Serving the World Through ERS

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Wednesday, June 7, 2023
By Dilawar Ahmad Bhat, Bhairab Chandra Patra, Subhendu Patnaik
Photo by iStock/nito100
By using ethics, responsibility, and sustainability as scaffolds for their programs, business schools can train the principled leaders the world needs.
  • Business schools can develop leaders who are ready to tackle complex societal problems by weaving ethics, responsibility, and sustainability, or ERS, through all they do.
  • Schools can encourage widespread adoption of ERS by incorporating its principles not only into their teaching and research, but also into their collaborations, operations, and communications.
  • Embedding ERS in their missions and assurance of learning processes can help schools enhance their reputations, strengthen their relationships with their communities, and make progress toward accreditation.


In a world facing climate change, poverty, and other serious problems, it is not nearly enough for business students to learn practical skills in their programs. If they are to become future managers and leaders who can solve these problems, they also must acquire values rooted in ethics, responsibility, and sustainability (ERS).

With the climate change threat looming large, the world needs business schools and accreditation agencies such as AACSB to focus far more heavily on ERS than they have in the past, so that they can graduate as many ethical, responsible, and sustainability-minded leaders as possible.

Moreover, by adopting a strong ERS focus, business schools will see several meaningful benefits:  

  • They will design curricula that reflect changing societal values. Students, staff, and wider society are increasingly interested in the role of universities in promoting ERS.
  • They will communicate their commitment to reducing their own environmental footprints and promoting ethical behavior in research and other activities.
  • They will drive innovation and progress in relevant areas and position their universities as leaders in these increasingly and globally important fields.
  • They will enhance their reputations and attract students, staff, and other stakeholders who value these attributes.
  • They will engage in better environmental stewardship, build stronger relationships with communities, and deliver more impactful research and programs—in short, they will substantially increase their societal impact.

But only through a deliberately holistic and collaborative approach can schools reap all these benefits. In other words, if business schools are to fulfill their role as responsible and accountable actors in society, they must promote ERS from every angle.

Pathways to Promoting ERS

Championing responsible business practice starts with incorporating relevant topics throughout two of a business school’s most prominent activities: teaching and research. Each of these areas provides opportunities to spark innovation, drive progress, and encourage wider adoption of ERS in business.

But course content and scholarship are only the start. Schools can further weave ERS into their cultures by:

Collaborating with external organizations. Schools can significantly boost the impact of their ERS efforts through partnerships with other universities, companies, and nonprofits.

Implementing campuswide sustainability initiatives. Schools can design campaigns and activities that encourage their campus communities to reduce energy and water usage, recycle, and use environmentally friendly products.

Engaging with stakeholders. Business schools should frequently communicate details of their ERS activities with students, staff, alumni, donors, businesses, and their local communities. Through such ongoing engagement, schools aren’t just ensuring that they are fully transparent about their challenges, plans, and progress. They also are raising awareness about and encouraging greater participation in those initiatives.

Measuring the Impact

If schools truly want to commit to ERS, they must do more than launch new programs and design dedicated course content. They also must gauge the effectiveness of their efforts. It can be challenging to conduct the quantitative and qualitative assessments that measure the impact of relevant activities, but gathering and acting on these metrics are vital parts of a holistic ERS approach.

Quantitative assessments. Gathering numerical data and conducting statistical analysis is likely to come easily to most business academics. However, the difficulty often lies in the sheer volume of assessments they’ll need to gather to get a full picture of their schools’ progress. For example, they will want to:

  • Track the short-term and long-term impact of a university’s research, by counting the number of papers published on ERS and the contributions that scholarship has made to ethical and responsible practices.
  • Measure key performance indicators such as their campuses’ energy and water usage, waste reduction, and carbon emissions.
  • Track the number and impact of initiatives aimed at promoting social responsibility, such as volunteer programs, community engagement activities, and sustainability education initiatives.
  • Collect data through surveys and questionnaires to learn more about the attitudes that students, staff, and other stakeholders hold toward the university’s ethics and sustainability initiatives.
  • Assess the financial impact of the university’s sustainability initiatives, including their costs and benefits, to demonstrate that they are financially viable.
  • Conduct life cycle analyses of the university’s operations, including energy and resource usage, waste generation, and emissions, to gain a comprehensive understanding of the university’s sustainability impact.
  • Conduct assessments of the university’s research, education, and outreach to gauge their impact on society and the environment.
Gathering and acting on both quantitative and qualitative assessments are vital parts of a holistic ERS approach.

