Advancing Sustainable Business typography styled with a large blue barcode
At UNH, researchers join business with environmental and social impact
By Aaron Sanborn

huili Du remembers when business profit and social impact were widely perceived as mutually exclusive.

Du, a professor of marketing at UNH’s Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics, has spent her career changing that perception by focusing her research on how corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability can simultaneously benefit society and businesses.

“Academic research has played a huge role in changing business managers’ perceptions,” Du says. “In business, there is kind of this conflict between the short-term and the long-term. In academic research, we are free to examine long-term impacts. We can show the data on how social initiatives impact a firm’s stock price or valuation. We have the empirical data that business and social interests are not contradictory; they help each other in the long term.”

Du recently received the Jan-Benedict Steenkamp Award for Long-Term Impact from the European Marketing Association and the International Journal of Marketing Research for a paper comparing New Hampshire-based Stonyfield Farm’s yogurt’s CSR initiatives to two other yogurt brands.

She found that although all three brands were involved in CSR initiatives, Stonyfield positioned its entire business around being environmentally responsible through its ingredients, packaging and donating a percentage of profits to sustainability initiatives. As a result, Stonyfield had increased consumer awareness, more positive brand perceptions and higher levels of consumer loyalty and advocacy than its competitors.

“The research showed that consumers are skeptical of companies paying lip service or engaging in ad-hoc CSR initiatives, so it’s important to be authentic. Sustainability and CSR need to be embedded into the soul of your company to derive the business benefits,” Du says.

Advancing Sustainable Business

view from inside a grocery store refridgerator at Professor Shuili Du, a woman with cropped brown hair wearing a patterned black and white coat with gold buttons, reading the back of a Stonyfield Farm organic yogurt container

Professor of marketing Shuili Du researched corporate social responsibility initiatives of yogurt brands, including New Hampshire’s Stonyfield Farm.

Future business leaders need to understand that considering social responsibility and sustainability is essential to building a successful business, according to Luciana Echazu, associate dean of undergraduate education at Paul College. This is one of the reasons why social responsibility and sustainability are areas of focus for research and in the curriculum at Paul College and across UNH, one of the nation’s leading universities for sustainability.

“The goal should be to move away from short-term gain and focus on the long-term. To understand that if I cut corners today, hurt the environment, or make unethical decisions in my business operations, I might benefit today but pay for it later,” Echazu says.

Research in these areas also goes a long way toward helping to shape public policy that benefits health and the environment.

“The goal should be to move away from short-term gain and focus on the long-term. To understand that if I cut corners today, hurt the environment, or make unethical decisions in my business operations, I might benefit today but pay for it later.”

Putting a Value on Environmental Goods

What are the economic benefits of improving national air quality standards or the advantages and disadvantages of beach erosion control?

Putting an economic value on things that lack a price tag, such as the environment, is done through a process called non-market valuation. Ju-Chin Huang, a professor of economics at Paul College, is a leading researcher in the field.

Huang’s approach to assessing environmental value includes direct and indirect methods. For her beach erosion study, she utilized surveys to determine residents’ willingness to pay for different management approaches. Her air quality research involved examining housing market trends to understand how air quality affects property values, estimating the premium homeowners would pay for residences with better air quality.

UNH Professor Ju-Chin Huang, a woman with short cropped brown hair and wearing a yellow black stripped shirt, smiles brightly while sitting beside a large window in an office setting

Ju-Chin Huang professor of economics at the UNH Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics, is well known academically for the economic valuation of environmental goods.

Huang’s recent projects focus on measuring residential preferences surrounding multiple community sustainability initiatives and include collaborations with researchers and agricultural and forest economists, ecologists, Extension scientists and environmental engineers.

“Non-market valuation is not always about going after an overall value; it’s about understanding all the components that contribute to a perceived value, which can help shape a public policy that the public could eventually accept,” Huang says.

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How Did You Find Your Spark?

Shuili Du

The topic of sustainability and corporate social responsibility resonated with me because we examine the symbiotic relationship between business and society, rather than treating them as opposing forces … I feel that my area of research has the potential to transform business perceptions and practices, to promulgate the notion that businesses can be a force for positive change.”

Ju-Chin Huang

Non-market valuation wasn’t my initial research area, but I started working with a professor in the field and worked on projects about air and water quality. I ended up working with this professor on my dissertation. Around that time, the late 1980s, non-market valuation started to get a lot of attention in academia because of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Environmental economists were hired by both the government and Exxon to figure out the economic impact of this oil spill. As a graduate student, I was drawn to the debate and the different methodologies that economists used to come up with their valuations.”

Huang recently collaborated with researchers in UNH Cooperative Extension and at the University of Maine on a USDA-funded project to gauge private forest landowners’ willingness to control glossy buckthorn, an invasive plant. Surveys conducted among 4,000 landowners in New Hampshire and southern Maine revealed that landowners were interested in their neighbors’ actions, given the bird-spread nature of glossy buckthorn, which requires coordinated efforts for adequate control.

The study also showed residents preferred cost-effective mechanical control methods like cutting and digging over chemical treatments. Environmental concerns and cost were the main reasons cited against chemical methods.

Researchers recommended a public policy encouraging a community-based management program that supports cost-effective mechanical methods, potentially through incentive programs like cost-sharing.

Bringing Research Together

As a signatory of the United Nations’ Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME), Paul College tracks on its website all faculty research that contributes to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and promotes positive societal impact.

In addition, Paul College is working with the Center for Business Analytics and the Sustainability Institute to create a data hub that will store data related to sustainability research or projects at UNH, according to Echazu.

“Sometimes faculty will have data they either bought or curated for a special project and may be the only ones that know about it, but it could also be useful to someone else. We want to bring all that data together,” Echazu said. “We’re hoping this might open the door to additional interdisciplinary collaboration among the different departments.”