Doing Good Doing Well is a conference run by students at IESE Business School in Spain. As Erb students, we were excited to be invited to present a workshop at the conference in February.
Doing Good Doing Well is the largest student-run conference in Europe. It brings together thought leaders, business practitioners, researchers, teachers and students engaged or interested in responsible business practices. We were thrilled to facilitate a workshop on assessing human rights in business for an international audience, presenting the Erb Institute Human Rights Assessment and Human Rights implementation toolboxes.
We had the opportunity to listen to people who have succeeded in leading purposeful and positive enterprises. Our favorite speaker, Rodney Schwartz, CEO and founder of the impact investment bank ClearlySo, talked about how social impact investments can also be profitable. Angel Pes, the deputy director at CaixaBank and chairman of the Global Compact Spanish Network, discussed internal organizational challenges regarding sustainable development and responsible business practices.
On the eve of our presentation, this was a light moment before we called it a night and headed back to our humble abode in Barcelona.
Twenty-seven people attended the workshop. The attendees’ backgrounds ranged from MBA student to IESE professor to consultant in Barcelona.
After a brief background on the development of human rights guidelines:
We dove into a rich discussion on assessing human rights risks and violations.
Finally, we discussed implementing company policies that protect and respect human rights.
At the conference, we learned the most from the discussions that took place in diversified groups. We discussed cases such as Nike in Vietnam, the recent uptick in airline employees identifying human trafficking in action, and where the line for responsibility gets drawn for employees and company training. Participants brought their own examples to the table, such as human rights challenges in Brazilian mines.
Attendees asked each other tough questions, such as: How far down into the supply chain does a company need to look? How do business leaders navigate the line between poor working conditions and slave labor when workers want to maintain employment regardless of conditions? If improving conditions would also eliminate jobs (such as moving elsewhere), what is the ethical option?
We are grateful to IESE for hosting us and letting us present the human rights toolboxes to the conference attendees. We hope that the partnership between the Erb Institute and IESE will continue to grow in upcoming years.
In April, I attended the 2017 Ceres Conference in San Francisco, which brought together sustainability leaders from corporations, nonprofits and governments to collaborate on strategies to push sustainability agendas through and beyond the current era. An opening remark by Mindy Lubber, the Ceres president and CEO, set the tone for the conference: “The political winds may have shifted . . . but market forces have not.”
Ceres is a sustainability-focused nonprofit that, like the Erb Institute, embraces the idea of global sustainable enterprise. Founded in Boston in 1989, it uses strategic advocacy to help Fortune 500 companies and leading investors integrate positive environmental, social and governance practices into their core operations. It focuses specifically on clean energy and sustainable food and water initiatives. Lubber’s opening comment was not meant to imply that markets are negatively “stuck,” but it was instead a testament to the work that Ceres and other sustainability organizations, institutes and individual actors have done to measurably change the way in which the economy is working, particularly through their paradigm-shifting work with institutional actors.
If this sounds like too rosy an outlook to you, you’re right—simply getting pension funds and large companies like Coca-Cola, PG&E and General Motors to commit to specific sustainability activities just scratches the surface of creating a more sustainable brand of capitalism, especially when more systemic issues, like the quantification of GDP, go on unchecked. But having many of these economy-shaping players at the same table as sustainability pioneers like Lubber—and California Governor Jerry Brown, who made an appearance as the conference’s closing speaker—is necessary to begin to change the way corporations’ and their shareholders’ expectations are set and managed.
After two packed days of plenaries, breakout sessions and networking, I left the conference with three main takeaways:
- As Erbers and aspiring sustainability leaders, none of us can afford to ignore institutional players. Regardless of where we start our careers, or whether we want to work at a small nonprofit, a start-up or a large corporation, I believe that we all have a responsibility to understand how sustainability is being promoted at the most complex corporate levels—because it affects all the work we do, and people’s lives around the world.
