Facing the Rising Seas: Can we Learn from Climate Mitigation?

David L. LevyUMass Boston.

It’s approaching three years since hurricane Sandy killed over 230 people in 8 countries, and wreaked havoc on the New York-New Jersey region – and put climate adaptation firmly on the national agenda. Sandy, which disrupted at least 450,000 businesses in New York and New Jersey, illustrated how cascading impacts not only damage property but also disrupt businesses for extended periods of time, due to the interaction of power and communication outages, infrastructure damage, and supply chain disruptions. These complex interactions were not adequately understood or anticipated. The reinsurance company Munich Re has estimated insured losses at $25 billion and total losses of at least $50 billion in the US from Sandy. Looking to the future, the 2011 Mass Climate Adaptation report notes that: “Sea level rise of 0.65 meters (26 inches) in Boston by 2050 could damage assets worth an estimated $463 billion”. Cities and states have begun to devote significant resources to planning for sea level rise, more frequent and intense storms, and more intense heat and drought. In one design-for-climate-change scenario, Boston would be transformed into an American Venice.

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Science vs. Business?

By David Levy, UMass Boston.* 

The fossil fuel industry’s campoil refineryaign to deny climate change and oppose the regulation of greenhouse gases is a well-researched and publicized story. Much less is known, however, about the role of corporate scientists in shaping the internal perspectives on climate change in these companies, and the impact on corporate response strategies. Recent revelations by InsideClimate News show that from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s, Exxon funded its own scientists to engage in a serious research program, which pointed to conclusions that broadly matched those of the broader climate science community. Indeed, during the 1980s, Exxon put plans on hold to develop the massive Natuna gas field off the coast of Indonesia, because of concerns that nearly two-thirds of the gas was carbon dioxide, and there was no economically viable way to capture and dispose of it.

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Whose Values Count? The Hobby Lobby Decision and Corporate Social Responsibility

David Levy, Professor and Associate Dean in the College of Management at UMass Boston and Director of the Center for Sustainable Enterprise and Regional Competitiveness

Women held placards proclaiming “Bosses out of My Bedroom” to protest last week’s Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case, which permits privately-held corporations to exclude coverage for contraception from health insurance coverage on religious grounds. In the media, opponents of the decision saw the issue as corporate owners imposing their religious beliefs on all the employees in Hobby Lobby’s nearly 600 stores. The decision has been widely condemned by feminist and other progressive groups, who smell a theocratic agenda that represents discrimination against women (Viagra and vasectomies are covered by insurance), a threat to women’s health, and a continuation of efforts to control female sexuality. The Court itself was divided along gender lines for this and the follow up Wheaton College decision regarding exemptions for religious non-profit organizations, in which the three female judges issued a sharp dissent. For women, reproductive freedom and economic independence are closely intertwined, as Justice Ginsburg noted in her dissent: “The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.”

But the Hobby Lobby (HL) case is not just about corporate control over women’s work and health; it holds broader significance for corporate governance. The decision severely undermines those who seek to use corporate social responsibility (CSR) to hold business accountable and to channel the vast financial, technological, and organizational resources of business to advance social goals. The heart of the HL case turned on the technical question of whether a for-profit corporation, as a legal person, has the same rights as an individual to exercise religion under the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). On the face of it, the idea of a corporation having a religion is somewhat bizarre. After all, we don’t see corporations being baptized or singing at a Bar Mitzvah ceremony. But if a corporation, as a person, does have values or religion, whose are they? A small group of owners, or the wider community?

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HBS’s apology misses the mark

or why 250 female-headed cases won’t change the world

By Michelle Kweder, a UMass Boston student on the Organizations and Social Change track of the PhD in Business Administration.  This is reposted from her blog Bricolage. Twitter: @MichelleKweder

Harvard Business School (HBS) Dean Nitin Nohria apparently made an “extraordinary public apology” at a glitzy ballroom in San Francisco for HBS’s bad behavior towards women as outlined September 2013 New York Times article “Harvard Business School Case Study:  Gender Equity.”  Nohria’s goal of doubling the percentage of women who appear as protagonists in Harvard Business Publishing (HBP) cases in the next five years is lackluster if not meaningless.

Apparently HBP cases account for 80% of cases studied in business schools globally. The last time I checked the online case database included 10,148 (December 2013) HBS/HBP cases.  (Note: HBP also disseminates cases from similar collections such as Darden and Ivey.)  Without a doubt, HBP/HBS is the thought leader and standard bearer in what I call mainstream graduate management education (MGME).

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Addressing Inequality with a New Business Architecture

by David Levy

Last week, Bill de Blasio was sworn in as the Mayor of New York, and in a ceremony replete with references to sharp class and racial divides in the city, de Blasio pledged to devote his energies to “put an end to economic and social inequalities.” So what can a new administration with a solid mandate for progressive policies do to encourage shared prosperity in a major urban region? Even large cities have limited power and resources, and they are tightly integrated into the wider national and global economy. Inequality is largely a function of more structural economic forces, from the dominance of the financial sector to the pressures created by immigration, globalization, and technological change.

De Blasio’s plans for addressing inequality remain rather unclear. His most substantive proposals include building more affordable housing and raising taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers to pay for universal kindergarten. His wide margin of victory indicates some appetite for redistribution, but higher taxes are often perceived as “anti-business”, deterring mobile investment and hurting employment. Indeed, De Blasio is proposing to raise taxes by less than $1000 on those earning between $500,000 and $1 million a year. De Blasio has also supported raising the minimum wage, but the city is powerless to act on this without support from the state legislature.  Other proposed measures, such as helping people enroll for food stamps and other benefits to which they are entitled, are important steps but their limited scope means they won’t have much of a systemic impact. Continue reading