The Mushroom Farming Industry: Transforming Environmental Risks into Positive Environmental and Economic Outcomes

By Max Laufer
September 5th, 2017

A little known fact about Pennsylvania is that it is the single largest source of edible mushrooms in the United States.1 The vast majority of mushroom production in Pennsylvania is concentrated in the 759 square mile 1 Chester County in the southeast of the state. Chester County alone has over 60 mushroom farms 2 harvesting over 400 million pounds of mushrooms per year, nearly 50% of the entire U.S. supply.3 Mushroom production is Pennsylvania’s second largest industry in its agricultural sector 3 and shows no signs of slowing down as demand for mushrooms in the U.S. continues to increase.4

Mushroom production has substantially less negative environmental impact than other agricultural industries and, as such, receives little to no criticism from the concerned public. In Chester County, PA, however, mushroom farming happens on a larger scale than anywhere else in the country and thus its aggregate negative environmental impact is greater than one might expect. Therefore, it is important to analyze the impact that exists and devise approaches toward decreasing it. This report will first look at the practice of mushroom farming and the ways it can affect the environment. Secondly, the report will propose specific solutions for mitigating the environmental impacts, while also considering the economic demands of the agricultural industry.

Mitigating Environmental Risks: At what Economic Cost?

Typical discourse about mitigating the environmental impacts of farming centers on minimizing both economic and environmental risk. Much discussion, for instance, has taken place about the imposing of certain economic sanctions on corporations that engage in practices that result in a substantial amount of carbon emissions. These discussions occur on the basis of environmentalists’ hopes for decreasing the frequency of use of said practices. Traditional discourse about the balancing of economic and environmental success, however, is not necessarily applicable to the mushroom industry. In fact, one’s environmental concerns need not be compromised in ensuring a balance of positive environmental and economic outcomes,. What is fascinating about the mushroom farming industry is that its harmful environmental impact actually holds the potential to be transformed into both positive environmental and economic outcomes.

Environmental Risks of Mushroom Farming

Environmental concerns over mushroom farming are almost entirely centered around the refining and disposing of its by-products. This potential environmental harm manifests itself in a couple of ways. The process of growing mushrooms entails the fungal bodies converting compost into nutrients. Carbon from said compost undergoes a conversion process initiated by the mushrooms into useable carbohydrates.5 Such a process results in a by-product known as “spent compost.”5 Spent compost is not intrinsically harmful to the environment (and, in fact, can be highly useful: a concept that will be expounded upon later). There are two aspects of spent compost that have the potential to affect environmental harm, each multifaceted in and of themselves. The first concern is that mushrooms are often commercially grown in recycled organic matter containing pesticides. The problem with this is not related to the pesticides themselves, per se, but rather with the methods of disposal of spent compost containing said pesticides. Or, perhaps, the fact that it is disposed of at all. When spent compost containing pesticides is disposed of instead of being reused for other purposes (a concept that will also be explained later in greater detail), it can pose a significant environmental threat. This threat primarily manifests itself in the form of runoff.5 Runoff from disposed spent mushroom compost can contaminate local water supplies and natural, water-based ecosystems.5

Aside from the issue of pesticide pollution, spent compost also potentially harbors harmful viruses and diseases. These diseases pose risks parallel to those caused by pesticides. They have the potential to contaminate water supplies and disrupt ecosystems. The risk of spent mushroom compost containing diseases can be easily decreased through a pasteurization process.6 Pasteurizing mushroom compost also maximizes its potential for reutilization,6 which one might predict would decrease the tendency of mushroom farmers to dispose of it in the first place.

The disposal of spent mushroom compost can pose numerous environmental risks. It does not, however, have to be disposed of. In fact, it can also be reused in several ways. Spent compost has water-retaining properties as well as the potential to retain nitrate levels of its water due to the presence of high amounts of carbon.5 As such, spent compost has the potential to be highly useful as an addition to soil for commercial farming. Further, there is also promising research that shows the efficacy of spent mushroom compost for increasing the quality of turfgrass. According to a study conducted by the Department of Plant Science at Penn State, spent mushroom compost “can improve the structure of clay soils, reduce surface crusting and compaction, promote drainage, increase microbial activity, and provide nutrients to turfgrasses.”7 Spent compost also has the potential to be reused for further mushroom harvesting. According to research also done at Penn State, “phosphorous availability may be a limiting factor” in terms of the reusability of supposedly spent compost.5 Their research has shown, however, that phosphorous availability can be increased in the substrate “by controlling the ionic activity of calcium and potassium.”5 Through this process, there lies a potential for spent mushroom compost to not actually be as “spent” as previously thought in regards to its ability to be reused for its original purpose.

