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Sustainability Centers, Institutes and Initiatives (“centers”) are an important nexus between academia, corporations, government and NGOs working to solve sustainability challenges. Thus, center directors have a unique perspective on how to achieve impact, which is one reason why the Business and Environment Initiative at Harvard Business School (HBS BEI) and the Network for Business Sustainability (NBS) organized this terrific workshop I attended in June. I represented two organizations, Darden’s Institute for Business in Society and the Alliance for Research on Corporate Sustainability (ARCS), a consortium of 19 universities advancing corporate sustainability research.

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2014 Sustainability Centres Workshop: Discussion on Strategy and Operations

Who would have thought that a workshop for sustainability center staff and faculty would be quickly oversubscribed? But that is what happened. Clearly there is a need for those in this role to share best practices. 60 of us convened in an HBS classroom for a series of roll-up-your-sleeves sessions on how to further integrate sustainability and social impact topics into our respective business school offerings. We tackled the areas below, which give you a sense of what centers do. For each we identified: 1) Key questions and challenges; and 2) Best practices and good ideas.


1. Teaching and Curriculum

-How do we best integrate sustainability as a critical business lens into the MBA curriculum in required and elective courses, as well as Executive Education?

-What are best practices for experiential curriculum, field projects, and cases developed with companies?

(For Darden, see a recent article on global field projects for sustainability here, and a recent piece on a sustainability case we wrote with Walmart here.)

2. Research

-What are the trends in business sustainability over the next 10-15 years?

-How do we develop a long-term research strategy and robust faculty network for sustainability research, focused on our schools’ respective strengths?

3. Outreach

-How do we get research into the hands of business leaders who can put these learnings into practice?

-How do we connect students interested in sustainability and social impact with the appropriate companies for internships and jobs?

4. Center Strategy and Operations

-How do we successfully fund and effectively operate sustainability centers to leverage existing intellectual capital and corporate relationships?

-How do we effectively partner with, and serve our alumni?

I especially liked the “Collaboration Open Mic,” an innovative format in the workshop which allowed us to suggest topics real-time, gather with a group of interested colleagues, and develop a set of recommendations and goals. My group began sharing our schools’ lists of sustainability topics that we thought all students should learn. We considered the viability of business school accreditors such as the AACSB including sustainability competencies in their evaluations of MBA programs.

The corporate perspective was also present in the workshop, with representatives from 3M, BASF, Mahindra Sanyo Special Steel and TD Bank discussing What Corporations Need from Business Schools – And What They Can Offer. HBS Professor Michael Toffel (@MikeToffel), winner of the 2014 ARCS Sustainability Scholar Award, facilitated.

Overall, the big question we all had was: how do we prioritize our activities, especially when students regularly bring interesting new ones to our attention. We discussed that activities should fit the following criteria:

  •  Have a positive impact on tackling global issues like poverty and climate change
  • Align with our school and center’s missions
  • Inspire a critical mass of our faculty to engage
  • Be able to be funded.
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2014 Sustainability Centres Workshop: Harvard Business School

Thank you NBS and HBS BEI for giving the sustainability center community a chance to collaborate and enjoy each other’s company. Check out the NBS website later this month for a report on all that we discussed in case it is helpful to your work.

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2014 Sustainability Centres Workshop – Boston Skyline


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2014 Sustainability Centres Workshop – Rowers Hard at Work on Boston’s Charles River













By Allison Elias, Research Associate, Institute for Business in Society (IBiS) and Erika Herz, Associate Director of Sustainability Programs


On Friday, March 21st, organizations from across the University Grounds came together in the Rotunda’s elegant Dome Room to host the U.Va. World Water Day Symposium, in honor of the United Nations’ holiday, which has been observed on March 22nd since 1993. The UN-declared theme for 2014, water and energy, sought to bring attention to the interdependence of the two resources and shed light on new strategies to use water and energy in efficient ways.

According to Darden Professor Peter Debaere, who co-organized the event along with colleagues from U.Va.’s Center for Global Health, the Department of Environmental Sciences, the Division of Infectious Diseases and International Health,  as well as The Nature Conservancy:

“Public understanding of the policy and business implications of water and energy challenges is lacking. We hope this interdisciplinary conference helped educate all of us on root causes, as well as about frameworks for innovative business and government solutions.”

