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The Erb Institute Strives to Advance Sustainability Through Global Vision and Local Impact

The university’s hub for business and sustainability is housed right here at Michigan Ross and is one of the top business sustainability institutes in the world. The Frederick A. & Barbara M. Erb Institute is a partnership between Michigan Ross and the School of Environment and Sustainability. Although there are many sustainability organizations at U-M, the Erb Institute is the only one that approaches sustainability from the perspective of business and markets while also examining sustainability impacts broadly – from social, justice, and environmental standpoints.

The faculty and staff of Erb

Tom Lyon, Erb Institute faculty director and Dow Chair of Sustainable Science, Technology, and Commerce, leads a team of four faculty, three of whom are chaired professors. In addition to teaching, they conduct research and engage with experts, companies, and the public on topics including market transformation, social impact, consumer behavior, and policy change. 

Terry Nelidov, managing director of the Erb Institute, leads a team of seven staff who support Erb’s students and alumni, as well as the institute’s research, teaching, and global partnerships. 

One of the unique features of the institute is the way it connects research and practice, with close collaborations between faculty and staff.  

“Erb faculty and staff work tightly together to ensure that business practice feeds into our research and that our thought leadership feeds into business practice,” said Lyon. “These collaborations are especially evident in the institute’s business engagement partnerships, the Michigan Business Sustainability Roundtable, and the Corporate Political Responsibility Taskforce.”   

A focus on education, networking, and impact

The Erb Institute combines Michigan Ross’s and SEAS’s expertise to offer sustainability-focused programs for both graduate and undergraduate students. However, the institute is also committed to impactful research and outreach to advance sustainability initiatives.

“We collaborate with all kinds of organizations that work at the intersection of business and sustainability’, said Nelidov. “From for-profit companies and nonprofit networks to policy experts and social activists.” 

Erb works closely with the centers, institutes, and initiatives at Michigan Ross and also collaborates with other U-M sustainability organizations, including Planet Blue and the Office of Campus Sustainability. Outside of U-M, the Erb team collaborates with counterparts at other universities, including Yale University, Duke University, Cornell University, Stanford University, and the University of California Berkeley, often co-hosting joint alumni events and virtual career fairs. 

Through the Erb Family Foundation, the Erb Institute is a founding member of the Sustainable Business Network of Detroit and is able to lend its expertise to businesses, big and small, as well as social groups focused on sustainability in the City of Detroit. 

“We believe that capitalism is shifting from shareholder capitalism to an emerging stakeholder capitalism, where all stakeholders need to be at the table to share in the benefits of those decisions,” said Nelidov. “For that reason, we need to be connected to activists, nonprofits, companies big and small, academic scholars, and business thought leaders.”

Today, as business leaders are increasingly expected to take action on a growing range of social, environmental, human rights, and diversity issues, the Erb Institute is uniquely positioned to advise and educate. 

Now that the institute recently turned 25, Nelidov is looking to the next quarter century – stressing the opportunity to scale up the institute’s impact, support companies in preparing for new stakeholder capitalism, and promote tangible local impact in response to big global sustainability challenges. 

“Above all, this will require a doubling down on our commitment to be a bridge builder across social, ideological, and geographic divides,” said Nelidov.

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