Innovations That Inspire

Sustainability Transition in International Business

Recognition Year(s): 2024
School: Grenoble Ecole de Management
Location: France

Sustainability Transition in International Business (ST101) is a pioneering, cross-disciplinary course that blends a virtual learning path with a real-life company scenario, pedagogical exercises, and in-class discussions to learn about, co-create, and critically reflect on innovations for sustainable business models.

Call to Action

Rising ecological problems, including climate change and biodiversity loss, pose significant challenges to extant businesses and ask the next generation of managers to skillfully navigate transitions toward sustainable business models. Mastering this task will require going beyond traditional business norms on the part of both managers and business schools. This factor motivated Grenoble Ecole de Management (GEM) to pioneer an innovative course design that blends virtual and in-class learning, gamification and content, and theory and real-life applications.

Immersive and interactive technologies offer students new opportunities to learn at their own pace, to grasp essentials while deepening knowledge in areas of their choice, and to use the virtual reality setting for a new form of interactive business-case experience. However, the COVID-19 crisis has shown that students also want to interact in person with each other and with their teachers. This calls for a pedagogical approach that delicately balances both approaches.

Moreover, questions of innovating for sustainability are complex and dynamic, and they require reflection beyond the silos of separate disciplines. Such innovation calls for a learning environment that fosters students’ problem-solving skills, equips them for cross-sectional innovation projects, and invites them to engage with current research at the intersection of management, technology, innovation, and society. While students are the primary focus in this first phase of the sustainability course, ST101 also serves as a corporate call for action by making company partners more aware of the need to address sustainability issues.

Innovation Description

GEM embraced this call for action and created a new course design. It aims to teach students the basic concepts related to environmental challenges while also enabling them to identify and apply frameworks and tools to help companies transition toward more sustainable business models. The design’s originality resides in its ability to link immersive and in-class teaching modalities: students play the role of a Rossignol (a winter sports brand) employee whose mission is to help the company develop a recyclable ski and, subsequently, to propose a radically innovative business model for a carbon-neutral, fully sustainable Rossignol product or service.

Based on a three-staged virtual learning path, students alternate engaging in theory and exercises with navigating real-life company situations. An immersive library with over 60 resources complements this path and provides access to the latest sustainability-related scientific productions of GEM’s research teams. Combining these elements, the WebXR-based immersive module allows learners to explore 24 different 3D-modeled spaces to carry out learning quests at their own pace.

The creation of this 15-hour course (nine hours on the immersive platform and six hours in class, along with additional group work) involved the efforts of 14 research professors from diverse management disciplines, including marketing, strategy, finance, production, and corporate social responsibility. Overall, several months of work were necessary to define and understand the project’s needs, including evaluating technologies, curating content, identifying pedagogical levers and technical specifications, and collaborating with business partners. TESSI, Wonda VR, Rev(e) Studio, and Rossignol were each instrumental in the project’s academic and technological realization.

Innovation Impact

  • Students: Designed entirely by the GEM academic team and co-created with technical partners, the ST101 course—available in English and French—was launched in January 2023, with 1,100 students from GEM and international programs enrolled. Feedback showed that students appreciated the opportunity to experiment with an innovation that offers a combination of activities: self-directed learning, group work, in-class discussions, online lessons, exercises, and acting in a 3D-scenario play. By embracing this innovation, GEM is taking an important step toward preparing the next generation of managers with critical-thinking mindsets and analytical skills to navigate companies through sustainability transitions.
  • Ecosystem: The pioneering approach taken with ST101 served as a catalyst for innovation by forming an ecosystem of committed partners with complementary skills to respond in a joint effort to new lifelong learner needs, technological advancements, and evolving employer demands. In addressing these challenges, the ST101 course received positive responses from GEM’s industry and community partners, resulting in the first executive-education application of ST101 in a company.
  • GEM internal: By involving faculty across teams and positions in its creation, ST101 fostered team spirit, cross-disciplinary connections, and project commitment. It further allowed faculty to validate its research insights and experiment with new academic designs. Allowing faculty to be the primary curators of quality content, gleaned from a variety of sources and delivered in creative learning modules, proved inspirational for innovating pedagogical approaches in other courses.

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