- We need to get out more! The Erb Institute and the University of Michigan do an outstanding job of bringing resources and sustainability leaders to us, and with the rigors of the MBA/MS experience, it’s tempting to stay in Ann Arbor throughout the year. But entire regional governments, like California’s, are taking a stand for the issues to which most of us are so deeply committed, and industry events in sustainability hubs like San Francisco draw an immense number of practitioners who are living what we study and discuss on a daily basis.
What could this look like? A great place to start is with second- and third-year Erb students, many of whom come back to Ann Arbor having completed sustainability-related internships across the country. In the 10-12 weeks that they’re gone, these students are able to plug into their new local sustainability ecosystems, which often involves accessing and attending specific regional initiatives and events related to their projects. It would be great if we could make these national resources clearer to first-year Erbers in particular, as they begin to plot their career journeys throughout the institute.
- The Erb community is outstanding. As one of less than ten students at a conference of many hundreds of people, an Erb alum (2015) took time to find me at a networking event, was genuinely interested to learn about everything I had been involved with during my first year and then proceeded to introduce me to her boss—another sustainability consultant, like her, and an SEAS alum—and to anyone else I wanted to meet. I was shocked, and so grateful for her instant, warm and thoroughly helpful support.
Thanks to the Erb Institute and the Cool Project fund for making this experience possible for me. It was an outstanding and highly relevant close to my first year.
I glided quietly into the darkness. Sunset slowly disappearing behind me, I pressed on—this was a race. Having cycled 2,000 miles through the temperate Cascade and Rocky Mountains, I needed to change my strategy for the Great Plains. The flatlands were windy and hot, especially in the afternoons. Shade was rare and clouds even rarer. I decided to ride at night.
Night-riding is nerve-racking at first—rush-hour traffic, shifting shadows, dwindling resupply points. But after families return home for dinner, after the sun sets and shadows sleep, another world appears. Stars fill the sky. Deer feed quietly in the fields nearby. Crickets and toads sing an evening tune. And the fireflies! So shy and subtle at first. Then there are hundreds, and then thousands and then tens of thousands. Entire fields pulsate with light and life. Several landed on my florescent cycling jersey, and I began to glow with them. It was magic.
This was only one of many mesmerizing moments I experienced while competing in the 4,266-mile Trans Am Bike Race in June. Having recently completed a three-year service in Ecuador as a business and natural resources volunteer with the Peace Corps, I was eager to explore the states again before beginning graduate classes at Ross and SEAS this fall. This “welcome home” cross-country cycling adventure offered several teaching points in the area of sustainability. Here are three:
- People protect what they love. From surfers on the Pacific Coast to ranchers in Wyoming, from farmers throughout Kansas to eco-tour operators in the Appalachians, each spoke passionately about his or her corner of the world and the desire to preserve his or her way of life. The environmental movement often is painted as the “live with less” movement, one that focuses on conservation to the exclusion of culture or preserving livelihoods. But this won’t work. We need to integrate sustenance with sustainability. We need to position the conservation movement around people’s self-interest.
- Money creates movement. Sure, old habits die hard, but people adapt amazingly well when money is involved. A Kansas farmer I met witnessed his community’s recent conversion from corn farms to wind farms. “It’s more profitable,” he explained. An Appalachian hostel operator, who has never hiked the Appalachian Trail, said, “This is a great industry to be in right now.” An article in a Kentucky paper reported that the coal museum was installing solar panels: “It’s cost-saving.” Money creates movement. This is at the core of what we do at the Erb Institute—advance sustainability by leveraging economic interests. I appreciated meeting ordinary Americans doing the same.
- Education (still) matters. Economic interests will always be a driving force in society, yet education needs to be front and center as well. What’s at the heart of education? Curiosity, creativity and an adventurous spirit. Kids have these qualities in abundance and always will. Camping under the stars, eating wild mulberries, catching fireflies (or having them catch you)—these emotionally binding experiences in nature have the power to shape young people for the rest of their lives. They have the power to connect people’s deep desire for adventure and self-discovery with the cause of sustainability (see above—people protect what they love). Adventure is environmental education in disguise. And environmental education should continue to lead us toward a more sustainable world—a world still full of the potential for magical moments.
