Funded Research

We pursue an applied research agenda in which social and environmental challenges are framed as opportunities for the private sector to create superior business strategies and competitive advantage. Our research reflects these priorities.

Ongoing Research

Student Multidisciplinary Applied Research Teams (SMART) Program

  • Funder: Engaged Cornell
  • PIs: Felix Heisel (AAP)
  • Co-PIs: Mark Milstein (CSGE)
  • Dates: Spring 2021 – present

CI:RCLE – Circular Ithaca: Researching Construction in the Local Economy

  • Funder: Engaged Cornell
  • PIs: Felix Heisel (AAP)
  • Co-PIs: Mark Milstein (CSGE)
  • Dates: Spring 2021 – present

The research represents a collaboration between the Department of Architecture, the SC Johnson College of Business, and local community partners Finger Lakes Reuse, Ithaca NHS, Trade Design Build, and Taitem Engineering. The research specifically aims to investigate the circular potential of the local built environment by researching and proposing methods for material reuse and recycling, reversible construction, reactivating embodied values, creating green jobs, and reinventing the underlying business models of construction. As part of the work, Heisel and Milstein will be offering a new experiential course to undergraduate and graduate students this spring entitled, “The Circular Economy: The Business and Science of Construction”.

Upcycling Ash Trees for Sustainable Wood Construction

  • Funder: Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future Academic Venture Fund Awards
  • PIs: Sasa Zivkovic (AAP)
  • Co-PIs: Kifle Gebremedhin (BEE), Mark Milstein (CSGE), and Peter Smallidge (CALS)
  • Dates: Spring 2021 – present

In collaboration with glued laminated timber manufacturer UNALAM, this research will look to develop an innovative method to reuse Emerald Ash Borer (EAB)-infested timber, by creating a new building process to transform irregularly shaped “ash waste wood” into a useful high-tech engineered wood products.


Past Research

Animal Fibers: Connecting Rural Economies and Urban Markets Through Strengthened Local Supply Chains

  • Funder: Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future Academic Venture Fund Awards & Engaged Cornell
  • PIs: Mark Milstein (GM – Johnson Management and Organizations)
  • Co-PIs: Miguel Gomez (CALS – Applied Economics & Management), Tasha Lewis (Human Ecology/Fiber Science & Apparel Design), Anu Rangarajan (CALS/SIPS-Horticulture), and Michael Thonney (CALS/Animal Science)
  • Dates: Spring 2018 – Spring 2020

This research will seek to help small flock fiber farmers who struggle to survive in a global economy that favors standardization and commoditization of a narrow set of breeds and genetic stock to produce cheap material that must compete with synthetic, low-cost competitors. As interest in locally produced goods grows, small flock fiber farms may have an opportunity to thrive by influencing development of specialized textile markets. The project will examine small flock-based fiber market value chains and connect rural and urban fiber-textile economies in order to increase growth of rural economies and pave the way for similar markets to do the same. The project was also awarded additional funds by Engaged Cornell to ensure undergraduate and graduate student mentorship support.

Food Loss & Waste Business Innovation Lab

  • Funder: The Rockefeller Foundation
  • PIs: Mark Milstein (GM – Johnson Management and Organizations)
  • Dates: Fall 2016 – Spring 2018

This funding enabled the Center to hold the Food Loss & Waste Business Innovation Lab in June 2017 in collaboration with Frog Design. The Lab enabled teams from participating companies to explore and develop project ideas around business opportunities to reduce food loss and waste. Teams from AerofarmsThe Benjamin HotelBlue ApronEatalyFour Seasons Hotel New York DowntownFreshdirectHain Celestial GroupLas Vegas SandsLOTTE New York Palace HotelRISE ProductsReCultivateNY, and [Re]Produce participated in the frogThink® design process under the guidance and mentorship of Frog Design experts, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business faculty, and other food waste and innovation subject matter experts to learn about and apply new cross disciplinary problem-solving techniques. Interspersed among activities were speakers from Baldor Specialty FoodsReFEDNatural Cuts, and [Re]Produce who shared their own insights from experiences address food loss and waste.