Debaere also teaches a popular MBA elective called “The Global Economics of Water.”

In keeping with the 2014 theme, keynote speaker Jamie Pittock, Senior Lecturer at Australian National University, spoke about sustaining water in an era of climate change and population growth. Pittock’s research led to many insights including:

  • Solutions may appear to be attractive but we must consider the long-term, less overt environmental and economic costs
  • Policy reform is most likely to happen in times of crisis and/or leadership change; reformers must use these moments to their benefit
  • Academic research must become more relevant to decision makers given the uncertain environment

His rich discussion addressed ways that governments and businesses could remain adaptable and find complementary solutions that could meet a variety of stakeholder needs given the changing nature of water and energy problems.

A second panel discussion focused on water markets, whereby water use rights are traded through either short- or long-term contracts. Water markets encourage conservation behavior as well as a more accurate valuation of water resources. The state of California, for example, has a statewide water grid infrastructure that facilitates movement of water and enables trading activities. Water trading is helpful for short-term needs, as was found in Colorado recently when ash from fires contaminated municipal water sources. Due to an already-robust trading scheme, fresh mountain water suitable for drinking was able to be exchanged for the contaminated water which was used instead for agricultural purposes. Panelists also discussed that natural gas mining through the method of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) has driven up the price of water due to the water quantity needed for the process. Water contamination caused by fracking is also a significant issue.

The last panel session of the day concentrated on the health impacts of poor water access using South Africa as a case study. Although improvements have been made, still over 2000 children die per day of diarrheal illness, which often is caused by contaminated water.  The speakers looked beyond health to the economic and educational consequences of clean water access.  Children who survive such illnesses have to contend with problems such as stunted growth, lower IQ levels, or chronic internal diseases. These cognitive and physical impairments have furthered the cycle of poverty that leaves many children without opportunities to improve their quality of life. One panelist called the issues of inadequate water supply and contaminated water the ‘silent humanitarian crisis’ because public and private resources are often devoted to other crises that are more concentrated in a single location.

The symposium closed with a note of optimism: these problem are solvable if resources are allocated in the most efficient manner. However, public attention, cross-sector alliances, and interdisciplinary research collaborations are necessary to move toward lasting solutions.

The UVA World Water Day Symposium was supported with funding from Darden’s Institute for Business in Society (IBiS) U.Va.’s Office of the Vice President for Research, and other U.Va. departments. To hear interviews with speakers, listen to the Darden GreenPod #27 and the Darden BusinessCast #279. Check back soon for Symposium videos.



Darden’s largest ever Alumni Reunion took place this past weekend with over 800 attending.

Our Institute for Business in Society (IBiS) sponsored two events: 1) a pharmaceutical industry-focused case discussion integrating Ethics and Finance considerations, led by Professors Jared Harris and Mark Lipson, and 2) our 3rd annual gathering of “Alumni in Mission-Driven Careers”.

About 50 alumni whose careers and volunteer work focus on social and environmental impact, shared their experiences with one another, and were delighted to find meaningful intersections. Their roles span renewable energy, corporate social responsibility, education, and nonprofits in a variety of areas. Many have titles that don’t indicate how social and environmental efforts are part of their “day jobs.” For example, participants included a brand manager of channel development and consumer packaged goods for a well-known coffee brand, and a director of global business process for one of the world’s largest retailers. Both are paying attention to the potential impact of natural resource limitations, and the opportunities inherent in efficiency throughout their companies’ value chain.

Darden alumni in nonprofit roles also shared their experiences at organizations like The Asia Society, Girls on the Run, and The Sunshine Foundation. As nonprofits increasingly partner with companies to achieve mutual aims, and are pressured by donors for concretely measured outcomes, MBA skills can be invaluable.

As this and this recent article about Darden in Triple Pundit’s The MBA Series reflects, today’s MBAs see congruity between making money and making a difference. And the world needs them!

