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2022 Spring Symposium: SME Sustainability, An Integrative Business Model for the Future

Published onFeb 25, 2022
2022 Spring Symposium: SME Sustainability, An Integrative Business Model for the Future

Use this LINK to register.

Please reach out to one of our symposium editors with any questions:

Hunter Revord | [email protected]

Mona Ibadi | [email protected]

As the country slowly addresses and learns to control the prevalence and spread of COVID-19, conversations that were put on hold during the pandemic re-emerge with vigor and debate, including sustainability. Our student organization, the Journal of Business and Intellectual Property Law (JBIPL), seeks to narrow and focus the issue of sustainability into SME (small and medium enterprise) sustainability as the dominant theme of our 2022 Spring Symposium.

Within this broad and overarching topic, we intend to identify and discuss three subtopics in the form of three interactive panels: (1) SME Sustainability Governance: Private & Public; (2) The Role of Intellectual Property in Sustainable SME Innovation; and (3) SME Sustainability Regulation and Incentivization. The symposium will encompass frank and insightful discussion of each sub-topic and will emphasize the role and prevalence of SME Sustainability at large.

To many, public and governmental pressure play a major role in the push for companies to develop more environmentally-friendly business practices. Additionally, popular debate often involves issues about corporate responsibility and sustainability in the context of large corporations, forgetting the importance and impact of business sustainability on the numerous SME business owners present in the United States. The spring symposium hopes to spark dialogue to address facts and myths associated with this unexplored legal literature.

At the center of SME sustainability is corporate responsibility and the movement to reframe business objectives and missions into principles that aim to “conciliat[e] the lucrative objective with social and environmental goals.” This movement is rooted in Europe and is redefining the relationship businesses have with the public; businesses are taking societal values into consideration when implementing policies and choosing courses of action. It seeks to incorporate the vision of social and environmental commitment through business innovation that expands beyond mere compliance with laws. This model promotes corporate executive behavior that goes beyond ethical and legal considerations and seeks to implement a business structure that enables sustainable investment and growth. Our speakers will debate the motivation behind adopting an altruistic, public-centered approach to business through societal interest and growth, in addition to incentives and regulations.

Experts and Wake Forest faculty members with robust backgrounds in business and sustainability will contribute diverse perspectives regarding SME sustainability expansion into the United States, and the future of corporate responsibility/ESG within SMEs. Our partnership with the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences expands the audience, the conversation, and the pool of faculty speakers that grapple with this largely unexplored topic. Professors Alan Palmiter, Stan Meiburg, Keith Robinson, and Simone Rose each provide various takes and avenues on the reality of SME Sustainability, concerns for its future in the United States, and beneficial ideas to probe in the JBIPL 2022 symposium. Many of such professors will either speak or moderate panels to effectively integrate their experience, their scholarly work, and their expertise into the substance of the sub-panels, while also directing conversation among speakers to relevant and pressing dialogue. We will take perspectives, not only from lawyers and legal professionals but also business and sustainability experts who bring different layers and overlooked channels of thought to this multidisciplinary theme. In this respect, students, faculty, and scholars can engage in a holistic discussion of what SME sustainability is, and how it is and will be implemented in practice.

SME sustainability is an area of law, business, and environmental analysis that has little contribution from scholars and scholastic works. It is an untapped field that we identified as an emerging and prevalent topic that needs to be researched, scrutinized, and debated among students and professionals alike.

Keynote Speaker

Francisco Reyes

●      Consultant to the World Bank

●      Lawyer from the Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá, a Master’s in Comparative Law from the University of Miami, and a Ph.D. in Law from the University of Tilburg

●      Former Superintendent of Companies of Colombia and President of the United Nations Commission for International Trade Law (UNCITRAL)



SME Sustainability Governance: Private & Public 

Experts in this panel will compare and contrast the effectiveness and necessity of private governance and public governance in terms of sustainable SMEs. Governance is defined as the “system by which companies are directed and controlled.” In this context, private governance involves two types of factors: external (supplier and customer) and internal (employees, organizational culture, competitive advantage). On the other hand, public governance is a combination of processes that a third party, like a government or governing body, implements to manage and monitor an organization’s activities in achieving its objectives. SMEs lack a type of public governance simply because most SMEs are privately owned.

With these considerations in mind, some questions our panelists will wrestle with include:

  • Should public regulatory agencies play a larger role in SME governance? Should SME governance be regulated at all?

  • Should there be a government compliance audit for sustainability-driven SMEs?

  • Are there targeted education and consulting services available to SMEs?

  • Should the banks play a bigger role in the governance of SMEs, since many SMEs start out by receiving loans from these institutions?

The panel’s conversation will expand beyond this list of sample questions, and include wholesome debate among the panelists, as well as questions from our moderator, Professor Roian Atwood.

Panelists will include:

Karen Jarmoc

●      Assistant Vice President Sustainability Leader at the Hartford

●      Builder of relationships and coalitions that increase organizational sustainability, impact, and advanced public policy.

