The ESG Initiative at the Wharton School

2023 Wharton Climate Prof Showcases Leadership in Climate Research

Things moved quickly at the 2023 Wharton Climate Prof, a fast-paced event that gave professors just five minutes to present years of their research at the intersection of business and climate change.

But with research so provocative, five minutes was all they needed to engage the audience and leave them wanting more.

“I can say with great pride and pleasure that student interest in this area has absolutely skyrocketed in recent years,” Sarah E. Light, host and faculty co-director of the Wharton Climate Center, said in her opening remarks. “Demand not only for courses but also for the new ESG major and concentration, as well as the existing BEES (Business, Energy, Environment, and Sustainability) major and concentration have been very, very robust. Faculty research has likewise grown in breadth and depth over the years.”

The Sept. 20 event, which was organized by the Wharton Climate Center of the ESG Initiative, drew a packed crowd of over 150 students, alumni, and staff who came to learn about the latest research in the climate space. Nine professors offered their insights into topics ranging from the disproportionate impact of climate change on the global poor, to the harms caused by transshipping, to the difficulty of setting ESG standards. The format for the event, now in its third year, is modeled after the popular “Iron Chef” competition and Wharton’s own “Iron Prof.”

The lightning-quick presentations were followed with a lively question-answer session in which audience members peppered the professors with questions that reflected their curiosity. Among the queries, they wanted to know how much Wharton faculty collaborate with each other and across disciplines.

Several of the professors highlighted their ongoing work with other departments, especially with the amount of data analysis required in the research, and with outside parties, especially with those doing boots-on-the-ground work in communities. Eric Orts, professor of legal studies and business ethics, said he would like to see even more collaboration.

“We need more,” he said. “Scientists can get into their own silos. The publishing system for academics doesn’t really encourage interdisciplinary work very much, so in general I think we could do better.”

The event also paid tribute to Wharton emeritus professor Howard Kunreuther, who passed away in August. A world-renowned behavioral economist who studied risk management, Kunreuther co-founded the Wharton Risk Center, which is now the Wharton Climate Center. (Read his obituary here.)

“He did incredibly impactful research,” Light said. “We all owe him a debt of gratitude for all the work that he did at Wharton in this space.”

By Angie Basiouny

Watch the faculty research showcase below.

Finance assistant professor Daniel Garrett explains tax credits and other incentives that governments use to encourage businesses to invest in green energy projects that reduce carbon emissions.

Susanna Berkouwer, assistant professor of business economics and public policy, talks about the disproportionate effect of climate change on billions of low-income people around the world and how global insurance markets can help protect against financial shocks.

Sanya Carley, professor of energy policy, talks about her work to find policy solutions that help low-income households facing energy insecurity, which is defined as when a household struggles to secure their energy needs.

Eric Orts, professor of legal studies and business ethics, challenges the conventional wisdom that ESG strategies and voluntary reporting standards translate into making progress on the climate emergency, and makes recommendations to solve this complex problem.

Hamsa Bastani, associate professor of operations, information and decisions, explains how banning transshipments, which is the unloading of goods from one vessel to another while at sea, could help reduce environmental and social harms caused by maritime trade.

Finance and economics professor Francis X. Diebold describes some of his work creating mathematical models to forecast changes in Arctic Sea ice as the oceans warm.

Finance professor Luke Taylor discusses his research to derive more accurate numbers for how much money is being invested in ESG, which can be obscured by greenwashing.

Economics and public policy assistant professor R. Jisung Park explains how hotter temperatures around the world are significantly reducing labor productivity and manufacturing output.

Arthur van Benthem, associate professor of business economics and public policy, shares his findings on the successes and failures of the European Union’s land-protection policies against biodiversity loss.