Nicholas Research Fuels Global Corporate Sustainability Initiative



Deb Gallagher and her students are helping the United Nations, global companies take the lead to address climate change.


Since 2008, Nicholas School associate professor of the practice Deb Gallagher has been deeply involved with the United Nations Global Compact, one of the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiatives. Global Compact calls upon companies around the globe to align strategies and operations with universal principles on human rights, labor, environment and anti-corruption, and take actions that advance societal goals.


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Gallagher has assisted Global Compact with several research projects to help companies build capacity around issues such as environmental management strategies, corporate engagement through climate change lobbying and other hot topics, always with the help of a small, hand-picked team of Nicholas professional environmental master’s (MEM) students. Companies that have signed on to the Global Compact then apply the research outcomes to their own businesses. Each year, those companies present the results to international government and business leaders and investors at Global Compact’s Business Forum. And each year Gallagher and her students get to attend, participate and network with leaders at the forefront of global corporate sustainability. In December, the professor and four Nicholas students flew to Paris to take part in the 2015 forum.


For the past year and a half, Gallagher and her students have worked with staff at Global Compact and the World Resources Institute on a project to gather background data on carbon pricing leadership. This information is being shared with companies that have agreed to adopt an internal price for carbon within their organizations to demonstrate that a set price for carbon is good policy. At the Paris meeting, representatives from these companies – dubbed Carbon Pricing Champions – shared their experiences and endorsed the concept of a stable, global price for carbon. Gallagher and her students attended the event to see the results of their research and to be recognized for their contributions.


For Nicholas students, the opportunity to participate in such leading edge research is extraordinary, as is the chance to network at these events. “One of the most exciting things for our students is the opportunity for them to connect with leaders from the companies we work with on these projects,” Gallagher says.


DG-paris 5Michelle Yuan MEM’14 (Energy & Environment concentration) had a wonderful experience working with Gallagher on a UN Global Compact research project. “In addition to the knowledge of corporate sustainability trends we were able to gain as participants, the project offered unique opportunities to connect with leaders in the field of corporate sustainability. Global Compact brings together companies interested in rethinking current business models and embedding social/environmental considerations into their business core. Attending the conference and hearing industry experts discuss their goals, challenges and progress also helped integrate what we learned at the Nicholas School into a real-world application.”


Through Global Compact’s Business Forum, Yuan connected with the Olympic Operations team at the Dow Chemical Company and, after graduation, pursued a sustainability contract/informal internship at Dow. She recently joined ICF International’s Energy Efficiency Team.


“As researchers for Global Compact, we’re supporting players,” Gallagher acknowledges. “It is within the companies where we believe the change is actually going to happen. But this is important work, and I’m very proud of it. There are some really good things going on in the private sector with regard to how to face the climate change challenge. It has made me feel hopeful!”


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The Gallagher partnership with Global Compact is a great example of how Nicholas School faculty and students are working closely with industry partners to make an impact in important environmental issues. To learn how your business can partner with the Nicholas School on sponsoring there important learning experiences, contact Associate Dean Kevin McCarthy in the Office of Development and Alumni Relations at 919-613-8003 or