AACSB Blog

Sustainability Innovations at AACSB Business Schools

Sustainability Innovations in Business Programs


Posted June 06, 2016 by Elliot Davis - Coordinator, Research - AACSB International

In December, Giselle Weybrecht, bestselling author of The Sustainable MBA: A Business Guide to Sustainability, shared in a blog post that business schools are expected to lead in embedding sustainability into business culture through education and training of today and tomorrow’s business leaders. She pointed to the Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) and the UN Global Compact as a snapshot of the many schools and companies engaging in sustainability. Yet, Weybrecht comments, business schools are still slow to change and adapt to a new business reality that embraces sustainable practices. And while there is certainly room for schools to accelerate their sustainability efforts, some schools have picked up the torch and are leading the way in this vein. The following are four examples of innovations occurring at business schools with a sustainability focus.

Sustainability Through Student Empowerment

Antwerp Management School-Universiteit Antwerpen (Belgium)

Antwerp Management School has recently created a means of developing responsible management education that equips and empowers students with the necessary arguments about issues of sustainability in order to challenge their tutors and fellow students to address the topic in their courses and working groups. The empowerment process is spread over the entire academic year. It includes lectures from sustainability experts, seminars, interactive reflection sessions, and more.

While the program is still quite new, it is expected to impart a significant impact. Students are submersed in the sustainability perspective throughout the entire year, pushing them to take a critical perspective and determine their own position on sustainability issues. Likewise, the program aims for faculty, through inspiration by their students, to consider sustainability issues within their own coursework. The Chair on Sustainability plays a facilitating role in taking a positive, enabling perspective, rather than an enforcing one. The desired long-term impact is to deliver future leaders that are well equipped to turn global challenges into sustainable business opportunities, which is in line with the mission of the school. Additionally, multidisciplinary thinking is encouraged through a sustainability theme that runs across all programs. This theme will help foster dialogue among faculty and can breed new ideas for combined research, training, or educational initiatives.

The MSc in Business Sustainability

University College Dublin, Michael Smurfit Graduate School of Business and Quinn School of Business (Ireland)

Origin Green is a sustainability program that operates on a national scale, uniting government, the private sector, and food producers through Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board. Origin Green enables Ireland’s farmers and producers to set and achieve measurable sustainability targets, thereby reducing environmental impact, serving local communities more effectively, and protecting the extraordinarily rich natural resources enjoyed by the country.

In order to engage the global food industry with the Origin Green initiative, the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School and Bord Bia developed the Master of Science (MSc) in Business Sustainability, otherwise referred to as the Origin Green Ambassador program. Participant ambassadors complete an intensive full-time program of taught modules, professional skills training, and industry insights through expert speaker sessions and field trips in Ireland, followed by practical international industry placements with the world’s leading global food and drink companies. Through work on defined projects, ambassadors become involved with the development and implementation of the host company’s sustainability strategy. The academic business education modules are delivered by professors from Harvard Business School, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School, in addition to other contributors internationally.

Managing for Sustainability

McGill University, Faculty of Management (Canada)

Launched in fall of 2014, Desautels’ new programming in Managing for Sustainability was designed for students who wish to combine managerial and business knowledge with a solid understanding of the interlinked economic, social, and ecological challenges of achieving sustainability. It integrates management studies with fundamentals of environmental science and sustainability and is offered in collaboration with its co-designers, the McGill School of Environment and the Department of Geography.

The concentration in managing for sustainability, which is a bundle of five courses, is designed to complement concentrations and majors in traditional management disciplines, better preparing management students for the sustainability challenge confronting contemporary organizations across all sectors. The major in managing for sustainability, which is a bundle of 13 courses, provides a rigorous foundation in the natural and social sciences relevant to sustainability, in addition to management and business. Both the major and concentration encourage students to think about sustainability and business from various angles. Desautels hopes the collaborative, cross-faculty, and cross-sector process used during program design will serve as a model for developing future educational programming at McGill and beyond, thus encouraging integration between academia, policymakers, industry, and community leaders.

Sustainable Business Breakfast Seminar Series

Escuela Superior Politecnica Del Litoral (ESPOL), Escuela de Postgrado en Administracion de Empresas (ESPAE) (Ecuador)

As an early signatory of the PRME (Principles for Responsible Management Education), ESPAE was looking at ways to incorporate the principles in its master’s program curricula and identified a specific weakness in dealing with environmental issues. At the time, adding an additional course was not possible, and thus the need for a different solution arose. The result was a partnership with CEMDES (Business Council for Sustainable Development of Ecuador), through which the Sustainable Business Development Breakfast Series was created. The series, which began in 2009, consists of three annual conferences designed to engage students, alumni, faculty members, and staff, as well as the business community. During each conference, a faculty member or expert presents the main topic, followed by a business case or best practice presented by a company executive or government official. The series does not follow a traditional lecture format but is instead a facilitated conversation between the speaker and the audience. This initiative, which is partially funded by local firms, has quickly become a learning space for the business, local government, and NGO communities.

Through ESPAE’s partnership with CEMDES and the breakfast series, the school has become a member of CEMDES in a special category for nonprofit organizations. The partnership has facilitated the advancement of the PRME implementation, strengthened links within the business community, led the school to design a new Master in Sustainable Agribusiness and a program in Sustainable Value Chain, and facilitated faculty members’ access to business experiences. In the aggregate, since 2009, the school has held 21 conferences with 950 attendees and 25 organizations represented among the speakers.

About Innovations That Inspire

These examples are part of a larger collection of Innovations That Inspire. From October 15 through November 20, 2015, AACSB member schools were invited to share ways in which they have challenged the status quo. Nearly 300 innovations were submitted from more than 200 institutions across 35 countries—an array of inspirations that illustrates an impressive commitment to engagement, innovation, and impact. Thirty of these innovations were initially highlighted at the 2016 Deans Conference and are currently available for public browsing.

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