Sustainable Business Examples from Around the World – US, France and Finland

Screen Shot 2014-05-27 at 16.21.58As businesses become more engaged in sustainability around the world, we are presented with an increasing range of examples of active companies. However, when I speak with students and faculty, they say that they repeatedly hear the same examples from the same international companies.

In an attempt to share some new examples of good practice, I asked a handful of faculty members from around the world about their favourite classroom examples of local companies that are actively involved in sustainability. Below are some examples from the US, France, and Finland.

Joe Lawless, Executive Director of the Center for Leadership & Social Responsibility, Milgard School of Business, USA
Theo Chocolates has done an exceptional job of creating a company based upon the belief that they can make the world a better place through a commitment to social and environmental justice. Their efforts to support farmers and farming communities in cocoa growing regions include supporting their ability to utilise sustainable growing practices without synthetic pesticides or chemical fertilisers. Theo was the first organic and Fair Trade chocolate factory in the country. They are successful in creating a sustainable product profitably, and it is really good!

Caroline Cazi, Director of Human Resources, Diversity and CSR, Montpellier Business School, France
In 2012, Dell launched a commitment to put technology and expertise to work where it can do the most good for people and the planet. It is a first step toward a new sustainability strategy for Dell. The Dell 2020 Legacy of Good Plan brings that strategy into focus and sets the trajectory for how social and environmental sustainability will become an accelerator for successful and sustainable customer and societal outcomes for years to come. Another example is Adecco. While the labor market should be opened to all, many men and women—handicapped, senior, without diplomas, from diverse cultural or socio-economic backgrounds—have no possibility of working. Since 2002, the mission of the Foundation of the Group Adecco is to favour the professional success of all, so that each individual is able to express their talent and aspiration, in their employment.

Minna Halme and Armi Temmes, Professors of Corporate Social Responsibility, Aalto University, School of Business, Finland
Kemira (water management) is an example of a large company, which has changed strategy, and oriented its practices towards corporate responsibility. Below, are other examples from small specialised companies, which have sustainability as the core of their strategy. Globe Hope is an innovative company that designs and manufactures ecological products from recycled and discarded materials. Greenriders is a socially rewarding service that helps users decrease the amount of carbon emissions created through person transportation. Finally, Sharetribe allows users to create a custom sharing, renting, or selling market place online, without having to have any coding experience.

What are your favourite local companies engaged in sustainability? Share them in the comments section below.

Creating an Effective Centre – Milgard School of Business

Milgard-homepg-1Globally the rise in sustainability and social responsibility in the business sector has been met with an increase in specialised centres working specifically on this topic within business schools. These provide an opportunity for business schools to help advance sustainability issues within the business sector, but equally, and perhaps more importantly, to help embed sustainability into the business schools themselves through a variety of measures. I recently had the chance to speak with Joe Lawless, Executive Director at the Centre for Leadership and Social Responsibility at Milgard School of Business in the United States, about how the Centre came to be and how it aims to have an impact.

Briefly describe the Centre for Leadership and Social Responsibility and how it came about.

The Centre for Leadership & Social Responsibility is focused on three key constituencies: 1) students and the activities that will help them develop as responsible leaders, 2) faculty and research support in topics related to corporate social responsibility, and 3) supporting and providing opportunities for businesses and CSR practitioners to come together to think critically about corporate citizenship issues.

Our benefactors, who set up the endowment that funds the Centre and for whom the school is named, wanted the Centre to focus on the intersection of leadership and social responsibility, coming from a belief that you cannot, or should not, do one without the other. Additionally, they wanted us to develop the Centre in a way that best fit the school’s needs and our vision for what the Centre could be. We looked to other centres globally for successful models, programmes, and structures that would allow us to achieve our mission of creating socially responsible leaders who build sustainable organisations and communities.

What did you learn from your research of other successful centres?

We looked to other established centres like the Centre for Responsible Business at UC Berkeley, the Centre for Corporate Citizenship at Boston College, and IMD in Switzerland. One word of advice that we took from the Boston Centre was to stay closely aligned with the faculty and students in the Milgard School of Business. That was good advice, and has helped us keep balance in our approach to the development of new programmes. The risk, when developing this type of centre is to focus too heavily on one piece of this puzzle. Student programmes can easily absorb much of your time and energy without clear focus and purpose. The same is true for research and corporate efforts. The real magic for our Centre has been the balance and interplay between the three key constituencies, which creates more synergy and value than would any one piece by itself.

What did you do to ensure that the centre would be effective in its mission?

Whenever we develop a new programme for one of our three constituencies, we consider how to involve the other two. When developing a new student activity, we consider how that interacts with faculty research and curriculum, and how to engage the business community in a meaningful way. Considering the impacts on all three stakeholders keeps us very mission-focused.

What are some of the projects that the centre is involved in?

We have an internal and an invitational case competition on social responsibility for students, a course on Board Governance that engages each student on the board of a local NGO, and a communications programme that keeps issues of CSR in front of students. We also have an honour code that reinforces honesty and ethics in our academic environment, and a professionalism week and etiquette dinner to reinforce those messages.

