IGEL’s business and faculty advisors collaborate to identify solution-oriented, world-class research topics. Some recent topics include: exploring and comparing benchmarks and metrics for environmental performance in leading companies across different countries; examining how consumers and investors process environmentally relevant business information and use it to make purchasing and investment choices; and reviewing the mechanics of new regulations and social norms regarding the emission of greenhouse gases and trading markets and how they work.

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Latest reports:

March 2020

No Time to Waste: Achieving the UN’s Sustainability Goals 

Wharton’s Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL) focused its 12th annual conference, “Setting Goals for a Flourishing World,” on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As leaders from both the public and private sectors shared strategies for accomplishing the 17 crucial objectives, a way forward began to take shape. Although progress toward the goals has been slow, a sustainable future is possible if business, government and nonprofits work together to devise scalable solutions that fully engage the power of the global marketplace.

September 2019

The End of Waste Water: A Revolution in Reuse is Underway 

Freshwater has been so plentiful for so long that we have taken it for granted. Today, we use more water than ever before — to quench our thirst, grow our food, power our industries and dispose of our waste. Until recently, in geologic terms, we have been able to wait for nature to recycle our wastewater back into usable freshwater. No more. As a species, we’ll have to learn to use our technology and political will to put an end to wasted water

December 2018
A Revolution in the Making: The Quest for Net Positive Supply Chains

The business world is changing. “We are at an inflection point where the way businesses operate requires radical change,” said Jeffrey Hollander, co-founder and former CEO of Seventh Generation. A growing number of shareholders and C-suite executives agree. They are taking concrete steps not just to reduce their environmental footprint but to enhance their “handprint,” actively working to restore and regenerate the resources needed to thrive long term. This report describes the transformative vision behind this Net Positive approach, the core strategies it entails, the progress made so far and the hard work that remains to be done.


October 2018
Confronting the Reality of Climate Change

In 2014, President Barack Obama famously said, “We are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation who can do something about it.” Four years later, as Wharton’s Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL) convened its 11th annual conference, the growing sense of urgency was palpable. The title of the conference said it all: “The End of the World as We Know It: The Consequences of Extreme Climate Disruption for Business and Democracy.”


February 2018

Smart City Pioneers: Forging Solutions to Early Challenges

Many share the hope that today’s troubled urban centers can be transformed into tomorrow’s smart cities. At a recent conference, “Smart Utilities: A Bridge to Smart Cities of the Future,” co-sponsored by Suez and Wharton’s Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL), some early pioneers in this effort shared their experiences and thoughts.


October 2017

Partners in Resilience: Constructing the Future of Sustainable Infrastructure

It will cost $3.6 trillion to repair and upgrade the nation’s infrastructure, but potential financial constraints are not the only obstacle to getting the job done. In the face of increasingly extreme weather, communities can no longer afford infrastructure that is simply fixed when it breaks. They need sustainable infrastructure that offers solutions that can keep up with contemporary climate challenges. Cities worldwide are increasingly turning to private-sector partners for the long-term investment and operational expertise these new solutions demand.  This special report takes a closer look at P3 projects, including their costs and benefits, in order to gain a better understanding of the kinds of challenges and opportunities organizations face.

April 2017
The Circular Economy: From Concept to Business Reality

After more than a century of linear thinking about the path products take from cradle to grave, excitement is growing among environmentalists and business leaders about the revolutionary potential of the circular economy — which fights waste by aiming to extract the maximum value from commercial goods. The recent Wharton conference on the subject, co-sponsored by Dow and Wharton’s Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL), brought together pioneers from industry, academia, and non-profit organizations. This report extends the discussion begun at the conference by looking more in depth at the issue.


February 2017
Driving Forward: The Future of Urban Mobility

The future of transportation could not be more exciting. Autonomous vehicle technology, car-sharing, car-hailing and other cutting edge developments are driving the next stage of urban mobility. Car rental companies and automakers are all pivoting to put long-lasting stakes in this new world. In this special report, Knowledge@Wharton partnered with Wharton’s Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership to examine the highlights of this transformation.

September 2016
Managing Industrial Water in the Age of Climate Change

Water scarcity, exacerbated by climate change, poses special risks for industry. Business leaders and scholars explored these risks and promising solutions at a recent Wharton conference on Industrial Water Management, co-sponsored by the school’s Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL) and Suez. This report extends that discussion, focusing on the global challenge and some of the innovative ways that the business and financial communities are responding.

May 2016J&J Knowledge@Wharton Report Cover
Harnessing Big Data for Sustainable Health Care

People have been sharing things with each other for millennia, and yet for the first time, this ancient form of exchange is transforming commerce through technology. Call it the sharing economy or the light-asset economy, it is disrupting traditional business practices and provoking countermoves, particularly in the regulatory sphere. Whether all this sharing is as good for the environment as it would seem remains to be proven. But although some roadblocks may be thrown up, it’s already clear that the sharing economy is here to stay. In this special report, sponsored by Rubicon, Knowledge@Wharton teamed up with the Wharton Initiative for Environmental Leadership to look into some of the key issues around this growing trend.