If spent mushroom compost is not truly spent, however, then why is it so often disposed of? The answer appears to be simpler than one might assume. There is not widespread knowledge of the potential reusability of spent compost. According to the same research implicated earlier, mushroom farmers “must try to educate not only the community but also all possible users about the value of post mushroom substrate.”5 Ultimately, the problem appears not to be that the spent compost itself lacks uses, rather that its uses are not at all adequately considered. More widespread reuse of spent compost would not only be positive for the environment by reducing rates of environmentally harmful disposal, but it could also benefit the mushroom industry in a very positive way. In addition to producing and selling mushrooms, the mushroom industry now also has a farming substrate with remarkable potential for use in various industries. Ignoring the fact that reusing the spent compost would substantially mitigate the environmental risks associated with it, spent compost also poses a fascinating economic opportunity for the mushroom industry. The mushroom industry has the potential to repurpose its by-products for commercial sale while simultaneously mitigating the environmental risks associated with said by-product’s disposal. Investing in consumer education could prove to hold substantial economic benefits for the mushroom industry and environmental benefits for Chester County and other areas where the industry flourishes.

It is apparent that spent mushroom compost can be reused for a variety of purposes. Further, however, it is also important to note that disposal is not necessarily a terrible option if creating demand for spent mushroom compost fails. In order to minimize the environmental harm of the disposal process, though, two steps would have to be taken. The first and most obvious step would be to eliminate the use of growing substrate containing pesticides. Doing this would result in a rather innocuous by-product rather than one that poses risk of runoff. In fact, spent mushroom compost itself appears to pose no environmental risk if it does not contain pesticides (and if it has undergone a process about to be elaborated on). According to research at Penn State, the spent compost simply “decomposes to an unobjectionable soil.”5

The second step that would have to be taken to reduce environmental harm resulting from spent mushroom compost disposal would be to put in place a pasteurization process. This process involves heating the substrate to a temperature high enough to eliminate harmful bacteria and diseases.6 The primary reason why the pasteurization process is not widespread despite its apparent efficacy in minimizing environmental risks is, simply put, the cost associated with it.6 The process is not legally required and thus little incentive exists for commercial mushroom farmers to implement it.

Two potential solutions to this quandary exist: the first is for environmental regulatory agencies to legally require a pasteurization process. This, however, would likely have a negative economic impact. It would increase the costs associated with mushroom farming, potentially making the endeavor less profitable and/or driving up the price of mushrooms. Given that mushroom farming plays an integral role in the economy of Chester County, such policies might appear untenable to those fiscally-minded. Another solution, and one with less potential economic impact, would be establishing tax incentives for implementing a pasteurization process. Such a tax incentive would inevitably shift some amount of a tax burden onto taxpayers or on other industries to compensate, though it would have benefits that would not exist if a legal requirement for pasteurization was put into place. It would give mushroom farmers more ownership over their process, while still increasing pasteurization rates in the industry. Increasing pasteurization rates, of course, is highly important in regards to controlling the spread of disease resulting from disposal of spent compost. While it is unclear exactly what the economic impacts of the aforementioned policy recommendations would be, they are certainly steps worth taking if environmental risk is wished to be minimized. Economic risks from the aforementioned policies, however, would not have to be assumed if demand for spent compost meets the supply. This would, of course, be the optimal solution to the problem. What is clear, however, is that there are ways to mitigate environmental risk even if the demand never meets the supply. As such, the aforementioned policies are important considerations.

It is remarkable how much potential exists for the process of mushroom farming to be refined and realigned with common environmental goals while also providing new possible economic opportunities. By using organic material containing less pesticides, implementing a pasteurization process for spent compost, and encouraging more widespread reuse of spent compost, environmental risks can be nearly completely mitigated. Economic benefits may lie in the potential for repurposing spent compost for commercial sale. The primary barrier to overcome to realize this potential is the lack of industry knowledge about the reusability of spent compost. If such a barrier cannot be crossed, however, policy changes exist that hold the potential to still substantially mitigate environmental harm. Disposing of spent compost has little environmental risk if the mushroom industry operates under regulations either requiring or incentivizing pasteurization and lower pesticide use.

