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Sustainability at Our Alma Mater, Harvard Business School

[fa icon="calendar'] Feb 21, 2017 9:46:22 AM / by Bahar Gidwani

Two of CSRHub’s founders went to Harvard Business School.  (Cynthia and I were in the same study group!)  So we remain interested in the affairs of our alma mater—especially as they relate to sustainability.

Colleges and Universities are pretty interesting “entities” from a sustainability perspective.  Many of them are huge enterprises—as big or bigger than most major corporations.  For instance, Harvard University employs about 16,000 faculty and staff (more staff than the 11,000+ students they serve).  The University of Texas at Austin has about the same number of staff, 15,000, watching over its 50,000 students.  In contrast, US Steel employs only 21,000 people—not too different!

We have 11 sources of information and 158 elements of data available on Harvard University, but can only rate it on 8 of our twelve measures of sustainability.  This is a common situation for Colleges and Universities (we have 47 sources for US Steel).

Harvard University CSR Ranking.jpg

We currently offer full ratings on only 9 of the 88 education entities that we cover in CSRHub.  This situation should improve as we gather more crowd and government sources.  (For instance, the US Department of Education provides an interesting Scorecard that has more than 100 data items per college.  (E.g., did you know that Harvard University graduates earn an average of $87,200 ten years after graduation, compared to $52,800 for UT grads?)

Colleges and universities face many of the same sustainability-related issues that businesses do.  For instance, Harvard has tussled with its host communities (with both Cambridge and Allston), as it has expanded its facilities and grown its “footprint.”  The University recently went through a strike with its food workers, narrowly avoided a strike with its janitors, and faces a unionization effort among its graduate student workers.  It has also made public commitments to reduce its carbon footprint, waste production, etc.

While schools like Harvard may have a “sustainability report,” few educational institutions have generated a GRI report (10 in the past two years out of the 88 entities in this group) and none have done a CDP report.  This lack of formal reporting, coupled with public/private governance structures that diffuse responsibility, make it hard to hold educational institutions to the same standard of behavior that we do for business entities.  However, the core buyer for education is young and more socially aware than the average consumer of most business products.  We expect to see students (and faculty) increase pressure on universities and colleges to both disclose more of their social behavior and to press schools to improve their social performance.

 

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Bahar Gidwani

Bahar Gidwani is CEO and Co-founder of CSRHub.  He has built and run large technology-based businesses for many years. Bahar holds a CFA, worked on Wall Street with Kidder, Peabody, and with McKinsey & Co. Bahar has consulted to a number of major companies and currently serves on the board of several software and Web companies. He has an MBA from Harvard Business School and an undergraduate degree in physics and astronomy. He plays bridge, races sailboats, and is based in New York City.

CSRHub provides access to the world’s largest corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information.  It covers over 16,800 companies from 135 industries in 133 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from 500 data sources, CSRHub has created a broad, consistent rating system and a searchable database that links millions of rating elements back to their source. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices, and seek ways to improve corporate sustainability performance.

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Harvard Business School’s Plan for a Carbon Free Future

[fa icon="calendar'] Jul 20, 2015 8:51:43 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By: Carol Pierson Holding

Sunset_There has been so much good news about business embracing renewable energy that I almost didn’t give it a second thought when a Harvard Business School report called “America’s Unconventional Energy Opportunity” landed on my desk. Subtitled “A Win-Win Plan for the Economy, the Environment, and a Lower-Carbon, Cleaner-Energy Future,” I assumed it was a plan to transform our energy resources to renewables like wind and solar. States are pushing renewables too: New York State just released its roadmap for getting to 50% renewable power by 2030 by focusing on distributed generation and renewable resources.

The lead author of the HBS report is Professor Michael Porter. He is not only a globally-recognized authority on competitive strategy, he’s also works tirelessly on just causes. He created the “Social Progress Index to look beyond GDP at social and environmental factors.” Porter also co-founded FSG-Social Impact Advisors and co-developed its theory of “Shared Value” to help non-profits work with business to create social value. (Full disclosure: I am an HBS graduate and met with Porter and FSG staff.)

So it was disappointing to read that by “unconventional energy” the authors mean “…shale gas and oil resources …accessed and extracted through the process of hydraulic fracturing.”

