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Professor Lawrence Rothenberg  

Faculty research: Lawrence Rothenberg, Management & Strategy

Not easy being green

By Raksha Varma

Kellogg Professor Lawrence Rothenberg articulates the challenges of public policy, and its implications for MBAs who must address the ethical — and financial — fallout when business and the environment meet

Kellogg School Professor Lawrence Rothenberg spends a lot of time unraveling the complexities of public policy, particularly as it relates to American politics, business and environmental — or “green” — concerns.
He’s not thrilled with some of what he sees.

“ Policy is tortuous in the United States,” Rothenberg says. “Many of the resulting choices are extremely costly and inefficient.”

Policies such as certain elements of the Clean Air Act do not have clear rationales for their mandates, according to Rothenberg, a Long Island-born political scientist who is the Max McGraw Distinguished Professor of Management and the Environment at Kellogg.

“ The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other agencies are poorly designed,” Rothenberg contends. “Good public policy that facilitates firms acting in a socially responsible manner often gets lost in the process.”
Rothenberg’s 2002 text, Environmental Choices: Policy Reponses to Green Demands, demonstrates how factors such as political fragmentation lead to policies that many consider inconsistent and poorly designed.

“ Green demands are treated differently in the United States, as opposed to how they are addressed in parliamentary regimes,” he says, citing as one example the varied dynamics existing between the United States and Canada, where policies can be implemented more quickly and comprehensively because they do not get lost in complicated legislative and administrative processes. However, the good news is that in the United States and other advanced industrial countries, progress has been made on a variety of fronts.

Pushes for environmental quality should be considered “a normal good,” Rothenberg says, and as a society we want a cleaner environment as we have become wealthier and developed greater awareness. “However,” he adds, “supplying environmental goods in response to such demands is a function of both market and nonmarket forces, making the world quite complicated for firms trying to be good corporate citizens while also offering them strategic opportunities.”

Rothenberg is co-director of the Ford Motor Company Center for Global Citizenship. The center, established in 2001, is dedicated to identifying challenges faced by large corporations through an ethical, interdisciplinary approach.

In addition to working for the center, Rothenberg teaches the Environmental Management course for Kellogg School students. The class is part of the Kellogg Business and its Social Environment (BASE) major, an ambitious curriculum that introduces MBAs to the crucial roles corporations play within the broader social arena. “My purpose is to teach students about the relevance of such concerns for modern business,” he explains. “I want to educate them about the pitfalls and opportunities in this area, and inform them about the importance of taking social concerns seriously as future business leaders.”

Rothenberg’s experiences serve as a teaching tool. Although he was also a faculty member at the California Institute of Technology and University of Rochester, Rothenberg says that working at Kellogg prompted him to put business front and center.

“ In an academic atmosphere like the Kellogg School, it’s easy to take a step back and assess the positive and negative elements impacting the corporate world — and society as a whole — today,” he says.

In conjunction with his work and teaching, Rothenberg emphasizes the high stakes that are involved for society and business. For example, not only will our choices regarding biodiversity impact the survival of species, or our decisions with respect to greenhouse gases determine how much global warming will occur, he says, but the effects on how firms operate are also certain to be dramatic.

Rothenberg plans to continue researching these serious issues.

“ We are entering a world where dealing with environmental considerations cannot be ignored,” he predicts. “I want to prepare my students for that.”

About Professor Rothenberg
Prof. Rothenberg is a political scientist and expert in public policy. He is co-director of the Ford Center for Global Citizenship at Kellogg and one of the Kellogg faculty members who teach in the school’s Business and its Social Environment major, for which he designed the course Environmental Management.

Representative publications include: “Modeling Legislator Decision-Making: An Historical Perspective” (with Mitchell Sanders) in American Politics Research 30 (2002):236-265; Why Governments Succeed and Why They Fail (with Amihai Glazer), Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP (2001); and “Lame-duck Politics: Impending Departure and the Votes on Impeachment” (with Mitchell Sanders), Political Research Quarterly 53 (2000):523-536.

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University