Business Innovation and Climate Change Initiative Panel Calls for Stronger ‘Green Finance’

By Liz Ivaniw Jones

In late May just one week before President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris climate agreement, the University of Virginia Darden School of Business Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation launched its Business Innovation and Climate Change Initiative to address one of the most singular global challenges of the 21st century.

Multi-faceted in its approach, one of the project’s goals is strengthening Darden’s connections with Washington, D.C.’s phalanx of policymakers, elected officials, think tanks, nonprofits, academics, entrepreneurs, and other change agents who are pivotal to tackling the climate change issue in a realistic and effective way.

The initiative was made possible by a generous gift from an anonymous donor. To mark the project’s launch, the Batten Institute brought together more than 60 Darden alumni, friends and guests at the Rosslyn, Virginia, offices of Sands Capital Management.

Professor Greg Fairchild (MBA ’92), Darden’s associate dean for Washington, D.C., Area Initiatives, kicked off the event by noting that, “Washington is a city of ideas. Tonight’s conversation, like this city, is about ideas. It’s about innovation. It’s less about the problem itself, and more about viable solutions to the problem.”

Dean Scott Beardsley drove that point home in a video address underscoring Darden’s mission to “teach [that] business has a responsibility to serve all stakeholders, not just investors.” Climate change presents “an opportunity for business leaders to help improve the world,” he said, emphasizing Darden’s desire “to help lead the way as business reimagines itself to solve one of the most significant problems facing society.”

Following Fairchild and Beardsley’s introductory remarkes, subject experts shared their perspectives in a panel discussion moderated by Professor Mike Lenox, author of the forthcoming book Will Business Save the Earth: Innovating our Way to Sustainability.

Experts on the panel included Stephen Harper, global director of environment and energy policy at Intel Corp.; John Mandyck, chief sustainability officer at United Technologies Corp.; and Kevin Fay, vice chairman and CEO of Alcalde & Fay. The panelists discussed investments made as well as the innovative strategies and initiatives pursued by the business community in response to evolving environmental realities. More important, each shared impressive results, eye-opening statistics, and cutting-edge advancements in sustainability that have emerged from ongoing broad innovation efforts.

Looking to the future, the panelists shared their extensive experience as they talked about the impacts of technology and innovation, global mega-trends like population growth and urbanization, federal policy and government’s regulatory role, the symbiotic relationship between startups and big business, the explosion in data, and the need for a standardized “green” finance system.

Lenox brought the evening to a close by asking the panelists for their thoughts about the most important factor or opportunity Darden should consider as it moves forward with the new Business Innovation and Climate Change Initiative:

"Food waste. Forty percent of our food supply never makes it from farm to port. The carbon footprint of that waste is 4.4 billion metric tons of CO2. If you measured food waste as a country, it would be the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gasses. It’s a huge environmental issue."
John Mandyck, Chief Sustainability Officer, United Technologies
"Innovation both in terms of technology development and deployment. A related issue is finance. Improve the system for green finance so that there’s more money available for investment. The lack of cheaply available capital is what’s stopping many innovations from finding a market."
Stephen Harper, Global Director of Environment and Energy Policy, Intel
"Sustainability policy going forward needs to identify long term objectives … and the time frames necessary to achieve them. We need to ask, ‘What can we do to create the environment to stimulate investment and bring about achievement of those long-term transitions into new technologies?’"
Kevin Fay, Vice Chairman and CEO, Alcade & Fay

The message from the evening’s discussion was clear: The business community has an obligation to society that transcends the bottom line, and Darden has a clear role helping businesses lead the way developing technology solutions, new business models and partnerships that tackle climate change. In the face of urgent environmental threats, many business leaders today are not only advancing their organizations’ economic interests but also promoting greater societal interests through investments across a broad spectrum of sectors. And as the private sector leverages its innovative business-based approaches to create climate change solutions, the people of the nation and the world stand to receive the biggest return on that investment.

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About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business prepares responsible global leaders through unparalleled transformational learning experiences. Darden’s graduate degree programs (MBA, MSBA and Ph.D.) and Executive Education & Lifelong Learning programs offered by the Darden School Foundation set the stage for a lifetime of career advancement and impact. Darden’s top-ranked faculty, renowned for teaching excellence, inspires and shapes modern business leadership worldwide through research, thought leadership and business publishing. Darden has Grounds in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the Washington, D.C., area and a global community that includes 18,000 alumni in 90 countries. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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