Category Archives: Sustainability

Environmental Catastrophes: The Buck Stops in the C-Suite!

By Lawrence B. Cahill, CPEA, Wharton IGEL Alumni Advisory Group


Corporate environmental, health and safety (EHS) programs require a substantial commitment on the part of executive management in order to be successful.  Programs, policies, and procedures must be defined and implemented, resources committed, audits assessing performance conducted, deficiencies corrected, and improvements made.  If all goes well, there is a presumption that unwanted surprises and incidents will be rare, resulting in fewer management headaches and no material adverse personal consequences for senior managers.  Truly a win-win for both the company and its executives.

Sadly, it is not always the case that senior corporate executives participate actively in EHS programs.  A passive approach is much more common as EHS compliance and performance is often deemed to be the sole responsibility of EHS and Sustainability Managers in the organization.  This passive approach can be perilous for both the individual executive and the company.  Senior executives should be involved actively and there are ways to test whether this involvement is real or not.  What follows is a discussion of why participation and commitment are important and a way to test whether it is truly happening in a given organization.

Why Commitment is Important to the Executive

Some believe that environmental incidents and catastrophes will have an impact on a company’s reputation but will not directly affect senior corporate executives.  For example, a recent column in the on-line Environmental Leader was entitled “No Reputational Penalty for CEOs on Environmental Lawsuits.”[1]  The column refers to a study published in the Journal of Contemporary Accounting & Economics entitled “Corporate litigation and changes in CEO reputation: Guidance from U.S. Federal Court lawsuits”.[2]  This study, based on almost 10,000 cases filed in U.S. federal court over an eight-year period from 2000-2007, concluded that there was:

“…no evidence of any reputational penalty for CEOs following environmental allegations against their companies,” [University of Adelaide, South Australia] business school lecturer Dr. Chelsea Liu told Environmental Leader. “This means that the executive labor market, driven by the collective actions of corporations in the marketplace, is not inclined to ‘shun’ those CEOs whose firms are accused of environmental violations. This is very different from how the market reacts to allegations of financial fraud —prior research shows that CEOs whose firms are accused of financial fraud do experience significant reputational damage.”

Yet, actual notable cases in recent history would appear to contradict the study’s conclusions.  There are any number of instances where very senior executives, including several CEOs, have had their reputations permanently sullied and some have even been sentenced to prison for negligence with respect to EHS mismanagement.  These include the following five cases:

  • Union Carbide Corporation (UCC). Warren Anderson, the then CEO of UCC, and seven other employees were sentenced to 2 years in prison in June 2010 for negligence (the maximum allowed by Indian Law) as a result to the December 1984 Methyl Isocyanate release in Bhopal, India, which killed an estimated 4,000 people and injured another 500,000.  Anderson died in Florida in 2014 at the age of 92 and served no prison time in India as he was not extradited.  Interestingly, “Bhopal protestors” picket the Dow Chemical Headquarters in Midland, MI every year at the annual shareholders meeting.  Dow purchased the assets of UCC in 2001, a full 17 years after the incident.  Should the Dow/DuPont merger announced in December 2015 go through one wonders if the protesters will picket in Wilmington, DE as well, the historical headquarters of DuPont.  Not something that executives in either company presumably relish.
  • BP. After a 28-year career with BP, Tony Hayward, the now ex-CEO, was forced to resign on October 1, 2010 as a result of the April 20, 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  Ironically, Mr. Hayward had replaced Lord John Browne as CEO in 2007 who resigned partly as a result of the BP Texas City Refinery fire that killed 15 people in 2005.
  • Massey Energy. Don Blankenship, the now ex-CEO of Massey Energy, was forced to resign on December 3, 2010 after the April 5, 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia, which killed 29 miners.  On April 6, 2016, Mr. Blankenship was sentenced to one year in prison for “conspiracy to willfully violate mine health and safety standards.”
  • Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). Three former TEPCO executives were indicted for negligence on February 29, 2016 as a result of the Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown caused by a March 2011 tsunami.  In March 2015, a Japanese National Police Agency report confirmed 15,894 deaths, 6,152 injuries and 2,562 people missing as a result of the tsunami.
  • Volkswagen. The now ex-CEO of Volkswagen, Martin Winterkorn, was forced to resign on September 23, 2015 as a result of the 2015 “Clean Diesel Scandal” in the U.S.  Winterkorn accepted responsibility for the scandal while asserting that he was “not aware of any wrongdoing on my part.”  Volkswagen and its executives face possible criminal enforcement action from the U.S. Department of Justice and over 25 State Attorneys General.

It is pretty clear then that there are indeed personal consequences for senior executives when significant EHS incidents occur.  Any individual sitting in one of the chairs in the C-Suite would do themselves a favor by becoming more involved in the company’s EHS management.  And in fact, senior management reviews are a mandatory requirement of ISO 9000 (Quality), ISO 14000 (Environment) and OSHA 18000 (Health and Safety) management system standards often adopted by organizations to better govern operations.  For example, ISO 14000 requires the following: “Top management shall review the organization’s environmental management system, at planned intervals, to ensure its continuing suitability, adequacy and effectiveness.”[3]  And indeed, there are companies, such as Occidental Petroleum, where members of the Audit Committee of the Board of Directors regularly review actual site EHS audit reports.  Although this particular activity should not be relied upon exclusively for assurance purposes, it does provide valuable information on both leading and lagging EHS compliance and performance indicators.

