By Jo Mackness, Executive Director 

All I need to feel inspired about corporate sustainability and its importance in creating a better world I learned from the unbelievable lineup of sustainable business leaders who shared their insights and inspiration with students, faculty and the broader community last year. Tricky to distill into a pithy post, but here goes… my top insights from CRB guests in 2013:

  1. Nature is a terrific investment opportunity. Mark Tercek, CEO of The Nature Conservancy, cited countless examples of projects in which investing in green infrastructure was better than an investment in man-made equipment.
  2. Poverty is a psychological scar. Lord Michael Hastings, Global Citizenship head at KPMG and VP of UNICEF, argued that we need to build capacity within people and communities, helping them mend the psychological scar of poverty that is often far harder to overcome after basic human needs have been met.
  3. Flourishing people and organizations = next gen management innovation. MBA alum Dave Sherman, said “flourishing practices” (such as meditation, actively managing physical, emotional energy, creating quiet space) allow getting in touch with the deepest passions of people and leveraging these strengths in the workplace unlocks the full potential of individuals and organizations.
  4. “Less bad” is no good. Bill McDonough, of Cradle to Cradle fame, urged that companies should not be developing goals that aim for zero, rather, they should be redesigning products and services to create a net positive (think living buildings that host butterflies and encourage nature, rather than release less cancer-causing or polluting emissions).
  5. Private capital can work for social good. Alicia Glen, head of Goldman Sachs’ Urban Investment Group shared compelling examples of deals (e.g., early childhood education, prison recidivism lowering, city bike share programs) that bring together “financial first investors” with “social first investors” to pay for social impact performance.
  6. Public capital can work for social good. Anne Simpson, leader of CalPERS Global Governance, is charged with ensuring CalPERS’ quarter of a trillion dollars is aligned with its Investment Beliefs, one of which underscores the fact that long-term value creation requires effective management of three forms of capital: financial, physical and human.
  7. Markets react positively to CSR proposals. Moskowitz Prize winner Caroline Flammer, professor at the Ivey Business School, showed in her winning paper that the stock market and other financial measures (ROA, net profit margin) are positively impacted by the passing of CSR-related shareholder resolutions (such as reducing CO2 emissions, implementing employee programs), even when they are a “close call” (i.e., unknown if proposal would pass in advance).
  8. Sharing and helping can make for compelling business models. Folks like Adam Werbach (ex Sierra Club chief) and Andy Ruben (ex Walmart sustainability officer) along with firms like Airbnb (valued in the multi billions) inspired several of our students to create “sharing economy” companies focused on gleaning new value out of existing products, excess capacity, needed time/talent in diverse areas such as clothing, food preparation, and skill sharing. Watch this space in 2014!


Previous CRB Presents a New Course, “Corporate Governance: Shareholders, Stakeholders, and Corporate Control” Next Want to Help Women Achieve Leadership Roles? Bring on the Men.