Annually, we hold an Academic Research Conference for faculty, which this year is taking place on July 10-11. We also provide curriculum development and community engagement grants, as well as research support and connections to practitioner partners.

With our business constituencies we have an annual business conference that gathers practitioners from the region, a case writing partnership for inclusion in the case competitions, and annual Business Leadership Awards recognising business leadership in the region.

What have been some of the challenges? Successes?

The biggest challenge has been engaging faculty in the emerging field of CSR research when their research interests may not align with the field. Publishing CSR focused articles, because they haven’t been part of mainstream research channels, has historically been more challenging and created a barrier for junior faculty. This trend has begun to change, however, and we now have multiple colleagues focusing their research in CSR-related fields. We also have an ongoing challenge of engaging our students, because we are an urban-serving university with a student population that is older, more diverse, and has more first generation college students than other schools. When students don’t live on campus, have a job, a family, and other obligations, participating in our student activities can be a challenge. We have had to develop strategies to engage students where they are and when they have time.

Our successes have come when we effectively engage all three of our constituencies. Our most recent success has been with our invitational case competition. Ten schools from around the US prepared a solution to a case that we wrote, and then came to our campus to compete in front of judges from the business community. The case we reviewed was engaging, challenging, and provided the company with actionable solutions generated by the student participants.

What advice would you have for other schools putting in a new centre or trying to make their current centre more effective?

Having a base funding level is certainly a great place to start for any Centre. It allows you to be much more creative with your offerings and how you engage the business community. After that, I’d say that paying attention to each different constituency and how they interrelate (as described above) has proven to be a winning formula for us. 

What are the next steps for the Centre?

We are fairly happy with the portfolio of offerings that we currently have, but are always looking for new ways to partner with other organisations to leverage the power of the University to create more value in the business community.

Encouraging Sustainability Discussion on Campus – Milgard School of Business

Communication ColumnBusiness schools around the world have been exploring how to bring sustainability into the classroom, but how do you get students talking about sustainability in between classes? In an attempt to increase student interest and debate around sustainability issues, the Milgard School of Business at the University of Washington Tacoma in the US regularly posts current sustainability news on a prominent column in the main lobby of the school. I recently had the chance to speak with Joe Lawless, the Executive Director of the Center for Leadership & Social Responsibility at the Milgard School of Business about their efforts.

1.     What is Milgard’s approach to sustainability/responsible leadership?

The Milgard School’s approach to sustainability/responsible leadership is a comprehensive approach through curriculum integration in all courses, as well as course offerings that specifically address the topic. More essential, however, is creating an environment where students are consistently exposed to corporate citizenship and sustainability issues through communications, activities, and speakers who bring abstract concepts to life with real-world issues that face business leaders. Many of these activities are coordinated by our Center for Leadership & Social Responsibility.

2.     What is the Communication Column?

The Communications Column was developed to provide a forum for students to be exposed to the innovative ways that companies are dealing with sustainability and corporate citizenship issues. The column is in the main lobby of the Milgard School of Business building, and students pass it on a daily basis. We took what was a simple support column and wrapped it with a 4-sided, wooden (reclaimed wood from a campus remodel project) display case. The column came about because we needed a way to keep the messages of responsible leadership, social responsibility, sustainability, and integrity in front of students in order to affect the culture within the school. It was a simple way to leverage unused space to move the Principles of PRME forward with our students.

3.     What is posted on the Column?

We promote our Center’s events and activities, like our CSR Student Case Competition or speakers series. On a weekly basis, we rotate stories of companies and their sustainability/citizenship initiatives. The stories are researched, compiled, and displayed by a marketing/public relations student. The student involvement is crucial to our mission and also provides stories through the lens of student experience. As we rotate to new student workers, they will bring new perspectives and approaches. We keep links to full stories on our Center’s website at:, so that students can read the full story and/or cite it in their research papers. Typically the column contains more graphics with story “briefs” for a quick read.

4.     What impact has the Column had on the campus community?

The column has had a very subtle, but meaningful effect on the tone of our students’ experience. We hear students reference stories that they have seen on the Column in class and in conversation. Often times a conversation with a student will begin, “I saw that story about how XYZ company is handling their energy impact on the column…”

5.     What was your biggest challenge?

The biggest challenges were getting the column designed, built, and through the administrative maze of approvals. We overcame this challenge through sheer determination. It took about 2 years for the entire process, but it was well worth it. Our next challenge was keeping the stories updated and relevant. We began by having our (very limited) staff creating and building content, but quickly realised that in order to do it well, we needed someone’s full attention. We pay a student worker for 10-12 hours a week to do the company and/or story research, create the graphic and story details that will go on the Column, and update the website with links to the full source information. This model has worked out very well for the school and for the students who have served in this role.

6.     What advice would you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar into place.

Make sure that you have the resources and/or systems in place to keep the information relevant and continually changing. If the same information stays on display for more than a week, students will begin to ignore it. Having a website set up for links to full source information is also a great way to archive materials over time and to provide an additional service for students. The last word of advice would be to have someone with a good sense of graphic design do the displays. The more visually appealing the stories are, the more they will make an impact.

How do you encourage discussion about sustainability issues on campus? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

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