Examining sustainable business

Examining sustainable business

Professor Jennifer Griffin challenges students to consider the dynamics of why businesses exist and how they implement CSR and ESG.

For the last two decades, Jennifer Griffin, the Raymond C. Baumhart, S.J. Chair in Business Ethics and professor, has shone light on the role of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and now environmental social, and corporate governance (ESG) in large businesses. The results are complicated and beg the question as to why corporations exist, which is why Griffin is so interested in the topic.

"This idea that we respond as human beings merely to incentive and punishment leaves an awful lot of creativity and emotion on the side," Griffin said. "It gets to the ethical reasoning of why individuals and organizations do what they do, and that why is what I find to be very important."

Understanding corporate motivation

One of the key components of Griffin's research is figuring out how and why businesses implement CSR and now ESG in their operations.

"Do they do it as a one-off one time-only that isn't sustained, do they do it in response to compliance, or do they do it because it is an inherent identity and value that is held dear across the entire organization?" said Griffin.

Griffin argues companies look at CSR and ESG in diverse ways. She says some will see it as a win-win for themselves and their customers. Others will use it as an opportunity to make headlines for doing what may be called the right thing. Griffin has particular interest in companies that are not sure what to do with ESG.

"It's all broad and varied and each to their own, but important as to when we think about lifelong learning, important when we think about serving others, and important as to what we are called to do," Griffin said.

Challenging the future

In March 2022, she co-authored a paper in The Regulatory Review critically examining the emergence of ESG and its usage among various businesses. The article argues ESG could be one of the first things slashed from a corporation budget.

Through her teaching at Quinlan, Griffin hopes to keep CSR and ESG on the table for the next generation’s business leaders. In all her classes, she asks her students the same thing: Why do businesses exist?

"It doesn't necessary hold true that businesses exist to maximize shareholder wealth," Griffin said. She challenges students to think about why companies may implement sustainable business models.

"It's very broad and varied, but important as to how we think about lifelong learning, as we think about serving others, and as to what we're called to do," Griffin said.

"The fact that the Quinlan School of Business focuses on profits and purpose distinguishes Quinlan even within the Jesuit network from all other business schools," she added. "It's not one or the other, it's how can we meaningfully and intentionally integrate profits to sustain but also purpose that can sustain life and living."

Learn more