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How Smeal and Companies are Fighting for Our Future

COP27: The Losses and Damages of Business as Usual

The 2022 UN Climate Change Conference - widely known as COP27 - held in November focused on the rising environmental and societal implications of climate change. Held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, COP27 was 13 days of discussions addressing the state of the climate and progress toward meeting emission reduction goals with an eye toward 2030, the "deadline", so to speak, set for a global reduction of emissions to keep global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

COP27 provided the opportunity for the 35,000+ attendees, as well as those viewing worldwide, to view the data on global progress and address related issues such as climate justice: the fact that countries most negatively impacted by climate change have done the least to contribute to it. Climate justice was, in fact, the major topic at COP27 and a commitment to address "losses and damages" from climate change in the developing world was a key outcome.

The importance of COP27 to business schools lies in the need to focus not just on one's carbon footprint, but on the educational footprint as well.

Focusing on the Educational Footprint of Business

Business is a driving force for how people treat each other and the environment through products we buy and how they are made. It is only natural that business is therefore both accountable for environmental damage and social inequities and also a major player in addressing these same challenges.

The Center for the Business of Sustainability at the Smeal College of Business created its Major Sustainability platform in order to address the educational footprint of business schools. Consider the size of this footprint: 400,000 undergraduate degrees in business are awarded every year in the United States, that is more than engineering, psychology, and biology combined. Moreover, the 1,000 business schools in 50 countries that are accredited by AACSB, the world's largest accreditor of business schools, grant 4 million business degrees annually.

Smeal saw this large footprint of business education as an opportunity. Five years ago, the Center started with a simple question: "What should business schools be teaching about sustainability?" From there we set in motion a vision for the future.

Through a collaborative effort involving 30 faculty across all departments, Major Sustainability was created and launched.

Today business students at Penn State and around the world can see how their major contributes to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and to the environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance of an organization.

Champions for a New Kind of Business Education

The Center alone can't transform business education. Such a change requires networks of a range of stakeholders pushing in the same direction: business schools, accrediting agencies, companies and many others. Companies can use their substantial leverage to reinforce the need for a new kind of business education. We need the voice of business to make clear that business students need a new set of sustainability skills in addition to traditional capabilities.

The Center set out to gather together "COP27 Champions" leading up to the November 6 start date of COP27. The following five companies so far have raised their voice for a new kind of business education: Verizon, ClimeCo, Center Square, Prospect14 and Adsorption Research Inc.

Verizon is one company we are proud to recognize as a COP27 Champion. Verizon is recognized as the first telecom company to issue a green bond and has since issued three in total. Verizon is also on a path to transitioning to renewable energy, with 31.5 megawatts of on-site green energy already installed.

ClimeCo is a global advisor and developer of environmental commodities with a specialization in carbon offsets, renewable energy credits and plastic credits. It has been named Climate Action Reserve's Project Developer of the year three times.

Center Square is a real asset investment management company. They pride themselves on the implementation of ESG measurements, a commitment to the Global Investor Statement to Governments on Climate Change, and the joining of Climate Action 100+.

Prospect14 is a utility scale solar developer. Prospect14 boasts over 5GW of contracted solar projects across the United States and as of this writing has developed 75 projects in 17 states.

Adsorption Research, Inc. plays a critical role in creating technologies that remove carbon dioxide and nitrogen from biogas. They play a critical role in purification, carbon capture and natural gas purification.

The Future is Bright

We, alongside other business schools, cannot change business education alone. The voice of business is critical for this urgent evolution of business education where the consideration of social and environmental impact is the new standard.

We continue to welcome new Champions to join us in our effort to reach 400,000 students annually in the United States and millions around the world. This is the education footprint that will change the environmental footprint of business.

Our plans are to continue to fuel inquiry, creativity and innovation as we pursue a sustainable and equitable future.


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