Join us for a panel discussion featuring business professionals with a focus on sustainability and environmentalism. Our panelists will examine the current landscape of business and sustainability for communities of color, LGBTQ+ individuals and other marginalized communities. They will also discuss their first-hand experiences working in business and sustainability and how they see the field changing in the future for current students. The panel will consist of representatives from the Environmental Defense Fund, Dao Detroit, and Thousand Helmet and will be moderated by the Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Michigan Ross, Taryn Petryk.

Food, drinks, and raffle prizes (from Thousand Helmet and Dao Detroit) will be included! 


On August 24, 2018, Andrew J. Hoffman, the Holcim (US) Professor of Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan, delivered the Convocation Address at Loyola University Chicago to 3,250 students and 250 faculty members.

“First-Year Text” is an initiative that Loyola University instituted in 2006, in which all of Loyola’s first-year students read the same book over the summer. The book chosen for the 2018 First-Year Text is Finding Purpose: Environmental Stewardship as a Personal Calling, by Hoffman. In this book, Hoffman “invites us to look beyond material growth and explore the role of the individual and business in discovering a wider purpose to bring about a balanced and sustainable society,” according to the publisher’s description.

At his Convocation Address, he invited students to explore their quest to find their own personal purpose:

“If there’s nothing else you remember from what I’m going to tell you today, I’d like you to remember this quote from Mark Twain – ‘The two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.’ You had nothing to do with that first day. Your parents made that decision for you. You have everything to do with that second day. It is your task, it is your job, it is your quest to find out that reason why you were born. That’s what you are here to do.

To begin your quest, I’d like you to recalibrate a question you were asked when you were very young – ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ I want to tell you here today that that’s the wrong question. The question should be – ‘What were you meant to be when you grow up?'”

Watch the entire Convocation Address here:

We are excited to kick off the Erb Institute’s Future of Sustainability blog series, which we hope will help inspire environmentalism in people who may have previously felt excluded. To increase the visibility of diverse approaches to sustainability in business, readers are encouraged to submit their writings.

Diversity in environmentalism: past, present and future

A 2017 case written by Andy Hoffman defines diversity in the business world as a “bridge between organizational life and the reality of people’s lives.” Is it possible for firms to tout environmental sustainability if they lack true diversity in their workforce? The short answer is: no. The reality is that people who are most affected by climate change tend to represent cultures and ethnicities that are largely underrepresented in business as a whole. Environmental organizations have had difficulty hiring and retaining diverse employees, particularly at senior levels, and this lack of diversity has been critical. To better understand the system propagating this pattern, we need to look at the history of the United States’ mainstream conservation movement.

A brief history of the conservation movement

Conservation in the U.S. has a racialized, gendered and sexualized history that has systematically excluded certain groups of environmentalists—the effects of which are still felt today. In fact, according to Queer ecologies: Sex, nature, politics, desire, several prominent figures credited with launching the conservation movement were also eminent eugenicists. Early environmental policies and practices were laden with discriminatory ideologies. 

For instance, land-use policies have systematically forced minority and low income communities to live closer to hazardous polluting facilities. Such communities rarely have the resources or clout necessary to resist discriminatory policies. Similarly, early environmental leaders created spaces—physical and ideological—that excluded people based on gender and sexuality.


The effects of these early policies still exist in the public and private sectors. Most U.S. environmental nonprofit leaders continue to be white men. A study of 16 Fortune 500 companies showed that white men accounted for 72 percent of corporate leadership.

Organizations are recognizing the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and its contribution to more innovative and productive teams. However, for some industries, a DEI strategy is inherently more difficult to establish without leading to greenwashing—where action may not catch up to aspiration. Consider the outdoor retail industry. For organizations like REI, The North Face, and Patagonia, environmental stewardship is central to the corporate mission and creates brand equity. But how do outdoor retail companies reconcile the discriminatory history of environmentalism with their missions to bring environmentally sustainable gear to consumers? Furthermore, can they tackle environmental and social sustainability challenges authentically, given what appears to be an exceedingly homogenous workforce?

It is encouraging that environmental sustainability increasingly goes hand in hand with social sustainability, but unless DEI is addressed systemically in sustainability discussions, we risk ending up exactly where we started.

