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CHANGING CORPORATE BUSINESS PRACTICES FROM WITHIN BY BETHANY ROMANO

THE PROFESSOR

“Just think — if one huge retail company were to mandate that its suppliers re-design their packaging, huge forests could be saved,” says Michael Appell, MA’79, assistant director of the Heller MBA program in nonprofit management. “Walmart actually did this recently — they changed their packaging requirements, and that one edict by one corporation probably accomplished more than years of advocacy work by any given nonprofit. Corporations are enormously powerful.” Appell teaches the Heller MBA course “Managing the Triple Bottom Line,” which explores events like Walmart’s new packaging requirements — corporate decisions that prioritize social and environmental interests in conjunction with the financial bottom line. In other words: sustainability as a business practice. Commonly referred to as corporate social responsibility — or CSR — it is the idea that for-profit corporations can, and should, work toward social and environmental goals beyond strictly focusing on financial dimensions of the enterprise. Over the last 40 or 50 years, Appell explains, corporations have transitioned from a complete focus on profit to accepting some responsibility for a range of issues, including workplace diversity, community welfare, poverty and environmental health. Appell’s office is a growing library. His bookshelves are full, the floor littered with tote bags overflowing with yet more books. He gestures to the bags, saying, “This is the first of eight batches of CSR books I’ve collected over the years that I’m bringing in from home. When I first started teaching this topic in 2003, it was hard to find texts for students to consider. But CSR has become a cottage industry — hundreds of books have been printed. This field just exploded.”

With the rising tide of CSR initiatives across the globe has come a growing need for trained young professionals who can juggle and strategize among social, ethical and financial responsibilities. At the same time, more and more students currently entering MBA programs are acutely aware of these issues and committed to making a difference. CSR AT HELLER

“One dimension of the mission-driven work Heller students focus on in their careers is corporate social responsibility,” says Brenda Anderson, director of the Heller MBA program in nonprofit management. “At Heller, we weave this theme into numerous courses, such as ‘Managing the Triple Bottom Line.’ This training positions Heller MBA graduates to work in both traditional and more contemporary CSR roles.” Appell pushes his students to take a hard look at the contemporary trends that are evolving the traditional CSR approach. At the heart of every discussion is a central question: Are companies’ CSR initiatives having a true social or environmental impact, or are they merely investing in good corporate PR? To help find the answers, Appell regularly invites guest speakers to his class, giving students access to an in-person case study. “Last semester, I brought in a CSR executive from a high-profile accounting firm who was very transparent about his company’s corporate social responsibility activities. Each partner in the firm was invited to sit on the board of a nonprofit, and each department was given a modest budget to donate to charity. But the company gave no strategic guidance as to why they should engage in these activities, or what kinds of organizations they should support. It looked good on paper but was completely disconnected from the company’s activities and goals.”

Heller Magazine | 23

Heller Magazine, Winter 2016  

A magazine of the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University

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