CAMBRIDGE MA. – Full transcript is available here. Rebecca Henderson, the John and Natty McArthur University Professor at Harvard University, shared her perspectives on how large organizations are changing in response to the coronavirus pandemic and climate change in the newest episode of “Environmental Insights: Discussions on Policy and Practice from the Harvard Environmental Economics Program,” a podcast produced by the Harvard Environmental Economics Program. Listen to the interview here.
The interview with Professor Henderson is featured in an article in Forbes by Jeff McMahon, "Now that we Know we Can Change, Harvard Economist Says, We'd Better."
Hosted by Robert N. Stavins, A.J. Meyer Professor of Energy and Economic Development at Harvard Kennedy School and director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program and the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements, Environmental Insights is intended to promote public discourse on important issues at the intersection of economics and environmental policy.
Henderson’s research and writing explore how organizations respond to large-scale technological shifts, most recently in regard to energy and the environment. She has a joint appointment at Harvard Business School in the General Management and Strategy units, and also serves as a research fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research.
In discussing how companies are responding to the COVID-19 crisis, Henderson said she is reminded that “when organizations decide they must change, they can change,” pointing to the quick shift to remote work across many sectors, the effort by biomedical firms to speed up supply changes, and the ways in which retail and grocery distribution channels are mobilizing their resources. “You’re seeing profound changes in methods of operation across the economy,” she remarked.
“The potential upside is that this emergency is making it very clear that the stability of the entire community is critical to the success of business,” Henderson stated. “I think the emergency is also highlighting that one needs a strong, effective federal government to deal with problems like this. I think both of those insights could conceivably translate into business pressure for coherent climate policy in ways that could be very helpful.”
Henderson also argued that urgency is a critical element in motivating organizations to respond to an existential threat.
“Climate change can seem distant; it can seem invisible. Why should I worry about it? To see the whole economy mobilized when the threat becomes very, very concrete reminds me that, as we think about climate change, we have to find a way to make that threat as concrete as possible. So that's one thing I take away from the current moment.”
Henderson’s interview is the ninth episode in the Environmental Insights series, with future episodes scheduled to drop each month.
“Environmental Insights is intended to inform and educate listeners about important issues relating to an economic perspective on developments in environmental policy, including the design and implementation of market-based approaches to environmental protection,” said Stavins. “We speak with accomplished Harvard colleagues, other academics, and practitioners who are working on solving some of the most challenging public problems we face.”