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Global Green Initiative reconciles corporate profit and environmental responsibilities

Published: March 16, 2012
Section: Front Page, News

As the global economy begins to reverse its descent, the Brandeis Global Green Initiative teaches MBA students not only how to make a profit, but how to do it responsibly. On March 13, the Brandeis International Business School hosted two eminent environmentalists—Eric Pooley, former deputy editor of BusinessWeek, who left the magazine to work at the Environmental Defense Fund after the failure of Congress to pass the Lagston Markey Bill in 2009, and Joseph Stanislaw, founder of advisory firm The JAStanislaw Group, which specializes in strategy, sustainability and environmentally sound investment.

They discussed the imminent danger of climate change and its potential effect on business. Both believe that in order for the United States to compete economically, it must compete environmentally.

The lecture was part of the Brandeis International Business School’s Global Green Initiative program, which seeks to accommodate good business practice and environmental sustainability. Beyond promoting environmentalism, the IBS lecture introduced students to rational dialogue between differing viewpoints.

During the lecture, a student pointed out the need for American jobs, defending the “Shale revolution” and the practice of fracking, which has reaped significant profits for people in Pennsylvania and the surrounding region. Stanislaw rebutted with the possibility of job creation in new energy industries, including the production of fuel-efficient cars. He has worked with the governor of Ohio for the past year and a half to create jobs “surrounding energy” and maintains that the possibility of progress is definite: “Every major thrust of the human race has originated in a change in energy source.”

“By addressing climate change and energy, it will be the source of economic growth,” Stainslaw said in his lecture.

Warren Leon, coordinator of the Global Green MBA, agrees: “There is increased awareness that being socially responsible, being concerned about the environment … is not necessarily in conflict with making a profit.” After centuries of profit-at-any-cost ideology, the rise in “building sustainable businesses,” says Leon, is due in part to a changing consumer demand and part to the internal pressure in the business world.

Many companies have begun to make more socially and environmentally conscious decisions for fear of retribution. “Doing things that are bad,” explained Leon, “could open them to criticism.” Still, Leon maintained that while many studies show that consumers would pay more to know that the products they buy aren’t toxic, in practice it rarely works out that way.

Whether consumers really have to pay more, though, is unclear. Spread over the entire population of Massachusetts, getting power from a more efficient grid would cost consumers only 50 cents more a month, estimates Leon, where as voluntary participation would cost fewer consumers up to $5.

Pooley charged consumers with abandoning the environmental cause when “financial worries took priority.”

Using more socially conscious materials, or fewer harmless materials altogether, could actually reduce a company’s costs. Most of these concepts aren’t completely unheard of, but their implementation has been rare in the past. “We don’t just go into the class and repeat endlessly that this is a good idea,” Leon said. Students at the MBA program are taught the “practical tools to implement these ideas.”

The long-run strategies of sustainability, according to Pooley and Stanislaw, are necessary not only in terms of the global environment, but are also necessary for the future of companies. “Companies are missing profits because they are using too much energy,” explained Stanislaw. “We have to use energy smartly.”

Stanislaw is passionate about supporting what he calls “crazy technology entrepreneurs,” which in theory the IBS program is educating. Whether students are actually graduating to work in their fields and promote the concepts they learned at the Global Green Initiative is still unclear seeing as the program is still in its infancy. Whether or not students feel that it is their mission though, maintains Leon, the schooling in good economics of sustainability will be helpful.

Leon called it a “different kind of accounting,” one with three bottom lines, instead of the traditional one: profit. Environment and social consciousness, he said, must also be taken into account. Stanislaw called it “the power of how you use data.”