Larry Furman is a SustainabilityConsultant and currently pursuing an MBA in managing for sustainability fromMarlboro College. He is a member of the program'sfirst graduating class and is looking forward to combining his experience in ITwith his passion for sustainable energy and green solutions. In a candid interview with Vault's CSR Editor Aman Singh, he discussed his passion for alternative energy solutions, why he decided to return to school after almost three decades of working in IT, and why sustainability is the only way forward for companies who want to stay ahead in the marketplace.
Sustainabilityat Marlboro College
I started at Marlboroin January, 2009. I love it. I love the people, the climate, what we arestudying. We are a community of leaders,although we are less a tribe and more a congress of tribal elders.
I started in information technology (IT) in 1983. As a graduatestudent in biology, I had the choice of either learning a foreign language likeFrench, German or Russian or get into programming computers. My father, who is fluent in Russian and Germanand has studied French, advised me to learn how to program computers. I went from there.
It's been a longstrange trip. Back in 1976, as an Energy Intern with the New York PublicInterest Research Group, Inc., (NYPIRG) I worked on a plan to build off-shorewind-turbines in the Atlantic south of Long Island. When we suggested this to theNew York Legislature's Joint Committee on Energy, the Economy, and theEnvironment, they looked at us as if we all had three heads. We realized that the name indicated a prioritizedlist—energy first, environment last. Looking at this from the perspective of ecological economics would putthe environment first. Energy is just atool, literally, a means by which we can do work.
Then in 2004, Iheard that Goldman Sachs bought Zilkha Energy. Deciding to follow Goldman, Igot a job selling solar energy systems for Absolutely Energized in Englishtown,N.J., in July, 2005, and then was offered my current job at Jones HirschConnors & Bull (JHCB).
While I went headfirst into my work at JHCB, my heart and soul has remained close to clean,sustainable, renewable energy. Thisparadigm shift to clean sustainable, renewable energy is inevitable. The sun,on the other hand, will last another 4 or 5 billion years. We will essentiallynever run out of sunlight or wind. And the core of the earth is molten—we won’trun out of geothermal energy—as long as the earth revolves around the sun. Itis the way of the future: We won't be burning coal and fossil oil in 50 years.All the oil we burn will be clean sustainable biodiesel.
Why anMBA and why Marlboro?
I met a few peoplefrom the Stevens Institute and Penn State at a trade show. Feeling the need to develop, I narrowed itdown to either a two-year MBA in Managing for Sustainability at Marlboro or afour-to-five-year part time management program at Stevens Institute aimed at engineers.The MBA seemed more logical—in addition to managing people, it provides abackground in finance and economics.
CSR inMBA curriculum
It will stick. Thebest run companies implement CSR. In Built to Last, Collins and Porras, look at a set ofcompanies and their number one competitors, like Merck, Pfizer, Disney andParamount. Top companies are motivated by something other than profits. They knowthat if they do it right, the money will follow. But first and foremost is theidea of doing the right thing for stakeholders knowing that this is also theright thing for stockholders.
CSR and the Job Search
I don't know ifthere is a disconnect between student interest and hiring for CSR initiatives.But we better address it quickly if it is. We are in serious trouble as asociety. The economy seems to berebounding, but we need to execute a 180 degree turn from fossil fuel andnuclear to renewable, sustainable energy.
I view CSR as partof a move to view the world through the lens of ecological economics. If youlook at human commercial activity as part of the ecosystem—just like Centraland Riverside Parks are part of New York City and NYC is part of North America—thenyou realize that some things will have to change.
I don't know ifit's tougher to find a job in corporate responsibility—it might be easier—Iexpect the companies that are built around CSR are healthier than theircompetitors and have more opportunities. Besides, I only want to work at aplace in which I will thrive, so even if it’s tougher, why find a job only towork toward finding another one?
CSR: Cultural or businesspractice?
Cary Krosinsky, aColumbia professor, explains this well in Sustainable Investing, which is required reading for usin finance. CSR is a systems phenomenon. It is probably still on the flat lineof the curve. But it's a sigmoid curve. It will shoot up and then leveloff. It has to. Businesses must becomesocially responsible or risk losing their customers.