President Folt encourages business sustainability class to ‘engage people’s hearts’

As a biologist, USC President Carol L. Folt understands the importance of sustainability to the natural world — and to the world of business.

“I’m pretty optimistic that there are going to be more and more businesses stepping up,” she told a class of about 25 graduate students who attended Paul Adler‘s “Business and Environmental Sustainability” class on May 5. “Maybe not in the next three years, but five, 10, 15 years down the road, no antiquated business with terrible energy policies is going to survive.”

Diverse perspectives are key to creating a more sustainable future, Folt said. Whether students come from backgrounds in business, engineering or the arts, the bottom line, she noted, is to be able to reach people.

“We can have the greatest processes, the greatest data and the greatest ideas, but if we can’t engage people’s hearts, the business is not going to work,” she said.

Adler, a professor of management and organization, sociology and environmental studies, said he shared Folt’s sense of urgency around climate change and other environmental challenges.

“It was wonderful to have her visit the class and talk with students about what USC is doing,” said Adler, the USC Marshall of Business’ Harold Quinton Chair in Business Policy.

Business sustainability class ends on a high note

“It was a great way to end the semester, with President Folt encouraging the students to bring their sustainability commitment and knowledge to whatever work they go on to do.”

As she spoke with students in the class, she asked each person where they were from and what they were studying. Growing up in Akron, Ohio — a city that she acknowledged was not a hub for environmentalism — Folt eventually made her way to the West Coast for college. She told students about her own path toward working for sustainability and key events that shaped her journey, including being in college at the University of California, Santa Barbara, during the first recognized Earth Day.

“From there on, all my studies and everything went to sort of, ‘How do I take that and work on the environmental future?'” Folt said.

Folt emphasized USC’s sustainability efforts, including the elimination of single-use plastics on campus, reduction in water use, and a zero-waste goal by 2028.

That reassured student Yaara Berdan, who besides earning her Master of Business Administration from USC Marshall is also an assistant professor of clinical dentistry at the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC. Berdan said she was happy to hear that more courses would be offered for students to “increase their awareness of this critical problem.”

Business sustainability: gaining momentum

“The culture is beginning to change, and sustainability is gaining momentum,” Berdan said. “There is so much potential at USC to work collaboratively among the different disciplines to tackle climate change. With the leadership of President Folt and the commitment of so many on campus, I am confident that USC will play a significant role in finding solutions to this urgent threat.”

Graduating Master of Business Administration student Hanna Laikin said that Folt’s visit and conversation with the class were the perfect way to cap her graduate program. As Laikin listened to Folt lay out the university’s plan moving forward — including being carbon-neutral by 2035 — she said that her final class in her USC career made her optimistic.

“While certain classes leave me uncertain of our environmental future, I left this engagement feeling grateful to have her as our president,” Laikin said. “It is important as a leader to have a clear vision for the future to leave your audience feeling motivated and ready to action. … I am excited to watch the university continue to be a leader in this field.”

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