Moving the Needle illustration
Illustration by Jon Krause

There is a future with no drinkable water. There is a future in which the Amazon is populated with the skeletons of extinct animals and fossils of long-dead plants. There is a future in which humans will struggle to breathe.

It may sound like a distant future in a science fiction novel, but it is an imminent reality. Climate change impacts us in every facet of our lives. Everything we do, everything we eat, how we commute, how much we buy and how we discard it, has an impact on our planet.

Reversing climate change is about changing societal behaviors. As a behavioral scientist, I believe that my field of research—which is focused on understanding human behaviors and decision making—can help positively impact the globe.

To that extent, the Fox School of Business is proud to launch the Sustainability and Social Impact Strategic Initiative. This initiative, which is focused on researching, understanding and designing ways to nudge consumers into adopting sustainable consumption behaviors, is one way we’re moving the needle on climate change.

Focus on Long-Term Benefits

Resistance toward adopting sustainable behaviors often comes from our tendency to focus on short-term benefits, while devaluing long-term, more significant rewards. By understanding how and when consumers focus on future benefits, we can nudge them to change their behaviors around sustainable consumption.

For example, my research has found that when people are reminded of how busy they are, they tend to feel that they are valuable. This leads people to make decisions that are better from a long-term perspective–for example, being more likely to save money for the future than spending money on indulgences today.

Attaching Emotions

Another reason why people don’t adopt sustainable behaviors is that many feel a decreased sense of emotional attachment with nature and have begun to treat it as a separate entity. Building a more emotional relationship with nature might motivate people to place a greater focus on sustainable behaviors.

In my research, I am working on simple interventions that encourage the public to build positive memories with nature, such as inviting them to take pictures of their favorite outdoor spots in their neighborhood. This simple activity can make people feel more connected to nature, thus motivating them to adopt behaviors that are good for the environment in general.

Behavioral Science for Policy Change

Behavioral science does not only help design compelling interventions aimed at encouraging sustainable consumption. It can also help increase the effectiveness of government programs.

Take sustainable advertising, for example. Through my research, I found that people can imagine a danger more vividly when the message communicates a single risk as opposed to multiple risks. This insight can help policymakers, who spend a significant amount of money on sustainable advertising. Ensuring that these messages only communicate a single risk can result in an increased likelihood that readers will adopt the desired behaviors.

At the Fox School, we understand our responsibility as global citizens to create a positive impact on the world. The Sustainability and Social Impact Initiative is committed to acting on that sense of responsibility by focusing on research aimed at encouraging sustainable consumption and working with communities to implement these behavioral interventions.

Cleaner Actions for a Cleaner World: 8 Simple Ways to Live Greener At Home

  1. Switch one (or more!) appliance to an energy efficient model  
  2. Visit your local farmers market for groceries and produce
  3. Cancel your paper statements
  4. Unplug chargers and appliances when not in use
  5. Repurpose glass jars as leftover containers
  6. Reuse scrap paper
  7. When driving, combine all your errands for the week in one trip
  8. Donate your old clothes and furniture to thrift stores instead of throwing them away

This story was originally published in Fox Focus, the Fox School’s alumni magazine.

Stay up-to-date on Fox School research at fox.temple.edu/idea-marketplace.

Professors and student standing together
Daniel Isaacs, legal studies professor, Avner Ronen, civil and environmental engineering assistant professor and Vidya Sabbella, a current MBA student
By Joseph V. Labolito

The  Fox School is focused on making a positive impact on its students, community and the global business world. This focus can be seen as a through line across much of the school’s research, including the current interdisciplinary industrial ecology project by Daniel Isaacs, legal studies professor, Avner Ronen, civil and environmental engineering assistant professor and Vidya Sabbella, a current MBA student.

The project works to address a combination of interconnected desired outcomes that are global in scale and go beyond creating a sustainable supply of lithium. A primary goal of the team is to illustrate a practical application of industrial ecology for business systems in order to reduce wastes and serve as a basis for innovation and intergenerational justice.

“Business, technology, science and education should not be siloed. With broader educational opportunities like this one, environmental issues can be the drivers of innovation,” says Isaacs. “Students and leaders alike need to start thinking about business in terms of what their obligations to future generations should be.”

The Interdisciplinary Dream Team

Dan Isaacs, director of the Global MBA program, teaches business ethics, sustainability in business, corporate governance and more at the undergraduate and graduate levels. His research seeks to align economic incentives with ethical behavior.

Professors and student in the lab
By Joseph V. Labolito

Dr. Avner Ronen is an assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Temple University. His research interests include water and wastewater treatment, membrane separation process, nutrient recovery from wastewater and more.

