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Q & A with Crummer's Dr. Whittingham, Educator and Scholar of Sustainability and Social Responsibility

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Dr. Keith Whittingham is ­­an Associate Professor at the Rollins College Crummer Graduate School of Business, where he teaches courses in Sustainable Enterprise and Corporate Social Responsibility. He is the faculty advisor for Crummer’s chapter of Net Impact, a professional organization that promotes sustainability, corporate responsibility, and social innovation through business. He also serves as coach to the Crummer teams in the Nespresso Global MBA Sustainability Challenge, that made the finals four times in five competitions, including a victory in the inaugural challenge.

Q: You have been a lead innovator at Crummer in the realm of sustainability and social responsibility. What made you enter this field and how did you find out it was your purpose?

A: As someone who grew up in the developing world, I guess I had a sense of the fragility of our ecosystems and social systems. My father worked for the United Nations, Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean and I absorbed an awareness of some of the concerns of development economics.  As business faculty, we work to prepare our students to make a positive impact in their lives and careers. Around 2007-2008, business schools were beginning to seriously explore ways in which to approach topics of social and environmental sustainability within the MBA curriculum. I saw a great opportunity to engage our talented students in this arena and help them connect all they were learning, in strategy, operations, finance and other areas, to better serve both the organizations they worked for and the society at large.

Sustainability and social responsibility are areas I am deeply passionate about, but I view my purpose a bit differently. I see myself as a learner and teacher, one who helps others understand issues and concepts, putting theory into practice to the benefit of the greater good. That, at least, is what I strive for.

Q: Much of your work centers around the concept of purpose. What role does purpose play in a company’s CSR program?

A: Having a sense of my own purpose has helped me chart a course through my experiences and opportunities that present themselves in life. Similarly, a defined company purpose, a deeper “Why?”, can help an organization focus its best intentions regarding societal concerns, into initiatives and solutions that create value for broad stakeholders and simultaneously align with and reinforce corporate strategy, in a way that can build corporate value. It can become a point of engagement, internal to the organization and externally in the marketplace.

Q: When it comes to examples of CSR programs grounded in purpose, which companies come to mind?

A: There are many examples and I tend to put the companies into two categories with an important distinction. First, there are companies that have been started as what you can call social businesses – businesses created for the purpose of addressing specific societal challenges. In this category you can put companies like Tom’s Shoes and Patagonia. In these companies, the mission and vision were forged from the purpose of the founders. In the other category are traditional businesses – those created to meet a specific need through marketing a good or service with the goal of profit. Many traditional businesses are finding that they can simultaneously be responsible corporate citizens and enhance corporate value. It is not an easy thing to do well, and corporate purpose can be a useful tool, but that purpose must be carefully developed from within an existing, sometimes contradictory, corporate culture. Companies that are walking this path include Nike, Campbell Soup Company, PepsiCo and many others.

Q: For emerging leaders wishing to work in a sustainability or CSR role, what trends or opportunities should they be considering?

There are a number of concepts that can be extremely valuable to companies looking to develop effective CSR initiatives. Emerging leaders should understand strategic thinking and how to build a business case, but they can benefit significantly from an understanding of critical tools such as:

·      Human-Centered Design Thinking

·      Systems-thinking

·      Stakeholder Analysis


Additional Resources

The Corporate Citizenship program at the Edyth Bush Institute, one of Crummer’s six Centers of Excellence, was established to inspire, guide and support companies in integrating corporate social responsibility into their overall business strategy for maximum benefit to their companies and the community. It serves as a CSR hub for companies looking for programs, resources, expertise, such as Dr. Whittingham, to advance their own efforts. For companies needing help starting a CSR program, or assistance focusing an existing one, we can design a program that fits your needs. For more information or to get started, please contact us at 407-975-6414 or at

Tags:  business leaders  corporate social responsibility  faculty  purpose  sustainability 

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