Where’s the Leadership?

by on October 26th, 2017

Where’s the leadership regarding HBS, business leadership, and climate change?

Please consider the quotes on the facing page, many of which will be recognizable, and all understandable, to the Harvard community. Surely the statements by President Faust and Dean Nohria can only be considered sincere, and can only be fulfilled, if the School takes a responsible and strong stand on the need—practical, ethical and humane—for the entire business community to face and address climate change. There are no valid excuses, and no more time to waste.

Is Veritas Harvard’s motto? Is it Harvard Business School’s mission to educate leaders who make a difference in the world? Are Harvard and HBS serious about human and environmental sustainability and the ethical attitudes required to actually
achieve them?

We urge you to consider the excellent article by HBS’s own Michael Toffel (with Auden Schendler), Greening Is Not Enough: 4 Steps to Corporate Leadership on Climate Change. Given the scientific assessments, immense stakes, and dangerous risks associated with climate change, can anyone credibly argue that the article is mistaken about what business leaders should be doing at the very least?

Specifically, the central point of the article, and the four steps Toffel and Schendler identify, are crucial to the task of addressing climate change, a reality underscored by any sound understanding of Milton Friedman’s point (facing page) and of the interrelationships between public policy and business action. First and foremost, HBS and Harvard should leave no Crimson intellect untouched, no Crimson stone unturned, in an effort to encourage and lead businesses to cooperate with government to shape intelligent policy that will facilitate the necessary changes and ultimately get the job done. President Faust’s and Dean Nohria’s statements imply, and call for, nothing less.

Use all five I’s like they’ve never been used before!

And, will anyone disagree with the view that success should be measured by results—adopting policies and taking actions that successfully stem climate change rather than giving lip service to action, greenwashing, or merely publishing? Businesses measure success by results. The same should be true, even more so, when it comes to addressing climate change. Indeed, capitalism and the American approach to business must, ultimately, be considered profound failures if they can’t honestly respect, and responsibly facilitate the protection of, vital Earth systems and human health and sustainability. As we see it, Harvard’s own intellectual and ethical credibility are also at stake.

The challenge at hand applies to all great institutions of higher learning—no excuses, no more time to waste—and Harvard must surely recognize that it applies to her, including and perhaps especially to HBS. Some of the world’s leading scientists, deeply concerned about climate change and its likely effects, live or teach within a few miles of
Morgan Hall. Meanwhile, some of the world’s largest and most profitable businesses are causing the problem and even trying to influence society to delay responsible action. It’s time for business leaders to face the facts, step up to the plate, and address climate change. Leadership is about character, decisions, and action.

Where’s the urgently needed leadership, Harvard?

Sincerely and respectfully,

Roger Shamel (HBS’ 74) and Jeff Huggins (HBS ’86)

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