Share Share via TwitterShare via FacebookShare via LinkedInShare via E-mail Published: April 15, 2001 As environmental concerns have expanded from localized problems such as smog and toxic waste dumps to global issues such as climate change and species elimination, many view environmental challenges as an increasing threat to economic development. But where many see obstacles, Tom Dean sees opportunity. Dean, an associate professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado at Boulder College of Business, is at the forefront of a movement to teach how environmental management can result in corporate profits. Population growth and rising consumption are making it possible for businesses to reap financial rewards from environmentally sustainable business practices. Based on these trends, Dean recently launched a new course, Sustainable Business Venturing, in the college’s highly-rated MBA Entrepreneurship Program. The course is predicated on the belief that entrepreneurs are powerful agents of social and economic change who can drive, rather than hinder, movement toward a sustainable economy and environment. “The course is not about environmental ‘responsibility,’ ” Dean said. “It’s about using the tremendous power of business to make money while moving the world to a more sustainable future. If we really want to see a better world, we have to give businesses the incentives to act in the way we want them to act, not blame them for failing to act responsibly when it is not in their best interest to do so.” The course focuses primarily on startup companies but also includes the entrepreneurial activities of existing businesses that have responded to these trends. In addition, it addresses specific product and market sectors that are among the first to move toward a more sustainable future. “As fundamental economic reward systems change with the increasing recognition of global environmental challenges, companies can benefit from performing their activities in ways that have less environmental impact,” he said. Such companies include Boulder-based Horizon Organic Holding Corp., owner of Horizon Organic Dairy, and Interface Flooring Systems Inc., an Atlanta carpet manufacturer that is restructuring its business based on the concept of carpet leasing and recycling. BMW AG is rapidly moving to designing its vehicles for disassembly in an attempt to maximize the recycling value of the vehicle. “Think about it,” Dean said. “Waste is just something that your company paid for that does not contribute to revenue. Firms throughout the world have come to realize that waste detracts from the bottom line.” Dean, who conducts research where issues of business strategy, entrepreneurship and environmental issues intersect, is at the forefront of teaching this approach to business students. “Until 1990, you probably could not find environmental issues taught in business schools, except as part of a course on social responsibility or regulatory issues,” Dean said. “But that has changed. Many forward-thinking business schools are developing curricula on environmental management, sustainable enterprise and similar concepts.” In 1993, Dean helped start an environmental management program while at the University of Tennessee. It became one of the top seven in the country and included both research and teaching activities. He also recently completed a project in Hong Kong to help business schools develop curricula for environmental management. Schools in China also are adopting the curricula. Dean earned his doctorate from CU-Boulder in 1992. Prior to his current appointment, he was an associate professor of management at the University of Tennessee, a faculty associate at UT’s Energy, Environment and Resources Center and was the Lundquist Visiting Professor of Entrepreneurship at the University of Oregon. He serves as chair of the Academy of Management’s Entrepreneurship Division.