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Reflections from the 2018 ARCS Annual Conference at MIT Sloan

by Rejaul Hasan
BSC Associate
Doctoral candidate in the NC State Colleges of Textiles

The Alliances for Research on Corporate Sustainability (ARCS) 10th annual research conference was hosted by the MIT Sustainability Initiative at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sloan School of Management on 11-13 June this year. I was fortunate to selected as a presenter, among a very competitive pool of submissions.

The conference was officially kicked off on 12 June by Prof. John Sterman, Director of MIT Sustainability Initiative and ARCS President Prof. Tom Lyon on the beautiful Charles River view MIT Samberg Center.

Compelling Keynotes

The practitioner keynote was presented by Mindy Lubber, CEO and President of Ceres. Mindy educated the audiences about how Ceres directly works with more than a hundred global companies like Apple, PepsiCo, Microsoft, Unilever, and GAP to integrate sustainability from their board room to supply chains. In her words, “the rapidly changing climate, a global water crisis, and profound and ongoing human rights abuses undermine not only business operations, but also the lives and livelihoods of employees, customers and stakeholders”. She reinforced the idea that it is no longer the time of making sustainability commitments but rather it’s time to act more profoundly than ever.

It was a wonderful opportunity for me also to listen the academic keynote from Prof. George Serafeim of Harvard Business School. He addressed how high-sustainability companies outperformed comparatively low-sustainability companies over the horizon of 1992-2010, based on his research and how that presents a positive business case. He also discussed how global companies such as Walmart, Disney, Google, McKinsey, Goldman Sachs, Coca Cola, Siemens, General Motors could embed sustainability in their business agenda and actions.

Broad Topics

This year’s conference covered a wide range of agendas, such as carbon risk, green paradox, corporate law, environmental legitimacy, corporate tweets on sustainability and how that influences firm-stakeholder relationships, impact investment, green investment, renewable energy, labor market, corporate activism, environmentally certified building, national culture & CSR, building sustainability mindset, producer responsibility in recycling, socially responsible employment and so on. The details on those research can be found here. I had a chance to represent NC State along with Laura Boudreau from UC Berkley about our respective research built upon the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh, the world biggest CSR failure. While I focused on total cost of ownership of responsible production, Laura talked about Alliances efforts on improving labor provision in Bangladesh.

Business Impact

To anyone who is a part of global business or corporation as practitioner or academia, this is a significant gathering to follow. Since the conference not only comes with the most important research findings in the field of CSR, it includes some of the most prominent thought leaders in this area such as Michael Lenox from Darden Business School, Michael Toffel from Harvard Business School, Beril Toktay from the Scheller College of Business at Georgia Tech, John Sterman from MIT, Thomas Lyon from the Ross Business School at University of Michigan.

Research Impact

While getting ready for the conference, in my mind I was expecting just another conference; but in the end I felt ARCS conference was really distinct. It is the gathering of leading intellectuals in the field of CSR, emerging scholar in the field and the upcoming scholars in a closely-knit atmosphere, where a young researcher can discuss research agendas for hours with the leading academic in the field. This demonstrates the commitment of ARCS in building the community of researcher in the corporate sustainability space. In my view, this is a perfect place to explore your next project, find lifetime mentors and get ideas for the next grant proposal.

The great news is the conference is coming to the triangle. The 11th Annual ARCS Research Conference will be held at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School on June 5-7, 2019. I can’t wait to see the next round of research and industry insight in corporate sustainability and off-course the most charming sustainability crowd.

I would like to expressing my heart-felt gratitude to the NC State Poole College Business Sustainability Collaborative for the travel stipend which allowed me to attend the 2018 ARCS Conference.