Cover of The Decarbonization Imperative by Michael Lenox and Rebecca Duff
The Decarbonization Imperative
Transforming the Global Economy by 2050
Michael Lenox and Rebecca Duff


288 pages.

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503614789
Ebook ISBN: 9781503629622

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Bronze Medal (tie) in the 2022 Axiom Business Book Awards in the Economics category.

Time is of the essence. Climate change looms as a malignant force that will reshape our economy and society for generations to come. If we are going to avoid the worst effects of climate change, we are going to need to effectively "decarbonize" the global economy by 2050.

This doesn't mean a modest, or even a drastic, improvement in fuel efficiency standards for automobiles. It means 100 percent of the cars on the road being battery-powered or powered by some other non-carbon-emitting powertrain. It means 100 percent of our global electricity needs being met by renewables and other non-carbon-emitting sources such as nuclear power. It means electrifying the global industrials sector and replacing carbon-intensive chemical processes with green alternatives, eliminating scope-one emissions—emissions in production—across all industries, particularly steel, cement, petrochemicals, which are the backbone of the global economy. It means sustainable farming while still feeding a growing global population.

Responding to the existential threat of climate change, Michael Lenox and Rebecca Duff propose a radical reconfiguration of the industries contributing the most, and most harmfully, to this planetary crisis. Disruptive innovation and a particular calibration of industry dynamics will be key to this change. The authors analyze precisely what this might look like for specific sectors of the world economy—ranging from agriculture to industrials and building, energy, and transportation—and examine the possible challenges and obstacles to introducing a paradigm shift in each one. With regards to existent business practices and products, how much and what kind of transformation can be achieved? The authors assert that markets are critical to achieving the needed change, and that they operate within a larger scale of institutional rules and norms. Lenox and Duff conclude with an analysis of policy interventions and strategies that could move us toward clean tech and decarbonization by 2050.

About the authors

Michael Lenox is the Tayloe Murphy Professor of Business Administration at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business. He is the coauthor of Can Business Save the Earth? Innovating Our Way to Sustainability (Stanford, 2018) and The Strategist's Toolkit (Darden, 2013).

Rebecca Duff is Senior Research Associate with the Batten Institute at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business. She also serves as the managing director for Darden's Business Innovation and Climate Change Initiative.

"Lenox and Duff lay out pathways to the required deep decarbonization by 2050 with detailed analyses and thoughtful suggestions about the innovation agenda, technologies, and policies that would help pave the way. Carefully researched and profoundly insightful, this important book is a must-read for anyone interested in what needs to be done to take climate change action to scale and at speed."

—Dan Esty, Hillhouse Professor of Environmental Law and Policy at Yale University and editor of A Better Planet: 40 Big Ideas for a Sustainable Future

"Lenox and Duff have produced a compelling vision for how critical sectors of the economy can rapidly advance toward decarbonization. With thought-provoking guidance on policies, tools and technologies that offer hope in a time of massive disruption, this book is essential reading for executives, policymakers and civil society leaders navigating this transition."

—Katherine Neebe, Chief Sustainability Officer at Duke Energy and President, Duke Energy Foundation

"Lenox and Duff show how we can fully decarbonize by mid-century affordably and equitably, and that what's most needed is institutional innovation and policy change to speed the transition now underway. Learn here what you can do, personally, professionally, and politically, to help build a healthier, safer, more prosperous world for all."

—John Sterman, Jay W. Forrester Professor of Management at MIT and Director of the MIT Sloan Sustainability Initiative

"The climate crisis is often spoken in the stratospheric terms of whether or why we must act. The real challenge is how we must act. As Michael Lenox and Rebecca Duff so clearly explain, this is about all of us – citizens, consumers, producers, and governing institutions. We can do this. This book shows how."

—Bill Antholis, CEO and Director of UVA's Miller Center of Public Affairs and author of Fast Forward: Ethics and Politics in the Age of Global Warming

"The Decarbonization Imperativeis a vital guide for the most important transition in human history. It should sit on every desk as a resource for scholars, policy makers, and citizens alike to both inspire and help realize dreams for a healthier planet."

—Auden Schendler, Stanford Social Innovation Review

"Timely, pertinent, essential reading in the face of the growing impact climate change is even now having on our infrastructure, or agriculture, our economy, and our politics, both locally, nationally, and globally, The Decarbonization Imperative: Transforming the Global Economy by 2050 is an essential, critically important, and unreservedly recommended addition to personal, professional, community, college, and university library Environmental Studies collections."

Midwest Book Review Reviewer's Choice

"Everyone interested in becoming part of the solution to the climate emergency should read The Decarbonization Imperative. ...For scholars of organization and management, the implications of this excellent book are clear: if we are to contribute relevant insights to the resolution of the climate crisis, we must double down on our ambitions on every front considered in this book."

—Anita M. McGahan, Administrative Science Quarterly