April 2016
Recycling Electronic Waste

The rapid pace of technological progress has revolutionized any number of industries. It has also generated a huge and rapidly growing toxic waste stream that threatens people’s health, the environment and even national security. This report looks at the scale and nature of the challenges posed by e-waste and how they might best be met.


December 2015
The Sharing Economy: Restacking Industry in the 21st Century

People have been sharing things with each other for millennia, and yet for the first time, this ancient form of exchange is transforming commerce through technology. Call it the sharing economy or the light-asset economy, it is disrupting traditional business practices and provoking countermoves, particularly in the regulatory sphere. Whether all this sharing is as good for the environment as it would seem remains to be proven. But although some roadblocks may be thrown up, it’s already clear that the sharing economy is here to stay. In this special report, sponsored by Rubicon, Knowledge@Wharton teamed up with the Wharton Initiative for Environmental Leadership to look into some of the key issues around this growing trend.

September 2015
Feeding the World

There are hungry people everywhere. The situation is most dire in the developing world, where the population is slated to increase sharply by 2050, and where there is neither enough food to feed the rapidly growing population nor the infrastructure to store, transport and distribute what food there is. Dramatic urbanization further complicates the picture. The situation is very different in the U.S., which produces far more food than its relatively slow-growing population consumes, but still has millions of residents who don’t know from day to day whether or not they will have enough to eat. Common to hunger in both the developed and developing world are the twin scourges of poverty and, paradoxically, obesity (entrenched in the U.S., and rising fast just about everywhere else). But the specific challenges to feeding the hungry are different in the two regions, as are the most promising solutions.

April 2015
Making the Transition to a Low-carbon Economy

Keeping climate change within manageable bounds will take a massive global effort, requiring the skills and resources of both public and private sectors. Whether or not we collectively can summon the will to succeed remains an open question. What is not open to debate is the critical need to answer two key questions: Do we have the technology to make the transition, and can we find a way to pay for it? In this special report, Knowledge@Wharton has teamed up with the Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL) to explore these questions.

October 2014
Greener Hospitals: Building Consensus for Health Care Sustainability

Health care has a sizeable impact on the environment. Hospitals are the second-most energy-intensive commercial buildings in the U.S. and the industry is responsible for 8% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. The impact of the environment on health care is just as significant. One often-cited study from 2002 shows that social and environmental factors vastly outweigh medical care in determining people’s health. All of which begs the question, how do we spark meaningful dialogue between sustainability and health care professionals? This special report, produced by the Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership and Knowledge@Wharton, looks at the key issues stakeholders need to understand to address this question.

May 2014
Investing in America’s Public Water Systems — Making Public-private Partnerships Work

The U.S. public water system needs a massive, long-deferred investment if it is to meet the needs of a growing population. Neither the public nor the private sector alone is up to the challenge, but a growing number of public-private partnerships is providing a template for how government and business together can help build, renovate and maintain the water infrastructure America desperately needs. This special report, produced by the Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership and Knowledge@Wharton, looks at the key issues stakeholders need to understand.

Sustainability-in-the-Age-of-Big-Data-1September 2014
Sustainability in the Age of Big Data

Big data is changing everything… Including sustainability. The massive amounts of data around the sustainability space are beginning to be harnessed to deliver meaningful results to organizations’ sustainability initiatives and tackle some of the world’s most pressing environmental issues. The goal of this conference-workshop was to provide insight, research perspectives, and solutions for organizations as they begin to grapple with the power of data that has the capacity to dramatically change business and sustainability initiatives.

Screen Shot 2014-05-27 at 2.39.04 PMApril 2014
Integrating Environmental and Human Health

Sustainable health care is a work in progress. While virtually everyone recognizes the need for the industry to reduce its considerable impact on the environment, sustainability is rarely a high priority among decision makers at U.S. hospitals. There is so much short-term uncertainty and financial pressure in the industry today that it’s hard for many administrators and supply chain managers to focus on what seem to be secondary, long-term issues.

The April 2014 report highlights Johnson and Johnson’s efforts in reducing energy consumption, supply chain management, reducing waste, improving service and phasing out toxic and hazardous substances.


March 2013 
Disrupting the World’s Oldest Industry 

Nature wastes nothing. Human beings are less frugal. We have been generating garbage for thousands of years, and are only now starting to confront the reality that our waste streams are poisoning the planet. Governments have begun to regulate how we dispose of what we no longer want; large corporations are working to find sustainable solutions that are also profitable; and smaller “green” companies and non-profits are aiming for zero-waste-to-landfill, which may be as close as we can come to the example set by nature.


December 2013 Special Report
The Green Sports Movement
It was Robert Redford, a trustee of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), who first suggested that sports are the key to vastly extending environmental awareness in this country. Looking back on that moment in 2004, Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist at the NRDC, wondered why it took so long. “It’s crazy,” he said. “It took the environmental community more than 30 years from the first Earth Day to partner with sports. It was the elephant in the room. Only 13% of Americans follow science, but 63% follow sports.”