Evaluating Executives’ Commitment

How then does one test whether key executives have an understanding of the implementation and results (and potential consequences) of the company’s EHS management and programs?  One way is to interview these key executives as part of an annual review of EHS program performance.  This annual review can be conducted internally or through a third party.  The evaluation should involve a detailed review of policies and procedures, interviews with a sample of executives at various levels of the organization, and testing the implementation of the EHS program at the site level through assessments or audits at a sample of operating facilities.

The interviewing of key executives is, then, a key component of an EHS program evaluation. In conducting these interviews any interviewer must be diligent, thorough but also respectful of the executive’s time. They are very busy people.  The questions provided below in Table 1 can be used to address and test an individual executive’s involvement and commitment.  It’s important to note that each executive must tailor his or her involvement to best support the organization as effectively as possible.  So, the interviewer should not assume that any given executive should be involved in all the aspects suggested by the questions.  For example, one executive might be involved in the setting of corporate EHS policy and sustainability goals, while another might be responsible for implementing programs within his or her division to achieve those goals, while still others might actually visit plants in their business units periodically to assess site-level performance and gather feedback on the challenges the site management experiences in meeting the goals.

Based on actual experience the questions can be covered in 30-45 minutes. Face-to-face interviews are preferred but a phone interview or video conference can be used as well with comparable results.  Note that the questions are designed to elicit more than a yes/no response.  The interviewer might also discover that the executive will request to see the questions in advance.  That is perfectly acceptable and might actually produce a more productive session as there is a good chance that the executive will have given the questions considerable thought in advance.  In some cases, they will have actually written-out their answers which can enhance the face-to-face discussion.

TABLE 1: Ten Questions to Test an Executive’s Involvement in a Corporate EHS Program

Area of Inquiry Question
1. Personal Involvement What has been your involvement with the corporate EHS program to date?
2. Program Objectives Do you understand the objectives of the program? What are they? Do you believe the objectives are being met? Why or why not?
3. Program Effectiveness Do you believe the program is effective, adequately resourced, and adds value? Specifically, why or why not?
4. Organizational Setting Do you believe that the program is positioned within the organization so as to achieve the appropriate independence and authority? If not, what could or should be done?
5. Stakeholder Involvement Are the concerns of all stakeholders’ (e.g., management, employees, stockholders, regulators, NGO’s, communities) being considered appropriately? Any stakeholders’ interests that are under-represented?
6. Management of Change Is management of change a key component of the program?  If so, how do you know?  If not, why not?
7. Risk Identification Does the program adequately identify and define the key EHS risks faced by the company?  In your estimation, what are the top three risks?
8. Program Outputs Do you see what you need to see with regards to the outputs of the program? If not, what would you like to see that you don’t see now?
9. Corrective Actions Is there sufficient management attention given to correcting identified program deficiencies and needed improvements in a timely fashion? How do you know?
10. Improvements What is the EHS program doing well and should continue to do? If you could change or add one thing to the program to make it better what would that be?

Note that the very last question is extremely important. So, the interviewer has to be careful to manage the interview process so that there will be time for it to be asked and answered.  Executives are very smart and savvy people.  Asking them to identify one thing they might change or add to the EHS program to make it better will often elicit some sage advice and maybe even some “out of the box” thinking.


Executive participation in and commitment to EHS performance is one key to assuring company-wide compliance and potentially avoiding catastrophes. Experience shows that there is no guarantee that executive participation will be a ‘fail-safe” measure but rigorous management support throughout the organization can be extremely valuable.  Involving executives in an active way can help bolster the program and provide the support necessary to accomplish goals, achieve compliance and minimize (but sadly not eliminate) the potential for disasters.

[1] Hardcastle, Jessica Lyons, “No Reputational Penalty for CEOs on Environmental Lawsuits,” Environmental Leader, March 7, 2016

[2] Liu, Chelsea,, “Corporate litigation and changes in CEO reputation: Guidance from U.S. Federal Court lawsuits,” Journal of Contemporary Accounting & Economics, Volume 12, Issue 1, April 2016, Pages 15–34.

[3] International Organization for Standardization (ISO), “Environmental management systems – Requirements for guidance and use,” ISO14001:2015, Third Edition, Section 9.3, September 15, 2015

Sustainable or Not Sustainable? That is the Question!

By Lawrence B. Cahill, CPEA, Wharton IGEL Alumni Advisory Group

Today there are many economic and social drivers for companies to move towards being more sustainable, green, compliant, and safe in the workplace. One of these drivers is being recognized by credible third parties for exceptional performance. For example, being listed on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) or having one or more sites as members of U.S. OSHA’s Voluntary Protection “Star” Program are noble corporate goals and can enhance a company’s reputation. However, some recent events suggest that these recognition programs should be viewed with perhaps some skepticism. Case in point – BP, Tokyo Electric Power, and VW were all DJSI-listed companies prior to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon, 2011 Japanese Tsunami, and 2015 Clean Diesel incidents. All three companies were removed from the DJSI list within a month of the incidents, suffered significant hits to their stock prices, and had CEO’s and other executives forced to resign. One has to ask the question then: What might this say about formal sustainability recognition programs. This link to an EHS Journal article in 2015 explores this issue in more detail.

Who Are Change Agents of Sustainability?

By David Mazzocco, LEED AP, Associate Director of Sustainability and Projects, The Wharton School

The University of Pennsylvania becomes the first Ivy League school to commit to the American College and University Presidential Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) with President Amy Gutmann’s signature in 2007. A grassroots citizens group implements a municipal climate action plan and achieves their goals ahead of schedule while saving taxpayer money. A corporation meets its promise to eliminate any negative impact on the environment while transforming the marketplace and increasing their profit. These are great successes, but underlying this success is creating and maintaining the momentum for a successful environmental movement.