Vidya Sabbella is currently pursuing an MBA in health sector management. She spent the majority of her career working as a pharmacist in India. When she moved to the U.S. and spent time volunteering at local hospitals, she became determined to pursue a career where she could help ensure efficient management practices for healthcare institutions.

They are working together in order to uncover whether or not the use of desalination, or the process that takes away mineral components from saline water, can replace traditional, more environmentally impactful methods of extracting lithium. This collaboration of business and science sets a new standard for how business schools can think about the future of the industry and the role that sustainability can play within it.

The Role of Lithium in the Modern World

Lithium is and will continue to be an invaluable resource for the U.S. and beyond. According to sources such a Mining.com and Bloomberg, lithium demand is expected to increase by 650% by 2027 from companies that produce batteries to power electric cars, laptops and other high-tech devices. 

But why should society rethink the ways it is currently extracting lithium? Traditional lithium extraction methods have significant environmental impacts, such as water pollution and depletion, soil damage and air contamination. In contrast, lithium recovery from seawater has a negligible impact and uses naturally occurring resources. It also makes good business sense, as it would be more cost effective and energy-efficient for organizations that use lithium as part of their manufacturing processes.

Where Chemistry and Market Research Meet

If Ronen and Sabbella’s work on the chemistry side of the project is successful, the team will have created a new, sustainable method of extracting a resource whose value will only increase over time.  

From there, Dan Isaacs and the Fox School will assist with the business side of the project, helping to commercialize lithium desalination. Together, Isaacs and Sabbella will conduct market analysis and develop a business plan.

The exercise presents a unique opportunity for Sabbella to combine her scientific past with her future in business. “Being a pharmacist and MBA candidate, I believe this is a perfect blend of my background qualifications and experience and my future as MBA graduate,” Sabbella says. “It’s a great opportunity to apply the concepts that I am learning every day at the Fox School to develop a business model. By working in the lab, I have a chance to utilize my chemistry knowledge.”

This story was originally published in Fox Focus, the Fox School’s alumni magazine.

Steve Casper spent the spring of 2018 teaching his students about stocks, bonds, time value of money, cash flow and cost of capital. This does not sound unusual for a finance professor, except that particular semester he was on sabbatical in Cambodia.

Most of his students, who came from rural farms on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital, had a limited academic background in finance. Many did not have a personal relationship with traditional financial institutions that Americans accept as commonplace, like banks and stock markets. Casper, associate professor of finance and managing director of the DBA program at the Fox School of Business, says, “It was the most challenging class I’ve ever taught, but it was so much fun.”

Since the summer of 2016, Casper had been volunteering his time teaching rural students in Cambodia. After first getting involved via Habitat for Humanity, Casper has built a relationship with these students, teaching finance and leadership during two-week seminars. Last spring, the director of the Paññāsāstra University of Cambodia, the leading English-speaking university in the country, asked Casper to teach a full semester.

“Most of these students have never had a calculator before,” says Casper, FOX PhD ’10. “I was told I had 30 students. I get over there and I brought 30 TI-BA II+ financial calculators. My wife was coming two weeks later and I said, ‘Liz, I have 54 students. I need you to bring another 24 calculators, I just ordered them on Amazon.’ Eventually, it got up to 94 students.”

This past October, four of these students came to Philadelphia for a week of leadership and business practice. The trip was organized by the Cambodian Rural Student Trust, an NGO founded in 2011 that aims to help bright Khmer, or Cambodian, students from poor, rural families go to high school and university in Cambodia.

Casper brought the students to meet with representatives from all over the financial world, from companies like SAP, B-Lab and Saul Ewing. He invited the students to speak to his finance classes at the Fox School. The Khmer students shared the story of their lives, which often included uneducated family members, the loss of one or both parents and financial hardships. But each had a strong, unrelenting belief in the power of education to transform lives.

Khmer students Doeb Chhay, Sinoun Lem, Sompeas Sokh, and Yeat Son.

One student named Sompeas, who is majoring in law and hopes one day to become a lawyer, shares her philosophy. “I believe men and women are equal. I believe education will provide women with the knowledge to believe this and give them the skills to follow their dreams, have amazing careers and be greater contributors to society.” She continues, “The special thing about this trip is that I can share my voice and bring back many ideas that will inspire other girls to be adventurous and ambitious, while also expanding how I see things in my small world.”

Casper is grateful to the Fox School for allowing him to expand his world as well through his sabbatical. Casper loves the opportunity to teach both his American and Khmer students. “I always wanted to do this,” he says. “To have great classes, you have to be thinking about it all the time—how can I make it better, how can I get this point across?”