This past summer I completed an internship at Resource Recycling Systems, Inc. (RRS). RRS is an environmental consulting firm based in Ann Arbor, Mich., that specializes in corporate sustainability, waste recovery solutions and organics management. It serves a variety of clients, including cities, counties, corporations, hospitals and trade associations, among others.
I was particularly interested in exploring how for-profit businesses can make a positive social and environmental impact. RRS is a profitable consulting firm that has a built a reputation for helping its clients reduce waste and become more sustainable— a perfect intersection of social and environmental impact.
I worked on both internal business development and external client projects throughout the summer. Internally, I helped the public sector team develop a system and tool for new client development and relationship management.
Client projects involved working with a series of Fortune 500 companies to assess the recyclability of specific materials used in the packaging of these companies’ products. Our team conducted research to determine whether 3000+ communities across the United States had the capacity to recycle these materials. We did this by researching city and county websites and conducting phone and in-person interviews with local residents and officials. It was interesting, and somewhat discouraging, to see how different each city’s website/communication was. Some had detailed instructions on what to recycle, others had very little information, and some had conflicting information that most consumers would find very misleading. Throughout this process, I realized the critical importance of messaging and communication in terms of empowering citizens to recycle, and that something as simple as a website can actually be very complex to create.
We analyzed a substantial amount of data and presented each client with a comprehensive report that included recommendations on how to improve the recyclability of their products. Some of these recommendations involved establishing partnerships with local material recovery facilities (MRFs), cities and state recycling organizations to implement policies that expand the types of materials communities recycle. They also included considering the use of different raw materials in production that have a higher end-of-life value and pose fewer problems for MRFs, and working with manufacturers to create end markets and facilitate the purchase of post-consumer recycled products. The reports were well received and helped inform the clients’ future approach to procurement, supply chain operations and extended producer responsibility.
By the end of the summer, I had learned a lot about day-to-day life at a consulting firm and experienced how dynamic the consulting space can be. One week, you are working 80 hours to meet deadlines for external projects, and the next week, you are working 40 hours solely on internal business development projects. Learning more about recycling turned out to be a really interesting experience, and I believe there is significant opportunity for both the public and private sectors to work to reduce waste. I was encouraged by the initiative that many private companies took to make their products more recyclable and less resource-intensive, and how many companies are adopting the extended producer responsibility approach.
I am grateful to both RRS and the Erb Institute for providing me with an invaluable experience, and I look forward to further exploring how business can be a positive force in society.
Climate change is the reality we live in, and despite the combined actions of our global community, it continues to outpace our efforts. At the Erb Institute, we understand the daunting challenges that climate change presents—and the true potential of business to slow, and eventually reverse, this trend. Our research, teaching and engagement with businesses continue to drive toward that aim.
Listen to an interview with Erb Faculty Director Joe Arvai on the Paris Climate Agreement.
We are proud to have advisory board membership publicly state their recognition of and continued efforts towards meeting the goals outlined in the Paris Climate Agreement. We’ve collected these public statements to showcase, in their words, how businesses are planning to continue their climate change mitigation through sustainable action.
Strategic Advisory Council’s Public Company Statements
“IBM has stated its position on climate change publicly since 2007: Climate change is a serious concern that warrants meaningful action on a global basis to stabilize the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gas emissions.
Climate change is an international problem that requires an international solution, and we believe it is important for the world to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore IBM supported — and still supports — U.S. participation in the Paris Agreement. This agreement requires all participating countries to put forward their best efforts on climate change as determined by each country. IBM believes that it is easier to lead outcomes by being at the table, as a participant in the agreement, rather than from outside it.
Whether the U.S. participates in the Paris Agreement or not, IBM will continue its decades-long work to reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions and will continue to help our clients do so as well.”
