Reflections on the ARCS Leadership Transition

Published July 5, 2017

2017-07-05 13:00:14

I am honored to take over the Presidency of ARCS from Magali Delmas, who has done an outstanding job over the past three years. Under her leadership we have hosted three great conferences, including our first ever venture outside of North America. In fact, the Ninth Annual ARCS Research Conference was just held at the Rotterdam School of Management, and it was a smashing success, thanks in large part to Frank Wijen and his organizing team. Over 100 people came from Holland, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain, Finland, England, Turkey, France, Belgium, Sweden, Switzerland, the United States, Canada, Singapore, China, and Russia. There were 36 papers presented, a half-day PhD Workshop, and a fantastic social event at the Wereldmuseum overlooking the waterfront and the iconic Erasmus Bridge. It was clear we have become a truly international organization.

When Mike Lenox proposed the idea for ARCS back in 2008, I was excited to help build an organization devoted to rigorous research on corporate sustainability. Sustainability was gaining traction in the business world, but there were also lots of “gurus” spouting happy talk about win/win outcomes without much hard evidence to back them up. I agreed with Mike and the other founding members that business school faculty could and should do better. And as Director of the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan, I had a team that was well positioned to host the first ARCS conference in Ann Arbor in May, 2009.

That first conference featured just 13 papers, each presented in a 45-minute plenary session with a discussant, along with a panel discussion on research methods featuring David Baron, Mike Lenox and Andy Hoffman. A total of 53 people registered, most from the U.S., although we did have participants from Canada, China, England, France, Ghana, Mexico and Spain. The size of the first conference may have been modest, but we successfully set a high bar for quality. Of the 13 papers presented, 8 have since been published in top journals: 1 in Organization Science, 3 in Strategic Management Journal, 1 in Journal of Economics and Management Strategy, 1 in Environment and Resource Economics, and 2 in Journal of Environmental Economics and Management.

How we have grown since then! At the outset, ARCS had just six institutional members (Dartmouth, Duke, Harvard, Indiana, Michigan, and Virginia). Today we have 23. In the beginning, the ARCS North American conference was the only activity of the young organization. Today our conference is solidly international, and our portfolio has expanded: we co-sponsor an annual PhD Sustainability Academy with the Ivey School; we maintain an extensive website; we curated a 4-volume series of Major Works in Corporate Sustainability from Sage Publishers; we issue regular blog posts and news about CSR research through Huffington Post; and we hosted a workshop that may eventually serve as a model for others to follow. One of my main goals for the next three years is to continue building our programs, so please feel free to reach out with ideas for new ways ARCS can contribute.

As ARCS prepares to embark on its second decade, we have much to be proud of.  ARCS has welcomed many new scholars into the field, and has built a vibrant interdisciplinary global network committed to rigorous and relevant research. We have helped change what was once considered a specialty research niche into a recognized mainstream area. Yet there is much more to be done. At a time when the corporate sector voices more support for climate protection than does the U.S. government, we might fairly say that corporate sustainability has come of age. But what is the best way to make the planet great again in a “post-truth” world where trust in many institutions is faltering? Many experiments will be launched over the next few years, and researchers have a crucial role to play in suggesting promising approaches and developing metrics for evaluating them.

At the Rotterdam conference, Jorgen Randers gave a stirring keynote address that reminded us all of the urgency of change. And panelists Andy Hoffman, Jennifer Howard-Grenville and Gail Whiteman led a provocative discussion about how scholars can make a difference in the world that sparked many follow-on conversations. Next year’s conference will be held at MIT June 11-13, 2018, and organized by John Sterman, a man who has strong views about the importance of academic engagement in the world. Expect a stimulating and thought-provoking conference that is also a great social event. Put it on your calendar now!  I look forward to seeing you there. And please, if you have ideas for ways that ARCS can help you to have a bigger impact, reach out and let me know.

Thomas Lyon
President, ARCS
Dow Professor of Sustainable Science, Technology, and Commerce
School for Environment and Sustainability, University of Michigan
http://seas.umich.edu/research/faculty/thomas_lyon

 

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