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Key Takeaways from ClimateCAP MBA Summit

Responsible Business Center | Mar 04, 2024 |

On February 9th and 10th, Leigh Anne Statuto, executive director of the Responsible Business Center, and Peter Lupoff, director of strategy, traveled to the University of Michigan for the annual ClimateCAP conference. This MBA Summit is a flagship event that brings together MBA students across various schools and business leaders to discuss the challenges that the climate crisis poses to business and society. 
Leigh Anne Statuto and Peter Lupoff at the ClimateCAP MBA Summit

In the Fall of 2024, the Responsible Business Center and the Gabelli School of Business became Leading Partners of the initiative. 

This year’s conference theme, Sustainability in Motion, brought sustainability leaders together from across industries with corporate representation from BlocPower, Related, Trane Technologies, Kellanova, among others. Of the many messages and calls to action from the weekend, a few common threads emerged. 

Hope and Urgency
The conference embodied an overarching message of hope, juxtaposing the looming threat of the climate crisis with the imperative for action and optimism. Despite the daunting risks ahead, the prevailing sentiment was that the only viable path forward demands innovation, positivity, and hope. Donnel Baird, Founder of BlocPower, galvanized the auditorium with a call-and-response, igniting a collective fervor as he rallied us to be “fired up” and “ready to go” in tackling the climate crisis head-on. His passionate engagement with the audience underscored the need to channel our frustrations and disappointments into actionable momentum. While the urgency of the current situation is undeniable, the conference emphasized the crucial importance of finding hope amidst the chaos. Feeling inspired? You can watch this fireside chat linked here. 

Climate Justice 
At the forefront of discussions on climate justice lies the reality that marginalized communities, particularly people of color, will be disproportionately impacted by climate change. This disparity was emphasized throughout the conference as a critical issue demanding our attention. Keynote speakers and panelists reiterated the necessity of inclusive policies that prioritize the needs of these vulnerable groups, highlighting the interconnectedness of environmental and social justice struggles. True climate resilience cannot be achieved without addressing underlying disparities, rectifying historical injustices, and empowering communities to adapt and thrive. The pursuit of climate justice necessitates a paradigm shift towards equitable distribution of resources, access to clean energy, and meaningful participation of marginalized groups in decision-making processes. 

Polarization of ESG – Sustainability is “not a fad!”
A recurring theme surfaced was the resounding affirmation that ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) principles are far from a passing trend. Despite the polarizing debates surrounding sustainability and responsible business practices, there has been a growing acknowledgment of ESG’s significance, with many individuals dispelling that it’s merely a fleeting concept. The panel discussion, titled “Dean’s Roundtable: Climate and Business Education,” showcased distinguished figures in academia: Sharon Matusik, Dean of Ross School of Business; Ann Harrison, Dean of Berkeley Haas; and Andrew Karolyi, Dean of Cornell SC Johnson College of Business. Facilitated by Stu Hart, a prominent professor and author from the University of Michigan, this panel exemplified the overarching message of the conference. Dean Karolyi passionately asserted that sustainability is unequivocally “not a fad!” Instead, it represents the essence of responsible business, mitigating long-term risks and driving operational efficiencies. The consensus echoed throughout the discussion was that irrespective of nomenclature, embracing ESG principles embodies sound business practice and should be embraced by all future business leaders.

Sustainability as an Opportunity for Innovation
Innovation emerged as a central theme, cutting across various discussions at the conference. Oakley Roberts, VP of Innovation at Trane Technologies, delivered the keynote address, shedding light on their groundbreaking innovations and collaborative approach involving employees in decision-making processes. Amidst the urgent call to view sustainability amidst the climate crisis as an opportunity, innovation takes on paramount importance. It’s the engine driving transformative change. By embracing unconventional thinking, we can integrate sustainability into supply chains and businesses, simultaneously bolstering our bottom line. This mindset addresses the pressing environmental challenges and positions us to thrive in an increasingly sustainable future.

Corporate Political Responsibility 
A recurring theme underscored in nearly every panel discussion was the indispensable role of government intervention in addressing the climate crisis. From sessions centered on corporate political responsibility to the Dean’s Round Table advocating for a price on carbon, there was a s shared call for government action and engagement. For example, while some companies are taking steps internally to price carbon, government regulations would require all companies to follow suit. Furthermore, the passage of legislation such as the Inflation Reduction Act could incentivize and facilitate the proliferation of renewable energy projects, thus amplifying efforts towards sustainable solutions. Consequently, there was a widespread call for collaboration between government and corporate entities, recognizing that effective climate mitigation necessitates a unified effort across the private and public sectors.

Multiple Paths to Impact 
Regardless of your chosen career path or current position, the pervasive effects of the climate crisis touch virtually every occupation. Throughout the conference, numerous panels and discussions emphasized that finding your purpose in sustainability can be achieved through diverse avenues. Whether you opt for a role in consulting to effect change, aspire to entrepreneurship akin to Donnel Baird at BlocPower, or seek opportunities within a large corporation, many avenues exist to achieve impact. 

Bringing it all together at the Responsible Business Center
Drawing from the insights gleaned from the recent ClimateCAP conference at the University of Michigan, the Responsible Business Center at the Gabelli School of Business is committed to advancing these sustainability narratives rooted in hope, justice, and action.

The Responsible Business Center (RBC) is a platform for interdisciplinary engagement in sustainability, ESG literacy, and business responsibility. Rooted in our Jesuit traditions, we seamlessly and coherently reconcile Business Leadership as Agents of Change and People for Others. We achieve our mission through engagement, research, and education. Moving forward, we are committed to fostering collaborative dialogue, bringing together stakeholders from both academia and industry to generate actionable solutions.

Written by: Leigh Anne Statuto, executive director, and Peter Lupoff, director of strategy, Gabelli School of Business Responsible Business Center.

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