Great ideas don’t find success on their own.

Whether it’s a matter of refining a concept, reaching a market or scaling up, many environmental breakthroughs depend on effective collaborations with the business world. The Leopold Leadership Program recently brought together researchers from around the U.S. with directors of sustainability at companies such as Walmart and Ingersoll Rand to explore how the two groups can work to forge solutions to complex problems.

“It was great to hear firsthand the timing differences between academia and the private sector — the need to move fast,” said Jennifer Cherrier, an associate professor at Florida A&M University’s Environmental Sciences Institute. “It opened my eyes to the constraints that businesses face that I wasn’t aware of, and they gave some good bright spot examples,” said Laura Taylor, director of the Department of Agricultural Resource Economics at North Carolina State University.

Through case studies and discussion, participants in the multiday workshop, “Engaging With the Private Sector,” learned about corporate cultures and priorities around sustainability, the needs of business for environmental research and how corporate sustainability initiatives are launched and executed. They received training on pitching ideas to a business audience and received feedback on their presentations from a panel of corporate sustainability officers.

The Leopold Leadership Program provides outstanding mid-career academic researchers with tools for integrating science into decision making. The program, which has trained 195 fellows who are working on critical issues around the world, expanded its focus in 2013 to emphasize ways for researchers to amplify their impact through collaboration. That fresh approach is built around core trainings that help fellows establish basic skills and take advanced trainings that help them accomplish paradigm-shifting objectives.

The recent business-focused “learning lab” was the latest in the series of offerings intended to help participants develop specific skills or contexts needed to integrate science into practice. These advanced trainings emphasize leadership, building team capacity and planning transformative action. Future trainings will cover, among other topics, leveraging networks for policy impact, leading change within academic institutions and working with global organizations.


The Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment is developing global leadership by focusing on skills, knowledge and networks to move ideas into action and support informed decision making. Learn more.