Porter and his colleagues at HBS and management consulting firm BCG lay out their motivation:

Unconventional gas and oil resources are perhaps the single largest opportunity to improve the trajectory of the U.S. economy, at a time when the prospects for the average American are weaker than we have experienced in generations. America’s new energy abundance can not only help restore U.S. competitiveness but can also create geopolitical advantages for America. These benefits can be achieved while substantially mitigating local environmental impact and speeding up the transition to a cleaner-energy future that is both practical and affordable.

Their solution is to convert coal and oil based energy to natural gas and, when plants come to their natural end-of-life, we’ll replace natural gas with renewables. In the meantime, we’ll restore our economic supremacy by exporting cheap natural gas while reducing our own carbon emissions and energy costs. By 2060, we’d be generating zero carbon emissions from energy generation.

It’s not an easy sell. The first problem is cost. To develop our natural gas resources will require $900 billion in infrastructure investment, including new interstate pipelines, storage facilities, rail, marine and road upgrades, gathering and processing infrastructure, and export terminals. In other words we’d have to spend even more to transition to natural gas as we will spend to convert to renewables, which the report estimates at $750 billion. In the end, with Porter’s plan, we’d be stuck with all that decaying infrastructure and fracking waste. Why not put that money into renewables infrastructure starting now?

The report also calls for spending on training for higher paying jobs in natural gas. Again, why not spend money on renewable energy training instead of having to retrain workers later on? Porter’s argument is economic competitiveness — the GDP increases we would see if we push natural gas production. You can’t generate exports from wind or solar the way you can from natural gas, and ours is by far the cheapest in the world.

Many of the report’s recommendations read like a fossil fuel producers dream: in addition to some positive proposals such as imposing regulations and increasing transparency, it also advocates ending “outdated” restrictions on oil and gas exports and encouraging industry compliance with industry-led self-enforcement, even after some industry players have been seen to be systemically corrupt.

All that said, the plan has several positives that should not be overlooked. First, shifting from coal to natural gas can take about a quarter of the responsibility for the 15% carbon reduction between 2005 and 2013. It may be the only certain path to achieving the EPA’s Clean Power Plan and eliminating coal plants. Producing just half the greenhouse gases (GHG) as coal (methane aside), natural gas is, as Porter et al say, “a crucial asset in making America’s energy transition both feasible and at a competitive cost across a range of carbon reduction scenarios, at least through 2030.” And that transition is way faster than fossil fuel industry thought leaders like Shell.

As I discussed in a blog for CSRHub, Shell’s most recent future scenarios report advocates a transition to renewables by 2100. Porter’s assumes power grid alterations necessary for renewable energy will take 20-30 years, taking us to 2035-45, at which point renewables will be even more cost competitive than natural gas and will be completely phased out of power production before 2060. Working back from Shell’s prediction of 2100, that looks pretty good.

We’re all tempted to point fingers at a policy recommendation that will delay achieving a zero emissions future while bolstering fossil fuel and power businesses. Isn’t this just business as usual? Maybe, but at least this timeline is much faster than the fossil fuel industry’s. Porter’s report acknowledges that if solar and wind prices continue to fall below oil and gas prices as they have in some places like Austin, Texas, business will drive an even faster transition. It’s all about the money, and in this case, that could be a very good thing.


Carol2Carol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council’s Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 15,000+ companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 15,000+ companies from 135 industries in 130 countries. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

 

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[fa icon="comment"] 1 Comment posted in America’s Unconventional Energy Opportunity, energy infrastructure, Entergy, Harvard Business School, natural gas, Shell, Uncategorized, Shared Value, Anadarko, BCG, Carol Pierson Holding, CSRHub, Michael Porter, renewable energy, Social Progress Index, tracking

UN Figueras to HBS Alums: Elites Can Change the World…And Invest in Change

[fa icon="calendar'] Sep 23, 2014 10:32:58 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding and Cynthia Figge

We are inspired by a call with Harvard Business School alumni, Dan Abbasi, low carbon Harvard Business Schoolinvestor and executive producer of the Emmy-winning television series on climate change called “Years of Living Dangerously,” and Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Fifty of us listened as Figueres briefed us on the status of climate change action and expectations for the UN talks this week. She and Dan Abbasi were engaging with elite members of the business community to encourage us to apply pressure wherever possible to global leaders coming together on Tuesday to tackle this issue. It was meaningful to us because it marks the first time we’ve been networked with other HBS grads for social action related to climate change.

