IGEL: Sustainability, Business and Academia

Sustainability has been a buzzword in corporate circles for more than a decade now. When sustainability first crept into public consciousness, it was considered an issue of low salience. As the direct impact of business operations on the environment has become more evident, sustainability has acquired a starring role in corporate development. Today, it is no longer seen as a solely socio-environmental responsibility, but an integral element of business advancement. With this in mind, the Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL) was established at Wharton in 2007 to act as an integrating force between sustainable practices, corporations and academic research. The IGEL’s mission is to “develop, disseminate, and promote knowledge for business sustainability on a global scale.”

IGEL’s vision of sustainability is not for cosmetic purposes. The idea is to truly develop sustainability as a strategic driver of profitable business solutions. The institute aims to liaise with business and academia comes at a crucial time. According to a survey by the Governance & Accountability Institute, close to 60% of Fortune 500 companies now produce sustainability reports. According to Joanne Spigonardo, Sr. Associate Director of Business Development at IGEL, companies are moving beyond appointing a ‘sustainability manager.’ Environmental concerns are now being incorporated under the umbrella of strategy and operations. The IGEL in its role is poised to take advantage of this momentum.

On the corporate side, the institute hopes to leverage Wharton’s brand strength combined with the academic depth of the University of Pennsylvania to attract key sponsors. Companies as diverse as Bank of America, Merck and Rubicon have contributed upwards of $25,000 to be a member of the Corporate Advisory Board. Several others have signed up to be supporting members valued at $10,000 annually. This funding is used to develop research topics as well as the curricula in environmental business courses. The sponsors, in turn, gain wide-ranging access to national and international conferences, IGEL acknowledgement and academic research.

This ecosystem is ultimately geared towards achieving a three-pronged goal. First, recruit the brightest students and weave sustainability into their long-term leadership aspirations. Second, build upon the strong relationships with employers to provide career opportunities to future leaders. This year, the institute will be launching the Wharton IGEL Research Internship Program, aimed at harnessing student interest and stakeholder ideas in sustainability. IGEL is also open to receiving business plans and has provided funding, three to five thousand dollars on average, for student-developed projects. The deliverable of these projects are research articles that maybe published in Knowledge@Wharton. The main output of the institute is visible in the form of the numerous conferences and research papers produced throughout the year.  This year alone, five research papers have been published through initiatives supported by the IGEL.

The next conference on the 4th of December, entitled ‘Metrics that Matter, Messages that Motivate’ will focus on sustainability and business development in healthcare. Of particular interest to Wharton students will be the February 2014 conference on careers in sustainability. This will be hosted in conjunction with the career management office. These conferences often focus on the next big trend, such as big data and its interaction with sustainability, the theme of the IGEL conference in 2014. Finally, the EES/IGEL seminar series “offer insights and best practices in business sustainability” and are free and open to public.

IGEL has been trying to support numerous initiatives despite a constrained budget and funding continues to be it’s main concern. However, it provides an excellent educational and career-oriented platform for interested students.

For further information regarding career, research and funding opportunities, please visit the website at http://igel.wharton.upenn.edu

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