In September, the Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL) and the NRDC jointly sponsored a Wharton conference on Leadership in Greening the Sports Industry. This special report includes information shared at the conference and gathered from experts in the field.


October 2013
Disasters, Leadership and Rebuilding – Tough Lessons from Japan and the U.S.
On March 11, 2011, deep below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, enormous seismic forces reached a tipping point. At 2:46 p.m., one of the earth’s tectonic plates suddenly shifted, thrusting violently underneath another. The North American plate was pushed upward with such force that the movement generated a massive tsunami. It took the wall of moving water 51 minutes to reach the coast of Japan, some 45 miles away.

In some places, the tsunami towered more than 125 feet above the ground when it hit. Thankfully, the height of the wave was far less where it came ashore near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant — “only” 50 feet high. Still, the nuclear disaster caused by the earthquake and tsunami has been rated by the International Atomic Energy Agency as equal in severity to the 1986 accident at Chernobyl, the worst nuclear disaster on record.

The complex catastrophe — earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown — killed close to 20,000 people, displaced hundreds of thousands more and contaminated a large swathe of beautiful countryside for decades or longer. More than two years later, Japan is still struggling to recover and prevent even more devastation.

On May 24, 2013, the Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL) sponsored a panel at the Wharton Global Forum in Tokyo to consider the leadership lessons generated by the Fukushima disaster, and to look at its impact on Japan’s energy policy and the resettlement of afflicted areas.

2013-06-26-Nexus-of-Food-Energ-Water_Page_01July 2013 Special Report

The Nexus of Food, Energy and Water
More than one billion people lack access to clean drinking water, sufficient food and electricity. Meanwhile, the global population is growing by some 80 million people every year. By 2030, the nine billion people living on earth will need 30% more water, 40% more energy and 50% more food to survive.

Given the complex relationships among all three resources — the nexus of food, energy and water — meeting these demands will require thinking in terms of systems, not silos. It will take collaborative approaches that embrace rather than battle natural processes. And it will mean new technologies and approaches to everything from bio-fuels to desalination. This special report, produced in coordination with Wharton’s Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL), takes a close look at the key issues.

2013_05_The-Rapid-Rise-of-Green-Building_Page_01-234x300May 2013 Special Report
The Rapid Rise of Green Building

Nobody can deny that the sustainable building movement’s rise has been meteoric. In a 2012 Turner Construction survey of 718 U.S. real estate owners, developers and tenants, 90% were committed to environmentally sustainable practices. More than half were “extremely” or “very” committed to green principles. And a 2013 McGraw-Hill Construction global report found that 51% of architects, engineers, contractors, consultants and building owners surveyed in 62 countries say it’s likely that more than 60% of their work will be “green” by 2015.

Last year, there were more than 13,500 commercial buildings certified to meet the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards in the U.S. Another 30,000 applied, and LEED has spread to 139 countries. Green building is maturing, especially in American cities, which are developing innovative regulations outcomes. Even without new laws, forward-looking companies find options — such as the use of energy services companies, green leasing and affordable approaches to solar and other renewables. They’re motivated by more than “eco correctness” — adding sustainable features reduces operating costs (and often increases a building’s value and the rent levels it can command), though payback periods can be long.

Some strategists go beyond more modest standards to the “net zero” building that generates as much energy as it uses. Cities are developing their own audit and energy management procedures, often using software unavailable 10 years ago. Clearly, green building has gone from a feel-good exercise to an impending baseline for all construction.

Urban-Mobility-R2-2_Page_01-CopyMarch 2013 Special Report

Next Stop, Innovation: What’s Ahead for Urban Mobility?

Transportation in the 21st century is entering a robust phase that mirrors the early years of the automobile, when gasoline, steam and electric technology vied for market share. Although electric cars led for a while, the internal-combustion engine reached dominance by 1920, with profound effects on American city-based public transportation — which atrophied as car ownership grew.

Today, urban transit is making a comeback, as is the electric car. Congested highways still face emission concerns, but consumers now often have the choice of light and heavy rail. Car sharing, which began as a European phenomenon, has prospered in U.S. urban centers, along with bicycle sharing, vanpooling and other options.

Government plays a major role in shaping efficient urban transportation systems. So far, regulations have proven an effective driver in the early development of new technology. But for ultimate success, environmentally friendly options also must satisfy consumers’ needs and meet economic goals. This special report, produced in coordination with Wharton’s Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL), explores how cities are expanding their options for cleaner transportation, and how new technologies, innovations and incentives are revitalizing the sector.

Check out the interview with Gary Survis and the new video: Funding Innovation for Cleaner Cities.

September 2012 Special Report
The Pathways to Sustainability in Emerging Economies

During Wharton’s Global Alumni Forum in Jakarta, Indonesia in June, IGEL organized a panel to discuss protecting natural resources and sustainable development. The report explores government regulation, non-profit work, and the palm oil, ecotourism and pulp and paper industries.

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