Our popular Dean at Darden, @Bob_Bruner, has a great blog in which he shares social and economic analysis from his travels, updates from Darden (such as this recent one on sustainability), and an annual, highly anticipated annotated list of his favorite readings of the year. Since he is a prolific reader, this is a very helpful list! To shamelessly emulate his tradition, I’d like to share some of my favorite sustainability readings. Many of these are required for MBA and Executive Education courses at Darden including:

  1. Sustainable Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Professor Andrea Larson
  2. Business and Sustainability: Professors Richard Brownlee and Mark White
  3. The Executive Program (TEP): Professors Alan Beckenstein, Venkat Venkataraman and Alec Horniman

Our intention is that such coursework will equip students with an informed sustainability perspective to strengthen their managerial and decision-making capabilities, and their ability to tackle society’s greatest challenges such as poverty and climate change. This is important for careers in all areas, whether supply chain, marketing/brand management, consulting, finance or entrepreneurship. More specifically, we aim to develop in students the following competencies:

• Ability to design and execute collaborative sustainability strategies to: increase revenues through innovative products and services; lower costs through efficiencies and design; create and enhance sustainable brands; and mitigate business risk.

• Knowledge of the global and systemic impacts on natural systems and human well-being from important societal trends such as urbanization, industrialization and population growth.

• Understanding of regional and global institutions and policy instruments that influence business operations and strategy.

Below is the annotated list of eleven articles and books, plus a brief video. Do feel free to respond with your favorites via @dardensustain!


1.  Shoots, greens and leaves, The Economist, June 16, 2012

When economies are industrializing and growing by as much as 8% a year, it is necessary that development be green at the outset.

2. Company Stakeholder Responsibility: A New Approach to CSR

The Business Roundtable Institute for Corporate Ethics, Darden School of Business

Discusses why and how a company creates value by managing for stakeholders rather than focusing exclusively on pleasing shareholders in the short-term.

3. Confessions of a Radical Industrialist, by Ray C. Anderson

Engaging story about how sustainability innovator and carpet company Interface, Inc. cut waste, water and energy use significantly, and created a culture of sustainability opportunists.

4. The Necessary Revolution: How Individuals and Organizations Are Working Together to Create a Sustainable World, by Peter M. Senge, Bryan Smith, Nina Kruschwitz, Joe Laur and Sara Schley

Shares true stories, including both successes and tough challenges, from individuals and organizations tackling social and environmental problems through business. It is wrapped in the context of systems thinking: approaching change by tackling the whole system and developing new capacities.

5. Sustainability: The ‘Embracers’ Seize Advantage

MIT Sloan Management Review and The Boston Consulting Group

This article reports on the second Sustainability & Innovation Global Executive Study by SMR and BCG. It distinguishes two types of companies: “embracers” — those who highly prioritize sustainability at a strategic level — and “cautious adopters,” who are still just focused on measures to reduce energy, waste and risk. The report shares seven characteristics of embracer companies, worthy of emulating.

6. State of Green Business 2012 by Joel Makower et al, GreenBiz Report 

An overview on numerous industries and players, the astonishing amount of activity, aggregate impact (or lack thereof), and the nature of the challenges for companies to truly make progress on embedding sustainability into their operations.

7. The Sustainability Imperative by David A. Lubin and Daniel C. Esty, Harvard Business Review, May, 2010.

Sustainability, like other “business megatrends” has predictable aspects that inform companies seeking to employ a sustainability strategy to achieve long-term competitiveness.

8. Embedded Sustainability by Chris Lazlo and Nadya Zhexembayeva

Addresses, with a good blend of theory and examples of practice, how to integrate sustainability into the DNA of the company rather than achieving “bolt-on,” or superficial, changes. Also highlights three global trends that make a sustainability strategy necessary: declining resources, radical transparency, and increasing expectations. Gives excellent set of sustainability references.

9. Ernst and Young Faculty Connection – Sustainability Reporting: Becoming Mainstream by Prof. Richard Brownlee, Darden School of Business

Highlights the growing desire for transparent and credible information from companies about their environmental and social performance, along with traditional financial metrics. New reporting frameworks that integrate all such measures of performance are becoming more mainstream, necessitating that corporate leaders understand how to produce and analyze the information.

