and technical implementation, and our need to open our thinking around

Next stop the Big Apple, but first tell us what you are thinking!
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