Alexey Volynets

●      Corporate Governance/Knowledge Management Officer ESG Dept. at the International Finance Corporation.

●      Creator and manager of innovative capacity-building programs for business leaders – owners, board directors, and top management.

Mike Lubrano

●      Attorney and Managing Director of Valoris: Stewardship Catalysts

●      Global expert and advisor on corporate governance and reform issues

The Role of Intellectual Property in Sustainable SME Innovation 

This panel will discuss the role of intellectual property (IP) in helping sustainability-focused SMEs succeed in growing their innovations. First, the panelists will provide individual explanations to the question: “Why is intellectual property important for sustainable SME innovation?” Our audience members that are unfamiliar with IP basics will benefit greatly from a brief description of the general principles of patents, trademarks, and trade secrets, and an explanation for why those specific instruments would be most effective for sustainable innovation.

Next, we will encourage our panelists to offer their opinions on two thought-provoking questions regarding the different IP strategies that SMEs use to align themselves with commercial success:

  • How are we able to strengthen SME green innovation ecosystems through the effective use of IP to drive economic growth?

  • Which legal strategy is the most effective for sustainable SMEs (open, semi-open, or closed) and why?

The panel’s conversation will expand beyond this list of sample questions, and include wholesome debate among the panelists, as well as questions from our moderator, Professor Keith Robinson.

Panelists will include:

Elizabeth Dougherty


●      Eastern Regional Outreach Director for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)

●      25 year veteran of the USPTO and former Senior Advisor to the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO

David Sar

●      Intellectual Property and Business Attorney – Partner at Brooks, Pierce, McLendon, Humphrey & Leonard, LLP

●      Local certified “specialist” in trademark law with experience working with green start-ups

Rudy Gaines

●      Owner of a Rudy Gaines Creative Business Growth Company

●      Chair of the Public and Media Relations Committee for the International Trademark Association

SME Sustainability Regulation and Incentivization

This panel will discuss the regulation and incentivization framework (or lack thereof) for influencing SMEs to transition towards sustainability. The panelists will discuss this topic in light of two types of sustainable SMEs: (1) Sustainable Innovators, which are companies developing new products, technologies, and approaches that can have transformational impacts, and (2) Sustainable Performers, which make up the vast majority of SMEs, and are companies that can take steps to make their operations more resource-efficient and environmentally friendly.

Additionally, this panel will discuss the effectiveness of the current regulatory framework and offer suggestions on how to amend the framework in order to ensure environmental standards are appropriate, proportional, and well-enforced. The panel will touch upon the similarities and differences between regulatory frameworks implemented by the United States and European or Asian countries. Questions under this topic will include:

  • What can the United States learn from European policy in this space?

  • Should we implement a Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CRSD) or Enterprise Europe Network Sustainability (EEN) Services in the U.S.?

  • How is Biden’s administration changing this regulatory framework?

Lastly, this panel will compare and contrast the incentivization frameworks of sustainable SMEs from different countries. This panel will touch upon the following incentives and describe why they may or may not be effective:

  • reduction of inspection frequency,

  • reduction of pollution penalties, and

  • increase of financial incentives (including preferential tax treatment and ease of access to financings, such as grants or loans).

The panel’s conversation will expand beyond this list of sample questions, and include wholesome debate among the panelists, as well as questions from our moderator, Professor Stan Meiburg.

Panelists will include:

John Dernbach

●      Commonwealth Professor of Environmental Law and Sustainability and Director of the Environmental Law and Sustainability Center at Widener University Commonwealth Law School

●      Nationally and internationally recognized authority on sustainable development

Michael Curley

●      Visiting Scholar at the Environmental Law Institute and President of Environmental Finance LLC

●      Financial practice attorney with a specialty in designing finance mechanisms for environmental programs

Symposium Extension Course

Journal Advisor, Alan Palmiter, is offering a unique symposium-extension course for law students, graduate students enrolled in the sustainability program, and undergraduate students at Wake Forest. Information regarding this opportunity can be found below:

Course name:  Symposium Extension: SME & Sustainability (LAW 320-1)

Course prerequisites: None

Symposium date: Friday, February 25 (8:30am – 3:30pm)

Course organization:

  1. Attend two pre-symposium lectures (100-minute online lectures on afternoons of Friday, 2/11 and Friday, 2/18 — attend synchronously on Zoom or asynchronously by watching recorded lecture)

  2. Attend day-long symposium (7 hours, with lunch break, in Brendle Recital Hall – Covid restrictions will apply – see topics and speaker list below)

  3. Participate in self-scheduled small group discussion on “hypothetical scenario” involving small family-owned business facing sustainability quandary (group submits short 500-word summary of discussion – due 3/6/22)

  4. Submit short reflection paper on ONE topic covered in symposium that interested you — describe topic’s relevance, your thoughts on the topic, any additional research/graphs (6-7 page, 2500-word max – due 3/6/22)

Please contact Professor Alan Palmiter with any questions regarding this opportunity at [email protected].

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