 

About the Author:

Max Laufer is a rising sophomore at Haverford College. Max was one of the co-founders of the Ideas for Action 14-18 program at Wharton. Max is passionate about problem solving and how young people can affect positive environmental change.

 

Bibliography:

  1. The One Tiny Region That Produces Nearly Half of U.S. Mushrooms – Modern Farmer. (2014). Modern Farmer. Retrieved 13 April 2017, from http://modernfarmer.com/2014/05/welcome-mushroom-country-population-nearly-half-u-s-mushrooms/
  2. Facts About Chester County | Chester County, PA – Official Website. (2017). org. Retrieved 13 April 2017, from http://chesco.org/892/Facts-About-Chester-County
  3. NSTATE, w. (2017). Economy of Pennsylvania including Pennsylvania Agriculture and Manufacturing from NETSTATE.COM. com. Retrieved 13 April 2017, from http://www.netstate.com/economy/pa_economy.htm
  4. Mitchell, D. (2015). Mushroom demand grows across board | The Packer. Thepacker.com. Retrieved 13 April 2017, from http://www.thepacker.com/fruit-vegetable-news/marketing-profiles/Mushroom-demand-grows-across-board-288830551.html
  5. Impact of the Mushroom Industry on the Environment (Mushrooms). (2017). Mushrooms (Penn State Extension). Retrieved 19 August 2017, from http://extension.psu.edu/plants/vegetable-fruit/mushrooms/mushroom-substrate/impact-of-the-mushroom-industry-on-the-environment
  6. (2017). Pasteurization of Mushroom Substrate and other Solids. Retrieved 19 August 2017, from http://www.academicjournals.org/article/article1380281604_Kurtzman.pdf
  7. Using Spent Mushroom Substrate (mushroom soil) as a Soil Amendment to Improve Turf (Center for Turfgrass Science). (2017). Center for Turfgrass Science (Penn State University). Retrieved 19 August 2017, from http://plantscience.psu.edu/research/centers/turf/extension/factsheets/mushroom-soil
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Allen Hershkowitz on Ten Years of Sustainability at the US Open

Today marks the start of the US Open, the annual tennis bacchanal that draws 700,000+ fans to the National Tennis Center in New York over its two week run. Seeing compost and recycling bins throughout the 46.5 acre campus is now second nature for those fans as the US Tennis Association’s (USTA’s) greening efforts, among the most comprehensive in the sports world, are now ten years old. It’s been quite a journey to get to this point and there’s no one better to tell the fascinating history of the US Open’s sustainability program than today’s guest GreenSportsBlogger, Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, the founder and former president of the Green Sports Alliance and a founding director of Sports and Sustainability International (SandSI). 

 

By Dr. Allen Hershkowitz

Ten years ago, in the Fall of 2007, I walked into my office at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and found a note from NRDC’s President: “Allen,” it read, “I met Billie Jean King at a dinner last night. She would like to speak with you. To reach her, please call Pam at …”

Billie Jean King wants to speak with me? Seriously? A few calls followed and the request to speak was clarified: The year previous, on August 28, 2006, the US Tennis Association (USTA) National Tennis Center was rededicated as the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center (BJK NTC). Now that the venue bore her name, Billie wanted to assure it was a model for environmental stewardship. She wanted to make the US Open the most environmentally responsible tennis event in the world.

We arranged to meet at the BJK NTC shortly after the 2007 US Open. I was ushered into a conference room to await Billie’s arrival, along with Joe Crowley, the USTA’s Director for Operations, and other USTA officials.

Billie arrived with her partner Ilana Kloss, Commissioner of World TeamTennis and a world class tennis star in her own right. With the introductions behind us, a partnership was formed between the USTA and NRDC. As Billie requested, our goal was to create the most environmentally intelligent tennis event in the world. I told Billie that doing so would take years. “Great,” she said. “I’m in. Let’s do it.”

In 2007, not one recycling bin existed at the NTC. Today, recycling and composting bins abound and ninety percent of all waste is thus diverted from the landfill. More than twenty thousand pounds of uneaten meals are donated to charities, reducing hunger and greenhouse gas emissions. We pioneered recycling the 17,000 tennis ball cans used at the Open. Tennis ball cans are complex products, comprised of four different materials, (three types of plastic and an aluminum lid), making them impossible to recycle, until we figured out how to do so in 2008, while donating the 45,000 used tennis balls to community organizations.

