CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Three years ago, a group of experts in a wide variety of industries from around the world met to tackle the question of how to study -- and at the same time accelerate -- the transformation of business firms to sustainable enterprise. The result of those meetings was GOLDEN for Sustainability, one of the largest research projects ever undertaken in the management area. Led by academic director Maurizio Zollo, a visiting professor at MIT Sloan School of Management, GOLDEN is using a “big science” research approach, combining a diversity of disciplines and methodologies to investigate the effectiveness of sustainability-driven innovation and change initiatives by firms and institutions at a global scale.
“We are hugely excited about the potential insights that such a broad collaboration among academia, business and institutions could generate across a wide variety of really tough sustainability problems”
Today, GOLDEN is a community of more than 120 scholars at research centers, universities, businesses and institutions across the globe working on a jointly developed program of exploration and experimentation. In collaboration with the MIT Sustainability Initiative, GOLDEN recently won a €700,000-grant from the Italian Ministry of Research. In total, the initiative has received approximately €3 million over three years from research centers, companies, foundations and research agencies. It is currently piloting several projects with academic research centers and companies, including Microsoft, Telecom Italia, Enel, Woolworth, Santam and UniCredit.
Zollo says, “We started from a common frustration about the status quo in management research: Business complains that most academic research is irrelevant and obscure, and researchers reply that business is not willing to provide the access necessary to make their research relevant and impactful. In the meantime, everyone understands the critical and urgent nature of the many sustainability challenges facing business and society. We decided to try something radically novel, combining leading-edge scientific methods with an ‘engaged scholarship’ approach that involves business and institutions in all the steps of the research process.”
One of the newest members of the GOLDEN community is MIT’s Center for Collective Intelligence (CCI). MIT Sloan Prof. Thomas Malone, director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence, explains, “Through our online contests in the Climate CoLab, we’re working to harness the collective intelligence of thousands of people around the world to develop proposals for what to do about global climate change. Collaborating with GOLDEN has the potential to add tremendous value by implementing and pilot-testing ideas from the top proposals. In this way, we hope to help transform cutting-edge ideas into real solutions. So far, we have focused on questions related to climate change, but we are already starting to discuss how to build on our experiences there to tackle other related sustainability challenges.”
GOLDEN’s research design combines different interdependent methodologies to produce synergies in the development and testing of new knowledge. Studying which innovations and change interventions work to transform businesses into sustainable systems, it leverages archival data collection, clinical research, multi-level simulations and field experimental labs.
In the data collection area, it aims to create the first publicly available database on sustainability-related initiatives by corporations across the whole world, based on the systematic analysis of sustainability reports and other public sources. As for experiments, those are designed to investigate the effectiveness of sustainability-driven innovation and change interventions and to identify enabling and hindering factors. The multi-level simulations and modeling will leverage both data and experiments to develop, test and refine models for scientific, business strategy and policy-making purposes.
“It’s the integration of the archival and clinical data, simulations and experiments that creates a powerful system of inquiry over and above the strengths and weaknesses of each individual methodology,” notes Zollo. “This is quite rare in social science research.”
The newest part of GOLDEN’s experimental work relates to its Ecosystems Labs where experiments focus on ways to change not just business behavior, but the collective behavior of all key actors in a given eco-system. GOLDEN is exploring, with the World Bank Institute, the possibility of applying experimental designs to some of their sustainability-related capacity development interventions at the country and regional levels.
“We are hugely excited about the potential insights that such a broad collaboration among academia, business and institutions could generate across a wide variety of really tough sustainability problems,” says Zollo. “If we can make this work, there is a real chance that we can understand how to enhance and speed up the necessary transformation of business and its socio-economic environment into sustainable, adaptive, systems -- the Holy Grail of today’s social and natural science.”
Prof. Maurizio Zollo is visiting MIT Sloan from Bocconi University in Milan, Italy, and is academic director of the GOLDEN Initiative. He is also the current president of the European Academy of Management.