Published March 11, 2013
The ARCS Forum, hosted by the Haas Center for Responsible Business and the Berkeley-Haas School of Business will be held April 29th, 2013 at Haas. Why? Because business leaders and academics are often worlds apart. Academics rarely know the current needs of business leaders, and business leaders are seldom aware of just what is “known” from academic research. Pedagogically, the situation is not much better. We academics teach students material that is engaging and conceptually intriguing, but it may not be what’s really needed. Business leaders, for their part, often don’t know their options in business education and what could be done to better train new employees.
In the area of corporate sustainability, the problem is particularly egregious because the nature of sustainability changes rapidly as scholarship makes advances or new approaches emerge from business. Both sides could benefit from better interaction with the other, but common knowledge is still very sparse. Not long ago, a manager asked me if anyone had done work on the very subject on which I have spent more than a dozen years. I am sure I have caused equal consternation in many managers by asking questions which revealed how little I knew about how business is really done.
The common lack of familiarity often leads to misperceptions on both sides. Business managers often assume that scholarly research underlies the ideas in best-selling business books. Scholars often believe that high profile business leaders are the ones from which the most can be learned.
This must stop!
To bridge the communities of practitioners, researchers, and educators, in 2012 ARCS initiated a new one day program at our annual research conference, and we intend to continue this program each year. The academics in ARCS are some of the best researchers and teachers in sustainability. Unlike many prominent figures in sustainability, ARCS researchers do not have a set perspective for which they wish to advocate. They are a hard-nosed group with an eye to what the evidence really says. The business leaders that we have attracted so far are much the same. They are both inspiring and willing to make the tough calls on what works and what doesn’t.
Our first meeting emphasized a discussion of sustainability education. Two important themes emerged during the course of the day: The first is the need for scientific and economic literacy. This was put most poignantly by Armond Cohen of the Clean Air Task Force: “Please don’t send me any more dreamy students who think that energy solutions are cheap and quick.” But excellent communication and influencing capabilities were also deemed critical. Managers like Mike Dean of Turner Construction pointed out the need for these soft skills: “We identify high potential people for positions of leadership; most often these high potential people are the ones with soft skills.” Debate on these two perspectives proceeded throughout the day of panels, classroom cases, and open discussion. By the end, Frank O’Brien Bernini of Corning winkingly proposed a solution: “We need poets who then take master degrees in physics or economics.”
The second important topic discussed during the day was what distinguished education on sustainability. Reflecting later, Alison Taylor (Siemens) summarized her thoughts: “We talked at Yale about education that includes an understanding of net future value. This concept resonates with me. If I had more managers who thought this way, and more corporate strategy consultants as well, I think I would make more progress in my role.”
Of course, we reached no final conclusions, but participants rated very highly the opportunity to have “great discussion” between academics and business leaders, as well as the chance to see how to use new course materials in the classroom.
The 2013 Forum
This year we hope to spark a useful discussion on business models for sustainability. We will begin with an overview of the current status of business practice, and then consider the merits of emerging approaches. These will include New Market-Based Approaches such as mitigation credits. For example, is it really possible to bring property rights approaches to Bull Trout habitat? We will also consider New Customer Interactions. What makes OPower so effective in motivating energy efficiency? And finally, we will highlight best practices in motivating change toward sustainability in companies. What really works and what doesn’t? As with last year, we will use some cases after lunch to keep the discussion lively.
To view the ARCS Research Conference schedule, click here.
The ARCS Forum 2012 Participants included the following:
The 5th Annual ARCS Research Conference will begin at the end of the ARCS Forum and will run through approximately 3pm on Wednesday, May 1st.
ARCS is a professional society of scholars studying the interface between business and sustainability. Faculty members, doctoral students, and researchers from any university or academically-oriented institutes and think-tanks are welcome to become ARCS individual members.
ARCS was established to provide data, tools and networking opportunities to researchers who are developing greater understanding of the opportunities and limits of policies and strategies to foster sustainable business. ARCS is also an alliance of schools and institutes at major universities that share a strong commitment to research on business and sustainability. Members include U California-Berkeley, Cornell, Dartmouth, Duke, Harvard, Indiana, INSEAD, U Michigan, MIT, Northwestern, U Pennsylvania, U Virginia, U Western Ontario and Yale.
Join our mailing list for updates on articles, events, and other news: