For three generations, the Schmidheiny family has closely followed and strongly supported the political, social and cultural developments in its immediate and wider surroundings. The family enjoys a special relationship with the universities and colleges. In 1978, Stephan Schmidheiny's father, Max, established the Max Schmidheiny Foundation for the promotion of a liberal economic and social order at the University of St. Gallen (HSG). Stephan Schmidheiny was president of the foundation's Board of Trustees for many years.
With the "Alliance for Global Sustainability" and the "Latin American Center for Competitiveness and Sustainable Development", Stephan Schmidheiny laid the foundation for two groundbreaking centers for the study of concepts on social and ecological sustainability. Stephan Schmidheiny also contributed significantly to the creation of the IMD Global Family Business Center that performs fundamental research and training in the family enterprise field.