Sustainability Champion

The Office for Sustainability celebrates our friends and colleagues who work tirelessly to advance sustainability on campus and in the community. We call such individuals Sustainability Champions, because they are champions helping us create a culture of sustainability while improving quality of life for all.

Dr. Jennifer palthe, professor of management

Growing up in South Africa gave Dr. Jennifer Palthe a sense of urgency surrounding social sustainability and human rights that sparked a lifelong passion. Palthe is a professor of management at the Haworth College of Business and has created an academic environment that displays the substantial amount of influence that corporations have in creating social change.

From a young age, Palthe was exposed to the harsh realities surrounding the violations of human rights and wanted to become a part of the solution. 

“I just started to observe, sadly, at a young age [that] there is this pattern of dehumanizing people. Every time there was an emphasis on removing [the] human from a person it seemed to give people the right then to treat them so vastly different.”

She began her education with a major in psychology and earned her social science degree from the University of Cape Town, South Africa. Her interest in the human condition continued to be enriched and strengthened with her degree in human resource management at the University of Witwatersrand’s Business School in Johannesburg, South Africa. Palthe was then awarded a Rotary International Scholarship to begin her master's degree in human resources at Michigan State University and began applying herself into work surrounding her passions for psychology, business and human rights.

Palthe began to make distinct connections between human rights and human resources and found that sustainability and its three main pillars play a major role in these areas. Sustainability is widely recognized to have three main facets that range from an environmental, social and economic perspective. She described this through the analogy of sustainability being a three-legged stool and that without all three, the stool would collapse.

Palthe has implemented her passion for social sustainability at Western Michigan University within the Haworth College of Business and campus-wide. From 2013 to 2015, she was the chair of the Haworth Undergraduate Program Council and implemented the requirement that all Bachelor of Business Administration students must take an ethics and sustainability class, which remains today. She also served on the University’s Faculty Senate Committee on Strategic Planning and advocated for the three dimensions of sustainability to be included in the University-wide strategic plan.

When reflecting on the merit and large projects that Palthe has worked on throughout her professional life, she treasures the connections that she has made with her students most of all. She believes that the future of sustainability should be a focal point of different academic disciplines. Palthe thinks that there should be a shift to put an emphasis on cultural intelligence, while focusing on being able to preserve what humanity brings into different communities.

“It’s a beautiful thing to watch business leaders suddenly become aware of how their successes and profits can make a significant difference when it comes to social and environmental factors. It’s one of the most rewarding things I get to do.”

Palthe has written many works surrounding the importance of human rights and diversity within different fields, such as business education and corporations. Read Palthe’s work on human rights and sustainability within business education here.