Can Business Save the Earth?
Innovating Our Way to Sustainability
Michael Lenox and Aaron Chatterji

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Preface and Acknowledgments

Climate change and our broader sustainability challenge pose a critical threat to our ability to flourish on this planet. Addressing this challenge will require substantial innovation across a wide number of industrial sectors that promise to disrupt existing technologies and business models. Such an audacious project will require active leadership by business as well as the deep involvement of others—scientists, inventors, investors, customers, policy makers, activists, among others—who impact the ability of our system of innovation to thrive. This book is about how we can catalyze innovation through the actions of this broad set of stakeholders to address our sustainability challenge.

Through our research and teaching at the University of Virginia (UVA) and Duke, respectively, we find reasons to be both concerned and optimistic. Concerned because so much of what we observe in the realm of business and sustainability today seems woefully insufficient to meet the challenge before us. Optimistic because we observe an enterprising spirit in our students and alumni every day. We have seen firsthand the impact that passionate innovators and entrepreneurs can have in inventing a new future, especially one that promises a more sustainable planet that will allow humans to flourish. Because of our experience, we choose optimism over defeat.

As scholars, we have long been interested in the interface between business and the broader public sphere. Trained as economists, we have benefited from our time on the faculty of leading business schools. We have come to appreciate the complexity of businesses and the importance of what is referred to in the academic literature as non-market strategy—the ways business addresses the diverse set of institutions and stakeholders that impact their organizations outside the normal market context.

We have also benefited from being passionate scholars and observers of innovation and entrepreneurship. This intermingling of business strategy, public policy, and innovation has provided us a different perspective on our sustainability challenge than that of many who see the issue as simply a question of getting large corporations to internalize the negative externalities of pollution and other environmental impacts. Appreciating our innovation imperative opens a broader lens to examine climate change and sustainability and suggests a plethora of policy options, both public and private, beyond the current stalemate around whether to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

In pursuing this project, we have benefited greatly from conversations and engagements with our academic colleagues, business leaders, policy makers, and leaders of nongovernmental organizations. We wish to recognize our various coauthors and collaborators who have shaped our thinking on sustainability over the years: John Ehrenfeld, Andrew King at Dartmouth, Chuck Eesley at Stanford, Michael Toffel at Harvard, David Levine at Berkeley, Kira Fabrizio at Boston University, Gary Dushnitsky at London Business School, Scott Rockart at Duke, and Jeff York at Colorado. We also wish to recognize the support and influence of the community of scholars that make up the Alliance for Research in Corporate Sustainability.

In addition, Lenox benefited from conversations with colleagues at Stanford University during a visiting professorship as well as feedback received at academic seminars at Michigan, Cornell, University of North Carolina, INSEAD, University of Southern California, Colorado, Brigham Young University, Miami, and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. Chatterji benefited from engagements during his time at the Harvard Business School and the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

We wish to recognize the support of our colleagues and students at the Darden School of Business at UVA and the Fuqua School of Business at Duke. They have greatly influenced our thinking and provided inspiration for our efforts. Both schools provided financial support for this project for which we are most grateful. The Batten Institute at UVA, in particular, provided significant support in terms of both time and talent, including the convening of an innovators’ round-table of leading corporate sustainability leaders. A special thanks goes to Erika Herz from the Batten Institute, who has been a passionate scholar and advocate for our book and the broader sustainability challenges that we discuss within.

This book would not have been possible without the expert research assistance provided by Becky Duff and Nusrat Jahan. Thank you for your numerous contributions. They have greatly enhanced the end product. Thanks as well go to Margo Beth Fleming, Olivia Bartz, and the entire team at Stanford University Press. In addition, we thank reviewers David Vogel at Berkeley and Glen Dowell at Cornell. We greatly appreciate all of your suggestions and feedback. The book is much improved due to your feedback and guidance.

Last, but certainly not least, we wish to thank our families: Macy Lenox, Ben Lenox, and Haley Lenox and Neely Shah, Anya Chatterji, Deven Chatterji, and Kieran Chatterji. The writing of this book has been a multiple-year affair. Your patience and understanding are greatly appreciated. Your love and support kept us moving forward to complete the project.

Michael Lenox
Charlottesville, VA

Aaron Chatterji
Durham, NC