Influential Leaders

Gunther Glenk

Assistant Professor for Sustainable Business
Recognition Year(s): 2024
Area of Impact: Climate Change
School: Business School, University of Mannheim
Location: Germany

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Gunther Glenk is an assistant professor for sustainable business at the University of Mannheim and a climate fellow at Harvard Business School. His research examines the cost and speed of corporate transitions toward zero net emissions and has been published in leading academic journals in the field of sustainability management. Industry leaders and policymakers have solicited his advice on the risks and opportunities associated with the transition toward a decarbonized energy economy.

Description of Research Impact

Sustainable energy technologies have long been viewed as being too expensive for widespread adoption, but technological advances suggest that the economics are about to change. In recent work with co-authors, Glenk has analyzed the cost and economic dynamics of clean energy technologies, including energy storage, green hydrogen, and electric mobility. One pattern emerging consistently from the studies is that these technologies are rapidly becoming cost-competitive on a life-cycle basis in more and more applications as demand for them grows and manufacturers experience steep learning curves.

In response to the calls to action, more than two-thirds of Fortune 500 firms have articulated “net-zero pledges” regarding their carbon emissions. Yet, the actual commitment implied by such pledges remains debated, mainly due to a lack of accounting and reporting frameworks as well as missing roadmaps for reducing emissions. In his current work, Glenk has introduced an accounting system that enables firms to faithfully report their emissions and abatement efforts. In addition, he and his co-authors have developed an abatement cost concept that allows managers to identify cost-efficient pathways for industrial decarbonization.

The common theme in Glenk’s research is its examination of corporate transitions toward zero net emissions in an integrated manner that relies on tools from techno-economics and accounting. In other words, he studies questions related to corporate carbon management at the intersection of business fundamentals, public policy, and climate and engineering science. For instance, a necessity of the carbon accounting system is that the accounting principles accurately capture the climate implications of carbon emissions to and removals from the atmosphere. Similarly, the usefulness of decarbonization pathways derives from their ability to examine how technological advances, in conjunction with public policies, can provide corporate investors with sufficient incentives to make investments that result in substantial emission reductions.

Glenk’s work has influenced corporate decarbonization strategies, the design of public subsidy programs, and corporate carbon accounting standards. In his research, he also frequently works with industrial companies to develop actionable decision frameworks for managers. For instance, the abatement cost concept has been developed in dialogue with a global cement manufacturer that has provided primary industry data. The cement industry, which supplies building materials that are essential to a modern economy, is responsible for about 8 percent of global annual carbon dioxide emissions. Yet, a large share of the emissions associated with cement production is intrinsic to the production process and cannot be avoided by phasing out fossil fuels.

Examples of Research Impact

  • Climate fellowship at Harvard Business School
  • Impact on the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, globally the common framework for corporate carbon accounting and reporting
  • Impact on industrial companies, such as Daimler Trucks and Heidelberg Materials

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