UT Dallas Launches Top-Level Sustainability Center
Profs Helping Businesses Go Easy on the Earth and Still Be Competitive
Labels describing furniture made with “all natural fiber,” “reclaimed teakwood” and “water hyacinth fiber” are common in showrooms and catalogs. Manufacturers and retailers are seeking sustainable alternatives to traditional hardwood product lines.
Crafting furniture using ecologically sound practices — including recycling, sustainable forestry, conservation and reclamation — has become more than a fleeting fad. There’s a booming market trend in the U.S. home furnishings industry to create products that not only add beauty but also help protect the environment.
“Businesses in all industries today must be concerned about the impact that products and services are having on the planet and future generations,” said Francisco Szekely, a UT Dallas School of Management professor. “More and more, consumers are asking: ‘Who made this product?’ and ‘Where did it come from?’
“Today, you buy milk at the supermarket and look at the price and quality. Future generations will ask, ‘How is this being produced?’ ”
An expert on environmental and corporate sustainability, Szekely is the director of the School of Management’s new Center for Responsible Business and Sustainability (CRBS).
Launched this past spring by Szekely and the center’s associate director, Dr. Usman Ghani, the CRBS strives to help business leaders adopt business practices that are sustainable as well as competitive.
Helping develop a business model in the U.S. furniture industry is one of several initial projects the center has undertaken in its quest to position UT Dallas at the forefront of universities working on sustainability issues.
Overpopulation has strained the Earth’s natural resources, posing a worldwide challenge that demands action from governments, corporations, universities, organizations and consumers, Szekely said. Business can play a central role in helping to build a sustainable society by creating corporate culture that is mindful of the environment across its business practices.
“If we sacrifice our environment, we limit the ability of the next generation to do well,” said Szekely, who has taught sustainability courses at Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He also has served as director of and professor at the International Academy of the Environment in Geneva, as well as deputy minister of environment and natural resources in Mexico.
“Sustainability is about keeping a balance between environmental, economic and social objectives. We help companies come up with a business model that keeps these things in balance,” Szekely said. “Business has to adopt a new approach to value creation. Instead of the traditional and narrower approach of focusing mainly on creating ‘shareholder value,’ now companies must figure out how to create ‘stakeholder value,’ where managers, employees, customers, communities and society benefit from its activities,” he said.
Combining the research and teaching strengths of UT Dallas with the center’s forward-looking approaches, the CRBS plans to offer “learning platforms” and “sustainability forums” to discuss the business and social implications of adopting options in response to sustainability challenges such as global warming, new energy sources and risk management.
Some of the areas the center will focus on include innovation, work processes, leadership methods, organizational models, competitive strategies, and supplier and customer relations. The center will also explore the pros and cons of various policy options to curb global warming, such as cap and trade, carbon taxes, alternative energy, and product and service labeling. It will also organize multi-stakeholder forums to address how business can better respond to global challenges.
The CRBS plans to publish its research findings about responsible leadership and business sustainability in refereed management and sustainability journals and in mainstream publications available to the public.
Since joining the School of Management a year ago, Szekely has been in demand as a keynote speaker at events hosted by local civic and professional groups, community colleges, and industry and business associations.
The newly launched CRBS is already achieving a reputation for success. The CEO Clubs Worldwide awarded the center an “Award of Excellence” for management education at its 2009 conference, which was held in Dubai in April. The organization, an assembly of CEO Clubs throughout the world, recognized the CRBS for its model vision for sustainability education.