Market-Based Instruments and Incentives for Sustainability and Conservation in Rural Working Landscapes in Latin America

  • Funder: Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future Academic Venture Fund Awards
  • PIs: Amanda Rodewald (CALS – Laboratory of Ornithology)
  • Co-PIs: Viviana Ruiz Gutierrez (CALS – Laboratory of Ornithology), Miguel Gomez (CALS – Applied Economics & Management), Stephen DeGloria (CALS – SIPS – Soil and Crop Sciences) and Mark Milstein (GM – Johnson Management and Organizations)
  • Dates: Spring 2016 – Spring 2018

A growing number of programs and incentives aim to achieve global sustainability goals, but their viability often remains aspirational and untested in the market. Our project focuses on Nicaragua, which has pledged to restore 2.8 million ha of forest. Working with Rainforest Alliance and ECOM, we will (1) identify ecologically important landscapes, (2) evaluate mechanisms for forest restoration, (3) analyze markets for agroforestry and sustainable forestry, and (4) develop a portfolio of viable incentive programs and financial mechanisms. Results are intended to improve the effectiveness of forest conservation and restoration programs throughout Latin America and the world.

Investigation of Product Sustainability Innovation Programs

  • Funder: Johnson and Johnson
  • Co-PI’s: Glen Dowell and Mark Milstein
  • Research Associate: James Landi
  • Dates: Spring 2015 – Spring 2016

This project explores the state of corporate programs aimed to improve product sustainability. While it has been noted that these programs are becoming more common, there has not yet been any research that examines (a) how these programs are enacted within companies or (b) what features might distinguish the most successful programs. The research has been carried out using archival data as well as in-depth interviews with representatives of companies from a wide range of industries.

Capturing Coral Reef & Related Ecosystem Services (CCRES)

  • Funders: Global Environment Facility (GEF), via an investment administered by the World Bank and University of Queensland (UQ), Australia
  • PI: Managed by the Global Change Institute at UQ; Mark Milstein
  • Dates: Fall 2013 ­– Spring 2018

Cornell University joins an international team that will undertake research to calculate a value for the services provided to communities by natural assets in the coastal environment, including seagrass beds, mangroves, and coral reefs. The project team will develop analysis tools that identify and nurture positive links between local businesses, local economies, and coastal natural capital. Local, national and regional communities in the Philippines and Indonesia will be involved in the project.

Biodegradation of Cattle Manure Using Fly Larvae

  • Funder: Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future Academic Venture Fund Awards
  • PIs: Vimal Selvaraj (ANSC), Jan Nyrop (ENT), Patricia Johnson (ANSC), Mark Milstein (CSGE)
  • Dates: Spring 2013 – Fall 2014

Manure is a major challenge for livestock operations and a threat to groundwater and human health. This team is creating a natural strategy for waste management and developing a profitable animal feed at the same time. The researchers will use dairy manure as a nursery for fly larvae. The larvae biodegrade the manure, reducing mass and excess nutrients so that it can be safely sold as organic compost. The harvested larvae are ground into larva meal—a high-protein food source for animals that substitutes for fishmeal and human food grains. Students in the Sustainable Global Enterprise program, under the direction of Mark Milstein, will assess the commercial viability of larva meal.

Water and Economic Development in the Hudson and Mohawk Watersheds

  • Funders: New York State Water Resources Institute and New York State Hudson River Estuary Program
  • PI: Mark Milstein
  • Research Associates: John Tauzel and Brian Liberatore
  • Dates: Fall 2012 ­– Spring 2015

This project explores the ties between water availability and economic development and how these connections can be used to enhance growth, particularly through entrepreneurial activity, throughout the Hudson and Mohawk Watersheds, NY. Engaging business leaders, policy makers and economic development professionals, the study examines the feasibility of marketing the region’s water resources in an era of increasing global water scarcity. It also analyzes the potential development of a water technology cluster to leverage the region’s technology strengths in the $500 billion water market.

Building Markets & Enterprise for Malaria Eradication

  • Funders: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and S. C. Johnson & Sons, Inc
  • PI: Mark Milstein
  • Program Manager: Erik Simanis
  • Dates: Spring 2010 ­– Spring 2013

This project aims to accelerate malaria eradication efforts by complementing today’s dominant philanthropy-based, public-health model with a market-based, consumer-level business model, in which products and services significantly reduce malaria infection within at risk (i.e., low-income) populations. The Center has received grant money totaling $1 million to work in close partnership with S. C. Johnson in creating a sustainable business that offers products and services that reduce malaria infection in Ghana.

Malaria Project Grant Info

Creative Design for Affordability Program

  • Funder: National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA)
  • PI: Mark Milstein
  • Program Manager: Monica Touesnard
  • Dates: Fall 2010 – Fall 2013

This funding seeks to significantly enhance and institutionalize its new Creative Design for Affordability course, established in collaboration with faculty from Cornell’s College of Human Ecology Department of Design and Environmental Analysis and the Johnson Graduate School of Management’s Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise. Through this partnership, we will establish infrastructure for long-term support of approximately five multidisciplinary E-teams each year, which include (but are not limited to) students from business, design, engineering, and agriculture and life sciences, who will work with peers in India on the development and launch of new businesses that address global societal challenges. Course teams also compete in the Acara Institute Challenge.