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Compost bin (foreground) and recycling bin (blue band in the rear) along the plaza at the National Tennis Center. These are two of many such bins dotting the NTC complex that demonstrate the USTA’s commitment to sustainability to the 700,000 fans projected to attend the 2017 US Open. (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

In 2007 all of the 2.4 million napkins used at the US Open were made from trees. By 2008, all napkins had at least 90 percent post consumer recycled content, an environmental achievement that protects forest habitat and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Similarly, the Open’s daily Draw Sheet, tickets, media guides, bathroom tissue and paper towels have at least 30 percent recycled content, while paper use in general has been reduced through electronic options.

In the spring of 2008, after agreeing on a logo and a tag line for the US Open’s new environmental program (“Our courts may be blue, but we’re thinking green”), we decided to produce public service announcements (PSAs) to educate fans about environmental stewardship. Billie introduced me to tennis legends Venus Williams and Bob and Mike Bryan, arguably the greatest men’s doubles team of the modern era. Together we produced the first environmental public service announcements ever broadcast at a major sporting event, and it was the first time pro-athletes were engaged for this purpose. Billie, Venus, Bob and Mike all appeared in videos encouraging fans to recycle and buy recycled paper products, use mass transit, and buy organic food. The PSAs are broadcast on the jumbotron at Ashe Stadium to this day. Discussing global warming with Venus Williams is one of the highlights of my career and I like to think that I encouraged her to become the environmentalist that she is today. We also pioneered using the Open’s daily Draw Sheet to share money saving “Eco Tips” each day, and that too is still in use at the Open. And we engaged fans directly: During the 2008 Open sixty volunteers from NRDC spanned the grounds distributing free New York City mass transit MetroCards to fans who answered an impromptu environmental question (“Name one thing you can do to help protect the environment…”).

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Billie Jean King and Allen Hershkowitz during the 2008 shooting of the USTA’s “Our Courts May Be Blue But We’re Thinking Green” public service announcements (Photo credit: NRDC)

This week, the US Open Tennis Championships begin anew and the USTA’s greening program has lived up to Billie Jean King’s original vision: The entire event is powered by renewable energy. All energy use is measured, as is waste generation and recycling, paper use, and employee and player travel, and these impacts are converted into measurements of greenhouse gas emissions. Over the past decade the Open has avoided tens of thousands of tons of greenhouse gas emissions. Unavoidable greenhouse gas impacts are offset for the approximately 9,000 people who travel to work at the event, including the 850 players.  Mass transit is promoted and last year more than 55 percent of fans arrived by public transit, making it the most transit friendly professional sporting event in the nation. Cleaning products are Green Seal Certified, paints are zero-VOC, water is conserved, and two LEED Certified structures have been built — the newly constructed Grandstand Stadium and the transportation building — and the new Louis Armstrong Stadium, slated to open at next year’s tournament, is expected to attain LEED designation as well.

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The 8,000 seat Grandstand stadium at the National Tennis Center (NTC). It opened for play in 2016 as the first LEED Certified stadium at the US Open. (Photo credit: Lewis Blaustein)

Since 2009 the US Open’s greening program has been expanded and led at the USTA by Lauren Kittlestad-Tracy, now recognized as one of the most influential environmental leaders in tennis, with support from MIT-trained PE Bina Indelicato, co-founder of eco evolutions and one of the top sustainability experts working in the field.

At the time we started the USTA’s greening program, 90 million tons of greenhouse gas pollution was being pumped into the atmosphere each day. Today, that has grown to 110 million tons daily. This past July was the hottest month on record. Given those grim metrics, the USTA’s work — building on Billie Jean King’s noble vision to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and encourage others to do the same — is even more important. All businesses should follow its lead.

This piece was originally posted as an op-ed for GreenSportsBlog. That article can be found here.

Where Technology and Service Meet, Innovation Will Follow

By Sergio Corbo, SVP Marketing & Communications and Chief Marketing Officer, Veolia North America

Technology is not inherently innovative, but in combination with service it has the ability to generate truly innovative solutions. At Veolia, our services shape a more sustainable world. However, by combining those services with technology, our partners are able to solve their environmental challenges more swiftly and efficiently.

