Can Business Save the Earth? New Book Co-Authored by UVA Darden Professor Offers Path to Sustainability

By Dave Hendrick

Current corporate sustainability efforts will not be enough to protect and sustain the earth as a place where humans can flourish and reach their full potential.

In the new book, Can Business Save the Earth? Innovating Our Way to Sustainability (Stanford University Press, 2018), University of Virginia Darden School of Business Professor Mike Lenox and Duke University Fuqua School of Business Professor Aaron Chatterji dissect the shortcomings of predominant sustainability efforts and, in clear and direct language, detail a path on which business innovation could lead to a truly sustainable future.

“The question at the heart of our book is, ‘How do we motivate our innovation engine to generate the technologies and businesses that can help address some of these challenges and issues,’” said Lenox. “Business will not do this on its own. It is the system as a whole that matters and needs to be catalyzed to drive innovation.”

According to the authors, admirable but insufficient corporate sustainability efforts — as well as existing market forces — will not be enough to ensure a sustainable future, which the authors tie to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s calculations on the maximum amount of carbon that can be released into the atmosphere to avoid a rise in global temperature of 2 degrees Celsius or more.

Instead, an entire interconnected group of stakeholders, including inventors, customers, investors, the government and others must play a role in ushering in an interconnected innovation ecosystem capable of producing dramatic and disruptive clean tech innovation.

Based on more than a decade of research and work with companies and players at every step of the innovation chain, Lenox and Chatterji offer detailed case studies of companies such as Tesla and Nest and unpack the journey their disruptive innovations took form idea to industry leader.

The book further identifies where economic incentives currently exist, or could exist with institutional change, and considers what reasonable environmental outcomes can be expected to solve a problem that defies easy solutions.

Despite the gravity and complexity of the issue, the authors reject hopelessness. Lenox and Chatterji suggest that “a new moon shot”— a concerted and coordinated effort to generate a new system that encourages dramatic innovation across multiple sectors at the same time — is not only necessary, but possible.

“We believe in the power of markets to drive human behavior and the potential for all of us to work together to meet our sustainability challenges,” said Chatterji. “We all have the power, in one way or another, to serve as a catalyst for change.”

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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