corporations meet environmental science in revamped program

For businesses looking to get green and invest in sustainability, it comes down to three things: people, planet and, of course, profit.

That’s where UCLA’s Corporate Partners Program comes in. The program provides financial support for cutting-edge research at the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. Bolstered by a new, all-woman force of faculty, staff and advisors, the program is launching a new strategy to provide more bang for that buck—in the form of research that addresses the real sustainability problems businesses face.

Program manager Jennie Dean said targeted research on best practices is good for all involved.

“We want our practices to make sense for environmental concerns while also having positive impacts for communities and workforces,” Dean said. “And we want to make sure those practices maintain or improve businesses’ bottom lines.”

The program’s reboot will focus on a different topic each year, compiling a library of white papers and research to be used by participant corporations. With the historic California drought still in full swing, this year’s focus is water sustainability. A January 18 kickoff event will unite business leaders with UCLA Water Resources Group experts to explore potential solutions.

To help scientists and businesspeople find common ground, Dean assembled an advisory group of industry sustainability experts. One of those experts, Samantha Attwood, works for Amazon. She’s helping the web retail giant achieve its goal of using 100 percent renewable energy.

“It’s a big focus of the organization,” Attwood said, “which gives me hope that other companies will follow suit in creating meaningful projects and facilitating our transition to a clean energy future.”

With the company accounting for 60 percent of United States online sales growth in 2015, getting Amazon to clean energy would itself be a huge step toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Jaime Carlson, another advisor, worked in sustainability for President Barack Obama’s administration and TerraForm, a corporation that invests in and operates clean energy sources worldwide. She said popular opinion is driving more and more businesses to go green.

“There’s a lot of support now, especially with the younger generation,” Carlson said. That matters in the marketplace, of course, but it also means top college graduates look for more than paychecks these days—they want to know whether a firm is being socially responsible. Building a strong workforce in the future could hinge on how businesses perform environmentally.

The Corporate Partners Program is the brainchild of professor Magali Delmas, whose research focuses on the intersection of environmental policy and business strategy. She said the ultimate goal is having the entire business community of Los Angeles working with UCLA on environmental issues. With expected regulatory rollbacks from the new presidential administration, it’s more important than ever to engage businesses on issues of sustainability, she said. Strong state regulations and public concern for the environment make California a good state to develop practices that can be replicated elsewhere.

Businesses clearly have a major impact on the environment. That also makes them a huge opportunity to take strides forward, said program manager Jennie Dean.

“Having businesses use resources in an efficient, thoughtful manner is critical to making sure we have some for the future,” Dean said. “There are real solutions out there that won’t hurt profit.”


Note: The opinions expressed in this story are those of the individuals and do not necessarily reflect those of the companies they work for. | Main photo by Henrik Trygg.