10. Sustainability, Innovation and Entrepreneurship , by Prof. Andrea Larson, Darden School of Business  

This textbook offers tremendous background knowledge on trends influencing business, such as energy, climate and health. It provides frameworks for how businesses are embracing innovation for sustainability in order to lower costs and increase competitiveness.

11. Lifecycle Assessment: Where Is It on Your Sustainability Agenda? by Deloitte Development LLC

Lifecycle Analysis (LCA) is increasingly seen as a critical tool for companies to understand the embedded energy, water and materials in their products and processes. Managers need to understand the basics of LCA, including what questions to ask and what analysis boundaries to set, in order to make operational decisions that bring about the greatest financial and environmental benefits. Additionally, companies can use LCA tools to address consumer demand for transparency about product impacts.

12. MBA Careers for Change, Darden School of Business

Last but not least, this is a video not a book or article, but it will inspire you to hear how MBAs talk about their summer internships with specific examples of tackling challenges in waste, energy and public education.

The other night in Business and Sustainability class, Professors Brownlee and White led a case discussion focused close to home: we looked at how Darden and UVA are embedding sustainability considerations into operational strategy and decision-making. Class speakers included myself plus my colleagues:

1. Keith Crawford, LEEP AP, Darden’s Facilities Manager

2. Cheryl Gomez, P.E., Director of Utilities, U.Va.

3. Andrew Greene, LEED AP, Sustainability Planner, U.Va.’s Office of the Architect

We discussed things like:

• How much it would cost Darden annually to become carbon neutral tomorrow by purchasing offsets?

• What percentage of Darden’s energy needs do we estimate we can produce using on-site solar (perhaps 10%)?

• How do we show progress toward our zero waste to landfill goal when material recovery facilities [like this one (video)] are challenged to provide exact data on their landfill diversion rates?

• What challenges does the wider policy arena pose for us? For example, how do we make a financial case internally for on-site solar at Darden when we in VA have one of the lowest electricity rates in the country? (see graph depicting VA at $0.08 per kWh relative to NY at $0.162.)

Electricity Rates in VA and Neighboring States, 2012. Source: EIA, http://1.usa.gov/QueP8M

Ultimately I think students felt that we are moving too slowly, but gained a greater sense of these challenges. They appreciated Darden’s progress (13% reduction in GHG emissions and 32% reduction in waste to landfill since ‘07), as well as our commitment to transparency. And they’re interested in helping by doing class projects on topics like:

• How do we eliminate waste at our morning First Coffee while enhancing the experience for our community?

• What are the pros and cons of replacing paper towels in the bathroom with high-performance hand dryers?

Students’ research and recommendations will be tremendously helpful.

On a less serious note: Cheryl, Keith and I are Darden alums and Andrew is a current student. Thus we had fun deciding who got to make the first “cold call,” in true Darden case method (videos) style!


It’s hard to believe that the national Net Impact Conference has been going for 20 years now! Over 40 Darden students and nine faculty and staff who teach on sustainability topics and advise students seeking sustainability-related jobs recently attended the event at the Baltimore Convention Center. We enjoyed excellent sessions on topics ranging from Benefit Corporations to corporate sustainability strategy in large corporations such as UPS and Starbucks. I was struck by the numbers: nearly 3000 participants, all focused on using their MBA skills and the leverage of companies, non-profits and governmental organizations to accelerate progress on society’s greatest challenges, such as poverty, education and climate change. And any MBA student who attended could see this clearly: such a career path is no longer unusual, nor is it compartmentalized from any job function or industry. The Net Impact Conference gave us a chance to see marketers, bankers, supply chain experts, consultants and more, each of whom had found roles in organizations large and small that fulfilled their desire to effect change. Speakers often shared a story of investing a little more time up front to find or create that role, but the resulting job satisfaction was worth it. I also learned of a few new resources for mission-driven job seekers, to complement what our Career Development Center offers:

And, of course, Katie Kross’ excellent book: Profession and Purpose

I’ve already marked my calendar for the 2013 Net Impact Conference in San Jose, Oct. 24-26! 

