The ESG Initiative at the Wharton School

2nd Annual Convening of the ESG Initiative

January 19, 2024

The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

Building off the success of our inaugural convening, this invitation-only event included a highly interactive design structured to maximize both learning and engagement among attendees. Attendees for the event included industry thought leaders, Wharton faculty and staff, and distinguished students. The program featured presentations by academics and practitioners feeding into Q&A sessions on pressing topics including Materiality is Not Binary, Transition Risk and Opportunity, Impact is Material, Political Risk Resurgent, and Strategic Engagement.

Though sad that we could not gather in person, we are pleased to share that the catering scheduled for our event was donated to those in need.


Friday, January 19

9:00 AM

Opening Remarks

Vit Henisz (Wharton)

9:10 AM

Materiality is Not Binary

Moderated by Vit Henisz (Wharton)

In our opening panel six professors and two industry practice leaders explored the question of where, when, why and how (much) ESG factors are financially material and how this differs by industry, by firm, for retail investors, for consumers and for workers. Importantly, the answer in each of these studies goes beyond current accounting standards which imply that a given ESG factor (e.g., climate change) is or is not material for a given industry and, instead, allow materiality to vary in a continuous range—more like a dial or slider than a switch.

Materiality: Switch or Dial?
Vit Henisz (Wharton)

The Long-term Business Case for Corporate Purpose  
Why Stakeholders are a Critical Component in Long-Term Value Creation 
Relational Capital, Issue Salience and the Contingent Benefits of ESG Strategies 
The Value of Corporate Purpose 
The Value of Organizational Purpose 

Retail Investors’ Perceptions of Materiality
Christina Zhu (Wharton)

How Retail Investors Value ESG 
Do Retail Investors Care About ESG? 
Retail Investors and ESG News 

Clarity of Purpose and Financial Performance
Claudine Gartenberg (Wharton), Martin Whittaker (JUST Capital)

Can a Company’s Purpose Influence Performance? 
The Contingent Relationship Between Purpose and Profits 
Acquisitions and Corporate Purpose 
Corporate Purpose in Public and Private Firms 
Can Purpose Deliver Better Corporate Governance? 
Purpose-Driven Companies and Sustainability 
181 Top CEOs Have Realized Companies Need a Purpose Beyond Profit 
Corporate Purpose and Financial Performance 
The Type of Purpose that Makes Companies More Profitable  

Pathways to Materiality
Michael Gavin (Wharton), Leo Pongeluppe (Wharton), Emily Watson (TIAA)

Five Ways that ESG Creates Value 
Pathways from ESG Factors to Financial Performance 

Do Consumers Care About ESG?
Jean-Marie Meier (Wharton)

Do Consumers Care About ESG? Evidence from Barcode-Level Sales Data

9:50 AM

Table Discussion

10:10 AM


10:25 AM

Transition Risks and Opportunities

Moderated by Sarah Light (Wharton)

Our second panel showcased exciting work demonstrating the materiality of the climate transition both in terms of risks and opportunities. Three professors, one pre-doctoral student, and one civil society partner highlighted the risks of extreme heat and the destabilization in home insurance markets caused by global warming. They also discussed the growth and profit opportunities from climate leadership across a range of industries and the potential for cleaner cookstoves to materially impact global warming. Finally, we heard how Wharton students are engaging these questions through the Wharton ESG Integration project co-curricular program.

Our Fragile Moment
Michael Mann (UPenn)

The New Climate War 

Value of Climate Leadership
Jack Auslander (Wharton), John Streur (Calvert Center for Responsible Investing) 

The Costs of Extreme Heat
R. Jisung Park (Wharton)

Heat and Learning 
Hot Temperature and High Stakes Performance 
Learning is Inhibited by Heat Exposure 
Temperature Stress and the Direct Impact of Climate Change 
Heat has larger impacts on labor in poorer areas 
Temperature, Workplace Safety and Labor Market Inequality 

Carbon Credits for Cookstoves
Susanna Berkouwer (Wharton)

Can Improved Cookstoves Help the Environment? Yes! 
How to Drive Energy Efficiency in Low-Income Countries 
Barriers to Energy Efficiency Adoption in Low-Income Communities 
Credit, Attention, and Externalities in the Adoption of Energy Efficient Technologies by Low-Income Households 
Private Actions in the Presence of Externalities 

Climate Change and Turmoil in Home Insurance
Ben Keys (Wharton)

