Environmentally Sustainable Strategy & Operations - Harvard Business School MBA Program

Environmentally Sustainable Strategy & Operations

Course Number 1145

Associate Professor Michael Toffel
Fall; Q1; 1.5 credits
14 sessions

A 3-credit version of this course is offered as Field Course: Environmentally Sustainable Strategy & Operations Q1, Q2 (course number 6141)

Educational Objectives

Senior managers across all industries are facing environmental challenges that will become even more pressing in the coming decade. This course helps students understand and navigate strategic and operational challenges posed by environmental problems like climate change and water shortages as well as growing regulatory threats and activist pressures. In particular, students learn to identify when and how these challenges provide opportunities for competitive advantage by deploying strategies to increase revenues, reduce costs, mitigate risks, and raise rivals' costs. The course also addresses how managers can effectively respond to growing demands from buyers, investors, and activists for greater transparency and accountability for the environmental impacts of their companies' operations and supply chains. This course explores these issues by examining how leading companies around the world are rising to these challenges - and by exposing the mistakes some have made.

Course Content and Organization

The course modules address new products and business models that address environmental issues, environmentally sustainable operations and supply chains, strategic approaches to global climate change, and profiting from environmental regulation. Cases focus on multinationals (AES, McDonald's, Monsanto, Toyota, etc.), niche companies (FIJI Water, Aspen Skiing Company, etc.), and several entrepreneurial ventures. These span many industries (e.g., agriculture/food, automotive, biotechnology, construction, energy, financial services, management consulting) across North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa.

  • Non-Market Strategy: Profiting from Environmental Policy
    The course begins by learning how to use an understanding of a company's competitive landscape to forecast how the company and its rivals will gain or lose competitiveness from various environmental policies and regulation, and to identify potential collaborators to influence regulation.
  • Environmentally Sustainable Operations and Supply Chains
    Examining leading-edge corporate initiatives that purport to reduce the environmental impacts of operations and supply chains, we discuss how managers prioritize, set environmental targets, measure environmental performance, and decide whether and how to report environmental objectives and progress to investors and activists. Also, we explore how organizations decide whether and when to collaborate with competitors, suppliers, and/or activists to capture value or manage risks associated with environmental concerns.
  • New Products and Business Models
    New products and business models can play a critical role in solving environmental problems. In which contexts are firms likely to succeed in differentiating their products as being environmentally friendly? How do companies find customers willing to pay an environmental premium? How can companies capture value by reducing risk?
  • Strategic Approaches to Global Climate Change
    Global climate change and greenhouse gas emissions regulations and present many new challenges and market opportunities. We examine companies seeking to profit by selling into these markets, trading within these markets, and become market makers.

Students taking the Field Course will form small teams to write a paper on a topic of their choice that complements the themes of the course, based on research from public sources and interviews with managers. The instructor meets periodically with each team to develop their idea. Teams will present conclusions to the class and, at their option, to senior management of their focal company.

The short course can be paired with Cleantech: Competing on Resource Efficiency offered in Q2.