Why start with an NGO effort like the UN climate talks? In Abbasi’s words,

“The climate change issue has suffered from a serious diffusion of responsibility and resulting inaction – business is waiting for government to act, and government is waiting for business to give them permission.”

 

In other words, we need to move both at once to effect timely action on the climate, to keep global temperatures within the limits of human safety.

We have to say, it’s heartening to hear from this contingent when so many of our fellow graduates seem to be deep in the deny or postpone camp.

Abbasi’s main carrot for calling this group together was to show “the huge opportunity to put capital to work very profitably” and to “use the HBS network to be a force for social change that it already is.” And of course the stick will be carbon pricing. Along the way, Figueres was able to make several points that elucidated these motivational pillars:

  • $9 trillion is needed for clean energy infrastructure – the largest investment opportunity in our history.
  • China is in the lead in this transition with huge wind and solar commitments for the future. Even now, it produces double the European Union in energy from wind and has started development of a solar plant that will yield as many gigawatts as a nuclear facility. China is also helping other countries to make the transition, investing in Australia’s plan for renewables in the Pacific Islands.
  • Being the most vulnerable to climate change, ocean-dependent nations are the first to make the transition. For example, Samoa will be completely transitioned to renewables by 2016, proving it can be done.
  • Forty countries have carbon pricing in place now, plus seven pilots in China, several around the US (California for one) and elsewhere. Global carbon pricing should happen quickly once China aggregates its regional carbon pricing plans into a single national price, a price that will be easy for others around the globe to adopt as well.
  • Public opinion and an engaged citizenry is critical to these efforts. It was the outrage of China’s public over health risks of its extreme air pollution that moved that country. Here in the U.S., the People’s Climate March on Sunday the largest call for climate action in history, makes it visible to our government and UN representatives how widespread public support is.
  • The elite can exert their influence in targeted calls to government leaders and in sustainable business practices in their personal and professional lives, changes that will move sustainable behavior to the mainstream.

Abassi closed with a statement that climate change should not be a political issue, but an investment issue. The stick was left hanging, but as we learned years ago at the Women’s Network for a Sustainable Future, smart companies like Dupont have been using their own internal carbon pricing for years, preparing for what they believe is the inevitable future. And by examining CSRHub’s ratings on Energy and Climate Change, as businesspeople, we can compare how companies are performing in this area, and take action.

Why was this confab so important? This is the start of an organized effort by the business elite to tackle the issue of climate change. That a small band of HBS alumni has started to build a movement is as thrilling as the global climate march. Climate change advocates already include such prominent business leaders as Michael Bloomberg and Henry Paulson, but they are outliers among Wall Street Journal readers who roundly deny or even mock efforts to address climate change. This inaugural meeting of HBS supporters could eventually change minds, moving our work to the mainstream of the business elite as well.


Carol Pierson HoldingCarol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council's Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 9,300+ companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

Cynthia FiggeCynthia Figge is a forerunner and thought leader in the corporate sustainability movement. She is COO and Cofounder of CSRHub, the world’s largest database that aggregates and organizes data and knowledge on the social, environmental, and governance performance of 9,300 companies to provide sustainability ratings to the marketplace. In 1996 she co-founded EKOS International, one of the first consultancies integrating sustainability and corporate strategy. Prior to founding EKOS, she was an officer of LIN Broadcasting / McCaw Cellular, and led new businesses and services with Weyerhaeuser, New York Daily News; and with New Ventures. Cynthia is Board Director of the Compassionate Action Network International. Cynthia received her bachelor's degree in Economics and an MBA from the Harvard Business School. She lives in the Seattle area.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 9,300+ companies from 135 industries in 106 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from 343 data sources, CSRHub has created a broad, consistent rating system and a searchable database that links millions of rating elements back to their source. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

 

