CSOM begins sustainability research

Carlson’s initiative will explore the sustainability of consumer choices.

Stephanie Laumer

The University of MinnesotaâÄôs Carlson School of Management is working to convince consumers to make environmentally friendly choices by combining business, academics and policy.

The Carlson SchoolâÄôs new Sustainability Initiative will sponsor and conduct research on how and why people purchase environmentally friendly products and make eco-friendly choices.

The initiative is the first of its kind, said Akshay Rao, the marketing professor heading the project. He said very little similar research has been done in the past, and the Carlson School will be the first to study the subject in-depth.

âÄúMuch of the research on sustainability is focused on the supply side,âÄù he said. âÄúVery little time and effort is spent on how consumers adopt sustainable products and processes.âÄù

He said the initiativeâÄôs focus will be figuring out what drives an individual to make choices like carpooling or reusing a towel in a hotel.

The idea came about several years ago during a discussion by the Institute for Research in MarketingâÄôs advisory board. In October 2010, the institute held a âÄúCarlson on SustainabilityâÄù conference, drawing more than 150 business professionals and politicians, including Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken.

âÄú[Sustainability] is a clear priority for our members. Companies want to know how to create demand for new products and how to influence the behavior changes necessary to make a difference,âÄù Wayne Mueller, the instituteâÄôs director, said in a press release following the conference.

Currently the initiative is âÄúin fundraising mode,âÄù Rao said. He is working with several corporations and state and local government to raise $10 million to begin research.

Wells Fargo is the first company to donate funds to the initiative, with a $250,000 grant.

âÄúConsumer demand is fuel on the fire thatâÄôs needed to have a greater explosion of sustainability,âÄù said Stephanie Rico, Wells FargoâÄôs vice president of environmental affairs.

Several other companies have committed to a donation, said Rao, though he could not name which ones pending a public announcement.

âÄúUltimately we hope to change the planet and change peopleâÄôs behavior so that we make good choices and preserve the planet for future generations,âÄù he said.