Consider the case of a municipal water utility. Cities, counties and municipalities across North America rely on hundreds of miles of underground pipes to deliver reliable wastewater services to their customers. Those same pipes also play a role in preventing wastewater from seeping into the environment and being released into public waterways. Advanced flow-monitoring technology can help these system operators identify when a leak is about to happen, and if it happens, where it is located. This simplifies the process of mobilizing employees, saving the city money and mitigating damage to precious natural resources.

It is this type of application, at the intersection of technology and service, that helps our organization prepare customers for the sustainability challenges of the future.

This relationship works in reverse as well: SourceOne Energy, a subsidiary of Veolia North America, offers its customers a web-based energy management system called EMsys that collects, manages and reports energy information from sub-meters, building management systems and utility invoices. By combining this data with our team of energy analysts, account managers and IT professionals — as well as our global Energy O&M and Energy Advisory Services — we can help our clients develop comprehensive programs that optimize their energy usage while accelerating cost recovery and base forecasting.

Cities and commercial customers are not the only ones that can benefit from the integration of technology and service. Our environmental specialists and field experts also use specially designed software to log and safely handle the various hazardous materials they collect from their customers. This ensures a smoother experience for our partners upon collection, and easy government reporting through our Customer Information Management Solutions secure web portal.

All of this data is great, but it’s only as good as the people using it to deploy the necessary sustainable solutions. As consumer pressures force businesses to become more socially responsible, technology that aids in more effective and cost-efficient service delivery will prove to be more of an asset than ever.

Don’t Let Funding for Our Water System Become a Pipe Dream

By Bill DiCroce, President & CEO, Veolia North America

During the campaign, President Trump frequently described a $1 trillion plan in infrastructure investments to fix crumbling roads, bridges, and airports while creating good-paying jobs. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao also recently outlined several priorities for an upgrade to the country’s infrastructure, suggesting the administration may announce a plan sooner rather than later.

Given the Trump administration’s intention to deliver its first full-year budget to Congress this week, and with apparent plans to deal with infrastructure in a separate bill, we in the water industry want to underscore how important it is to include water and wastewater initiatives in both conversations.

Water issues once seemed a distant concern to Americans, but today we are grappling with myriad crises — from chronic droughts in the West to fast-growing metropolises in the Sunbelt unable to meet surging demand and clean drinking water challenges. Perhaps more important, as our water mains, pipes and overall systems grow older — many were first built in the early 20th century — the bill for replacing or repairing them could approach $270 billion, according to the latest estimate from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Our ability to provide safe, reliable and cost-effective water and sewer services is vital to the U.S. economy. Clean water is a valuable national asset that can attract new investment in manufacturing, research and development and can help differentiate the U.S. in the world economy. How we manage our water resources is of great strategic importance to every citizen. This investment in our infrastructure is vital to growth, and the federal government needs to play a key role in making those investments.

The president has previously said he may favor tripling the funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, a loan assistance authority for addressing wastewater needs that has proven vital to jump-starting key projects. He has also shown support for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, a federal-state partnership to help ensure safe drinking water.

These are both strong starting points — as is this month’s announcement that the EPA’s Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program will provide $1 billion in credit to finance over $2 billion in water infrastructure investments — but a longer-term, more comprehensive infrastructure bill is necessary to repair and replace America’s many aging water and wastewater systems.

Investment is also needed for training. About one-third of the current water workforce is eligible for retirement, a phenomenon that will slow our efforts to modernize infrastructure and could lead to dangerous quality control issues. State and local governments must work with the private sector, trade schools, community colleges and universities to close this emerging skills gap.

Not only are these jobs important for our water quality and safety, they’re economic drivers. According to a study from the Value of Water Coalition, for every $1 million earmarked for water projects, upwards of 15 jobs are created, either to support water infrastructure design and construction directly, or in related industries.

And here’s the thing about water-related jobs — they can’t be exported or outsourced overseas. These employees work right here, in cities and towns across America.

While healthcare, tax reform and the budget dominate the congressional agenda, we believe it is critical that they find the time to take up water-related issues. Creating incentive programs such as tax credits to facilitate water reuse projects, co-digestion and resource recovery would strengthen already existing sustainability efforts.