During Earth Week 2008, Darden’s Dean Bob Bruner announced the School’s ambitious goal to be zero waste, carbon neutral by 2020. This summer, the American Society for Quality featured our progress to date on page 5 of their annual publication, Pathways to Social Responsibility: Successful Practices for Sustaining the Future 2012. A few small but hard-won and satisfying accomplishments to share:

Progress on Zero Waste, Carbon Neutral Goals










Darden has reduced its waste to landfill by 10% relative to our FY07 baseline. How?

1. Composting

In early 2012 Darden began composting kitchen food waste with partner Black Bear Composting. We have now diverted over 50 tons of kitchen prep organic waste and coffee grounds (we drink a LOT of coffee here!).

2. Recycling and Use of Material Recovery Facility

Waste not composted has two chances at being recycled before heading to the landfill:

U.Va.’s robust recycling program, which accepts e-waste, glass, metal, and plastics #1-7 (including plastic bags, straws and utensils).

Waste not separated into recycling bins goes first to a material recovery facility (MRF), where additional recyclables are removed, before the remainder is sent to the landfill. Here’s a video showing how a MRF works.

We have reduced our carbon emissions by 5% relative to our baseline. How?

Conservation and energy efficiency are two levers available to us. We educate our community on how to save energy. And with our partner Automated Logic we have recommissioned our building systems to make them more efficient. While reducing our carbon footprint, we have also avoided $102K (12% savings) in annual energy costs. We’re happy to put that money toward scholarships and curriculum instead!

We still have a long way to go of course. Achieving our waste goals will require continued behavior change, as well as perhaps a waste-to-energy process. To achieve our carbon neutral aspiration will necessitate purchasing renewable energy or producing it on-site. We continue to evaluate new opportunities and innovative renewable energy companies. We also track our utility’s renewable energy progress, given that the majority of our carbon footprint is based on the electricity we purchase from Dominion.


Collaboration Enables Progress

Darden collaborates with community partners to further our progress. We simply can’t achieve our zero waste, carbon neutral goal without doing so.

Our long-time Facilities Administator, Keith Crawford, AICP LEED AP, is a founder of the Central Virginia chapter of the Clean Economy Network.

We are an active member of the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE)and hosted ACORE’s Sustainable Ways to Community Prosperity conference here last March.

Darden was one of several organizers of the inaugural Charlottesville Area Better Business Challenge, a competition among over 100 local area businesses to reduce their waste, water and energy footprint. The Challenge culminated in an Awards Night at Charlottesville’s historic Paramount Theatre, celebrating the accomplishments of participants, 96% of whom said that sustainability practices are now more achievable for their businesses! Darden learned a lot too.

Share with us your company’s progress.


Darden Students and Staff Enjoy the Better Business Challenge Awards Night



Composting Ease

Composting Darden Chef William Russell

Who knew composting could be so easy?! Since mid-February more than 21 tons of the Darden School’s kitchen organic waste have gone straight to Black Bear Composting in Crimora, Virginia, where it is transformed into nutrients for flower and vegetable gardens.

Darden’s phenomenal kitchen staff (especially chef William Russell) has executed the collection process flawlessly, taking care to avoid inadvertent contamination by things like ketchup packets or straws, which can’t be composted. We can even throw in our corn-based coffee cups. Most of the compost comes from coffee grounds, fruit and vegetable peelings and other kitchen prep waste.

Like many sustainability actions, this one has been a journey. We were helped along the way by several Darden MBAs who conducted for-credit projects analyzing  the costs and benefits of both on-site and off-site composting. We ultimately decided that off-site better fit our needs for now. While there is a carbon footprint associated with transporting the compost, it’s about the same as taking it to the landfill would be. Also, initially we thought we would have to grind or pulp all of our organics before composting, but Black Bear allows us to send it as is. This saved us a significant kitchen equipment expense.

We love closed loop cycles that help Darden progress toward our zero waste goal by 2020! To learn more, read Darden School of Business Takes Next Step Toward Zero Waste Goal.


Yesterday Darden’s first year Strategic Thinking and Action course discussed the case BP-Beyond Petroleum, written in 2010 after the Deepwater Horizon explosion that tragically killed 11 people and led to the largest oil spill1 in the U.S.