Qualitative assessments. Schools must turn to more subjective methods if they are to gain a more in-depth understanding of how ERS fits into their missions. Moreover, qualitative methods can provide schools with far more powerful stories to tell, which can support their own continuous improvement and accreditation efforts. These methods include:

  • Conducting interviews with students, staff, alumni, and local community members, who can provide valuable insights into the impact of the university’s ethics, responsibility, and sustainability initiatives.
  • Holding focus groups with key stakeholders to gather feedback and discuss the university’s initiatives in more detail.
  • Developing case studies that illustrate the impact of specific university initiatives and provide a more in-depth understanding of their outcomes.
  • Analyzing documents such as sustainability reports, codes of conduct, and policy documents to glean valuable insights into the university’s approach to ethics, responsibility, and sustainability.
  • Observing the university’s operations, including its facilities and activities, to gain insights into its practices and help identify areas for improvement.

Taken together, these methods provide a 360-degree measure of the societal and educational impact of a school’s ERS initiatives. Schools can use this data to inform their decision-making and guide future plans.

Expanding Experiential Opportunities

But even once schools adopt comprehensive ERS strategies tied to their missions, they might find that classroom instruction alone is not enough for students to truly develop ERS mindsets. For that reason, schools should include multiple practice-based components in their assurance of learning (AoL) processes. Such components will provide students with ample opportunities to apply and understand ERS in real-world environments.

Woxsen University in Hyderabad, India, manages this aspect of its ERS strategy through a range of hands-on, practice-oriented initiatives. Most are focused on supporting the community, which is aligned with Woxsen’s mission to apply “knowledge, research and industry feedback to further scale up community benefit.”

Business schools should provide students with ample opportunities to apply and understand ERS in real-world environments.

Woxsen maps these efforts to certain United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The school pays particular attention to activities focused on ending poverty (SDG 1) and hunger (SDG 2), supporting good health and well-being (SDG 3), providing quality educational opportunities (SDG 4), reducing inequality (SDG 10), and promoting sustainable practices (SDGs 7, 11, 12, and 13).

For example, initiatives such as Training Rural Youth—Rural Entrepreneurship are dedicated to helping rural entrepreneurs start businesses that solve problems in their communities. Those such as the Woxsen-Monmouth Elevate Programme and Project Aspiration train students to educate young people from disadvantaged populations and help them succeed. (A recent AACSB Insights article describes Woxsen’s comprehensive adoption of these initiatives in more detail.)

The university also reinforces its commitment to ERS by offering seed grants to faculty who work on research related to SDGs 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, and 11. It supports and empowers women who are victims of abuse through its Woxsen Kavach Initiative. And it educates the community about the impact of carbon dioxide emissions and the importance of energy conservation through its Urban Energy Conservation Awareness Programme.

In this way, Woxsen works to come at ERS from every angle, in ways that align closely with its mission.

Validating Values

To ensure that their programs are designed to promote ERS values, business schools must have internal and external quality controls in place. Internal validation can be dictated by each institution’s vision and mission, as well as the context in which it operates.

But external validation is provided through global accreditation standards set by agencies such AACSB. Such standards require schools to embrace the idea of assurance of learning—to show that a school’s graduates have acquired the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values they will need to succeed in different careers and positions.

As part of their AoL objectives, schools have to demonstrate that their students are strong critical thinkers who adept at data analytics, teamwork, and planning and execution. And, given the complex global problems students will be asked to solve, schools also now must show that their students have developed strong value orientations toward ethics, responsibility, and sustainability.

Luckily, schools have a clear path to achieving these objectives and providing career-ready leaders to employers—by ensuring that ERS is woven throughout everything they do.

Dilawar Ahmad Bhat
Freelance Researcher
Bhairab Chandra Patra
Jean-Luc Boulnois Professor of Entrepreneurship, School of Business, Woxsen University
Subhendu Patnaik
Sir Cary Cooper Professor of Organizational Psychology, School of Business, Woxsen University
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
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