“U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement is a major mistake that will serve as a setback for climate action, global cooperation, and business, which overwhelmingly supports Paris. This decision not only damages the global consensus on how to address climate change, but also the innovation, competitiveness, and job creation that can flow from the steps outlined in Paris. Despite this deeply regrettable decision, I am confident that business—very much including American companies—will remain resolute in showing how the transition to low-carbon prosperity can be achieved and can improve livelihoods. BSR will continue to work with businesses that understand this and that are leading the way to 21st-century business models.”
“It’s important for the business community to voice our support for taking action on climate change. We’re here to serve our customers and we know how important it is to them that we remain steadfast in our commitment to addressing the climate challenge.”
“Given the announcement yesterday that the U.S. plans to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, I want to share some thoughts with the Ford team. At the highest level, Ford Motor Company stands for social progress and contributing to a better world. From this standpoint, and from my own personal values, the Paris decision was disappointing news. Ford believes climate change is real. I want to assure each of you that we remain deeply committed to better fuel economy, electrification, sustainable facilities and other strategies that will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And we will continue to urge the U.S. to collaborate globally to advance climate change solutions that include contributions from every sector and every country. Everyone has to work together and do their part to bring real change.
Thank you for all you are doing for Ford.”
“While we are disappointed in the decision to withdraw the United States from its commitments in the Paris Climate Agreement, we understand there are always many potential solutions to challenges and are eager to work toward alternative solutions. We will continue to collaborate with President Trump as well as other businesses, NGOs and academics to continue to advocate for smart policies that enable the reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions and ensure that global markets stay open to American exports and innovation.”
“Amazon continues to support the Paris climate agreement and action on climate change. We believe that robust clean energy and climate policies can support American competitiveness, innovation, and job growth. We remain committed to putting our scale and inventive culture to work in ways that are good for the environment and our customers.”
“Disappointed with today’s decision on the Paris Agreement,” [GE’s CEO] Immelt tweeted. “Climate change is real. Industry must now lead and not depend on government.”
“Today’s announcement that the U.S. government intends to pull out of the Paris Agreement is short-sighted. For decades, the U.S. has demonstrated leadership on international environmental issues from President Reagan’s efforts to create the Montreal Protocol to protect the ozone layer through President Obama’s efforts to advance the Paris Agreement and drive it to enter into force. That U.S. leadership has been essential to stimulate the necessary actions by all countries to solve these global challenges. Universal action on climate change is the only path to a more secure, healthy and prosperous future.
The Nature Conservancy firmly believes that strong and continued U.S. leadership is vital to the success of the Paris Agreement and addressing the challenge of climate change because the issue transcends borders and requires international cooperation to solve. We encourage the President and Congress to work with the business, environmental, public health and science communities, as well as state and local governments, to enhance our environmental safeguards, including the Paris Agreement, rather than back away from them, in order to deliver better environmental and economic outcomes for both people and nature.”
“In the global race to create jobs and strengthen our economy, withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement is not putting America first – it’s putting America last.
While the U.S. sits on the sidelines, China and the more than 195 other nations that are parties to the Paris Climate Agreement will race ahead to spur innovation, investments and new jobs. The U.S. now joins only two other nations – Syria and Nicaragua – that are not members of the Paris Agreement.
Today’s announcement is a direct threat to U.S. economic and job growth. The U.S. business community, which continues to embrace and accelerate the low-carbon future, recognizes the urgency of tackling climate change.
In the face of the Trump administration’s failure to lead on climate change at the national level, the business community will not back down. Investors and companies will redouble efforts to support and invest in solutions that will accelerate the transition to a sustainable, low-carbon economy – regardless of today’s action by the Trump administration. They will also work with Congress and state legislatures to strengthen and defend other federal and state climate and clean energy policies.”
External Advisory Board’s Public Company Statements
“Today’s setback only deepens our responsibility as institutions of higher education and adds new urgency to our efforts,” [GWU President] Dr. Knapp said on Thursday. “We must practice what we teach, advance knowledge of climate change and inspire future generations of climate leaders and innovators.”