BP Case Image

Professors Mike Lenox, Jared Harris, Jeanne Liedtka and Scott Snell, invited students to consider several questions for present-day BP, including:

1. Is renewable energy an attractive market segment for the company?

2. Does it have the internal capabilities to succeed in this market?

What struck me about the discussion was how much it was enriched by the energy-related prior work experience of the students. Points were made by those who had:

1. experienced the dynamics of business-NGO partnerships

2. been involved in financing an ethanol plant

3. covered utility companies as an analyst

4. analyzed a debt deal for a coal plant

5. worked for a solar company for five years

Each of their perspectives helped clarify the challenges and options at hand for BP.

In addition to deploying strategy tools such as Porter’s Five Forces framework and SWOT Analysis, the learning also centered upon conducting a stakeholder2 assessment for BP, i.e. Who are the company’s stakeholders and how would they define success for the company? How might they view investment decisions differently? Stakeholder groups include stockholders for sure, but also employees, the local community, government, media, NGOs and customers. Each has a different “stake” in the game of business and, thus, pressures/motivates business leaders accordingly. The savvy and successful leaders in turn are skilled at addressing the interests of all of these different groups in order to achieve long-term returns for the business – and also for society.


Ultimately the students’ recommendations for BP’s leadership team were varied, but they agreed on one thing: there is no easy path to profit in the renewable energy sector for BP or any company. However, the leaders that are in touch with the interests of all stakeholders, as well as clear on the strengths of, and threats to their companies, are best positioned to create value in the long run.


1 For more about BP after the oil spill, check out Darden’s sustainability podcast series: The Darden GreenPod 10: Business Strategy and Crisis Leadership at BP.

2 For leading thinking on stakeholder engagement, read the 2010 book, Stakeholder Theory: The State of the Art, by Darden professors R. Edward Freeman, Andrew Wicks, Bidhan Parmar, and co-authors Jeffrey Harrison and Simone de Colle.

Career Discovery Forum-Mission_20100818_0006 First year students at Darden begin their job search process as soon as they arrive in August, participating in a series of Career Discovery Forums (CDFs). The CDFs give students a better understanding of post-MBA options in Consulting, Entrepreneurship, Finance, General Management & Operations, Marketing, and Mission-Driven Careers.

The opening presentation for the Mission-Driven Careers Forum was given by Kellogg Leliveld, Associate Director of Business Development for Darden’s Career Development Center. In addition to meeting with companies, Kellogg focuses on finding jobs in a variety of industries, including energy, microfinance, corporate social responsibility (CSR), education, government and non-profits, and also leads the school’s Renewable Energy Job Trek.

Kellogg noted a number of changes during the 2009-2010 school year: Darden posted approximately 120 positions related to sustainability and social change, an increase over 2008-2009; there was an increase in student interest in such roles; and membership in career clubs related to energy, sustainability, education and entrepreneurship has increased. Some students also choose to start their own mission-oriented companies, and have the opportunity to spend a summer (with funding provided) in Darden’s Incubator. Last summer’s Incubator companies included two focused on renewable energy and energy efficiency.

What are mission-driven roles, which can encompass many of the categoriesCareer Discovery Forum-Mission_20100818_0009 mentioned above and more? They look different to different people. One could be an operations role in a traditional company committed to energy efficiency in its supply chain. Or a product design role focused on bringing innovative goods to market that provide environmental solutions (note our GE panelist below). Or perhaps a job in community development finance or a CSR role for a Fortune 100 company. Below is a list of a number of these types of positions. A great resource on this topic is the book Profession and Purpose: A Resource Guide for MBA Careers in Sustainability by Katie Kross.

Mission Driven Careers Slide

A diverse group of panelists shared with students what they do and their enthusiasm for the impact they are having, including:

Career Discovery Forum-Mission_20100818_0014

The message from Kellogg and our panelists was that there are great opportunities for MBAs to focus their careers on addressing the world’s most serious issues such as climate change, education reform, potable water availability, and poverty. And business schools like Darden have the expertise to help guide students on this path.

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