On June 5-7, more than 80 of the world’s leading business school researchers, policymakers and practitioners of corporate sustainability convened at the Kenan Center for the 11th annual conference for the Alliance for Research on Corporate Responsibility (ARCS). The event, which was a fitting highlight of the Kenan Institute-affiliated Center for Sustainable Enterprise’s 20th anniversary celebration, attracted attendees from North and South America, Asia and Europe, from management, law, public policy, operations and economics. Olga Hawn, faculty director of the Center for Sustainable Enterprise, served as conference chair.
The conference kicked off with a warm welcome from UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School Dean Doug Shackelford, followed by a short video retrospect of the Center for Sustainable Enterprise’s 20-year history and a look by Olga Hawn at the trailblazing role CSE has played for business school students, the local community, and other business schools and universities.
The conference offered several plenary sessions, including one featuring previous winners of the ARCS Emerging Scholar award. Panelists at the session urged the audience to immerse themselves in the contexts they study – for example, attending industry conferences, reading trade publications and contacting major companies and individuals for interviews – to achieve greater and more well-rounded insight into core issues. The panel also highlighted the need to make cutting-edge research accessible to practitioners, policymakers and the public through abbreviated versions for newspapers, magazines and blogs.
Another plenary session, featuring a panel of senior ARCS scholars, highlighted climate change as the most important current topic in sustainability. The panel agreed that businesses play an integral role in climate change, and that even the most conscientious companies are not doing enough to make an impact. On a more positive note, the panel shared the progress they’ve witnessed over the past twenty years, including the increasing legitimacy of corporate sustainability as a research area, a dramatic improvement in the empirical methods used to conduct sustainability research, and an improved understanding of potential unintended negative consequences of policies meant to spur corporate social responsibility.
Among the notable keynote speakers were Billy Pizer, a professor of public policy at Duke University and Paula Alexander, director of sustainable business at Burt’s Bees. Pizer brought a unique perspective to the conversation on climate change as a senior economist for the environment at the White House during past administrations. Alexander provided a glimpse into a company known for being passionate about the environment, but also, she said, humbly aware of its shortcomings. She shared the company’s guiding triple-bottom-line approach, quoting from Burt’s Bees co-founder Roxanne Quimby, “We take from nature, so we must protect and preserve it.”
In addition to the insightful sessions and research discussions, attendees were treated to a reception and dinner at the North Carolina Botanical Gardens, where they savored delicious, locally-sourced food and beverages. The evening event also included the presentation of the ARCS Emerging Sustainability Scholar Award, which was presented to the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School’s Olga Hawn and Basak Kalkanci of the Georgia Institute of Technology Scheller College of Business. They joined Best Paper Award winners Mark DesJardine of Pennsylvania State University and Rodolphe Durand of HEC Paris for their paper, “How Activist Investors Influence Corporate Social Responsibility.” Outstanding Paper winners included Jody Grewal of Harvard Business School for “Disclosure of Emerging Trends: Evidence from Climate Change Business Opportunities” and John Maxwell of Indiana University, Guy Holburn of Western University and Jean-Philippe Bonardi of HEC Lausanne for “A Contest Theory Model of Corporate Strategy for Activist Campaigns.” The People’s Choice winners were Mary-Hunter McDonnell of the University of Pennsylvania for “Take a Stand or Keep your Seat: Board Turnover after Activist Challenges” and Georg Wernicke of HEC Paris, Vanya Rusinova of Copenhagen Business School, and Tima Bansal of Western University for “Enemy at the Gates: Short Selling and Firm Performance on Corporate Social Responsibility – Evidence from a Natural Experiment.” Congratulations to all the winners, and thank you to all the organizers, presenters and attendees for a great conference!
For more information on the Center for Sustainable Enterprise, visit cse.unc.edu.