Who does this? Are they business owners, citizens, employees, presidents? In many ways, yes. More succinctly, they are change agents who act as a catalyst for change. A “change agent” can take many forms. It is not necessarily a singular person, authority figure or entity, but it does, however, require a clear vision and an ability to clearly communicate the vision with others. A change agent invariably involves many traits: passion, networker, driven, communicator, leader. Change agents are willing to be patient, yet persistent, ask the tough questions, be knowledgeable, lead by example and develop strong relationships built on trust. When furthering sustainability initiatives, we are all instrumental in implementing change and achieving a goal. However, recognizing and working with all change agents is critical to the success of any sustainability mission.

The success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts, but also the culture and time in which they exist. They are able to see and define the issue but also have the vision and ability towards a solution while inspiring others to support the mission. The change agent is also willing to step out of their comfort zone, taking risk to create reward and creating behavior that brings the future to the present by envisioning the possible and persuading others to help make it a reality.

These are all questions and characteristics we must identify and support as we build a better environmental future. The best leaders may have all of these qualities but they also empower others to be those “change agents.” When you effectively leverage the natural strengths of your team, we achieve greater successes.

After Fossil Fuels: The Next Economy

By Eric W. Orts, Guardsmark Professor of Legal Studies and Business Ethics, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania; Faculty Director, Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership

October 10, 2016

David Orr asked me to serve as a rapporteur for the conference that he organized (with a little help from his friends) at Oberlin College and was held from October 5-7, 2016, and I happily agreed. Wharton’s Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership was one of the first of a number of other organizations to agree to co-sponsor this conference, but the work of attracting a remarkable group of leading experts fell mostly to David and his staff. And what an impressive group they assembled! I have gone to conferences relating to the topic of climate change for more than twenty years, and this was by far the most impressive group of its kind. Headline keynotes were given by celebrity “top influencers” including Bill McKibben, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Tom Steyer. In addition, the top executives of organizations including the Sierra Club ad CERES attended, as well as such other well-known names as Gar Alperovitz, Robert Kuttner, Hunter Lovins, and Bill Ritter.

My charge here is to attempt to review the overall course of the conference and to distill some of the major themes. My apologies in advance to anyone at the conference who may feel that I give them short shrift. Inevitably, my own intellectual bias will intrude in selecting the most important themes, but I hope to be as objective as possible in my reporting role. I will also try to be brief.

The conference divided roughly into three parts which were addressed on each day. Of course, different speakers crossed over into different areas, but in general there was an attempt to follow an agenda of organization that would lead to cumulative learning and engagement. Day 1 was devoted to a series of presentations on “theory.” Day 2 focused on elements of the post-carbon “next economy.” Day 3 considered “politics.” This report will follow this division, with transitional keynotes discussed as bridges between the categories.

Day 1: Theory

Elements of the theory needed to make progress on addressing the very large problem of global climate change were addressed by various presentations. These elements included the following.

Vision of sustainability. One must have a working definition of the goal one seeks to accomplish, and perhaps the best reference one can give here is to David Orr’s most recent book, Dangerous Years: Climate Change, the Long Emergency, and the Way Forward (2016). Both economics and politics are necessary to engage, as well as the science providing a background understanding of the challenge. A social transformation is needed to wean human civilization from the destructive use of fossil fuels—namely, coal, oil, and natural gas—and to replace them with renewable energy—such as solar, thermal, wind, and others. Making progress in greater efficiency and conservation in the use of energy is another imperative.

Systems approach. The study of interactions between the natural environment and social behavior and organizations requires a theoretical orientation appreciative of systems, rather than a reductive focus on linear processes. The “next economy” requires innovative new design and reform at both micro (local) and macro (global) levels.

Ethics and values. A general theoretical challenge is to incorporate a new sense of sustainable values and ethics into the social processes of business, work, capital markets, politics, and government. Views of business and markets as concerned strictly with “profit maximization” are inconsistent with this moral requirement. Seeing government as only a game used by people to gain power and influence is similarly impoverished.

Optimistic narratives and stories.   We know from studies in psychology that “optimism is functional” (see Martin Seligman’s work), and a general prescription from the conference seems to be that an optimistic attitude is best even when dealing with the very hard facts of current and impending climate change, including the relentless rise in global concentrations of greenhouse gases, and the fact that average global temperatures continue to set new records. Several presenters noted that 2014, 2015, and 2016 have been progressively the warmest years on record. Fourteen of the last fifteen years have been the hottest ever recorded. Nevertheless, theoretical attitudes toward solving the problem cannot succeed if they fall victim to pessimistic despondency and inaction. New language, metaphors, and concepts are needed. My own view, for example, is that rethinking the purpose and design of business firms is needed as one part of the larger solution (see Orts, Business Persons (2015)). Various presenters focused also on a need to rethink traditional concepts such as “capital” and “eco-system services.” The meanings of “sustainability” itself and somewhat newer ideas of “resilience” are also evolving.

Measurement and accountability. Scientific assessment of progress at all levels is needed as part of the theoretical background. Progress cannot be assumed, and the Paris Agreement opens the door toward better international accounting and verification of greenhouse gas emissions and various mitigation or adaptation strategies adopted by and within nation-states. Other large institutions, such as business corporations and nonprofits, should also install reliable internal accounting standards and practices, following the well-known mantra that “you manage what you measure.” Questions were raised about whether older measures of economic progress such as gross domestic product (GDP) continue to be useful—or whether it would be better to develop and follow new measures of well-being, sustainability, happiness, and freedom from hunger and homelessness.

