01 Dec 2012
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Reimagining Capitalism In a World of Limited Resources


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What would you do if you had the Dalai Lama's complete attention for 10 minutes? That's the situation Professor Rebecca Henderson faced in front of 1,000 people during a panel discussion with the religious leader, part of his three-day visit to Cambridge in October. One of only eight experts granted the privilege of sharing her knowledge, Henderson used her time, she says, "to tell him everything I know about business, energy, and the environment."

Henderson, the John and Natty McArthur University Professor and codirector of the Business and Environment Initiative (BEI) at HBS, knows quite a bit about the topic. "Capitalism has traditionally been about driving wealth and productivity through efficiencies in capital and labor," says Henderson, who teaches the MBA elective Reimagining Capitalism. "But in the 21st century, we face a management shift as big as globalization and digitization. Today, natural resources and waste are no longer negligible concerns but urgent issues every business leader must understand. How do we celebrate what makes capitalism so amazing—its power as a prosperity-creating machine—without placing undue strain on the natural world?"

Under the leadership of Henderson and Professor Forest Reinhardt, the BEI coordinates the activities of a large group of Harvard faculty members from multiple disciplines in an effort, Henderson says, "to create new business models that encourage sensible investments now that will reduce the odds of adverse consequences in the future."

Supported primarily by the Dean's Fund and some early leadership gifts, the BEI has already posted significant accomplishments since its founding in 2010.

In addition to launching new MBA courses such as Innovation in Business, Energy, and Environment and Sustainable Cities: Urbanization, Infrastructure, and Finance (taught in collaboration with the Harvard Graduate School of Design), the BEI has generated 25 to 30 new environmentally related case studies each year. The BEI also hosts the annual alumni HBS Energy Symposium—this year focused on innovation in electricity—and research conferences, such as the Corporate Accountability Reporting Conference to be held in January 2013.

"The fact that there is so much talent at Harvard that we can pull together enables us to coordinate programs in education, research, and practitioner impact that can change the way business leaders think about and manage resources," notes Henderson. "I don't think any institution other than HBS could do this."

For more on the Business and Environment Initiative, visit www.hbs.edu/environment/.


Business and the Environment

  • 16     Related elective courses
  • 147  Published cases (since 2005)
  • 294  MBA student members, Energy & Environment Club
  • 400  Members, Green Business Alumni Association
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