The path forward

On campus, U-M has taken steps to incorporate DEI into curriculum at the School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS). Similarly, the DEI Committee at the Ross School of Business has established working groups around inclusive leadership, data and insights, entering and exiting communities, and more. However, the biggest opportunity to excite and encourage students about careers in environmental positions is to develop critical pedagogy that accounts for race, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic background, gender, ability, sexual orientation and more. In the public and private sectors, diverse leaders need to be hired and retained. We believe that systemic change starts with seeing people who share your background, culture or values in a position of power or influence.

 Is there space for young environmentalists who do not look, act or work like environmental leaders of the past? We would posit that these are actually the people you want leading the way. Environmental issues are urgent, and critical interrogation is more imperative than ever. The people most uniquely positioned to carry out such work are those whose stories and perspectives have been ignored and erased throughout the history of the U.S. environmental movement. 

The Erb Institute will be publishing a series of blogs over the coming months that examines DEI in the fields of environmentalism, sustainability and business. If you’d like to contribute to the conversation, we invite you to submit your writing here.

Kelsea Ballantyne earned her MBA/MS in 2016, as part of the Erb Institute and the Tauber Institute for Global Operations. She’s now in an executive development program at Boeing, working on the 777 and 777X airplanes, and she talked with Erb about her work there.

Could you tell us about your role at Boeing?

I’m in the Tauber/LGO Executive Development Program. It’s a 6-year rotation—I rotate every year—and  currently, I am a leader in Boeing’s 777/777X program. I work with the Composite Wing Center (CWC) building the new, state-of-the-art wing out of carbon fiber. I specifically work with mechanics, engineers and leaders to define and create the standard production process to build the wing. Building each component in a standard method reduces safety issues, reduces waste, increases quality, increases production rate and ultimately empowers our mechanics to define the best way to build the airplane. It has been amazing to have the opportunity to build a brand-new team, define the strategy and get buy-in from all stakeholders utilizing a systems thinking perspective and design thinking methods. We have been so successful with the 777/777X that this process is now being replicated as the enterprise standard for Boeing’s other commercial airplanes.

How have you helped the company reduce waste and recycle materials?

Our 777X wing is made completely of carbon fiber reinforced polymer (CFRP). The technologies and structures around recycling CFRP are nascent. So, in 2015, during my summer internship for Tauber, I defined and developed the system for the CWC to be Zero-Waste-to-Landfill (ZW2L) with CFRP. Boeing actually implemented the plan, including key technology development and partnerships with external recyclers. As a side project, I now lead the team that supports this process, and we have been ZW2L for our first year of production. We also have sustainable partnerships to continue this forward for the CWC. Boeing is planning to expand our ZW2L to all of our CFRP sites. This is also a process that has been integrated into the core way we do business instead of a side project.

What have you learned from your work at Boeing?

I am a leader in operations, working down on the shop floor, and not in a specific sustainability role. I’ve found that it is powerful to be engaged in the main business and then bring in sustainability initiatives. This allows me to utilize my leadership for good no matter where I am in the company.

I have also learned that low-stakes piloting of ideas and capturing the impact with real data is much more effective than sitting around in a room talking about why something will or will not work. This creates real stories and examples that can be shared to change a culture or convince leaders to change.

How have you put your Erb Institute education to use?

My systems thinking class with Tom Gladwin really opened my eyes to looking at how everything is connected—this has served me very well in a company as large as Boeing. At the School of Natural Resources and the Environment, I was in the Behavior, Education and Communications (BEC) track, and we learned a lot of behavior change models. Now, a lot of my work involves changing behavior.

Andy Hoffman’s class, Strategies for Sustainable Development, allowed me to develop my own philosophy about how to create change from within large corporations and also how to look at large shifts in markets. I have used this philosophy daily in my work, and it is also my north star, keeping me aligned to my purpose while in a large corporation like Boeing. I also was his graduate student instructor and loved seeing the cases being discussed.

What else do you draw on from your University of Michigan experience?

Today, I’m growing and leading a team. I did this a lot in grad school, albeit with lower stakes. Because I was able to experiment, I’m more comfortable leading confidently in my current role. I also implement a lot of the techniques and activities I learned in the Center for Positive Organizations with my current teams.

Being an Erb Coach taught me a ton of invaluable skills that I use all the time with my current team, and even while “managing up.” The reality is that as a leader, people come to me with life stuff and work stuff, and I know how to effectively listen and help them because of the skills I learned and was able to practice through Erb Coaching.