Fairness and justice. Other key principles—emphasized, for example, by Nikki Silvestri—are fairness and justice, including especially racial justice. The phenomenon of Trump indicates also that many poor and working class whites in the United States have been hurt by current status quo policies. Everyone should be considered when making proposals for change, reform, and reinvention. Progress on climate change will not occur unless all citizens and consumers are respected and included.

McKibben Keynote

Bill McKibben provided a keynote in Finney Chapel at the end of the first day, and as a leading environmental activist (and indeed perhaps the best known activist who led the fight that shut down the Keystone Pipeline) his discussion focused on the need for a citizens’ movement to counteract the inertia and special interests supporting the status quo. McKibben struck three main themes.

Time.   First, climate change is unlike other social problems because incremental, slow progress will not be enough. Adverse effects from global warming are occurring faster than had been predicted twenty years ago. Arctic ice has melted. Ocean have acidified. Very soon, vast amounts of methane may release into the atmosphere from northern tundra landscapes. “If we do not solve [the problem] fast,” said McKibben, “we will not solve it.”

Stop fossil fuels now. According to one recent report, coal, oil, and natural gas companies own reserves that amount to four to five times the amount of carbon that can be safely emitted without blowing through the two degree Celsius average global temperature ceiling agreed as a target in the recent Paris Agreement. Another more recent report has found that current resources already being tapped by these companies will be enough to push the world past two degrees. For McKibben, and for some other environmentalists at the conference, such as the Sierra Club, this means that all expansions of fossil fuel production and distribution should be opposed and, if possible, immediately halted.

Force the change. McKibben sees the status quo, as represented by big fossil fuel companies such as ExxonMobil and their political influence, as the primary obstacle to positive change. Citizens coming together in a broad-based movement is the only way to counter the political influence of big oil and other large energy companies. A “Keystone-ization” needs to spread to other controversies, such as the current standoff at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation to block the Dakota Access pipeline. There has been a long string of recent victories, and McKibben makes a strong argument that these should continue. Politics at the national level also matters, and McKibben opposes Trump on grounds that his campaign denies climate science and threatens to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

Day 2: The Next Economy

                  Day 2 was devoted mostly to what the “next economy” in a post-carbon world would look like. Some participants, such as Gar Alperovitz, focused on the need for new local initiatives that break with the standard model of capitalist financing and management. Many examples of creative grassroots economic development were given, and a key lesson from many presentations is that good jobs are necessary for any environmental reform to succeed. The next economy must provide for secure and well-paid new jobs, because otherwise there will be no political will to make the change from business-as-usual. At the same time, other participants, such as Hunter Lovins, argued that big companies must become part of the solution too. Unilever and Walmart were discussed as positive examples, though a general consensus appeared to support the view that most large corporations were clueless, too casual, or actively dissembling (greenwashing). This widespread lack of true engagement by most businesses in finding climate solutions needs to change.

The financial markets play a large role in the problem as well. Mindy Lubber, the CEO of Ceres, examined various success stories of institutional investors pressuring public companies to disclose risk and performance measures regarding greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. In the U.S., the Securities and Exchange Commission has an important task to set “materiality” disclosure standards relating to climate change. Although the size of social impact investing may not yet have had a huge influence, it seems to be growing, and interest on college and university campuses regarding investment policies for endowments (including divestment) has been increasing too.

Mark Campanale of Carbon Tracker provided a well-received analysis of the “carbon bubble” that he and his colleagues have found in the disclosures of fossil fuel companies. A large percentage of assets currently owned by these firms “can’t be burned” if the two degree limit is to be respected. As a result, many of these companies may be financially overvalued—on the optimistic assumption that the political will is forthcoming to curtail this business model. At the moment, however, major investors do not seem perturbed—and they appear to be betting, then, that the two degree limit will be exceeded.

As for solutions, Campanale and other pointed out that the scale of the problem requires massive government (as well as private) investment. Historical low interest rates should be used to finance as much as $70 trillion in global investment in the repair and enhancement of infrastructure, including new smart grids and the development of renewable energy sources. (This very large number compares with $60 trillion as the approximate value of all publicly traded companies in the world.) A number of presenters spoke of the need for a scale of investment to address climate change similar to the expenditures made in fighting World War II. (And one questioner usefully asked: What will be the equivalent of a “Pearl Harbor moment” to provide sufficient motivation for this scale of investment?)

The need to engage with all people, especially those who feel disenfranchised or ignored by globalization, was emphasized, including urban black and white rural populations. Religious groups provide an essential organizational nexus for transformation at the local level. And leaders such as Pope Francis can have large influence at the global level. The role of cities, which account for 72 percent of greenhouse gas emissions globally, is also key. Joan Fitzgerald noted that the average greenhouse gas emissions in large cities were commonly much less that the average emissions of their countries as a whole. For example, average per capita emissions in New York and San Francisco are less than a third of average emissions of the United States as a whole.

New paradigms were also discussed, such as a need to move toward an objective of “plenitude,” as advocated by Juliet Schor, instead of economic growth. An attitude of plenitude adopts a view that natural resources should be enjoyed rather than exploited. And climate change policies need to fit into a larger strategic template that include other large-scale problems, according to Mark Mykleby and Patrick Doherty. Sustainability should go hand-in-hand with policies promoting economic prosperity and national security.

