Smeal faculty, research center directors form Sustainability Council

University Park, Pa. -- Penn State's Smeal College of Business has formed a Sustainability Council to foster collaboration across the college on sustainability-related research and education, and to enhance visibility for the college's sustainability initiatives across the University and externally.

The council consists of the directors of six of Smeal's research centers and other key faculty. The centers have undertaken their own sustainability research efforts both academically and in conjunction with their private-sector supporters. Coming together monthly to compare notes and develop new collaborative initiatives will push the college's sustainability agenda and encourage cross-disciplinary programs. Faculty outside of the centers who are conducting research in sustainability areas are also represented in the dialogue, allowing for a rich college-level exchange of ideas and agendas.

Smeal's five-year strategic plan proposes the creation of a new research center that is dedicated to the study of sustainable business practices. The center will work with existing Smeal centers and across the University to encourage dialogue between business and sustainability advocates. The center will also focus on research to identify complements and transcend trade-offs between economic, societal and environmental goals.

Until the new center is operational, the Sustainability Council will bring focus to all of the college's sustainability efforts and bridge the gap that the new center will fill. Currently, there are at least 20 Smeal faculty members who are either conducting research or exploring projects in the area of sustainability, in addition to research center initiatives.

Faculty research agendas include sustainability projects in economics, finance, management, marketing, supply chain and more. For instance, Dan Guide, assistant professor of operations and supply chain management, focuses his research on closed-loop supply chains and remanufacturing, which serve as a foundation in the development of environmentally sustainable industrial systems. Another project, by Daniel Cahoy, associate professor of business law, explores how intellectual property rights can be used to encourage private investment in sustainability-related innovation.

The college's research centers are also focusing a portion of their efforts in sustainability. The Center for Global Business Studies is examining how environmental degradation will affect business in the next 25 years. The Center for the Management of Technological and Organizational Change (CMTOC) is working with its member firms to learn how Lean Six Sigma methods and tools can be applied to the reduction of water and energy waste. The Center for Supply Chain Research is exploring how altering supply chains can shrink firms' carbon footprints. The Institute for the Study of Business Markets is looking at branding issues in sustainability.

By coordinating with these and other individual sustainability projects under way at Smeal, the Sustainability Council will be the college’s advocate for growing these efforts, according to Gerald Susman, associate dean for research and chair of the new council.

"The council puts a public face on all of the impressive projects being conducted by Smeal faculty and research centers," said Susman, who also serves as director of CMTOC. "The council gives sustainability a home at Smeal, and it shows the world that we have presence in this area of research and are willing to work with other groups within Penn State and beyond."

The council kicked off its monthly meeting schedule in early February and already is exploring new programs in sustainability. The members are considering collaborating in hosting a symposium on business issues in energy/alternative energy. Other ideas include developing case studies on how sustainability consciousness grows in firms, inviting executives to share how they’ve grown their bottom lines by going green, and bringing in sustainability-focused NGOs -- like the Sierra Club and the World Wildlife Federation -- to share their ideas on sustainable business practices.

Smeal also is hosting a brown bag lecture series in which faculty share their sustainability-centered research. Guide kicked off the series on Feb. 25, and it continues this semester with Susman, Cahoy, and Terry Harrison, professor of supply chain and information systems.

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Last Updated March 19, 2009