From the RC’s Finance I discussion on international carbon finance and EcoSecurities, to electives such as Sustainable Cities and Resilient Infrastructure, to cases such as “Climate change: Paris, and the road ahead,” Harvard Business School is infusing climate change and the environment into the learning experiences of every MBA student. Add in the Executive Education Agribusiness seminar, student sustainability associates, a climate-change focused alumni network, two new HarvardX courses, and a collaboration with WBUR’s CitySpace, and that infusion becomes notable well outside the borders of Harvard. “Climate change is such an urgent priority,” says Jennifer Nash, director of the Business and Environment Initiative (BEI), “it’s a real opportunity to explore what business is doing and can do.”

During these two weeks of the School’s focus on climate change, BEI is launching a new podcast, Climate Rising, and opening an exhibit in Spangler Lounge, Confronting Climate Change: From Business to Usual to Business as Vital. “We have an important story to tell,” explains Nash, “this exhibit highlights the fact that many of our alumni and students have staked out climate change as where they want to put their energy and focus their career.”

BEI was founded in 2010 to connect and engage faculty, students, alumni, and practitioners on environment-focused research, teaching, and discourse. Its mission: to deepen the understanding of environmental challenges confronting business leaders, and to inspire new ideas and practical, effective solutions that will benefit managers everywhere.

In practical terms, that translates to the BEI team, led by Faculty Chair and Senator John Heinz Professor of Environmental Management Michael Toffel, amplifying faculty research and publications (to date: 706 teaching cases and materials, 191 articles, 13 books, 49 book chapters); planning and supporting student, faculty, and alumni conferences; creating roadmaps and support for students seeking an environment-focused career; and piloting vehicles like Climate Rising to take the message beyond Harvard. “The sense of urgency can be overwhelming, but it’s also empowering,” says Nash. “We need policy and government to bring innovations to scale, but business is where innovation begins.”

We sat down with Jennifer Nash to ask her more about BEI and its role now and in the future.

What do you see as the greatest opportunity for the intersection of business and the environment at HBS?

There’s a real opportunity for business innovation in light of climate change. According to McKinsey, over the coming 30 years wind and solar will grow four to five times as quickly as all other energy sources. Barclays estimates that markets for alternative meat could be worth $140 billion in 10 years. Here at HBS, business and the environment have a rich history and trajectory that distinguish us as a business school. BEI has 31 faculty affiliates, and a full third of our RC students listed business and environment as an interest on their applications. That critical mass motivates and energizes our community. Our faculty have led an Exec Ed Agribusiness seminar at HBS for more than 50 years, bringing together some 200 agribusiness leaders to discuss the changing food sector—a sector that is acutely aware of climate change. Our students are able to explore and develop a business skill set that can be applied to many different situations as they think about the sustainability of their operations and develop new products and services to meet the growing needs and interests of sustainability-minded consumers. We draw upon our robust community of alumni innovators to help our students plan their professional journeys and develop their skills and opportunities.

What are some exciting trends that the HBS community should be aware of?

I see a growing interest among our students in the finance and consulting end of business and environment, where there are tremendous new opportunities in both renewable energy and food and agriculture. Our exhibit spotlights more than 40 alumni and student leaders, many of whom are in the finance and investing area. The development of renewable sources of energy to generate electricity is another dynamic area. If we're going to meet the goals set by the Paris Climate Accord, much of the transport sector, which is based largely on fossil fuels, will need to switch to electricity generated by renewables such as solar, wind, hydro, and biomass.

What do you hope for the next 10 years of BEI?

We need to continue to refine our understanding of the role the School plays in this era of climate change. It comes back to the theme and title of this exhibit, From Business as Usual to Business as Vital—business has a huge role to play as innovators of new technologies, operating models, and managerial mindsets. And business can't do this alone, we need government to provide incentives in some cases and remove disincentives in others. As climate change becomes more and more apparent, so will the role for leadership. As an Initiative, we've been experimenting with different approaches: a series of alumni conversations on the role of business leaders in climate change, the exhibit, the Climate Rising podcast. We need to grow and refine what we're doing to continue as a catalyst and amplifier for the school's leadership in climate change.

How would you describe the impact that BEI seeks to have in the world?

Our goals are threefold. First, to catalyze new research by creating opportunities for faculty to learn from one another, from practitioners, from government, and from alumni. Second, to educate future leaders here at the school and more broadly. Third, to promote new managerial mindsets and action. Mike Toffel once said “We're passionate about the problem; agnostic about the solution.” We’re passionate about sustainability and confronting climate change, and work to foster a robust dialogue to find solutions that will be most effective. Bringing a diverse set of perspectives to the table and having rigorous debate and exploration of these questions, as we do in our classrooms, is the way to go. We can never lose sight of the environmental challenge in front of us. How we go about best addressing it, that's where we have confidence in the students, alumni, and faculty to engage in a thoughtful process.