Forecast 2017 Q&A: U-M’s Joe Arvai on businesses stepping up on climate change solutions

December 15, 2016

Joe Arvai Joe ArvaiJoe Arvaiis the Max McGraw Professor of Sustainable Enterprise and director of the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan. He conducts research across a wide range of contexts, including risk management, consumer choice and policymaking. Arvai is a member of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Chartered Science Advisory Board and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences’ Board on Environmental Change and Society.

Contact: 734-647-3891,

Q: How do you think the sustainability community and the private sector will respond to anticipated changes in the rules and regulations this year?

ARVAI: The United Nations recently released a list of sustainability goals, which includes confronting poverty, promoting just and sustainable economies, the equality of all people, environmental protection and climate action. A lot of what President-elect Trump is talking about, and his rhetorical style in general, will make progress toward these goals much more difficult. So, to me, the question becomes: How can other sectors such as state and local governments, and business keep up the momentum built by the Obama administration? In my view, cities and the private sector will be the key; they are nimble and work at scale. So, they are places where big ideas about sustainability can be turned into action.

Q: Where will business fit in to fill the void?

ARVAI: Business is an important firewall between President Obama’s sustainability agenda and Mr. Trump. Many businesses are focusing on sustainability today because markets have shifted. Consumers care more about sustainability, which is forcing consumer-facing brands like Apple, Patagonia and the autos to act. These companies, in turn, are applying pressure on the business sectors, like energy and raw materials, that service them. I don’t see this trend reversing But, I am concerned that that a lack of global vision and leadership, which has been shown by President Obama, will act as a counterweight to progress in countries like China and India; these countries look to us as pace setters. If Mr. Trump pulls back, countries like China and India will ask “Why shouldn’t we do the same?”


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