From lab-grown shrimp to low-emission cement and circular denim manufacturing, INSEAD faculty have produced 12 case studies examining sustainability in key sectors
As a leading global business school, INSEAD produces responsible research to inform thinking and decisions by business leaders. The school often uses these studies to teach in the case method, which encourages students to explore and think deeply about real-world challenges. By producing case studies that highlight the benefits of sustainable business practices, the school can showcase what is possible in terms of innovation and sustainability.
To support this research, the INSEAD Hoffmann Global Institute for Business and Society presents 12 sustainability-related case studies published during Academic Year 2021/2022. Each case addresses challenges from key economic sectors and highlights how business leaders can move towards sustainability solutions.
Professor Henrich Greve focused on the Indian cement-making industry and Dalmia Cement in particular. Cement is critical for growth in the developing world but at the same time produces extensive CO2 emissions. Cement is required for construction of essential infrastructure such as bridges, buildings and roads. Professor Greve pointed out that some firms in India’s cement industry, including Dalmia Cement, are making efforts towards sustainability goals. This case highlights that orienting a firm’s focus on sustainability releases innovation and can yield positive results even in a heavy industry sector.
Fashion is another sector with a substantial carbon footprint. In this case, Professors Atalay Atasu and Luk Van Wassenhove analysed Turkish denim manufacturer ORTA Anadolu, a company designing denim products around circular economy processes. The research focuses on circular processes that require both sustainable production and consumption. This case examines a firm taking the operational steps needed to address sustainability and promote circular fashion. “Beliefs and intent are useful, but our goal is to provide frameworks and a deeper understanding, allowing one to be an actor in the necessary transition rather than just an advocate,” Professor Van Wassenhove said.
Achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC) is an important target under the UN Sustainable Development Goals. In this case study, professors Stephen E. Chick and Ridhima Aggarwal discussed the Kenyan government’s pilot UHC programme launched in 2018 in four of Kenya’s 47 counties to allow access to health services. Universal health coverage will be scaled across the country based on findings from the initial pilot. “The case allows for a discussion of the design and execution of a UHC programme through the lenses of operational excellence and strategy execution,” Professor Chick explained.
Sustainability and ESG considerations are increasingly in focus for the investment industry as fund managers seek to account for the environmental impact of the businesses they invest in. This case study by Professor Claudia Zeisberger discussed the ESG journey of Pro-Invest Group, an investment firm that specialises in private equity real estate. The case describes how Pro-Invest Group co-founder and co-CEO Europe, Dr. Sabine Schaffer, embraced sustainability and led Pro-Invest to be recognized with the highest environmental ratings. Sustainability is an emerging priority in the private equity sector due to financial returns and benefits such as retaining staff, boosting innovation, and attracting investors. “Firms want to and need to learn about how to implement sustainability and ESG considerations into their businesses, funds and assets,” Professor Zeisberger said.
In a case study focused on food production. Professor N. Craig Smith studied Singapore entrepreneur Sandhya Sriram, co-founder of Shiok Meats. This innovative start-up grows seafood products, including shrimp meat, in a laboratory with an aim to reduce in environmental pressure. “The Singapore start-up was the first in the world to develop a commercially-viable way to grow shrimp meat from stem cells – meat that could be eaten without needing to kill animals,” Professor Smith said. The name “Shiok” can mean delicious in Singaporean slang.
In a case study on condiment market, Professor Paulo Albuquerque investigated if a company’s larger sense of purpose can have a positive impact on that company’s retail sales. This case explores how Unilever Hellmann was losing its once dominant market share in European mayonnaise to its rival Kraft Heinz. Case participants discussed several options Unilever Hellmann had to gain market share back from Kraft Heinz including articulating that its brands contributed to the improvement of society.
In a case study on food production, Amitava Chattopadhyay discussed how Carla Barbotó and Santiago Peralta built Pacari, an award-winning ethical chocolate brand with more than 160 accolades including World’s Best Chocolate. This brand is 100% Ecuadorian from farmer to consumer and encourages farmers improve their methods and grow premium beans. The company seeks to close the vast gap between chocolate producers and consumers in Ecuador, a country where impoverished cacao farmers export beans and companies import chocolate for consumers. The case study explores how Pacari differentiated the brand in the market by embracing the values of community and sustainability.
In the case study, Professor Quy Huy explores the importance of people-centred growth for Haidilao, a Chinese hot pot restaurant chain. The chain built their growth on exceptional service enabled by a focus on staff welfare as outlined in SDG #8 ‘Decent Work and Economic Growth’. The case study explores the factors that enabled Haidilao’s expansion, including the five-part HR system which places people first and created a corporate culture of excellence. “The secret sauce was the company’s attention to the welfare of its employees, who were encouraged to work hard to progress fast,” Prof Quy explained.
This three-part case study authored by Professor Stanislav Shekshnia and Professor Ludo Van der Heyden discussed Danone Group. In 1972, twenty years before the phrase “sustainable development” became widely used, Danone founder Antoine Ribaud proclaimed that corporate leaders should conduct the affairs of their companies with their hearts as well as their heads. Years later in 2019, Danone’s new leader Emmanuel Faber introduced a financial metric to track the company’s “carbon adjusted earnings per-share”. As Danone invested capital to reduce its carbon footprint, this financial metric tracked progress in reducing environmental impact. In 2020, Danone was granted enterprise a’ mission status in France, which means its social and environment objectives work in harmony with profit objectives.
In a case study on Dilmah Ceylon Tea, Professors Amitava Chattopadhyay and Luk Van Wassenhove discussed the organisation’s commitment to quality tea measured by taste, goodness and purpose. The company’s ethical principles are guided by the “Dilmah Standard”, which follows national and international quality systems and certifications to produce ‘single-origin tea’. Dilmah also established the Dilmah Conservation and Sustainability Unit and invests no less than 15% of its pre-tax profits into humanitarian and environmental initiatives each year. The case study explores the possibility to increase Dilmah profits and growth by leveraging the company’s focus on humanitarian and environmental issues in its brand strategy.
Business practices with a large carbon footprint or high human cost can contribute to some of our most pressing global issues. If left unaddressed, these unsustainable practices can have negative impacts on society. With the right strategies, thoughtful leadership and proactive planning, companies can move towards more sustainable business models and open new opportunities. By learning from innovative companies and seeing inspiring examples, business leaders can better understand how their company can step into the solution space.
As a champion of sustainability in business and responsible research, the Hoffmann Institute remains committed to support thought-provoking research and case studies that show a new, more sustainable path to prosperity. The latest thinking by INSEAD faculty shows that together we can change how business is done and truly make business a force for good.