The Erb Community is invaluable! Since leaving Ann Arbor, they have continued to be some of my closest friends. I know that no matter where we live, there is a good Neighb-Erb nearby. Even if they aren’t nearby, we will always make an effort to see one another. We Erbers seem to have common perspectives that make talking about things—both work and personal—truly natural and awesome! (We also always have the best food.)

What else do you think the Erb community might want to hear about your experience?

I had a very non-traditional background coming into Erb and Ross. I was an entrepreneur in India and Tunisia for many years, and I thought I wouldn’t be competitive or interested in working at a large corporation. Completing MAP at Amazon, doing my Tauber project at Boeing and honing my philosophy and strategy in Hoffman’s class gave me the confidence that I can make a difference at these large organizations; now I am making a difference every day.

I have learned that my passion combined with everything I learned as part of my Erb experience absolutely prepared me to be a great leader and influencer at a large organization like Boeing. I move the needle for sustainability through being a part of the core business. Large organizations have large impacts, on both environment and people. My role is to make these impacts positive.

“First-Year Text” is an initiative that Loyola University instituted in 2006, in which all of Loyola’s first-year students read the same book over the summer. The book chosen for the 2018 First-Year Text is Finding Purpose: Environmental Stewardship as a Personal Calling, by Andrew Hoffman.

In this book, Hoffman “invites us to look beyond material growth and explore the role of the individual and business in discovering a wider purpose to bring about a balanced and sustainable society,” according to the publisher’s description.

Martin Finnie, program coordinator for First-Year Text, shared a little bit about the process for choosing the book. In October of the prior year, a campus-wide solicitation invites the Loyola community to nominate a book for review. This list is narrowed down to 12-15 selections that the committee divides up and reads, and then they choose one.

This fall, 4,000 first-year students will enter campus having read the book and ready to enter into introspective discussion, specifically as part of Loyola’s “Communities in Conversation” series, which aims to encourage students to make a fundamental commitment to environmental sustainability and justice, and to help them find their passion to serve the world’s needs.

When asked what it was about the book that felt like a good fit for the program, Finnie explained, “Finding Purpose speaks to a person’s responsibility as a part of planet Earth. This very much aligns with Loyola’s values, specifically being a globally minded individual. The text does a great job calling upon everyone to evaluate how they impact the Earth in their career, through their faith or in society in general. We hope to help students discover their calling or vocation, if they have not done so already, and we believe Finding Purpose can help to do this while keeping the world’s needs in focus.”

He added, “We hope that students understand the positive impact they can have on the world.”

To continue the important conversation around sustainability, we’re partnering with The Dow Chemical Company to host a Twitter chat Tuesday, July 31 at 12 p.m. ET.

The chat is an extension of topics touched on during the Elements of Sustainability Series and will allow you to discuss the online lectures that interest you most. During the 2018 Elements of Sustainability Series, renowned sustainability leaders shared valuable insight on ways to integrate sustainability into all facets of life.

We invite you to join us and spread the word on Twitter: Join @ErbInstitute for the #SustainabilitySeriesChat to continue the conversation on trends shaping the sustainability landscape July 31, 12 pm ET.

Advancing sustainability starts with honest dialogue. We hope you will take this first step with us and encourage others to partake in the conversation as well.

Today, most large companies like Exxon Mobil, Ford and GM issue slick reports extolling their efforts to conserve resources, use renewable energy or fund clean water supplies in developing countries. This emphasis on efforts to curb environmental harm while benefiting society is called corporate sustainability.

Once uncommon but now mainstream, this show of support for a greener and kinder business model might seem like a clear step forward. But many of these same companies are quietly using their political clout, often through industry trade associations, to block or reverse policies that would make the economy more sustainable. And because public policy raises the bar for entire industries, requiring that all businesses meet minimum standards, lobbying to block sound public policies can outweigh the positive impact from internal company initiatives.

This kind of corporate hypocrisy – what we call talking green while lobbying brown – is a form of greenwashing, in which companies trumpet their good deeds while hiding their efforts to block progress. As the past and present presidents of the Alliance for Research on Corporate Sustainability, we are concerned that this greenwashing may delay by years or even decades steps that might solve sustainability problems, such as slowing the pace of climate change or ending the ocean plastic pollution crisis.

