What Business Schools Must Teach About Sustainability

Picture via Creative Commons

GreenBiz has just released an article about the 10 Things Business Schools Must Teach About Sustainable Development. The World Environment Center brought together 40 big brains from companies, NGO’s, and the public sector to figure out what MBA’s need to know when they graduate.  Here’s the list, and you can find more explanation here:

  1. Understand Geo-Political, Economic, and Marketplace Trends Related to Sustainability
  2. Emphasize the Role of Science and Innovation in Advancing Sustainable Business Opportunities
  3. Demonstrate the Sustainable Business Strategies Must Ultimately Yield Profits
  4. Examine the Role of Meaningful Partnerships and Opportunities for Efficiencies Along the Entire Value Chain
  5. Stress the Importance of Communications Skills With Customers and Stakeholders
  6. Highlight the Role of Public Policy and How It Shapes Both the Structure of Markets and the Demand for Products
  7. Instill Competencies in Project Management that Specifically ‘Operationalize’ Sustainability
  8. Integrate the Teaching of Sustainable Development with Finance and Marketing Courses
  9. Foster a Systems-Thinking Approach to Management to Account for the Increasing Complexity of Sustainability
  10. Develop Multicultural Perspectives and Interpersonal Negotiating Skills.

I think this is a fantastic list and absolutely necessary in a sustainable business education, but something bothers me about it… and I’m not completely sure why.

I think it’s the possibility that some of these still rely on sustainability being pushed into the traditional business status quo, which has shown itself extremely difficult to pull off. Or that most schools are still years away from offering this kind of education. I’m not really sure.

The biggest thing for me, now that I’m thinking about it, is neglecting to talk about any kind of personal sustainability.  The last one kind of talks about it- being open to as many different perspectives as possible is completely necessary in a sustainable business. But its more than that. There is a “Yes! and…” mentality that is highly valued at my school, Bainbridge Graduate Institute, which basically means that all perspectives are welcome and valued, and that optimism and hope are paramount.

That’s what we need to start teaching in all of our schools.

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5 responses to this post.

  1. Hey Alex:
    I am with you in feeling alright about the spirit of this list, but at the same time still having this nagging feeling that something essential might be missing or misguided about this list. I am thinking of that Einstein quote that… “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

    Is that what you’re getting at?

    Best,
    Greg
    http://www.vertopiablog.org

    Reply

  2. I think, however, that at some point reality must be faced, and that reality entails merging sustainability with profitability, #3 on the list. Anything short of that, I’m afraid, would be tilting at windmills. The people in control–whether corporate, professorial, or political in nature–must be able to convince themselves and then others that this isn’t merely a do-good, altruistic kind of venture. It’d be nice if people were motivated that way, but I don’t think that that should be the only, or even the main, strategy.

    Reply

    • I completely agree with you. This list is a very good one, and as far as making money…these institutions are business schools after all. It’s a good thing that sustainability has proven to be pretty profitable after all: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gwen-ruta/how-did-they-do-that-stud_b_718473.html

      Reply

    • Thanks for reposting this Alex, I ran across this article as well and felt it strongly outlines some good principles of sustainability in business.

      @Neal Starkman: Totally agree as well. Personally, living in Idaho where thinking leans heavily on the conservative side, sustainability is a tough sell for any of the work I do. I work in the public weatherization industry and even in a market like energy efficiency upgrades, sustainability is not a consideration for most of the people I work with. Luckily, making money is universally popular, and having an education that can show you how to use sustainability to make money translates well if you lead with the right message. Lead with profit, and then explain that that profit is connected to something good, and in my experience suddenly everyone loves sustainability in business.

      Reply

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