The Private Market for Homeowners Insurance is in Turmoil 
Neglected No More: Housing Markets, Mortgage Lending, and Sea Level Rise 
Senate Testimony on Property Insurance and Climate Risk 

Learning By Doing: Wharton ESG Integration Projects
Morgan Buckley (Wharton), Andy Huemmler (ECA)

11:10 AM

Table Discussion

11:30 AM


11:45 AM

Impact is Material

Moderated by Katherine Klein (Wharton)

Our third panel addressed the misperceptions of a dichotomy between societal and financial materiality, through presentations by a mix of faculty, research staff, doctoral students and industry partners. These presentations showcased the financial and societal benefits of embedding sustainability inside corporate business models and (impact) investing theses, as well as our co-curricular program (the Wharton Impact Venture Associates Program) that trains Wharton students for careers in impact investing.

An Overview of the GOLDEN Project
Matteo Burato (Imperial College)

The alignment of companies’ sustainability behavior and emissions with global climate targets 
Organizational system thinking as a cognitive framework to meet climate targets 

Michael Brown (Wharton), Tyler Wry (Wharton)

Hands-On Training for Future Impact Leaders
Julia Fish (Glenmede), Morganne Ramsey (Wharton)

Reflections from Practice
Abrielle Rosenthal (Towerbrook)

ESG Data Convergence Initiative

12:25 PM

Table Discussion

12:45 PM


1:40 PM

Political Risk Resurgent

Moderated by Zeke Hernandez (Wharton)

Our fourth panel explored the resurgence of political risk and identity-based conflict through presentations by three faculty, two industry partners, a civil society partner, and a doctoral student. We explored truths about immigration that get lost amidst populist rhetoric, the organizational change and design choices that can help address geopolitical risk, and the application of new data science tools to measure how a firm is perceived. We also discussed the materiality of such sentiment for asset prices, project performance and credit risk.

Truth About Immigration
Zeke Hernandez (Wharton)

Geostrategy by Design
Vit Henisz (Wharton), Ben-Ari Boukai (EY, Geostrategic Business Group)

The Top Ten Geopolitical Developments for 2024 
How a Financial Service Firm Built Resilience Amid Geopolitical Flux 
Political Risk and Corporate Performance: Mapping Impact 

Business and Conflict Barometer
Anne Jamison (Copenhagen Business School)

It’s Time to Reform the System 
International Finance Corporation Projects and Increased Armed Conflict 
Is Media Sentiment Associated with Future Conflict Events? 

ESG and Sovereign Risk
Anastasia Gracheva (Wharton), Lisa Fillingame Abraham (Brown Advisory)

Political Risk, Sustainability and Sovereign Credit: Pricing High-Frequency Political, Environmental, Social and Governance News

Indigenous Rights Risk
Anne Jamison (Copenhagen Business School), Rebecca Adamson (First Peoples Worldwide)

ESG, Material Credit Events, and Credit Risk 

2:30 PM

Table Discussion

2:50 PM


3:05 PM

Strategic ESG Engagements

Moderated by Samantha Darnell (Wharton)

Our final panel brought together faculty, post-doctoral and doctoral students, and civil society partners to explore engagements by stakeholders on ESG themes. These included the ESG Initiative’s role as the evaluating partner of Say on Climate, the Freedom to Invest campaign to counter the anti-ESG movement, the long-standing collaboration between the Wharton School’s Zicklin Center for Governance and Business Ethics and the Center for Political Accountability to enhance corporate political accountability, and two exciting early stage research projects examining stakeholders’ strategic engagements in increasingly polarized political environments.

3:45 PM

Table Discussion

4:05 PM


4:20 PM


Motion: ESG investing* is a critical input into the system-level change required for addressing society’s greatest challenges.

Pro: Vit Henisz (Wharton)

Con: Andy King (Boston University)

*Both parties agree to the definition that ESG investing incorporates information on environmental, social, and/or governance factors into the analysis and selection of assets.

5:20 PM

Closing Remarks

Witold Henisz (Wharton)

About the ESG Initiative at Wharton

The Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Initiative conducts academically rigorous and practically relevant research with industry partners and across all Wharton departments to investigate when, where, and how ESG factors impact business value. Informed by research, we offer 30+ courses that MBA and undergraduate students can assemble into a major or concentration, over a dozen co-curricular experiences, and three Executive certificate programs. Led by Vice Dean Witold Henisz, the ESG Initiative advances Wharton’s best-in-class education of current and future leaders, enabling them to serve a world undergoing tremendous change.

Questions? Email us.