His passion for education translates into his enthusiasm about the mission of the Cambodia Rural Students Trust. The completely student-run organization, Casper says, “can give a student a place to live, feed them, and pay for their college or high school,” all for $2,000 a year.

“In Cambodia, education is a privilege,” says Casper. “I am honored to be part of something that empowers students to lead themselves and lead society.”

Learn more about Fox School Research.

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From one stage to another

November 16, 2016 //

tony-dibennedettoDr. Anthony Di Benedetto
Professor of Marketing and Supply Chain Management

Hometown: Montreal, Quebec
Resides: Philadelphia

It’s been a few decades since Dr. Anthony Di Benedetto grabbed his bass, got on stage, and played music in front of big crowds. But the longtime Fox professor still harkens back to his rock-and-roll days in the 1970s whenever he gets to the front of a class and speaks to his students.

“I’m always conscious of being on stage,” he said. “It’s a little bit like doing theater or music. I still remember things like not turning your back on the audience. I really concentrate on not turning my back on my class. And as far as being engaging, the way you address the class is, in a sense, the way you would address an audience.

“I would say I’m better in a classroom because of what I’ve done in music.”

In other ways, music also helped Di Benedetto reach the stage where he is today — as one of the world’s leading research scholars in innovation and technology management. When he was a child growing up in Montreal, he had a tough time making friends. His parents spoke to a psychologist, who encouraged them to find an outlet for their son.

And so music it was.

“Sure enough, when I was in high school, I met a lot of people through music,” he said. “It was fun. And I stayed with it.”

Di Benedetto played in several bands in high school, college, and throughout his 20s, using his skills on the bass to become a valuable commodity because, as he put it, “everyone else wanted to play lead guitar.”

And he was good enough to make a little money at it, too, playing covers of The Beatles, The Who, and The Rolling Stones in clubs and hotels around Montreal for one popular band and what he called “oom-pah” music and pop songs in German clubs for another.

But when it came time to thinking about his future, he decided that the life of a professional musician just wasn’t for him.

“The short story is I gave up rock-and-roll to get my MBA,” said Di Benedetto, who earned his MBA and PhD at McGill University, before launching his career as a professor, joining the Temple University faculty in 1990, and remaining there ever since.
Di Benedetto is certainly happy with that choice, admitting that he seldom plays music and rarely even thinks about his days in a band. But it will always be an exciting, interesting and eye-opening time in his life.

When asked if he’d ever play again, he left the door slightly ajar.

“A musician never says that he’s unemployed,” he laughed. “He’s just between gigs.”

As traditional lines of identity become blurrier, Fox professor Leora Eisenstadt examined whether the American legal system ought to restructure its protections.

Faculty Profile Fox Focus Spring 2016Leora Eisenstadt

Assistant Professor of Legal Studies in Business

Hometown: White Plains, N.Y.

Resides: Wynnewood, Pa.

Fun fact: Eisenstadt’s interests run the gamut. A former modern dancer who participated in a hip-hop dance group in college, she also had been a certified canoe instructor. These days, she’s an enthusiast of Fit Tribe, a metabolic strength training workout regimen. “And I’m the parent of two small children,” she said, “so not a ton of time for hobbies!”

Caitlyn Jenner identifies as transgender. Tiger Woods identifies as “Cablinasian,” a term he created. What do the television personality and champion golfer have in common? Their racial and gender identities do not easily fit into current legal constructs.

Like Jenner and Woods, many Americans can relate. A re- searcher at Temple University’s Fox School of Business posits that employment laws in the American legal system be restructured to offer civil-liberties protections for citizens who face identity discrimination.

“This isn’t only a race or a gender issue. It’s an identity issue,” said Leora Eisenstadt, an Assistant Professor in Fox’s Legal Studies in Business department. “Society has changed, but our laws and legal formulas often look at individuals as members

of categories into which a person can fit neatly. Today, there is no such purity. That doesn’t exist, which demonstrates how our laws are out of step with reality.”

Eisenstadt’s research points to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects employees from discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion. She said Title VII, however, does not always or easily protect against the discrimination of multiracial or transgender individuals. Courts are often baffled by these fluid identities, she said, sometimes rejecting the cases on those grounds and, other times, ignoring the worker’s actual identity to make the legal formula work.

“Cases have been thrown out of court because the plaintiffs did not fit into a box,” Eisenstadt said. “Unfortunately, according to many courts, if you can’t prove you are a member of a single protected class, your case will not reach a jury. As a result, the law has often prompted individuals to sacrifice part of their identity in order to fit into a box and have their case heard.”

