Research Proposal Opportunities

Research report, laptop with hands typing

The Center for Sustainable Business has funding available for research. If you are interested, consider sending us a proposal for research related to:

Decarbonizing Middle America: the wicked problems impeding the just transition to clean and circular economies

What are the wicked problems impeding the just transition to clean and circular economies, and how do we manage the use of critical materials that will be integral to this transition without creating the next oil?​

Potential research topics include, but are not limited to:

  • How to accelerate the pace of technology adoption and innovation needed to transition to a decarbonized world by 2050?
  • How do we make sure people aren’t being left behind in this transition? Cost of energy perspective, jobs perspective, etc.
  • How do we manage the use of critical resource materials that will be integral to this transition?
  • How to align investment policies more closely with companies’ stated goals?
  • How to improve the grid to allow for better integration of renewables?
  • How policy (particularly net metering) can support the move to renewables?
Workforce 100%: turning rhetoric into action for workforces 100% representative of their communities

Turning rhetoric into action for workforces 100% representative of their communities. What are the barriers to companies achieving decent work for all across their value chain, and how we overcome them?​

Potential research topics include but are not limited to: 

Workforce development is particularly important in the energy sector, where we risk leaving fossil-specialized communities behind if we don’t think about how to help them integrate into the energy transition:

  • How can we bring down GHG emissions in a way that doesn’t leave fossil-specialized communities behind? And how can we build on their existing skill sets to make the transition into clean tech easier?
  • Given that the energy industry has been struggling to operate under lockdown conditions, how can we build more resilient energy systems as we also transition to cleaner energy technologies?

Much like the overall ESG space, there is still progress to be made on ESG metrics about “thriving work,” as what is important varies across businesses and organizations, and consumers also need information:

  • How can we better inform consumers so that they can make informed decisions about their product purchases and ensure they aren’t coming from slave labor?
  • How can we better capture the needs of workers?  Are we listening to people enough and giving them the right environment to voice their opinion?
  • How do you find a common definition for “thriving work” when it varies so widely from person to person and also across cultures?
  • What sort of metrics can we include that are broadly applicable across all industries?

Beyond simply offering “thriving work” and opportunities for workers, what is it that workers are looking for now and what exactly is driving current labor shortages?

  • Companies are raising their benefits and offering perks to workers to join their team, but this doesn’t seem to be working in filling job gaps—what is it that people are actually looking for? What is the labor shortage really about? Do we provide the right conditions for employees to be treated fairly and with dignity? Is it about wages, or is it about comparison between industries (for example, restaurant/food service workers feel they’re in the wrong spot in the “totem pole”)?
  • How can we give leaders and managers more agency to take better care of their workers?
ESG Rosetta Stone: raising sustainable business literacy across functions, levels, and industries ​

Raising sustainable business literacy across functions, levels, and industries. What does company disclosure look like for translating climate risk into resource allocation for business planning? ​

Potential research topics include, but are not limited to:

  • How do you communicate sustainability to employees and build ownership?
  • How do you communicate your sustainability journey externally to customers?
  • How do you measure and disclose the value of the risks you're disclosing?
  • How do companies show the climate risk that translates into resource allocation for resilience planning?
  • Which outcome metrics should companies disclose to maximize ROI? Forward vs historic, Ratings volatility across Raters, etc.

Please contact us with any questions and/or proposals.

Examples of Research Projects Supported by the CSB

Building Democratic Systems for Startups

With Center for Sustainable Business support, Trevor Young-Hyman, Assistant Professor of Business Administration and Sociology in the Katz School of Business at the University of Pittsburgh, has undertaken a new research project on the formation of democratic business organizations in the entrepreneurship space.  See below for a more in-depth description of this forthcoming working paper.

Worker cooperatives, credit unions, grocery cooperatives, professional partnerships, and utility cooperatives are all examples of democratically governed organizations, where members hold formal power to either govern directly or elect representatives to a governing body. Democratic organizations have been suggested as a means to formalize socially responsible business, through a governance structure that provides representation to community and worker stakeholders.

Democratic firms have demonstrated a number of socially beneficial outcomes: expanding access to market opportunities for marginalized groups, reducing poverty, reducing internal wage disparity, increasing employment stability, and prioritizing environmental sustainability. However, a key question concerns their creation and emergence: we have little understanding of the relationship between democratic organization and entrepreneurship. While some have characterized entrepreneurial firms as inherently less hierarchical, the demands for strong leadership and rapid decision-making in entrepreneurial firms may hinder democratic organization.

In this project, we explore this question through a longitudinal ethnographic study of a nascent democratic organization in Pittsburgh. We negotiated permission to collect audio and video recordings of meetings, interview workers, observe the day-to-day life of the organization, access archival documents, and scrape chat data from their online platform. We collected data between 2018, when the worker cooperative was established and was completed in 2020.

We will use an inductive coding process to develop a theory around the ways that democratic organization and entrepreneurial demands interact, how they reinforce each other, how they conflict, and how these conflicts can be resolved.

Discover more of our Working Paper Series here.

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