“Local power is now all important, given that the federal front is abdicating its environmental responsibilities,” said Guy O. Williams, President & CEO, DWEJ. “Fortunately, this is an election year for Detroit. The Trump Administration may be short-sighted when it comes to clean air and water, our environment, our health. But we can’t be. And we won’t be.”
“It is deeply disappointing but not very surprising that President Trump has made the shortsighted decision to remove the United States from the hard-won, historic pact between 197 nations to work together for a livable planet.
The president’s mistake today not only breaks a commitment our country made to the rest of the world. It also goes against the will of most Americans, warnings from the scientific community and the best advice from business leaders. It means our country will fall behind and our economy will lose steam in the global clean energy race that is already underway.”
-Chris Kolb, president of the Michigan Environmental Council
“We are deeply disappointed by the recent shift in climate policy. Nike believes that climate change is a serious global threat and that the world will need to radically redesign industrial systems and economies in order to enable a low-carbon growth economy. We will continue to honor the core commitments of the American Business Act on Climate Change Pledge, including reaching 100% renewable energy in all Nike owned or operated facilities around the world by 2025, participating in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Challenge and advancing materials innovation globally.”
“GM will not waver from our commitment to the environment and our position on climate change has not changed. International agreements aside, we remain committed to creating a better environment.”
“When our country steps backwards, we must step forwards. Today, as our President announced the United States’ intention to withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate agreement, that call to action rings true.
The Ecology Center is about creative solutions for thriving on planet earth. These solutions are people as much as they are actions, and it’s each and every one of us who have the limitless capacity to act in service of the planet that sustains us. This organization was built on the framework that people – each of us – are conduits for change. It’s us that have the power to dictate the future we seek to share with our children. Our choices aren’t dictated by this administration, but rather by what’s inside of us. The resiliency of our community isn’t dictated by public policy, but by our individual and collective actions every single day.
Our community is filled with families committed to their children’s future and DIYers doing their part to live in harmony with the land. Our community is also filled with idealists and dreamers who believe that our future can be one of togetherness. I share those aspirations and that purpose.
Tonight, after a long day of work, I’m going to hug my son and wife extra tight. I’m going to take an extra breath of the rich soil in my garden that nurtures the fruits and vegetables that feed my family. And tomorrow, I’m going to wake up with intention, because giving every ounce of my being to building a thriving future isn’t a nice idea – it’s everything.
We are here for you. I am here for you. Let’s get to work.”
Chris Affeldt, Hannah Sherman, Richa
Yadav, and Brandon List. This case was written under the supervision of Andrew Hoffman, Erb Faculty Member.
Description: Emily Reyna, the Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) Director of Diversity, has been in the newly formed position for under a year and has been tasked with implementing the organization’s Diversity Plan, which aims to improve internal racial and ethnic diversity as well as reach a more diverse range of constituents within partnerships. EDF recognizes the importance of adequately engaging and representing shifting demographics in the United States and internationally and has focused on improving diversity internally for the past several years. Reyna’s priority is a baseline assessment of diversity and inclusion within EDF’s culture. Her focus is on inclusion and full participation, not only in the workplace but also in the policies and programs EDF is working to implement. Students will explore the challenges of diversity and develop a strategy for EDF’s internal changes and external partnerships.
After reading and discussing this case, students should be able to:
- Explore the challenges of understanding diversity within an organization’s structure.
- Devise metrics for assessing success of a diversity program.
- Develop a strategy for diversifying the leadership and workforce.
- Understand the role of future employees in the changing workplace.
- Operationalize a strategy for EDF with respect to internal changes and external partnerships.
Alex Engel, Robert Meyer, and Sarah Perry. This case was written under the supervision of Andrew Hoffman.