Brune Keynote

Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club, gave a transitional keynote speech that echoed McKibben’s call to oppose the expansion of the fossil fuel industry as a primary target. He first noted an impressive record of success for environmentalists, particularly in the Beyond Coal campaign. Of 200 coal plants proposed fourteen years ago, for example, 90 percent were stopped by coordinated activism and litigation. Six years ago, there were 523 coal plants in the United States, and today more than half of them have been retired. The well-known example of stopping the Keystone Pipeline has been replicated by a string of recent environmentalist victories against similar pipelines and projects. Finally and perhaps most importantly, the overall cost of solar and wind technologies has become very competitive with, and often cheaper than, traditional coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear alternatives.

Brune then drew several lessons from his experience that provided a bridge to discussion about politics in the final day of the conference.

Keep winning. Recent environmentalist victories against the expansion of fossil fuel facilities should continue and, if possible, accelerate.

Reach out to Republicans and Independents as allies. Brune was the first to tag this theme which was later repeated by others. Many of the Sierra Club “wins” have occurred in very politically conservative areas of the country. Climate change cannot remain a cause only of one major party in the United States. Polls show majorities of Republicans believe in climate science and support transitional strategies (despite the rhetoric to the contrary expressed at the top national level). Supermajorities of the American public support policies to counter climate change as well, including many business leaders.

Get active.   People must organize and vote in order for change to happen. Solutions also must work for everyone (a repeated theme throughout the conference). Businesses that embrace climate friendly policies should be welcomed. And “what victory looks like” must include new well-paying jobs, including for unemployed coal miners and persistently marginalized populations.

Moss and Steyer Keynotes

A tag-team keynote session with Otis Moss and Tom Steyer highlighted themes of religion, race, and generational engagement as important. Moss reflected on his own effort to explain and translate environmental issues such as climate change to his religious constituents in order to make change “by any greens necessary.” Environmental justice links with racial justice in the United States, and Moss also emphasized the essential task of engaging younger people.

Tom Steyer agreed with the need to engage youth and described his efforts with NextGen Climate which, for example, has a presence now on fifty college campuses in Ohio. Steyer cited polls that indicated extremely high levels of support for clean energy solutions (around 80% of younger voters) and a transition to a 100% clean energy economy (91% of Millennials according to one poll).

Religious leaders are important as well, and the recent encyclical by Pope Francis carries great weight. Historically conservative icons such as leaders in the military provide another fulcrum from which change may be leveraged.

Day 3: Politics

It is fair to say that the outsized Arnold Schwarzenegger stole the show on the last day of the conference. The former Republican Governor of California made an impassioned case for both parties to tackle the challenge of climate change in a bipartisan manner. His catchphrase, riffing on a famous speech by Obama, was that “there is no Democratic water and Republican water; no Democratic air and Republican air.” He embodied pleas by other participants that Republicans had to come to the table, and he was hard to miss or ignore.

Sharing the stage with Tom Steyer, a Democrat who is known for bankrolling politicians who embrace climate friendly positions, the former Governor elevated California as an example that the rest of the United States could follow. Simply “copy us,” said Schwarzenegger, and I “guarantee” economic growth as well as climate progress. He compared California’s economic and environmental success to Germany’s.

In addition, Schwarzenegger emphasized that the fossil fuel companies (which he described as mostly coming from Texas) had to be opposed. He claimed, with respect to their attempts to lobby against reform, that “we terminated them.” (At the same time, he recognized the ability to work with them on climate-friendly projects such the introduction of hydrogen fuel by Chevron in California.) He reiterated a theme heard throughout the conference that policies to address climate change had to provide good jobs too. In his view, California provides an example for other states (including Ohio and Texas) that green policies can lead to economic prosperity. Interestingly, Schwarzenegger found that some of the biggest opponents of environmental policies or initiatives were in fact environmentalists. For example, proposals to build new solar plants in deserts were opposed and delayed on grounds of threats to endangered species such as tortoises.

Steyer largely agreed with Schwarzenegger on the main points. Both argued for economic growth (which was a contested idea for other participants who see a conflict emerging between growth and sustainability). Both emphasized the importance of jobs. Both made the case of a shift toward bipartisan engagement at the national level.

Earlier in the day, Robert Kuttner provided an incisive commentary on the current political situation. White working class people hurt by governmental policies for several decades appear to have become a wild card supporting the likes of Trump and his anti-establishment, anti-globalization, and anti-science rhetoric. Commenting on “the presence of prophetic voices” at the conference, such as McKibben, Kuttner argued that the deeper roots of Trumpism had to be recognized and countered in order to establish a political consensus to address climate change.   He argued against the “liberal elitism” that embraced climate change as a major issue and yet ignored large losses in wealth and well-being of large swaths of the population. A “possible politics” to remedy the situation could focus on reducing levels of material consumption and reversing the incentives that encourage what he called “predatory capitalism.” He also echoed calls by others at the conference for a massive investment in infrastructure, taking advantage of historically low interest rates. Climate change is a challenge “such as we’ve never faced,” he said, and we are “groping for analogies (but not in Trump’s sense of groping).” Kuttner concluded with one memorable quote from the conference, reflecting on the need to take our grandchildren’s perspective into account: “We need not just to be right; we need to win.”


