Erb Institute students help plan largest ClimateCAP MBA Summit

The ClimateCAP MBA Summit, a conference that aims to prepare future business leaders on how to understand and respond to the climate crisis, was hosted at the University of Michigan this year. The summit, which changes locations yearly, was organized by Ross School of Business students, including those in the Erb Institute, a partnership between Ross and the School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS).

This year’s was the largest ClimateCAP Summit in program history, working to explore the impacts of climate change on business and investments across the globe. Despite doubling the number of seats available at previous summits, this year’s, which took place February 9-10, 2024, sold out in less than three hours, indicating high levels of demand and interest.

The summit drew more than 400 business students from 39 different programs and universities, 54 speakers and moderators, 33 educators, and 30 day-of volunteers and provided ample opportunities for listening, learning, and networking in the sustainable business sector.

Planning for an involved and well-attended conference started two years ago, soon after Nick Rojas (MS/MBA ’24), who, as an Erb Institute student will receive a dual degree from Michigan Ross and SEAS, attended his first ClimateCAP Summit in February 2022 at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

Rojas recalls, “It was the first time being in the same space as other business students who not only understood sustainability and being mindful of the environment, but also recognized the potential to create a better world through this transition. Addressing climate change presents us with an opportunity to do so.” Soon after, Nick shared his interest in hosting a ClimateCAP Summit at Michigan Ross alongside his classmates.

In December 2022, applications opened to submit a bid to host the 2024 summit. Rojas and Alex Reid (MS/MBA ’24), a fellow Erb Institute student, assembled and submitted the initial application, coordinating with key stakeholders within the Erb Institute, Michigan Ross, and SEAS as well as other faculty members from across the University of Michigan. Soon after, Michigan Ross was selected to host the 2024 ClimateCAP Summit, beating out five other schools.

In addition to Reid and Rojas, the co-chairs of the planning committee were Nikhil Khurana (MBA ’24) and Sarah Cohen (MBA ’24). Together, they planned and organized the summit with help from a 15-person student planning team and three faculty advisors. During the opening session on an unseasonably warm Ann Arbor day, Rojas, representing the co-chairs in opening remarks, shared, “As a geographic climate haven, we believe Michigan is positioned to lead the charge on creating not just a more environmentally sustainable future, but a socially and economically just one as well.”

In an interview following the summit, Rojas went on to say, “We wanted to emphasize messaging around an equitable transition, to explore the role the Midwest plays in a more inclusive and sustainable world, and examine the opportunities for Michigan to lead.”

Sharon Matusik, Dean of Business at Michigan Ross, shared her hope and enthusiasm regarding sustainability leadership and progress at varying levels in Michigan. She noted the work being done by Governor Whitmer’s administration, including the MI Healthy Climate Plan. Matusik also highlighted the U-M Campus Carbon Neutrality initiative, as well as the work of the Erb Institute, and the Environment, Social, and Governance concentration offering at Michigan Ross. A closing dinner at the Big House with Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist II left attendees feeling inspired and impressed by U-M’s and the state of Michigan’s commitment to a sustainable future.

The ClimateCAP Summit planning committee delivered the opening remarks on February 9, 2024. From left: Nikhil Khurana (MBA ’24), Sarah Cohen (MBA ’24), Alex Reid (MS/MBA ’24) and Nick Rojas (MS/MBA ’24).

At past summits that have taken place at various institutions, the focus has been on business students and faculty. What made this year’s summit unique was that, due to the collaboration between Michigan Ross and the Erb Institute, SEAS was significantly represented in every aspect, highlighting the dual degree program between the two schools. The Erb Institute, operating with the mission to “create a sustainable world through the power of business” in mind, provides graduate students with the opportunity to receive their MBA from Michigan Ross and their MS from SEAS.

Liesl Eichler Clark, U-M’s first director of climate action engagement at SEAS, served as a plenary moderator with Jeff Blau of Related Companies and Ryan Brown of energyRe to discuss renewable energy investments, renewable energy transmission rollout, and the need for talent in the climate change era and industry. After Blau emphasized the need for new talent in these emerging industries, Clark explained, “There is a huge amount of opportunity for all skill sets, and that gets me excited!”

SEAS Assistant Professor of Sustainable Systems Parth Vaishnav served as a breakout panel facilitator, guiding a discussion on the future of mobility. This panel navigated topics such as mobility electrification, electric vehicle charger reliability and access, public transportation, and creating real transportation mode-choices. Vaishnav offered insight summaries throughout the panel, notably stating, “We do not get the depth of decarbonization that we need with only electrification,” reminding attendees that we need suites of solutions to ensure a decarbonized future.

Following the summit, the co-chairs received excellent feedback from attendees noting they had the opportunity to connect with one another, fostering crucial networks as professionals in the sustainable business sector. Described as a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to host ClimateCAP, the Michigan Ross planning team advises future hosts to be as intentional as possible when thinking about the flow of attendees and carving out smaller, more personalized scenarios as the demand for this summit continues to grow.

Rojas says that participating in this summit pushes business students to ask themselves, “What can I do to move the needle toward a more sustainable future?” He says this is especially important as participating universities are pushed to reflect on what business schools can do to be a part of the solution.