Description: Jon-Mark Chappellet, Director of Operations at Clos Du Val Winery in Napa Valley, is developing a 50-year plan. The effects of climate change are forcing Chappellet and other Napa Valley vineyards to adopt various adaptation strategies to protect the quality of their grapes and wines. Climate change impacts can include decreased water availability, temperature variations outside optimal growing conditions, and increased threat of pests. Napa Valley is a strong, competitive market for grape growers and vintners and is most known for its ideal growing conditions for cabernet sauvignon grapes where estate wineries like Clos Du Val focus their production efforts. Will Clos Du Val have to abandon its signature brand of cabernet sauvignon wines and adopt other grape varietals capable of thriving in the changing climate conditions? What kind of diversification strategy will Chappellet need to implement to address climate change?
After reading and discussing the material, students should:
- Outline the factors that owners of capital-intensive businesses consider when facing a major strategic decision about the future of their company.
- Discuss options available to winemakers in adapting to climate change.
- Explain how competition and brand/region recognition influences wine producers’ adaptation to climate change.
- Identify what lessons from wine production climate adaptation more broadly extend to agriculture.
Anna Norman, Olexandr Spasov, Nathan Brougher, and Caroline Lucas. This case was written under the supervision of Andrew Hoffman.
Description: Eric Ries, one of the most prominent entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley, is launching the Long-Term Stock Exchange (LTSE), a new stock exchange for companies and investors that want to focus on long-term values and sustainable development rather than short-term profit gains. Despite LTSE having a strong value proposition for many companies, this case analyzes the many business challenges that Ries and LTSE must overcome: the large shift required in the systems-thinking of current investors, limiting shareholders’ control and influence, gaining the critical mass required to achieve scale and profitability, government legislation and permits, and gaining trust and credibility from potential companies and investors. This case asks students to articulate the risks within the existing, short-term focused stock exchange system, as well as identify the forces that produce short-termism in publicly listed companies.
After reading and discussing the material, students should:
- Articulate the risks inherent to the current short-term focused stock exchange system.
- Define the forces that produce short-termism in publicly listed companies.
- Speak to the challenges of systemic change within the current financial exchange system.
Oliver Harfield, Tara Mahon, Tom Van Heeke, and Harry Wolberg. This case was written under the supervision of Andrew Hoffman.
Description: Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd holds the rights to the Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska. The mine is the largest copper, gold, and molybdenum deposit in the world. However, the deposits are situated under the world’s most profitable and sustainable salmon fishery which supports many impoverished Native Alaskan communities who rely on the fish for their livelihoods. Extracting the minerals may harm the salmon fishery, affect a largely unspoiled landscape, and disrupt local communities and culture. But there is uncertainty surrounding these potential risks. Northern Dynasty must choose the best public engagement and transparency strategy to ensure a smooth approval process for the proposed Pebble Mine operation.
After reading and discussing the material, students should:
- Understand how transparency fits into corporate strategy, and discuss under what conditions companies should be more or less transparent
- Examine how public opinion can shape business decisions
- Analyze how the public and businesses evaluate risk and uncertainty and make decisions under these conditions
- Discuss how companies set time horizons for business projects and the implications that those time horizons have on costs, revenues, and environmental stewardship
Kathleen Carroll, Yu-Han Cheng, Albany Eckert, and Chase Stone. This case was written under the supervision of Andrew Hoffman.
Description: In 2013, Hampton Creek entered the mayonnaise marketplace with the world’s first plant-based, vegan mayonnaise “Just Mayo”. The creation of an egg-free version of mayonnaise had the potential to upset the market, especially for Unilever’s Hellmann’s brand. The case provides an overview of Unilever’s role in the mayonnaise market, highlighting its commitment to innovation and sustainability, as well as its analysis of Hampton Creek as both an opportunity and a threat. Students are asked to examine this complex problem with Unilever and grapple with the tension between encouraging innovation and progress, while protecting a key source of revenue from a new market entrant.
After reading and discussing the material, students should:
- Analyze and estimate the impact of the current health movement on the food industry in the United States
- Assess the decision to file a lawsuit against Hampton Creek
- Weigh the benefits and drawbacks of “carrot vs. stick” approaches to responding to competition
- Assess how to succeed in the face of a changing marketplace