Innovations That Inspire

Managing for Sustainability

Recognition Year(s): 2017
School: Desautels Faculty of Management, McGill University
Location: Canada

Innovation Statement

In concert with the School of Environment and the Department of Geography, Desautels offers a degree (or concentration) for students who wish to integrate management studies with the fundamentals of environmental science and sustainability.

Call to Action

Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, numerous studies criticized the lack of functionally integrated curricula in higher education, particularly in business and management programs. During the same period, it became increasingly clear that business activity had become dangerously disembedded from the social and ecological systems on which it depends, and linked causally to a series of major societal problems—from global climate change and widespread ecological degradation to childhood obesity and financial instability, among others.

The significant issues with which society is now wrestling and the major challenges confronting contemporary managers— working in private, public, or nonprofit organizations—are closely related. These issues and challenges do not respect traditional disciplinary boundaries and cannot be adequately tackled with knowledge from just one part of the university. Effecting change in the world requires building new organizations as well as working within and transforming existing ones, hence the particular relevance of management expertise to achieving societal goals. Clearly, new forms of management knowledge and new modes of management education are required.

Launched in fall 2014, Desautels's 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 was designed and offered in collaboration with 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 of which seven are offered through the McGill School of Environment and Department of Geography, provides a rigorous foundation in the natural and social sciences relevant to sustainability, in addition to management and business. The major also prepares management students for sustainability-focused careers in each of the private, public, and plural sectors. It includes an experiential learning component, allowing students to choose from an internship, real-world consulting project, or research practicum.

Both programs' learning objectives and structure were developed through a collaborative process that included consultations with Bachelor of Commerce students; Desautels alumni; sustainability professionals; potential employers of program graduates in each of the private, public, and plural sectors;  Desautels administrative and academic units; and stakeholders within the McGill School of Environment and the McGill Department of Geography.

This process resulted in the development of several innovative new courses (e.g., Sustainability & Environmental Accounting, Systems Thinking & Sustainability), a practical, service-oriented consulting partnership with two local nonprofits, as well as a new placement process and a host of tools for sustainability-oriented graduates in the Desautels Career Centre.


The major and concentration in managing for sustainability were designed for their interconnection and integration across course offerings, encouraging students to think about sustainability and business from various angles. Graduates will be prepared for careers in consulting companies that specialize in sustainability and corporate social responsibility; in larger companies, including multinationals, with departments focusing on sustainability, corporate social responsibility, community and stakeholder relations, corporate environmental management, or green product development; and in small- and medium-sized firms, including new startups, that sell green products or services. Graduates may also take up positions in government, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and intergovernmental organizations that focus on sustainability issues.

Through its interdisciplinary curriculum design, the new programs foster within management students the capacity for innovative and informed responsible decision-making required by today’s complex global environment. Despite only launching in fall 2014, more than 50 students are currently enrolled in the programs, and the major has already had its first graduate land a prize role at Action Against Hunger, a global humanitarian organization active in over 45 countries. 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.

The Desautels' Managing for Sustainability programs were a Grand Prize winner of the 2014 Dr. Alfred N. and Lynn Manos Page Prize for Sustainability Issues in Business Curricula, awarded by the Darla Moore School of Business. The programs also received McGill's 2016 Catalyst Award for Sustainability in Education.

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