Sustainability and the Corporation: Big Ideas

November 15-16th, 2013

Invitation only


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Organizational Behavior Unit

Technology & Operations Management Unit

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The conference will be held at the Harvard Business School in Boston, MA.

Call for Papers 
Conference on "Sustainability and the Corporation: Big Ideas"
Harvard Business School, November 15th – 16th, 2013

Over the past few decades, most countries have experienced unprecedented levels of economic growth. Meanwhile, several macro trends are shifting the nature of global economic activity, including growing urbanization, the shift of economic activity from agriculture and industrial production to services, and lower barriers to the mobility of labor, financial capital, and products. These trends have placed strong pressures on the environment and on society. In particular, accelerating consumption of natural resources and carbon emissions threaten the capacity of the planet to sustain human activity. At the same time, unemployment, especially among young people, social inequality and immobility threaten to erode the social fabric and stability of society. Finally, repeated corporate governance failures and a series of crises in the financial system have dramatically undermined trust in business on the part of civil society. These environmental, social, and governance challenges are calling into question the legitimacy of capitalism, as it is largely being practiced today, as the preferred socio-economic system.

Business leaders are grappling with these issues, unsure of their expectations or responsibilities if there is no direct and immediate impact on profits. Policy makers have long recognized their role in regulating externalities, but are often unable to move with the agility and dexterity needed to address these issues. Social expectations around the role of the corporation in society are changing, but the power of social movements and the lack of consensus add greater uncertainty to already volatile business environments.

We believe that this is an ideal time to hold a conference at Harvard Business School to explore research pertaining to new business strategies, models, processes and systems that may be useful to managers that will lead organizations in the 21st century.  The aim of the conference is to provide a forum to discuss fundamental business issues such as:

  • How should companies rediscover their business models to succeed in a world with scarcer and more volatile production inputs?

  • What types of innovation in processes, products, and business models could allow firms to improve simultaneously their financial as well as environmental, social, and governance (ESG) performance?

  • How can business recover its reputation as an engine for economic and social prosperity and become a trustworthy institution?

  • What is a potential new corporate governance model that could navigate and lead a corporation in the future?

  • What is the role of investors and capital markets in catalyzing progress towards more sustainable organizations?

  • What is the role of NGOs and how can they become more effective creating systemic change?

  • Could innovations in corporate reporting change managerial behaviors, beliefs and corporate culture, as well as decisions in the investment community and NGO campaigns?

On November 15th - 16th of 2013, the Harvard Business School will host a conference for research on sustainability from a corporate, investor, and civil society perspective. Papers for consideration must be submitted to by August 30th, 2013. Authors of accepted papers will be notified by September 30th, 2013. Paper conclusions need to be supported by a rigorous qualitative or quantitative data analysis. Consistent with the theme of the conference, submitted papers need to make a significant contribution both to the academic literature and to managerial practice in order to qualify as "Big Ideas".  Selection of papers for the conference will be overseen by the undersigned.


Organizing committee
Robert Eccles
Harvard Business School

Amy Edmondson
Harvard Business School

George Serafeim
Harvard Business School

External scientific committee
Tima Bansal
Richard Ivey School of Business

Ioannis Ioannou
London Business School​