Business of Sustainability Initiative Convenes Experts to Address Decarbonization Strategies
Over 300 students, business leaders, policymakers, and sustainability experts gathered at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business to discuss critical issues related to decarbonization strategies during the inaugural Leadership and Innovation Summit. The summit was hosted by the school’s Business of Sustainability Initiative, focusing on topics such as carbon offsets, renewable energy, and the supply chain and circular economy.
“Sustainability is a complex issue that does not exist in ether – it lives at the intersection of business, policy and international relations, technology, and so many other fields,” said Paul Almeida, dean and William R. Berkley Chair of the McDonough School of Business, during the summit welcome address. “As a Jesuit business school, we see it as our responsibility to transform the challenges facing our world into opportunities, so that businesses serve themselves, people, and the planet in a sustained way.”
This year’s summit also featured conversations with internationally recognized leaders in sustainability, including a fireside chat with Hayes Barnard, chairman and CEO of GoodLeap and GivePower, moderated by Vishal Agrawal, the Henry J. Blommer Family Endowed Chair in Sustainable Business and academic director of the Business of Sustainability Initiative. Agrawal and Barnard discussed the trajectory of his career, the mission of his companies, and how to encourage other aspiring professionals and entrepreneurs to make the business case for sustainability in their organizations.
“We’re at this great stage now where humanity, people throughout the country, are saying, ‘Look I’m interested in being sustainable but it also has to make economically viable sense for me’ – and [GoodLeap] has shown them that it does,” said Barnard.
Attendees also heard from Lauren Riley, chief sustainability officer of United Airlines, who spoke with Kerrie Carfagno, associate teaching professor and program director of Georgetown’s M.S. in Environment and Sustainability Management program, about the challenges and opportunities for sustainable solutions in the airline industry.
“Aviation is interesting. There are half a dozen industries that are designated hard-to-abate, which means we don’t have the solutions today commercially available at scale to really make a difference in the amount of emissions we put into the atmosphere,” said Riley. “The good news is that we know that; the bad news is that we’re not transitioning fast enough. Those are some of the challenges that we’re looking at today, and we know the solutions and we know how to get there, but it’s a very nascent industry in a global operation.”
Following the morning’s fireside chats, McDonough MBA student Julia Stadlinger (MBA’24) moderated a panel discussion on carbon offsets featuring David Antonioli, former CEO of Verra; Nany Fuchs Marshall, senior vice president of marketing at ClimeCo; and Caitlin Smith, manager of carbon markets at Rocky Mountain Institute.
Professor of Strategy Pietra Rivoli later sat down with M. Sanjayan, CEO of Conversation International, to discuss how, in addition to important decarbonization work, organizations need to focus on protecting nature and reversing the destruction of ecosystems.
“In these countries where you’re working you can’t just go there and say, ‘We want to preserve or protect this, and here’s philanthropic money’ – A) that can never scale, and B) that is never resilient,” said Sanjayan. “So we had to create the value so people were ultimately protecting it in the enlightened self-interest for themselves.”
Experts in renewable energy participated in a panel discussion in the afternoon to highlight the demand and supply side transition to cleaner energy. Moderated by Safak Yucel, associate professor of operations management, the audience heard from Nicole Steele, workforce and equitable access lead at the U.S. Department of Energy and senior advisor for the Environmental Protection Agency; Emily Easley, founder and CEO of NOVUS Energy Advisors; and Sarah Mihalecz, senior director of the Clean Energy Buyers Association.
“I’ve been doing this work for over 20 years, and I am the most hopeful that I have ever been in that timeframe,” said Steele. “We are seeing the impacts of climate change, but we have the framework and the demand across the board and the ability to do this transition.”
Undergraduate Sustainable Business Fellow student Alice Naughton (B’24) moderated the closing panel discussion on the supply chain and circular economy, which included insights from Scott Breen (C’11), vice president of sustainability at the Can Manufacturers Institute; Kevin Keeper (MBA’13), senior manager of sustainability projects at Amazon; and Vanessa Miler-Fels, vice president of climate and environment at Schneider Electric.
The summit closed with a technology and innovation showcase to highlight new innovations focused on tackling climate change across industries. Moderated by Clayton Pokorny (MS-ESM’23), the showcase featured companies such as GivePower, Cloverly, and Arva Intelligence.
“We were pleased to host renowned experts in sustainability to participate in important conversations about how we can be at the forefront of change in sustainable business,” said Agrawal. “Thank you to our speakers, panelists, and moderators for lending their expertise and insights to these discussions and for advancing dialogue and thought leadership on one of the key issues facing society today.”