Developing Business & Sustainability Curriculum Resources

  • Funder: Hatfield Grant at Cornell University
  • PI: Mark Milstein
  • Program Manager: Monica Touesnard
  • Dates: 2007- 2011

The project will broaden and deepen the permanent collection of high-quality short videos of sustainable enterprise experts. The collection focuses on four domains: the hospitality industry; the design and development of products and services for the world’s poor; innovative partnerships between the public, private and non-profit sectors; and the role individuals play in using economic principles to drive change and innovation, and to solve problems as entrepreneurs.

Building University Capabilities for Enterprise Development in Emerging Economies

  • Funder: Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies at Cornell University
  • PI: Mark Milstein
  • Dates: 2009 – 2011

Leveraging private-sector concepts, the Center seeks to define a model that generates value and knowledge creation by connecting university technologies, resources, and capabilities with those of low-income communities. We are developing a proof-of-concept document that features a practical tool for universities and other organizations trying to address the challenge of global poverty.

Private Enterprise Solutions for Poverty Alleviation: Approaches of the U.S. Military

  • Funder: The Social Equity Venture (S.E.VEN) Fund
  • PI: Mark Milstein
  • Dates: Spring 2008 –

This study examines the various approaches to promoting private enterprise utilized by the U.S. Army and Marines and compares them to those of the private sector and NGO community. This will provide a valuable opportunity to build knowledge around the complex relationship between entrepreneurship and poverty alleviation. Just as existing research holds important implications for how the military’s efforts may be made more effective, the military’s experience can lead to insight regarding how private and non-profit initiatives could be improved.

Base of the Pyramid Protocol

  • Funders: DuPont, SC Johnson, Tetra Pak, Hewlett-Packard, Cornell University, University of Michigan, William Davidson Institute, World Resources Institute, and the Johnson Foundation.
  • Co-Directors: Erik Simanis, Stuart Hart, and Duncan Duke
  • Dates: 2003-2009

This was an action research program to develop and refine a corporate innovation process geared for the unique challenge of sustainably serving Base of the Pyramid markets.

The initial framework for the BoP Protocol process was developed in 2004 through an intensive four-day design workshop at the Johnson Foundation’s Wingspread Conference Center. The workshop brought together a diverse mix of social entrepreneurs and non-governmental organizations, a dozen managers from the project’s four corporate sponsors, and thought leaders from various academic fields such as international development, social work, economic anthropology, and design.

Working from this framework, the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise partnered with two corporations to implement the BoP Protocol. The first project was launched in 2005 by S. C. Johnson & Son, Inc. in Kenya, and the second was launched in 2006 in India by the Solae Company, a subsidiary of DuPont.

You can download the BoP Protocol, in its entirety via the links below.

BE Sustainability

  • Funder: National Science Foundation’s Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, and Transport Systems
  • Co-PIs: Mark Milstein, Sheri Willoughby, and Elizabeth Kisenwether
  • Dates: 2006-2007

Funding supported the “Business, Engineering & Sustainability: Building Innovative Programs” workshop. The workshop, which was organized by the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise at Cornell University, Engineers for a Sustainable World, Pennsylvania State University, and the World Resources Institute focused on catalyzing programmatic change in business and engineering education. It brought together leading academics in engineering and business – as well as practitioners from industry, NGOs and government – interested in exploring the potential linkages and opportunities for programmatically bridging these disciplines within the context of sustainable enterprise curriculum development, research, and technology commercialization. This interactive workshop approached academic program building opportunities from three angles, all related to improving educational curriculum: coursework, research, and cross-sector collaborations.

BE Sustainability Grant Info

Corporate Initiatives to Serve Poor Markets

  • Funder: National Science Foundation’s Innovation and Organizational Change Program
  • Co-PIs: Stuart Hart and Mark Milstein
  • Dates: 2002-2006

This longitudinal study was designed to follow six multinational companies as they conceived, proposed, implemented, and expanded or terminated projects aimed at the base of the economic pyramid. This research helped develop a better understanding of organizational innovation and change processes and enabled the generation of theoretical models regarding the causes of initiative success and failure. This work was critical in the development of new knowledge and insights into the organizational processes required for entering low-income markets in a way that generates organizational change and innovation.

Corporate Initiatives Grant Info

A Study on Sustainable Development: Corporate Strategy and Innovation Models for Low-Income Groups

This collaboration with researchers at Tsinghua University’s School of Economics and Management is funded by the National Science Foundation of China. We are conducting a longitudinal study focused on corporate strategy and innovation models for low-income communities in China.