Many others paid tribute to David Orr at the conference, and his inspiration informed many contributions. I will do so here as well, and mention again that these reflections are sifted through my own particular lenses. I would urge interested readers to consult sources provided at the conference for further avenues of self-edification and engagement. I will leave the last word to Orr, though, and quote the following from his new book, which I believe embraces the spirit of the conference overall:

I do not believe that we are fated to destroy the Earth by fire, heat, or technology run amok. But if there is a happier future it will come down to this: to act with compassion and energy, our hearts must be in it; to act intelligently, we must understand that we are but one part of an interrelated global system; to act effectively and justly, we must be governed by accountable, transparent, and robust democratic institutions; and to act sustainably, we must live and work within the limits of our natural system over the longterm. (Dangerous Years, p. xi)

If we are as a civilization in some measure successful in addressing the massive challenge of climate change, the Oberlin conference on “After Fossil Fuels: The Next Economy” will have had some role in inspiring and informing this future success. It was a privilege to be there for the experience, for the education, and for the inspiration.

Introducing the Young Environmental Professionals Network of Philadelphia

By Bert Barnes, IGEL Graduate Coordinator & second-year MES student

The Philadelphia area is characterized by a wide variety of industries, including medicine, education, financial services, telecommunications, and manufacturing. Over time, numerous institutions have sprung up to aid the development of the professionals working in these industries. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for environmental services, an integral but often-overlooked part of the area’s economic and social fabric.

As an environmental professional who has worked for years in the Philadelphia area, I’m familiar with numerous professional organizations, from the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce to the smaller, specialized organizations. Only one cultivates relationships across functions within the environmental services industry and related fields: Society for Women Environmental Professionals, which is restricted to women. As the environmental dimension of law, insurance, and other disciplines continues to grow in importance (and as Philadelphia emerges as a leader in sustainability), one must wonder why the professional landscape lacks an organization that unites young professionals within these roles.

We are launching the Young Environmental Professionals Network of Philadelphia (YEPN) in response to this void. YEPN will be a place for young professionals working in environmental fields to connect, learn, and develop. Professionals from all of Philadelphia’s industries will be represented within the organization. Already, we have received interest from people in consulting, law, energy, insurance, and engineering. If you’re interesting in learning more, check out our LinkedIn and Facebook groups. Feel free to contact me with questions, as well.

The first YEPN happy hour is taking place from 6 to 8pm on Tuesday, September 27 at Crow and The Pitcher, just south of Rittenhouse Square on 19th Street. Chris Crockett, Chief Environmental Officer of Aqua America, will be speaking at the event. If you have found yourself pondering the questions mentioned above, or if you’re just interested in learning more about your fellow environmental professional and the opportunities in the Philadelphia area, I would encourage you to attend!

Applying Circular Economy Principles to Agriculture

By Neelam Ferrari

If you are reading this article, it is likely that you are aware of the benefits of reducing food waste and utilizing resources efficiently, towards feeding a growing global population.  When it comes to agriculture, this is even more important as farmers need to be aware of costs around water, fertilizer, labor and other items.  Once a plant is harvested, much of that plant is not needed for its primary purpose, which is consumption.  For example, take a look at corn.  A corn plant on the typical US farm grows anywhere between 6 and 12 feet high, and the roots can add another 6 feet.  Also consider that on a typical corn plant there are only 1-2 ears of corn per stalk.  So for two ears to be harvested, there is a lot of extra biomass that goes along with it, which is not edible.  Instead of discarding this excess material as waste, it makes good environmental sense and good business sense to find some value for this material.  This is a great opportunity for the circular economy (CE).

The World Economic Forum recently wrote an article stating that farmers produce more than enough food for the global population, so people really should not go hungry.  This is a perfect justification for CE applications, which blend technology with business in an attempt to use everything in an industrial process.  Moreover, the waste of one industry can be the fuel for another, so that all of the component fit together like a puzzle.  Connecting these pieces of this puzzle can be a challenge, but as technological advances in fields like biotechnology and material science become more widespread, more industries are learning of the benefits.  So in the example above, does the remaining biomass from a corn stalk have no value?  It is probably the opposite.  Even though the stalk can not be eaten, it does have value as it can be burned for fuel, or ground and reused as an organic fertilizer.  Also, there is still nutritional value, so the remaining biomass can be blended into feedstock for other livestock.  By reusing the stalk, growers can also sell to other industries, instead of just discarding or burning as trash.

In addition to finding new uses for what was once ‘wasted’ can applying CE principles lead to new ways to grow crops so that waste is not generated in the first place?  This could be where we look more closely at the innovative work taking place at the MIT Media Lab’s OpenAG Initiative.  OpenAG has built a prototype food computer where the goal is to create specific climates that are compatible with commercial crops in order to optimize phenotypic characteristics.  For example, if growers wanted a particular type of tomato with a targeted color, taste, and texture, a “climate recipe” can be created and shared resulting in the desired tomato.  By optimizing food production in this manner we can also save water, energy, and money.  This will be a topic explored in future posts.

The CE holds tremendous promise for the agriculture sector and we really can now start to think seriously about making significant changes in the global food production system.

Practises that make sustainable development a reality

By Willem Adrianus de Bruijn

The only way to survive with more than seven billion consumers is that each and every one of them spends his money only on products that keep nature in perfect condition.

Consumers will do so the very moment that they are allowed to deduct from their taxable income the money they spend on such products. They will then be driven by self interests and financial interests, two powerful drives in the behaviour of mankind, to maintain ways of living that keep the integrity of Nature.  To safeguard this integrity will be the goal with which these consumers spend their money.

They will continue to demand goods and services that do not impair the environment until they live in harmony with nature.  Then they will not pay income taxes anymore.  The damages to the environment done by the ways of living of consumers will at that time have been reduced to zero.  The costs of these damages by our present ways of living are more than the amount of income taxes, which consumers pay.  When consumers do not harm nature more public funds will therefore be available.

