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The Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise is a partnership between the Ross School of Business and the School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS) at the University of Michigan. The institute’s mission is to create a socially and environmentally sustainable world through the power of business through research, teaching and business engagement—all focused on preparing and supporting bold business leaders who can adeptly transform companies, industries and entire economies for systemic sustainability. The institute was founded 20 years ago as a dual-degree program in which graduate students receive their MBA from Ross and their MS from SEAS. The Institute draws on faculty expertise throughout the University and has a dedicated Faculty Director, Joseph Arvai,[1] and three core professors Thomas P. Lyon, Sara Soderstrom and Andrew Hoffman. Today, the institute has grown to include scholarly and applied research on business sustainability, as well as direct business engagement to turn ideas into action through on-the-ground projects with companies, social enterprises and nonprofits committed to business sustainability.

The Erb Institute was created in 1996 via donations from Frederick A. Erb (BBA ’47) and his wife, Barbara, and is a partnership between the Stephen M. Ross School of Business and the School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE) at the University of Michigan.


Mission and visionEdit

The Institute's stated mission is to create a socially and environmentally sustainable world through the power of business. To this end, the Institute works to cultivate bold business leaders who adeptly transform companies, industries, and entire economies for systemic sustainability. The Institute also offers a variety of collaboration opportunities for companies to address their specific sustainability issues through Executive Education and Partnership Projects.

When the Erb Institute was founded in 1996, the University of Michigan was home to a few, small-scale activities related to sustainable enterprise. Since then, the Institute has significantly expanded and aligned research, education and outreach efforts. The center's goals include continually expanding and integrating sustainable enterprise work within the larger University, with the ultimate goal of facilitating societal transformation through the development of leadership within the domain of sustainability.

The primary stakeholders of the institute include hundreds of faculty, staff, students, alumni, donors and organizational partners.


Frederick A. and Barbara M. Erb founded the Institute in 1996 with an endowment gift of $5 million. To date, they along with many other sponsors have made cumulative gifts totaling $30 million in support of the Institute.

Both Fred and Barbara were born and raised in the Detroit area. After graduating in 1941 from the Cranbrook Schools in Bloomfield Hills, Fred Erb attended Cornell University to study engineering. Having decided that he wanted to be an entrepreneur and "control his own destiny," Fred switched from engineering to business and achieved his BBA degree with honors in August 1947.

Fred undertook his first entrepreneurial opportunity through the acquisition of his uncle's lumber and coal business in Royal Oak, Michigan. At that time, the Erb Lumber Company had one store, seven employees, and revenues approaching $200,000, one third of which were generated from the sale of coal. Fred developed and expanded the enterprise and when he sold it to Carolina Builders in 1993 the Erb Lumber Company had 45 locations and approximately $300 million in sales. Fred continues to be active in real estate development and management, and in many other businesses including Edgemere Enterprises in Birmingham. His wife Barbara was active in numerous community service organizations and served on the boards of The Music Hall of Detroit and the Michigan Art Train. She was a member of the Women’s Committee of the Cranbrook Academy of Art and the local chapter of the National Farm and Garden Club.


  1. ^ "Joe Arvai".

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