Supporting private investment in water and wastewater infrastructure would go a long way to supplement any legislation passed by Congress. Finding the right regulatory balance would encourage innovation by providing incentives for new private investment in green infrastructure and energy derived from the wastewater treatment process.

The American water industry — both the public and private sector — delivers safe, clean water to homes, schools, farms and businesses in cities and towns across the U.S. each day. But the burgeoning infrastructure crisis casts doubt on our collective ability to deliver.

It’s time for all of us to come together — private companies and local officials, state and federal governments — to make water part of our national infrastructure renewal.

 

This piece was originally posted as an op-ed for The Hill. That article can be found here.

A Sustainable Development Expert’s Take on the 10th Anniversary IGEL Conference

By Noam Lior, PhD, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics, University of Pennsylvania

The vital urgent challenge: with projected population increase of 30%, to 9 billion within the next 33 years, exponential increase in the demand for resources, the associated large scale of projects, the proven serious impact on the environment, all development must be done sustainably to prevent major deterioration of present and future life quality or even global disaster. For the utter skeptics: at the very least, prepare for damage to the business, and stricter government regulations, monitoring, and enforcement.

Education, for business or otherwise, requires, as much as possible, definitions, methods that are quantitative/scientific, correct data, and wide acceptability, standardization and uniformity. This is especially important for the complex highly multidisciplinary field of sustainable development which is of vital importance to humanity’s survival (or at least well-being), and thus also has a meta-ethical foundation. Education in business sustainability must increasingly and more rigorously address the role of sustainability as a business paradigm, including multi-generational and international/global considerations. Business education should consider and support the evaluation and substantiation of national and international sustainable planning policies, now for example the US new administration’s directions, and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). It should include a description of the dangers of Greenwashing and other sustainability fraud.

Sustainable development requires a scientific approach, close and honest cooperation between all humans, across any borders they drew, vision of the future, and much respect for the environment that we so temporarily occupy.

Creating the Next Generation of Business Leaders

By Erin Meezan, CSO, Interface, Inc.

Last week, on the 10th Anniversary of the formation of the Wharton Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL), the organization hosted an energizing conference focused on The Future of Education In Business Sustainability. I was honored to participate on a panel of business leaders including Johnson & Johnson, Interface, Coca-Cola and others, and offer perspective on what skills and experiences are required for future business leaders.

The pivotal point of discussion surrounded how business schools should prepare students for sustainable business management. Should curriculum focus on creating graduates with strong foundational business skills combined with an understanding of how to implement sustainable business practices, such as supply chain management? Or, should schools aim to form ethically-minded, collaborative business leaders who have the capacity to lead the organizational change necessary to solve the world’s greatest challenges? The former approach seems wholly inadequate for creating the next generation of business leaders. But sadly, it’s what most business school programs are focused on creating.

As the Chief Sustainability Officer for Interface, a global carpet tile manufacturer with sustainability at its core, I’ve seen the skills and capabilities needed in our business evolve dramatically over the last ten years. When Interface first began its transition toward a more sustainable business model, we needed business leaders with strong business knowledge who were willing to “learn sustainability.” They needed to know how to implement ideas like zero-waste and closed-loop thinking in our factories. But we never would have started to transform our business if our founder, Ray Anderson, had not recognized that the way we were running Interface, divorced from the consequences of our decisions and their impacts on people and planet, was ethically wrong. He called it a “spear in the chest moment” when he realized our business was fundamentally flawed, and so he set a new vision for Interface. Interface has made great progress to reduce its environmental impacts, and we’ve done it with a fantastic set of business leaders who “learned sustainability.” But as we look toward the future and start creating, promoting and finding the next generation of Interface business leaders, we need something different.

Last summer, Interface’s new leadership team, building on Ray’s legacy, set a new mission for the business – engineer a “climate take back.” In response to the threat of global climate change, we’ve committed to run our business in a way that creates a climate fit for life. And we hope to inspire other businesses to follow our lead. This means, simply, we have to move beyond the mindset of just reducing our carbon emissions – we need to focus on removing carbon from the atmosphere. We’re creating a map for how we as manufacturers can achieve this goal. We’ll focus on how we can source materials, run our operations and create products that remove carbon from the atmosphere. When I think about hiring the next generation of business leaders at Interface to help us lead this revolutionary approach, I think about those ethically-minded, collaborative leaders who can go way beyond implementing sustainable business practices, to designing solutions in our business that help change the world. And I hope that I will be able to find and hire them.