Another way to remunerate the consumer for keeping nature sound is by reimbursing him with a percentage of the purchase price of the ecological products he buys.  This percentage could be an average of the income tax rates consumers pay.  This method can also be applied in countries where consumers do not pay income taxes.

Producers will have to satisfy the demand of these consumers by supplying the goods and services that sustain the good condition of nature.  The goal, which producers pursue will then be the same as the goal of the consumer, to maintain the integrity of nature.  This will be the sense of the development of the economy.

The sense of development is determined by the goal with which the consumer spends his money.  This is a new concept, which I have founded in the science of economy.

The only goal with which the consumer can spend his money in the present economy is, Consume more.  This goal is sustained by the macro economic practise of maintaining growth in development.  Growth in the development of the economy implies producing more, however production figures are incorporated in the statistics of the GNP’s only if that what is produced is also sold, thus consumed.  To maintain growth in development implies therefore that consumers consume always more.

It is not possible to continue consuming more of limited resources without inevitably depleting them.  Having consumed more of the limited resources of this planet since commerce began and particularly since the beginning of the industrial revolution has brought us to the limits of nature, where commerce is stagnating.  No growth is possible anymore, except in economies where the limits of nature have not yet been reached, as was the case in China.  The statistics about the economies in the industrialised and developed countries show that there is no more growth in the development of these economies.  Even the approximately 0% interest rates central banks maintain, like the FED and the ECB, cannot get the economies going again, let alone growing.

When producers and consumers pursue the goal of maintaining the integrity of Nature, the macro-economic practise to keep the economy going will become, to preserve this integrity in the development of the economy.

The prerequisite to remunerate the consumer for buying products that leave the environment unblemished is based on three new concepts.

As explained above, one is, the consumer determines the sense of development with the goal, which he pursues when he spends his money.

Another one is, the consumer has a professional responsibility in the operation of the economy, namely to maintain ways of living that safeguard the integrity of Nature.  It is indeed only the consumer who can ensure this integrity, because he can do it by adapting his ways of living until he lives in agreement with nature.

A third concept is, in order to achieve an optimum efficiency in the utilisation of resources, costs have to be managed at the source of the incomes, which they generate. This means that the people who earn the incomes should manage the costs with which they create them.  When consumers manage the costs of living the efficiency of utilising natural resources in their ways of living will eventually attain the best possible efficiency.  At that moment more than enough goods and services will be produced so that there is no more poverty because there will be enough for everybody.   Everyone can then enjoy compatible levels of well being.  People who share satisfaction live in peace.

This will happen when the consumer is paid for managing his costs of living in order to safeguard the integrity of Nature.  The sooner this is done, the quicker the ecological- and economic crises are solved, poverty is terminated and people will live in peace.

Not to remunerate the consumer for doing his job leaves him consuming more and thus further damaging the planet until it is destroyed.  The time left to do so seems to end in 2030, according to the Club of Rome.  It is less than half a generation away.

Considering the logic to reward the consumer for keeping the environment in impeccable state, the theory sustaining the need to pay the consumer is not one to be discussed but one to be applied.  Any activity should be undertaken to oblige lawmakers to legalise these payments.  Knowingly refusing to do so makes from these lawmakers criminals committing crimes against humanity.

Exploring Diverse Approaches to Urban Agriculture: A Case Study of Three Connecticut Cities

By Ben Laufer, in partnership with Joanne Spigonardo of IGEL


Urban agriculture and urban farming, historically often referred to as “community gardens,” have reemerged in recent years due to growing interest in environmental sustainability and local self-reliance. Proponents of the concept have vouched for urban farming’s ability to repurpose land in an effort to spur economic development, provide educational opportunities, reduce current environmental impacts, and strengthen public health. However, few studies have been conducted that create metrics to thoroughly evaluate the impacts of urban agriculture in different sectors. As a result, a lack of data and conclusions have followed, creating a growing landscape of farms without many necessary tools and appropriate information to yield consistent and effective results. Due to the local characteristics of urban farms, there has been little uniformity between organizations’ efforts, leading cities even within states to have differing models and reasons for implementation. The foundation of this report will be constructed from an analysis of US urban agriculture trends and impacts. This report aims to look at case studies from three of Connecticut’s most populated, culturally diverse, and food insecure cities (New Haven, Hartford, and Bridgeport) the role of urban agriculture in each and the impacts and setbacks they’ve experienced. In the concluding remarks, propositions of how to best create effective, innovative, and adaptable solutions will be discussed, as well as the potential for urban agriculture’s role in future sustainable development.

For the complete report, click hereUrban Farming Report Draft IGEL-3

MIT OpenAg Lab – Building a Food Computer

By Neelam Ferrari
Moravian Academy Student

Hi, my name is Neelam Ferrari. I am a rising high school senior at Moravian Academy and I have been working as a summer intern at the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  My work is focused on a project which is part of the Open Agriculture Initiative at the Laboratory.  The OpenAg Lab is focusing on building a ‘Food Computer’ which involves an open source approach to the global food production and distribution system, through a combination of collaborative genetics, computer science and robotics, and web based public outreach. With an increasing global population over the next 30-50 years, and more anticipated weather driven food shortages as a result of climate change, the lab is hoping to develop technologies that can help feed the world in the future.

