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Looking forward to 2021



In February 2020, I came across one of the more well-known lines from Abigail Adams written in a letter to her son John Quincy Adams. I wrote it on an orange Post-In note and stuck in on the fridge door:


"It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed...Great necessities call out great virtues." (source)


Around that time, I recall reading about a nasty new virus in China, mainly dismissing the news as one of a long list of unfortunate things happening where I couldn't do a thing about it. Then the "great necessities" of the virus crashed into my own country, community and classroom. That Post-it note stayed with us all year.


I won't here attempt a recounting of the year 2020; many others are doing a fine job of that. It's enough to say my heart has been broken by the loss (even more so its unequal distribution), emboldened by the bravery of so many essential workers and their families, and inspired by the "great virtues" and accomplishments such adversity has called forth:

  • A vaccine in 9 months, for example, can only be understood as an awe-inspiring scientific and technological accomplishment

  • 15 million people participating in the largest marches for social justice and equal rights, another example, must be regarded as a breath-taking civic and democratic accomplishment.

The Center's mission is to accelerate the integration of sustainability in business. Such acceleration will rely on the technological, scientific, civic and democratic breakthroughs we have seen in 2020. The pandemic and racial reckoning have accelerated business thinking around purpose and profit. For our part, we at the Center have

  • engaged 1,210 undergraduate and graduate students this semester on a range of issues from supporting Black-owned businesses, carbon offsets and climate change, employee engagement, and supplier engagement to reduce GHG emissions

  • worked with large companies like IBM, Verizon and Perdue Farms, and start-ups like Rebuild the Block and Organic Climbing/Nittany Mountain Works, Loba Mane and Good Day Cafe

  • organized research seminars to showcase leading research in finance, management, marketing and supply chain; Mark Desjardine's work that suggest sustainability can invite hedge fund takeover was an especially eye-opening for me this fall

2021 will not be a return to the "still calm of life" Abigail spoke to her son about. Much suffering remains and still more bravery and breakthroughs will be needed. Our resolve and strong character will be needed.


I am pleased we will be doing our part and will have some exciting announcements later this spring about new initiatives and resources, such as the completion of the Major Sustainability website, Industry Roundtables and much more.


Let me end with something exciting for the spring Social Entrepreneurship class. We will be working with Amazon Ecology, an organization working with artisans in rural Peru to preserve the rainforest through social enterprise and good forest management. (2 minute video takes you to a village, the kind Smeal students will be working with)

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