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Wharton IGEL 10th Anniversary Dinner & Conference: The Future of Education in Business Sustainability

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April 25th & 26th, 2017 On April 25th & 26th, founding and current corporate sponsors of IGEL joined leading academics in the field to examine lessons learned in the effort to promote education in business sustainability looking towards the future. … Continue reading

B-School Fundamentals for Sustainability

By John Mandyck, CSO of United Technologies
April 21, 2017

As the chief sustainability officer of United Technologies, I am often invited to college campuses to speak to students about what my company does to advance sustainability in the United States and around the world. And I’m proud of the answer.

People, Communities, and the Environment

The United Technologies sustainability platform consists of three pillars:

People — Among United Technologies’ greatest assets are the expertise, creativity and passion of our employees. We sustain our workforce through opportunity and employee development. In the last twenty years, we’ve invested $1.2 billion through our Employee Scholar Program to help our employees earn 38,000 college degrees.

Communities — We believe that financial performance and corporate responsibility go hand in hand while we strive to improve people’s quality of life everywhere we do business. We support initiatives and employee volunteerism for vibrant communities, STEM education and sustainable cities.

Environment – We believe we can do good for the planet while we do good for our customers and shareowners. Whether it’s developing energy-efficient solutions for green buildings that can change how cities urbanize, pioneering technologies to extend the world’s food supply, or setting the standard for green aviation through sustainable factories and technologies, United Technologies is leading the way to solving some of the toughest environmental challenges of tomorrow.

While we maximize the effectiveness of our environmental technologies, we actively minimize our environmental footprint — in the last 20 years, United Technologies tripled its revenues while lowering greenhouse gas emissions 34% and water consumption 57%, all on an absolute basis.

What does a CSO do?

Often, after outlining UTC’s sustainability program, I am asked, “Ok, but what does a chief sustainability officer (CSO) do every day?” That’s a fair question. Sustainability is still an emerging profession – and no two jobs in this space are the same. In addition to the private sector, large cities are starting to create CSO positions too. CSOs come from all backgrounds – marketing, technology, policy, environmental affairs, and more – and reflect the culture and priorities of their companies.

Some focus on lowering their environmental footprint. Some focus on the role for emerging environmental technologies. Some focus on corporate social responsibility. Some engage with stakeholders to achieve sustainable outcomes. Some focus on thought leadership to bring new ideas forward. We organize our program at United Technologies to do all of these activities.

My day-to-day routine focuses on outreach to key stakeholders – customers, policy-makers, thought-leaders, students and more – to expand the dialogue on three issues important to us: advancing green aviation, accelerating the adoption of green buildings and lowering food waste through cold chain development. To do this, we sponsor research, we convene experts, we share our thinking and we explore possibilities to help the world grow and urbanize more sustainably.

Business Schools and Sustainability

The question of what I do each day is sometimes followed by, “If I want a career in sustainability, what are my options?”

Fortunately, business schools around the country are adopting more and more sustainability-focused classes, as well as entire programs dedicated to corporate responsibility and sustainability. Getting started in one of these programs is a great first step.

Students and business school faculty interested in advancing sustainability curricula should focus on three key areas:

  1. Connect to the mega trends in the world – our global population is expected to grow 35% in just 35 years, and at that point in 2050, nearly 70% of all people will live in cities. These megatrends are redefining our society and our economy with big implications for sustainability.
  2. Recognize sustainability as a business strategy – sophisticated companies realize they can offer a value proposition to their customers by doing good for the planet, which often times can provide differentiation in industries.
  3. Incorporate multiple disciplines into sustainability classes – successful sustainability programs are drawing on multidisciplinary backgrounds in marketing, public policy, business, communications, engineering, science, and more. Many skills and perspectives are needed to help the world advance sustainably.

Making a Difference

Increasingly, workforce entrants are looking for employers who are making a difference in the world. Sustainability is a key way companies can make that difference. And careers in sustainability are a key way business school graduates can immediately make a difference with their careers. Business schools can prepare students for this field by providing the context, strategies and skills to accelerate sustainability around the world.

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To continue the conversation, tweet me @JohnMandyck.