Greenwashing is environmentally responsible talk without action. By Tamixes/

Sounding good yet lacking impact

We and our colleagues in the alliance have documented many business initiatives that fall short of the impact they claim. One of the best known was the chemical industry’s Responsible Care program, created after an explosion at Union Carbide’s plant in Bhopal, India, killed thousands of people in 1984. Strategy professors Andy King and Mike Lenox showed that participants actually made less progress in reducing their emissions of toxic chemicals than did nonparticipants. That prompted the industry to overhaul the program.

Or consider the Climate Challenge program. The Energy Department created this now-defunct partnership between business and government to encourage electric utilities to voluntarily reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. When one of us teamed up with Management Professor Maria Montes-Sancho to evaluate its track record, we found that there was no difference overall between participants and non-participants in their emissions reductions.

Both of these voluntary initiatives failed to solve environmental problems, so why were they created?

In the case of Responsible Care, chemical industry documents show that one of the program’s main goals was preempting tighter regulations. Likewise, public statements the electric utility industry and the Energy Department made indicate that they formed Climate Challenge to stave off new regulations.

And following the Trump administration’s plan to spike the Clean Power Plan, a federal rule that would have limited air pollution from power, utilities have essentially avoided federal climate regulation to date.

Even though these and other voluntary initiatives accomplish little of substance, they help call attention to the good steps industries appear to be taking instead of the environmental damage they are causing – which is exactly how greenwashing works.

Talking green while lobbying brown

As we and our colleagues explain in an upcoming article in the business journal California Management Review, it is easy to get away with greenwashing in part because it’s hard to detect what companies lobby for in the U.S., as there is no requirement to disclose the positions they espouse.

“Despite the statements emitted from oil companies’ executive suites about taking climate change seriously and supporting a price on carbon, their lobbying presence in Congress is 100 percent opposed to any action,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, lamented in Harvard Business Review.

Exxon Mobil has clearly engaged in this doubletalk. The corporation declared in its 2016 Corporate Citizenship Report that “climate change risks warrant action by businesses, governments and consumers, and we support the Paris Agreement as an effective framework for addressing this global challenge.” Yet the nonprofit group InfluenceMap recently found that Exxon was one of the top three global corporations in lobbying against effective climate policy.

Exxon Mobil’s hypocrisy may not be surprising given the company’s long history of funding climate deniers. However, it is far from alone in talking green while lobbying brown. Indeed, even companies with much stronger records on sustainability than Exxon do this, often through industry trade groups.

For example, Ford said in its 2017 sustainability report that “we know climate change is real, and we remain committed to doing our part to address it by delivering on CO2 reductions consistent with the Paris Climate Accord.” GM’s sustainability report stated that “General Motors is the only automaker on the 2017 Dow Jones Sustainability Index for North America, and is also on the World Index.”

Yet as Alliance for Automotive Manufacturers members, Ford and GM both lobbied the Trump administration to weaken fuel economy standards – a strong tool for reducing vehicle emissions.

More political transparency needed

When companies hide their political opposition to sustainability policies, it deprives investors of the right to know how their funds are being used. This obfuscation also denies consumers the right to vote with their wallets for greener products.

We believe the best way to expose this duplicity is by requiring corporations to disclose more details about their political actions. For instance, new laws might demand that companies, both individually and as part of industry associations, make their lobbying stances public, and reveal which politicians they have called on to take a given position.

And companies could be forced to reveal what they spend on so-called “independent” political advertisements, also known as issue ads.

In the U.S., one good option would be to update the Lobbying Disclosure Act to require more detailed reporting, including spending on astroturf lobbying, the practice of using fake grass-roots groups to influence public opinion.

The private sector can take action too. In Europe, the Vigeo Eiris rating agency has begun to assess corporate political transparency. Such evaluations would become much more powerful if required by leading investment managers. That is why we see the recent call by BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, for companies to “benefit all their stakeholders” as a step in the right direction.

Click here to read the piece on The Conversation.

The Future of Business Sustainability Blog Series

We’re excited to launch a new blog series this fall! The Future of Business Sustainability blog series is an opportunity for students to share their perspective and experience related to the issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in business sustainability. Potential themes for blog content are:

  • The Background: Discuss systemic inequalities and challenges of the environmental and business sustainability fields. What is broken and how can it be fixed?
  • An Immigration Story: Discuss how being an immigrant or child of immigrants aligns with or is at odds with what you’re studying today
  • The Dominant Narrative: Discuss what it means to be an ally in business sustainability, both at Michigan and in the workplace
  • Theories of Change: Discuss what companies are doing (or not doing) today to pursue diversity, equity and inclusion not only at the workplace but with regards to the products and services they deliver

We are also open to other ideas and perspectives! This opportunity is open to all Erb students. Each student submitting a blog will work with the Erb Marketing and Communications team, as well as an outside editor, to create the best piece of content possible. Each student will also be able to work with our SAB VP of DEI, Kathy Tian to develop ideas and reflect on experiences. If you’d like to share your story or perspective but don’t wish to have it published under your name, please let us know.