My contribution to the project involves working with laboratory instrumentation, independent research, and public outreach.  I am using a hand-held spectrometer to take readings from different varieties of test plants in the lab, analyzing data, and identifying which characteristics are most important in understanding the plant’s phenotype. The spectrometer measures the color characteristics, which can be related to physical appearance and flavor and this data goes into the ‘open phenotype’ library for other researchers to use. In addition, I am researching in more detail about the pigment characteristics related to anthocyanin, brix and carotenoids. These pigments recorded by the spectrometer are related to characteristics such as color, ripeness, flavor and sugar content. This information here can be used to guide future experiments in the lab.  Finally, I have created a thread on the OpenAg’s public forum “OpenAg for High Schoolers”, where I keep high school students informed about the events occurring at the lab and discuss any new discoveries that are made.  It is also a place for students to communicate with me and start projects, like those at OpenAg, in their own schools.

The projects at OpenAg are heavily involved with several components of sustainability: economic, ecological, and social.  Economic issues include providing new jobs, providing an adequate amount of food for the population, and trade between countries.  Some ecological issues include soil and water degradation. Finally some social issues include utilizing these technologies for low income families as well as creating a community based on the technologies.  These issues are closely related to the daily challenges faced by many of the companies involved with the Wharton Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL).  How these goals are achieved, in my opinion, will be one of the defining issues of the 21st century.







Thinking About the Future of Sustainability and What It Means for the Global Economy

Submitted by Members of the IGEL Network


“Leadership in the global economy is one that takes a long term systems view of the world.  This lens understands complexity and intended and unintended consequences of actions. While this perspective leads with strong direction, it also understands that change is constant and therefore flexibility is an imperative.  This leadership understands the tug and pull of the natural and man-made worlds.  Yet, through leadership it creates value for all.”
– Bernard David | Chairman, | CO2 Sciences, Inc.

“The future of corporate sustainability leadership means that companies will push governments hard to step up environmental standards, green tax reform and climate policy ambitions.”
– Arthur Van Benthem, Faculty, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

“The future of sustainability leadership and its effects on the global economy largely hinge on education. As leaders of the electronic waste recycling community, it has been an honor and a privilege for ERI to be able to share our insights with the tremendous business and research minds of Wharton and IGEL. Based on our shared commitment to sustainability and the preservation of natural resources, we formed an instant connection. We’re excited to see how the report IGEL developed from this research will help to fuel positive change via informing the thought leaders of the next generation.”
– John Shegerian, Chairman & CEO, Electronic Recyclers International

“Sustainability is about creating a better planet, better business and better communities. At CHEP, we help our customers become more efficient, reduce costs and achieve their sustainability goals,” said Kim Rumph, president of CHEP North America. “We are honored to work with IGEL in promoting the importance of sustainable business practices worldwide.”
– Kim Rumph, President   & CEO, CHEP

“Leaders in corporate sustainability skillfully balance the needs of their customers, business and communities. It takes both foresight and immediate action. The simple changes and program evolutions we embrace today must complement more complex, long-term programs and revolutions that can better serve customers and their communities in the future. Those companies that can balance today with tomorrow, evolution with revolution, local with global, and business with stakeholders will ultimately build a more sustainable future for all.”
– Laura T. Bryant, Assistant Vice President – Corporate Communications & Sustainability Enterprise Holdings Inc.

“The essence of leadership is all about building a sustainable global economy for the well-being of people and the planet. Sustaining the world economy will require addressing many significant challenges including rapid population growth and mass urbanization, limited financial and natural resources, high or extreme risk of water shortages, and rising energy costs, coupled with the impacts of aging, failing and insufficient infrastructures as well as climate volatility and ecosystem degradation. This will require transforming many of our current policies and practices, and creating shared value with sustainable business model innovation. For example, governments need to better translate globalization into real benefits for their citizens. Civil engineers must now focus on the needs and the outcomes, not the prescribed project, process and/or standard.  While this will require a new mindset, standards and protocols, the outcome will satisfy the need, produce affiliated benefits and reduce unintended impacts, all the while conserving funding, resources and the public’s good will and confidence. In short, it will all be about creating infrastructure that is environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable to equitably meet the needs of human welfare and to realize healthy communities.”
– Paul F. Boulos, President, COO and Chief Innovation Officer, Innovyze

“Sustainability leadership in the future will include continuing to do good things that are now being done without falling into the trap of calling any worthwhile activity “sustainable”. Environmental sustainability, financial sustainability, social sustainability are all terms that are too often used without proper definition. Future leaders will work to ensure that term “sustainability” will be well defined and used in a way that the average person can understand, thus increasing the leader’s credibility.”
– Stan Laskowski, Faculty, School of Arts & Sciences, University of Pennsylvania

“Penn, and IGEL more specifically, have taught me that sustainability and existing business goals are often much closer than most companies and individuals realize. Nowhere is that truer than in supply chains, where greener operations often mean reduced costs and more efficient production. Because of this symbiotic relationship, I want to work in transforming supply chains and hope one day to work on creating zero-waste production facilities.”
– Austin Bream, C’17, W’17, University of Pennsylvania

“Simply put, sustainability leadership is business leadership in a global economy.  Successful, growth oriented businesses are ones that understand how their revenue model depends on natural and human capital – not just financial capital  – and where the future license to grow may be constrained by limited capital in regions around the world. IGEL has helped to bring business leaders together to discuss these issues, and sparked important conversations on the future of sustainability leadership.”
– Libby Bernick, Senior Vice President, North America, Trucost

“The State of Sustainability can be achieved when Humankind devises a humane and globally equitable strategy to maintain the human population at a level at which efficient and frugal use of natural resources are implemented.”
– Robert Giegengack, Faculty, School of Arts & Sciences, University of Pennsylvania