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[fa icon="comment"] 1 Comment posted in climate change, Cynthia Figge, Dan Abbasi, Harvard Business School, HBS, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Cha, renewables, Uncategorized, UN, Carol Pierson Holding, Christiana Figueras

Imagine If Harvard Took on Climate Change

[fa icon="calendar'] Oct 29, 2013 10:50:51 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

It was with a heavy heart that we read President Drew Faust’s announcement that HarvardHarvard would not join the Fossil Fuel Divestment movement. At 1,275 words, her statement acknowledges how seriously Harvard’s administration considered the issue. The statement opens with “Climate change represents one of the world’s most consequential challenges,” but “divestment from the fossil fuel industry is (neither) warranted or wise.”
Last Thursday, Seattle’s Mayor Michael McGinn wrote an impassioned protest for Huffington Post that lays out the arguments against Harvard’s stance, but it was surely no surprise to anyone. Harvard has a history of withstanding divestment movements, refusing to join even the anti-Apartheid divestment until ten years after protests began.

But still I expected more. Faust is one of my heroes. As the first female President of Harvard, she operates successfully and in some ways radically in one of the most entrenched old boys clubs in the country. My own alma mater, Harvard Business School, recently revealed a pattern of sexual harassment and discrimination that was as astonishing in its depth. Even more surprising is the fact that it was revealed at all, much less addressed with such fervor by HBS’ male Dean Nitin Nohria. Appointed by President Faust, Dean Nohria pledged to “remake gender relations.”

A few weeks before the divestment rejection, I had received another email from Harvard, the transcript of a speech by President Faust announcing a $6.5 billion capital campaign. Even more damning than Harvard’s failure to signal its support for an end to fossil fuels was its omission of climate change in its plans for the future.

Faust spoke eloquently answering the question, “What institutional commitments will we make to define who we are and who we will be decades and centuries from now?” She names Harvard’s priorities as genomics, imaging, nanotechnology, big data, computation and “forging of new connections and crossing traditional boundaries” required by digital privacy, bioengineering and understanding and alleviating ethnic and sectarian conflict.

How could there be absolutely no mention of climate change? Surely this issue is more critical to life as we know it than nanotechnology or digital privacy.

Then I remembered a phrase in the Fossil Fuel Divestment email: “funds in the endowment have been given by generous benefactors.” Here was the most likely reason for Harvard to reject pleas from 72% of its student body and millions of climate change advocates:

The fossil fuel industry and its owners give big, and their influence is pervasive.

Just one example: David Koch, the climate change denier/coal and oil baron, a graduate of MIT, has given $185 million to his alma mater.

Harvard’s campaign was kicked off with Bill Gates, suggesting that the computer industry might be its primary target. But Harvard’s campaign is too big to risk alienating its largest donors from any sector.

It seems Harvard’s anti-divestment decision might be simply put, a practical fund-raising strategy.

But the school is missing an even bigger opportunity. To quote the Harvard Political Review, “Divestment…would signal that America’s universities take the climate-energy challenge seriously.” And what better institution to lead America's universities than Harvard?

Another missed opportunity: Harvard could be raising capital to address the most intransigent, complex and compelling challenge of all, climate change. Bill Gates is more excited about it these days than computing. His big bet, TerraPower, is a nuclear energy innovator.

Imagine if Harvard put all of its might behind “forging of new connections and crossing traditional boundaries” to solve the climate crisis. It might be the best fund-raising strategy of all. Michael Bloomberg has given his alma mater John’s Hopkins a total of $1.1 billion for cross-disciplinary work, part of that specifically on sustainability. Surely there are other environmental advocates out there among the 52 billionaires who are Harvard graduates.

Maybe it’s time for Harvard to rethink its strategy.


Carol Pierson HoldingCarol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council's Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 8,400+ companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 8,400+ companies from 135 industries in 104 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from 270+ data sources, CSRHub has created a broad, consistent rating system and a searchable database that links millions of rating elements back to their source. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

 

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[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in apartheid, climate change, Fossil Fuel Divestment, fossil fuels, Harvard, Harvard Business School, Uncategorized, Michael Bloomberg, Paul Epstein, Robert Stavins, sexual harassment, Terrapower, $6.5 billion capital campaign, Bill Gates, Carol Pierson Holding, David Koch, Drew Faust, Impax Investment Management

A Sustainability Mystique for Women

[fa icon="calendar'] Apr 4, 2011 9:30:00 AM / by Cynthia Figge

By Cynthia Figge

 

In a recent study by the White House on the status of women, its first since 1963, women now make up 57% of college enrollment. Yet in 2009, at all levels of education, they earned only 75 percent as much as their male counterparts. How far have we come, and where are we going?