And this confusion in the courts has a negative impact on employers and employees alike, since a lack of clarity in the courts can lead to more difficult employment decisions, an inability to effectively train management and human resources professionals, and litigation that eats up precious resources.

In her research, Eisenstadt cites the United States Census and Facebook as examples of society being ahead of the courts. In 2000, the U.S. Census Bureau implemented a system in which it asked Census respondents to “check all that apply” in regard to the races with which they identify. She also called attention to Facebook. This year, the social media platform began offering its 189 million U.S. users more than 50 gender-identity options.

What these prove, Eisenstadt said, is that people cannot always be categorized so easily.

“In employment discrimination law, workers need to prove that they are a part of a protected class in order to bring a discrimination suit,” she said. “In theory, everyone is a member of a protected class. But in society today, those categories are porous and fluid. Not everybody has a single race or a gender. You might have multiple races or multiple genders or you might reject that categorization altogether.”

The American Business Law Journal recently published Eisenstadt’s theoretical research paper, titled, “Fluid Identity Discrimination.”

Ram Mudambi
Ram Mudambi

Through his research, Ram Mudambi has identified signs of innovation in the places you would least suspect

Ram Mudambi
Frank M. Speakman Professor of Strategic Management

Hometown: Blue Bell, Pa.

Renaissance man: Outside of academia, Mudambi is an avid runner and cyclist who’s been known to pedal to Temple University from his home in Blue Bell, when the weather cooperates. He’s also the author of “The Empire of the Zon,” a futuristic novel he wrote under the pen name R.M. Burgess.

A popular impulse is to label Detroit as a downtrodden American city. Not so, says Dr. Ram Mudambi.

In recently published work, Mudambi and a team of researchers have found that Detroit’s patent output since 1975 has grown at a rate of almost twice the American average. Detroit’s innovative resilience, Mudambi said, is due to its continuing centrality in global innovation networks in the automotive industry. It has maintained this centrality through connectedness to other worldwide centers of excellence in this industry, such as Germany and Japan. Its innovative links to Germany have been rising steadily over the last three decades, while its association with Japan began more recently, but also shows a steep upward trajectory.

“The beauty of innovation is that it never stops,” said Mudambi, the Frank M. Speakman Professor of Strategic Management at the Fox School of Business. “In 1960, the U.S. was the richest country in the world, and Detroit was its richest city. And while the city has been in a continuous state of decline, we found that Detroit’s innovation numbers are very healthy.”

Mudambi’s findings fall under his umbrella research project dubbed iBEGIN, or International Business, Economic Geography and Innovation. The ongoing iBEGIN initiative is a collaborative effort, with professionals in centers around the world, including: Denmark’s Copenhagen Business School, Italy’s Politecnico di Milano and University of Venice Ca Foscari, the Indian School of Business, Henley Business School at the University of Reading (UK), and many others.

A segment of the iBEGIN project explores innovation hubs within the United States, undertaking detailed analyses of more than 900 metropolitan areas. In one published outcomes of this research effort, Mudambi and his team examined the evolution of Akron, headquarters of Goodyear, a mainstay of the global tire industry for over a century. In common with much of the Rust Belt, Akron continues to experience manufacturing decline. However, it is doing well as an innovation center, he said. Moreover, it appears to be transitioning from traditional science-based innovation to a softer, design-driven model.

This calendar year has been a productive one for Mudambi, who has been a Fox School faculty member for 15 years.

Twice in 2015, Mudambi’s work was published within Harvard Business Review.

In June, he served as Program Chair of the 2015 Academy of International Business annual meeting, developing the program and arranging a prominent lineup of scholars and global business leaders. The yearly conference is considered the largest gathering of academics in the international business community.

A month later, Mudambi and his team received a prestigious grant from the National Science Foundation to support their inaugural iBEGIN Research Conference, which was held Nov. 13-14 in Philadelphia.

The next research project on the horizon for Mudambi and his globally dispersed research team involves battery power, a progression of yet another long-running iBEGIN segment on renewable energy and sustainability. The team has documented the important role that emerging economies like China and India are playing in the innovative landscape of the wind turbine industry, but batteries are the key to unlocking the potential of these new technologies.

“Batteries are the steam engine of our age,” Mudambi said. “We have ways to produce energy, but we have no way to harness it and store it. If we had to run our planet on stored power, we could run 1 percent. Imagine if you could run the whole planet on batteries. It’s a problem that, once solved, will revolutionize society.”