Quick Wins for Embracing Sustainability at Your Business School
Today more than ever, every day needs to be Earth Day. Sustainability issues are front and center for businesses and should be for business schools, as well.
Earth Day, celebrated around the world, has always been a day to raise awareness and focus in on the environment. Today more than ever, and in particular for business and business schools, every day should be, and needs to be, Earth Day. These issues are front and center for businesses, are increasingly important, and have both potentially positive and negative impacts on the bottom line. They also represent opportunities for future leaders and managers.
Since Earth Day has always been about easy steps one can take on a day-to-day basis to make a difference and inspire others, here are 10 easy steps business schools can take that can make a, impact when it comes to the environment.
- Make a list of which issues are material to your business school.
This is the first question that businesses ask themselves, and repeatedly ask themselves, when it comes to their sustainability strategies. Which environmental, social, and economic issues are most important to your business school? Which are you impacted by and do you impact? What about your staff, students, and faculty? Your business partners? Your community? Even a rough list will give you a good starting point to identify quick wins but also guide the potential development of new programs and electives, opportunities in the classroom, or even new partnerships with business.
- Make sure what you give out sends the right message.
All business schools give school-related gifts to important visitors, guest speakers, new students, and other individuals on campus. Although they may seem small, these can send important messages about a business school, what it stands for, and also how seriously it is taking environmental issues. Ultimately, one can only use so many pens. Take a look at identifying useful gifts that are unique, communicate something about your school and what is special about you, and preferably are sourced locally.
- Find out more about the Sustainable Development Goals.
January 1, 2016, marked the beginning of the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, 17 goals with 169 targets that address the most important social, economic, environmental, and governance challenges that will help guide national priorities over the next 15 years. They are already guiding business priorities and strategies as well, including new product development, supply chain management, marketing, human resources, and recruiting. For business schools this can represent a host of new opportunities.
- Have new conversations with old business partners.
Chances are, your current business partners fall into one of two camps when it comes to environmental topics: they are already engaged or they aren’t. In either case, this can open the door to new conversations and new opportunities to work together on research projects, funding opportunities, student consulting work, and even recruiting opportunities relating to environmental topics.
- Look at what your networks are doing in this area.
There are several special international organizations focused on sustainability topics in management education such as the UN Principles for Responsible Management Education or the Academy of Business in Society (ABIS). But also take a look at the networks that you as a business school, as well as individual staff and faculty, are already a member of. Most if not all of them will by now have some sort of support, events, groups, or documentation relating to environmental issues as they pertain to that group. AACSB is a perfect example.
- Bring the stories together.
Whether they are further along on the journey or just starting out, almost all schools will tell you that when they started looking at what was happening on campus related to environmental issues, there was more happening than they realized. At one school a faculty member had started a rooftop garden that no one else knew about. When others found out, it spread to become several rooftop gardens as well as opportunities for students and staff to interact and unwind together. Ask around. Between faculty, staff, and students, chances are, more interest, ideas, and potentially current projects already exist than you realize. Share these stories with your community.
- Don’t approach it as a checklist.
Having a long list of environmental initiatives on campus doesn’t necessarily mean you are doing more, or better, than other schools. It is about the impact and quality of the activities. How are these initiatives, these courses, these opportunities impacting the students, for example? Do they reach all students or just a select few? It is better to have fewer initiatives that really send strong messages to the students than dozens that don’t.
- Minimize and/or Eliminate waste.
One of the key messages taught in business school is that of eliminating inefficiencies and waste, whether they be physical, financial, time, etc. Apply this kind of thinking to the campus environment as well, in particular relating to energy, water, and garbage and recycling. Look at how you can better use the resources you have, reduce the amount you use, and recycle or reuse what you can. There are a lot of quick wins when it comes to eliminating inefficiencies on campus.
- Use your students.
Your students are not just your “customers”; they are also your most important resource when it comes to sustainability topics more generally and, for the purpose of this article, environmental ones. Your students are most likely to have an impact on your faculty, and they are the ones who will come up with innovative ideas, organize events, and bring speakers to campus. Your students can also be tapped into to come up with ways your school can really engage in making quick wins happen and help implement them. Actively support them in whatever way you can.
- Insert sustainability into all of your conversations.
Organizing specific events, electives, and courses around environmental topics for Earth Day is great, but in order to be more effective, these topics should be part of all conversations happening on campus, whether it relates to operations, day-to-day management, or curriculum. Embed this into the messages you send out daily and the communications you have with students, faculty, staff, and business partners. Invite guest speakers and recruiters to make it part of their presentations, too. Make it part of all conversations.
Ultimately there are hundreds of different ways to make a business school environmentally sustainable. Some require more significant commitment and resources, but most only need a handful of individuals interested in starting the right conversations and leading the way.
Giselle Weybrecht is an author, advisor, and speaker in the areas of sustainability and business. Her bestselling book, The Sustainable MBA: A Business Guide to Sustainability, brings together all the pieces of the business and sustainability puzzle in an easy-to-understand format. Weybrecht presented a TEDx Talk, "How to Make Anything More Sustainable." She is on Twitter @gweybrecht.