New York University’s Stern School of Business today launched its new Center for Sustainable Business, aided by a $1 million investment by the Citi Foundation. With leading environmentalist and former Rainforest Alliance president Tensie Whelan at the helm, the center will work to educate a new generation of business leaders capable of and committed to doing well by doing good.
Stern and the Citi Foundation have collaborated for more than a decade on programming to educate students on ways the private and public sectors together can help tackle some of the greatest challenges facing the planet today while driving sustainable economic growth. The new center’s launch promises to expand these efforts through coursework; thought leadership and research; and stakeholder engagement and projects.
“The Citi Foundation is helping us to get this whole center off the ground because it has a strong history of both inclusive business and innovation around sustainability,” Whelan says. In addition to its major investments in sustainability, the foundation also has a specialist on staff who works with teams around biodiversity and is even developing a new asset class around energy efficient loans, she adds.
Stern, meanwhile, makes perfect sense as a home for the new Center for Sustainable Business. “Business schools are the place where the future business leaders learn—and we are at a phase in our global history where we need a new generation of leaders who adopt the idea that their businesses need to contribute value to society, not simply extract and deliver value to shareholders,” Whelan says.
That Stern sends large proportions of its graduates into finance and management consulting is also favorable in terms of the reach of the center’s initiatives. “We need more business leaders in finance who are looking to incorporate sustainability into their investment decisions,” Whelan says. “On the consulting side, I believe that more and more consulting efforts will be focused on helping companies transition to become more sustainable,” she adds. “It is exciting to have students going into these sectors where they will have real impact.”
The new center’s location in an urban area, too, is advantageous. “We know that much of the future’s growth will be coming in cities, and there will be a series of sustainability challenges associated with that growth.”
A Running Start
Since stepping into her new role early last month, Whelan has worked to establish an advisory board for the center that can help forge additional connections between academia and the corporate world. The board includes Citi Global Head of Productivity David Chubak; Raphael Bemporad, founding partner of BBMG; Nespresso USA President Guillaume Le Cunff; and John D. Williams, president and chief executive officer of Domtar. Creating an ongoing dialog with companies that understand sustainability can no longer be pushed to the periphery and that lead by example is one of her primary areas of focus.
She’s also focused on programming, specifically developing core sustainability classes for undergraduate and graduate business students. “These will be very practical and hands on—covering what you need to know to run a company in a way that is sustainable and bringing in guest speakers who are actually doing that,” Whelan says. The center will also provide executive education, working with companies interested in specially designed courses to help their executives learn sustainable practices. Longer term, Whelan hopes to also set up consulting projects with partner companies that will give students an opportunity to take what they are learning out of the classroom and into the boardroom.