Latest Episode of the Kleinman Center’s Energy Policy Now Podcast, Featuring Andrew Light

Submitted by Andy Stone, Communications Manager, Kleinman Center for Energy Policy

The new episode is a conversation with a former State Department climate negotiator who was involved in the Paris climate deal.  He discusses the current White House debate around Paris, and the implications for global climate cooperation if the U.S. backs out.

The Trump administration has offered conflicting messages on its intention to remain a party to the 2015 Paris Climate Accord.  The question of U.S. involvement reaches a climax this week as senior advisers to the President hash out the administration’s path forward, with potentially far reaching implications for the climate deal, and for the United States’ role as a steady leader in global diplomacy.

In the latest episode of the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy’s Energy Policy Now podcast, former State Department climate negotiator Andrew Light discusses the battle in the White House over Paris, and the fate of the accord without U.S. leadership.  Light, a recent visiting scholar to the Kleinman Center, examines whether it will be possible for the U.S. to meaningfully “maintain its seat at the table” of climate dialogue even as it pulls back from global climate efforts.

Light also provides insights into the negotiations leading to the Paris climate deal, and the unique political environment in the U.S. and abroad that made the agreement possible.  Light is a Distinguished Senior Fellow in the Global Climate Program at the World Resources Institute and Director of the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy at George Mason University.

An Interview with Maddie Macks, VP of Academics for the Wharton Graduate Association

Submitted by Mary Johnston, WG’18

Mary conducted an interview with Maddie Macks, VP of Academics for the Wharton Graduate Association. Maddie is in charge of Academics as part of Wharton’s Student Government, and is one of the founding members of the Wharton Sustainability Club.

 

Q: Why is Sustainability an important topic for MBAs?

A: First, resources are finite, and many industries including agribusiness, CPG, manufacturing, and energy rely on these materials for their business. My peers, as future business leaders, will be in positions where they are making supply chain, sourcing and operations decisions and will need to steward these resources to mitigate risk.

Second, while the U.S. federal government is currently trending toward deregulation, this is not the trend globally, as evidenced by The Paris Agreement. Many of my peers will be working in international companies where these regulations will be increasingly relevant.

Further, business decisions can have a big impact on local communities. For example, public health can be heavily impacted by water and air quality, and degradation of local ecosystems can impact livelihoods.

 

Q: What are other top business schools doing in their Sustainability Curricula?

A: They are ramping up their sustainability presence, offering certificates and more specific coursework. Many are integrating sustainability more into their core curriculum to ensure all students are educated on environmental issues in business. Almost all top business schools have sustainability-focused student clubs to build a community in the space on campus. Stanford, Sloan, Ross, and Yale are a few prime examples of schools that are increasing their presence in the space, and it’s attracting top students.

 

Q: What does Wharton do well now in terms of Sustainability?

A: Wharton has partnered with IGEL to offer the Environmental & Risk Management Major, which is one of the things that attracted me to Wharton. The Energy Club, Social Impact Club, and Agribusiness Club have sustainability-related programming, and as of this year, we have a group of about thirty students starting the Wharton Sustainable Business Coalition, a new club that will be up and running by Fall 2017. This group of students has also gotten to know each other well during the Energy Club’s clean energy trek to San Francisco as well as several student-run happy hours.

 

Q: What are the biggest opportunities for Wharton to increase the presence of Sustainability in the curriculum in the short term?

A: There are two things I think Wharton can do in the short term.

First, Wharton could incorporate more Environmental Responsibility content into the Business Ethics core requirement. This would help ensure that every Wharton student gets more exposure to how decision-making can have environmental consequences.

Second, Wharton could proactively ensure all relevant graduate coursework from around Penn related to Sustainable Business topics is cross-listed with Wharton to help facilitate students taking these classes. For example, the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences has several great courses.

 

Q: And how about the long term?

A: Wharton has an opportunity to continue to develop coursework related to sustainability and look into hiring more faculty who can teach courses and do research in the area. Wharton has such a huge opportunity to influence future business leaders’ decision-making, and making sustainability more present in Wharton’s curriculum would speak volumes to the issue’s importance. For example, the Environmental Risk & Management Major does a great job covering risk management, and I would love to see innovation and the financial implications of environmental choices highlighted more prominently as well. I also think there are opportunities to offer more sustainability courses as part of the Business Economics and Public Policy, Operations, Information, and Decisions, and Management Majors to name a few. Incorporating more of a focus on sustainability, can help Wharton stay on the cutting edge of business trends.