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NYU Stern’s Center for Sustainable Business Launches with $1 Million from Citi Foundation

Center for Sustainable Business

Another area of concentration has been on advancing thought leadership and research. “I think there are several key areas where we can contribute,” Whelan says. “No one is really looking at innovation coming out of sustainability initiatives, for example, or at the impact a company’s commitment to sustainable practices has on its retention or recruitment of employees,” she notes. “We will focus on developing a better methodology of looking at business cases for sustainability.”

Center for Sustainable Business

Center for Sustainable Business Director Tensie Whelan

It’s been a busy six weeks for Whelan since coming on board—and a big transition. “I went from running an organization of 400 full-time employees and 300 part-time employees in 50 countries around the world to…well, now it’s just me,” she says. But it’s precisely that background that makes her perfect for this new role. She brings 25 years of experience working on environmental and sustainability issues at the local, national and international level. While at the Rainforest Alliance, she grew its budget from $4.5 million to $50 million, recruiting 5,000 companies in more than 60 countries to work with the organization to transform the engagement of business with sustainability.

A Road Show to Publicize the Center’s Launch
Whelan will be introducing the center to NYU Stern students beginning with a Ted-style talk tomorrow entitled “Ten Minutes to Save the World.” She will deliver the talk as part of the Social Innovation Symposium hosted by the Social Enterprise Association MBA Club. Next week, as part of Social Impact Week for the undergraduate business students, she will participate in a fireside chat with Nespresso USA CEO Guillaume Le Cunff.

Whelan also hopes to reach out and engage students in these topics as part of an upcoming Job Fair put on with Collectively and VICE media. “This fair will help show students that there are companies interested in hiring graduates who have these skills—and that they can combine their values and meaning and purpose with their business career,” she says. “That is going to be really critical to success with the students—showing them that there are viable employment options.”

One day, Whelan hopes that sustainability issues will have an integral place within all of the most foundational business classes—from economics to supply chain to operations to finance—eliminating the need for special courses or programming. “But that will take time,” she says. “Generally, those kind of changes can take a decade or longer to accomplish.”

“Sustainability is a journey,” she says. “We are learning, there’s a lot to learn, a lot to research, a lot to understand—and it’s always useful to have a research institute for things that are new.”

Not only that, but the launch of the NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business comes at a unique moment in time when all the governments of the world have come together and said the current system is not working. “Globally, people are recognizing that we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Whelan says. “Sustainability is the challenge of our generation, and it’s finally being articulated that way.”

As part of the COP21 Summit in Paris in December, 195 nations adopted the Paris Agreement, a global pact to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to limit the average global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius by 2100. And just last week, the United States and 22 other countries reached agreement on the first-ever global carbon standards for commercial aircraft.

“Believe me, I’d rather there not be a need for me to build this center,” Whelan says. But amid incontrovertible evidence that there is, she’s up to the challenge.

Posted in: MBA News, News

Schools: NYU Stern

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