Why the Sustainable Development Goals Matter to Your Business School

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Thursday, April 26, 2018
By Giselle Weybrecht
Photo via iStock
The Sustainable Development Goals provide a unique opportunity for b-schools to contribute in a deeper way not only to their communities but to the world.

More than two years ago, the United Nations launched the Sustainable Development Goals, a set of 17 Global Goals that cover a variety of important economic, social, environmental, and governance challenges that are guiding national priorities over the next 15 years and influencing strategy within the business sector. They were determined and agreed upon by national governments and stakeholders around the world and represent a roadmap for moving forward to creating a more sustainable planet for all.

Two years ago I wrote about why schools should care about the SDGs. Still today the wider community—including, in many ways, business—does not see business schools as a potential player when it comes to progressing the goals. This blind spot is the result of schools themselves failing to see not only their potential role but the opportunities that engaging in that role offers them. Business schools are an underutilized resource when it comes to advancing Global Goals at the local, national, regional, and global levels; however, by aligning their schools’ strategic efforts with the goals, business schools can strengthen their offerings, develop partnerships, make their programs more relevant, differentiate themselves in the market, attract more research opportunities and, ultimately, reach and educate more students, who can then work on the goals in their own careers.

Despite this potential, many business schools, many individuals working in business schools, and too many students are still unaware of what the goals are and what they mean to business. Faculty in the past may have used the believed vagueness of the term “sustainability” as a reason not to explore it more deeply in the classroom. But with the SDGs come an in-depth roadmap for sustainability, one being used by stakeholders around the world, on how to move forward. It is a common language that unites different groups, that allows for partnerships to grow across sectors, industries, and disciplines. Most importantly, the roadmap allows schools to connect with what is happening around them, to contribute, and to have a greater impact.

At first glance many schools focus in on SDG 4: Quality Education. But because the goals cover a breadth of issues that universally impact all organizations in different ways, all 17 goals are relevant to schools, whether in your operations, your employee relations, your curriculum, your partnerships, or your research. They aren’t all equally important to everyone in your community, but they are all relevant to business education, and you will find that much of what you are doing, perhaps all of what you are already doing, can connect to one or more of the goals.

As the SDGs become a greater part of what the wider business and social community is engaged in, many schools are actively following suit in a variety of different ways, making it known that they want to be seen as a key player in the SDG agenda. Sobey School of Business in Canada is engaging faculty to embed the SDGs into their courses as well as through assignments and discussions. ISAE/FGV in Brazil reports annually on the ways they are working to reach the SDGs in their operations, including those related to water, waste, gender equality, and access to education. Lagos Business School recently launched a Private Sector Advisory Group that brings together different businesses across Nigeria to focus on how the private sector can be part of achieving the SDGs in the country. The University of New South Wales in Australia organizes a yearly event that focuses on a number of SDGs, bringing together a wide variety of stakeholders to help shape discussions nationally around these issues. Tongli University in China has partnered with UNEP to train leading professionals in the SDGs in Africa and Southeast Asia. The University of Limerick in Ireland organized a series of events specifically focused on the role of tax in delivering on the SDGs, in particular SDG 1: No Poverty.

Here are seven ways you can use the SDGs to create new opportunities for your school.

  1. Think about how you run your school. Most of the SDGs relate to what is happening on your campus—how you run your facilities, treat your employees, and interact with your community. Aligning with the SDGs has a positive impact not just on your business processes but on the students and staff who are influenced by the way you operate; observing your engagement with the goals can help bring those lessons into the classroom, into day-to-day decisions, and into the workforce post-graduation.
  2. Create a neutral platform to bring together different groups to influence discussions and mobilize action around particular SDGs. Use this forum as an opportunity to build new research collaborations, showcase existing research, provide capacity-building, and engage students.
  3. Explore new partnerships with a diversity of organizations. Many businesses are currently looking at how to not only embed the SDGs into their own work but also to contribute to the SDGs globally through their operations. They are looking to partner with others that can help them do that, whether through research, innovative ideas, or implementation. Use the SDGs as a way of reinvigorating existing or past partnerships.
  4. Formulate and connect your research initiatives to different SDGs, with the broader objectives to build research-specific partnerships with stakeholders, to tap into funds, and, most importantly, to contribute to moving the SDGs forward. Connect this research with and make it accessible to practitioners. Explore ways to reward faculty for such efforts.
  5. Make your curriculum more relevant by connecting current lessons and discussions to what is happening globally through the SDGs. Much of what is taught today is done so in relative isolation. The goals allow a platform to connect the business sector and specific tools taught to issues that impact them, or that are impacted by them.
  6. Use the SDGs to bring your curriculum to life, creating unique opportunities for students, such as consulting projects and experiential learning, that not only educate the students but allow them to have a positive impact on their community.
  7. Help students think about their careers in different ways. The SDGs are not only a roadmap for how to bring about a more sustainable business environment, but they are also a source of inspiration for opportunities to create new businesses, products, and services, both as an entrepreneur and an intrapreneur.

The SDGs provide a unique opportunity for you to connect your school to what is happening in wider society, to use that connection to strengthen your teaching and research, and, perhaps more importantly, to contribute in deeper and more impactful ways to your school’s community. 

Giselle Weybrecht
Author, Advisor, and Speaker, Sustainability and Business
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
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