 

1963 was the auspicious year of Betty Friedan’s publication of feminism’s cornerstone text, The Feminine Mystique. Revisiting the book, I was surprised to discover new meaning in Friedan’s message—one with a decidedly progressive bent, even for 2011.

 

Stephanie Coontz’s book A Strange Stirring provides a compelling critique of the impact of The Feminine Mystique as an impetus for the profound changes brought by the women’s movement in the 60s and 70s. In the event you think women are not doing well enough, she outlines that we have come a long way since 1963. Clearly Friedan encouraged women to embrace, rather than repudiate, their aspirations for a life beyond the home.

 

What I did not know was that Friedan urged both women and men to use their education and talents in meaningful work that served a higher purpose. It is this call to integrate our work with a higher purpose that may be one of the most critical drivers of the sustainability movement.

 

Considering the vast transformation required to evolve our global economic system towards sustainability, the yearning for social utility in work is motivating many young people today to be a part of the solution. At both Harvard and Columbia Universities’ business schools, about 25% of all students are members of their environmental and sustainability clubs. Demand for work in this area is intense and many MBA graduates say they would sacrifice pay for work where they can solve social problems and make a difference in the world.

 

Although all are welcome, women may be particularly called upon to lead the sustainability movement. I recently joined with other sustainability leaders in the Northwest to launch the Seattle chapter of the Women’s Network for a Sustainable Future (WNSF). Last fall, Jean Brittingham kicked off the inaugural gathering of over 70 women by saying that female memes have been absent for the past five to seven thousand years, and now is the time to bring our feminine traits – passion, curiosity, a solutions-first focus, intuition, relationship-based action and multitasking—to the sustainability movement.

 

Costco’s head of sustainability, Sheri Flies, added that we must understand the balance of women’s and men’s traits, and that she has seen some 30-something year old men embracing their own feminine attributes in their work styles.

 

Gifford Pinchot, co-founder of the Bainbridge Graduate Institute, spoke about the risk facing our civilization, pointing out that as we move from knowledge work to creative work, women are the drivers of sustainable organizations, enterprises, and culture.

 

In her article Gender and the Sustainable Brain, Andrea Learned argues that encouraging the relational and empathetic aspects of human thinking [those aspects which are more typical of women] – and “better balancing that which has been perceived as masculine and feminine – will lead us to a more sustainable, enduring and productive global economy.”

 

So is this the time for women to “dominate” and “take over” to lead corporations and the world to sustainability? The recent article, The End of Men, in The Atlantic, indicates that this may be “our time.” Women’s growth in leadership has been barred by the dearth of women in the pipeline for the C suite, and too few female mentors. However, this is finally changing.

 

Joanna Barsh (a classmate at Harvard Business School) raises provocative issues in her book, How Remarkable Women Lead, such as whether feminine leadership traits (for women and men) are better suited for our fast-changing, hyper-competitive, and increasingly complex world. The good news is that women are tracking into sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) roles, and bringing a rich reservoir of strength, optimism for the future, and grounded ways to change the world. After five to seven thousand years, it’s about time.   

 


Cynthia Figge, Cofounder and COO of CSRHUB is a forerunner and thought leader in the corporate sustainability movement. In 1996 she co-founded EKOS International, one of the first consultancies integrating sustainability and corporate strategy. Cynthia has worked with major organizations including BNSF, Boeing, Coca-Cola, Dow Jones, and REI to help craft sustainability strategy integrated with business. She was an Officer of LIN Broadcasting/McCaw Cellular leading new services development, and started a new “Greenfield” mill with Weyerhaeuser. She serves as Advisor to media and technology companies, and served as President of the Board of Sustainable Seattle. Cynthia has an MBA from Harvard Business School. Cynthia is based in the Seattle area.

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