We are proud to announce that Erb Institute Visiting Scholar, Dr. Wren Montgomery, has recently accepted a tenure track position in Corporate Sustainability at the Ivey Business School at Western University. Ivey is Canada’s leading business school and, along with the Erb Institute, a global innovator in sustainability research and teaching.

Wren will be continuing her research on the water crisis and greenwashing and will also be involved with Ivey’s centre for Building Sustainable Value and supporting the Network for Business Sustainability, a global network of sustainability institutes of which the Erb Institute is a member.

Congratulations Wren!

The Erb Institute at the University of Michigan sits just outside of one of the greatest opportunities for business in the country: Detroit, Michigan. Following the city’s bankruptcy, images of a deserted Detroit were published in newspapers and shared on social media, but savvy businesses viewed this Midwestern city as an opportunity. Local communities saw vacant buildings begin to fill with new restaurants, retail shops and start-ups. The city’s government and residents are working hard every day to continue Detroit’s growth. Incredible benefits await businesses looking to move to, expand to or start in Detroit. Here are a few:


Detroit boasts many organizations with the specific goal of building a thriving business community in the city. Detroit Economic Growth Corporation (DEGC) is a nonprofit focused on the city’s economic development, working to provide key support and resources for businesses and bring in new businesses. DEGC offers businesses many services, including acting as a liaison with the city, finding tax incentives and financial assistance and facilitating public-private partnerships. TechTown 2.0 is a nonprofit organization offering a suite of entrepreneurial services for tech and neighborhood businesses, including an accelerator lab and coworking space.

The New Economy Initiative is a philanthropic collaboration that works to return Detroit to its position as a global economic leader by investing in entrepreneurs in the area. The Michigan Minority Supplier Council is a “non-profit organization promoting the economic growth of our corporate members and the minority-owned businesses that serve them.” The organization’s core business services are global business development, access to capital and strategic business consulting.


Detroit has tax incentive programs aimed at generating economic growth for existing, relocating and expanding businesses in the city. In Detroit’s Renaissance Zones, totaling 1,200 acres in 12 areas, eligible businesses can get a waiver from Detroit income tax, Michigan personal income tax, non-debt real property tax, and other tax-related expenditures. The Detroit Brownfield Redevelopment Authority provides “financial incentives on behalf of the City to revitalize underdeveloped or underutilized properties due to abandonment or environmental contamination.” Developers may be eligible for Tax Increment Financing (TIF) for both environmental and non-environmental activities.


Amazon told city officials that an insufficient talent pool cost Detroit the chance to host its second headquarters. However, the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University all sit within or in close proximity to Detroit, enabling a variety of student projects in the city. Detroit also holds the #1 spot in the ranking of Best and Worst Large U.S. Metros at Retaining College Grads, with a 77.7 percent retention rate overall. Nine percent of Michigan Ross BBA graduates and 6 percent of MBA graduates accepted jobs in Detroit upon graduation in 2017, and 18 percent of all Erb Institute graduates currently work in Detroit or its surrounding areas.


According to Dennis Bernard, founder and president of Bernard Financial Group, “The Detroit real estate market is as healthy as it’s been in 25 or 30 years.” Businesses can take advantage of Detroit’s public-private partnerships, involving Detroit Land Bank Authority, City of Detroit Planning and Development Department and others. The Strategic Neighborhood Fund recently announced its expansion to seven additional neighborhoods across Detroit. The combined effort between the city, J.P. Morgan Chase and foundations will drive holistic neighborhood revitalization through investing in streetscapes, parks, single-family home stabilization, neighborhood planning and commercial corridor improvements to attract new businesses.

Detroit is a city on the rise. Although the city is experiencing economic growth, it still faces challenges, including a poverty rate of 22.9 percent. While the University of Michigan’s own Poverty Center works to address that, it’s important for businesses to understand their role in Detroit’s continued growth. Doing business in Detroit presents significant benefits and incentives, in addition to the opportunity to make a difference in the city’s neighborhoods and communities.