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Searching for Greener Solutions

Growing up on a farm in Idaho, Shon Hiatt lived sustainably as a matter of course. Now that mindset infuses his scholarly research.

April 22, 2022
Shon Hiatt, associate professor of management and organization
Shon Hiatt, Associate Professor of Management and Organization.

Long before sustainability became a fancy buzz word in the American lexicon, Shon Hiatt lived the life of an environmentalist. Growing up in a farm in Idaho, Hiatt said reusing and recycling was simply a natural way of life, a product of rural necessity and a practice preached by pragmatic parents.

“Sustainability was never mentioned in my home, but we knew what it was,” said Hiatt, whose utilitarian spirit later led him to re-pipe his Los Angeles home with a greywater system to nourish his trees and garden.

As a scholar, Hiatt has turned an ambitious eye to environmentally sustainable research. At Harvard Business School (HBS), where Hiatt was one of the founding members of the Business and Environmental Initiative advocating for more sustainability topics in the HBS curriculum, Hiatt penned his PhD dissertation on the biodiesel industry. His current research touches on energy and agribusiness.

“Environmental sustainability is central in both of these areas,” said Hiatt, an associate professor of management and organization.

In a paper published last December by Organization Science, Hiatt reviewed the nation’s growing wood pellet industry, which turns wood waste into fuel for home heating and electric power generation as an alternative to oil and coal. According to his research, native and non-native insects killed more than 79 million acres of trees in the U.S. between 2008 and 2018, which effectively became kindle for 70 million acres of wildfires. His paper, “Shared Fate and Entrepreneurial Collective Action in the U.S. Wood Pellet Market,” asks if the wood pellet industry could use these dead and dying trees to create its product.

“This is a potentially excellent energy and ecological solution,” said Hiatt, whose applied research invites change in the way Western States address forest management in the face of increasing climate change.

“There’s a path where we can amplify and accelerate some great sustainability research at USC even more, and I hope that’s something we can accomplish."

Such research excites, Hiatt explains, given its potential to benefit businesses and the planet. He hopes to see similar scholarship become commonplace at USC and believes incentives can stimulate such efforts.

Hiatt points to the University of Michigan’s Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise as a compelling model. A partnership between Michigan’s Ross School of Business and its School for Environment and Sustainability, the Erb Institute funds research and cases on sustainability topics, which have progressed beyond the environment to include social issues such as community investment and human rights.

“There’s a path where we can amplify and accelerate some great sustainability research at USC even more, and I hope that’s something we can accomplish,” Hiatt said.