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Sustainability at UNC Kenan-Flagler receives transformational $11 million estate gift

The Center for Sustainable Enterprise at the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School has received an estate gift valued at $11 million from the late Charles S. Ackerman (BSBA ’55).

The center provides education, research, outreach and best practices to accelerate progress in social and environmental sustainability using profitable business solutions.

It will be renamed in his honor:  the Ackerman Center for Excellence in Sustainability (ACES).

The gift supports the center’s space in the new building that expands and enhances the UNC Kenan-Flagler campus. The new building will meet LEED Gold standards as a baseline for sustainability with the goal of achieving LEED platinum. Groundbreaking is scheduled for September 2022, with the opening planned for fall 2024.

The endowed gift also will support:

  • MBA fellowships
  • Expanded offerings in the Undergraduate Business Program
  • Increased research capacity by supporting PhD students as Sustainability Fellows
  • Center operations and additional staff members.

“For over 20 years, our center has empowered students, faculty and business leaders to identify, create and deliver innovative, profitable business solutions while improving social equity and environmental integrity,” said Doug Shackelford, dean of UNC Kenan-Flagler. “This is a rare and transformational gift that will have tremendous impact on our students’ lives and the organizations where they work.”

Ackerman, who had a very successful career in real estate, wanted to advance what future business leaders learn and how leaders address environmental issues.

“Charlie Ackerman was a visionary businessman and a real estate legend,” says Shackelford. “He also was a visionary when it came to appreciating the impact that our Center for Sustainable Enterprise could contribute to the School’s mission to develop leaders who make the world a better place and how his support could advance the center’s important work.”

A New York native, Ackerman moved to Atlanta in the 1950s after serving in the U.S. Army. There he founded Ackerman & Co., one of the largest full-service commercial real estate firms in the Southeast. He is credited with shaping Buckhead’s skyline starting in 1973 with the development of Tower Place. During his lifetime, he developed more than 6 million-square-feet of office, retail and residential projects in Atlanta and nationally.

Sustainability pioneer

“UNC Kenan-Flagler was a first mover among business schools to offer a comprehensive curriculum in sustainability in 1999 and today we are known for our innovative curriculum, relevant research and career development,” says Tracy Triggs-Matthews, associate director of the center.

“When Mr. Ackerman visited the School in 2011 we shared the full scope of our work – from teaching to extracurricular programs to research to stakeholder outreach – and how our graduates leave UNC Kenan-Flagler prepared to implement what they have learned to change the world and how our research can have an impact on the practice of business,” says Triggs-Matthews.

“Sustainability is a strategic pillar of UNC Kenan-Flagler and we approach it broadly and deeply” says Olga Hawn, associate professor of strategy and entrepreneurship and the center’s faculty director. “Understanding the drivers of sustainability strategy and the different ways it is implemented are imperatives for organizations around the world. Through our research and education, we connect theory and practice and build understanding and awareness for all stakeholders.”

The center’s approach is based on finding opportunities where there are shared interests, says Jeff Mittelstadt (MBA ’07), professor of the practice of strategy and entrepreneurship and the center’s executive director. “You find sustainability in all industries and applied through all functions. Challenging ourselves to simultaneously improve social impact, environmental integrity and profitability leads to innovations that we realize by collaborating.”

Similarly, sustainability is woven across the Business School as well as the UNC campus, from strategy to finance to supply chain and more.

UNC Kenan-Flagler offers courses in sustainability in its Undergraduate Business, MBA and PhD programs.

“First of all, we are here for our students,” says Mittelstadt. “Because we have been serving them for so long, we have an incredible network of alumni who work in just about every function in every industry: the energy sector, impact investing, blended finance and supply chain. They are entrepreneurs, environmental, social and governance (ESG) analysts and consultants. They work at global multinational corporations like Burt’s Bees, Nike and Apple to chemical, textile and food production companies and startups.”

This gift counts toward the Campaign for Carolina. The most ambitious fundraising campaign in the University’s history, the Campaign for Carolina launched in October 2017 with a goal to raise $4.25 billion by Dec. 31, 2022.

UNC Kenan-Flagler announced the Ackerman gift at the 2022 UNC Sustainability Awards on April 28 at the North Carolina Botanical Garden.

The center also announced the business winner of the 2022 UNC Sustainability Award and the Distinguished Alumni in Sustainability Award, and celebrated the 2022 full-time MBA students who will graduate with a Sustainable Enterprise Concentration.

Read more about the center here and watch this video marking the center’s 20th anniversary.