Sustainable Study

Sustainability is a big issue in business, and universities are responding by offering corporate social responsibility (CSR) elements to their business programmes. Steve Coomber investigates…

In the 20 years since the United Nations created the Commission on Sustainable Development in 1992, sustainability has gradually risen to the top of the corporate agenda.

In 2008, for example, CEOs of over 80 global corporations backed a World Business Council for Sustainable Development document, calling for “a rapid and fundamental strategy to reach a low-carbon world economy.’

Many companies now include a sustainability element to their annual reporting, while other organisations have introduced sustainable business principles throughout their value chains.

“There is no doubt that sustainability is a big issue in business,’ says Dr Wendy Chapple, deputy director of the International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility and director of the MBA in Corporate Social Responsibility at Nottingham University Business School in the UK.

“For example, Unilever has just unveiled a new business model that puts sustainability at the heart of its global operations. Paul Polman, Unilever’s chief executive, said the new model was ‘the only way to do business long term.’

The increasing significance of sustainability in a corporate context is reflected in business school education. “Over the last decade, I’ve seen how sustainability and climate issues have jumped in importance both in business and business education,’ agrees Professor Gail Whiteman, director of the Sustainability and Climate Research Centre at the Rotterdam School of Management (RSM), Erasmus University and chair of Sustainability and Climate Change at the university. “Many specialist Masters and MBA students are choosing programmes based on the amount of strategic content around sustainability.’

While many business schools incorporate sustainability elements into their general MBA programmes, some schools offer specialist MBA programmes focusing on sustainability issues. In January, 2011, for example, RSM at Erasmus University launched a new water specialisation as part of its Executive MBA programme.

“It focuses on the latest water issues – on sustainability, climate change, and better management of water resources in large urban centres,’ says Whiteman. “We’re looking for new ways to combine the strengths of business education with sustainability and climate change challenges.’

Another example is the MBA in Strategic Carbon Management at Norwich Business School, University of East Anglia (UEA) in the UK. “The idea was to provide a business education for people who recognised the need to move towards a local carbon economy and wanted to be more effective within their organisations,’ says Terry Kendrick, MBA programme director at Norwich Business School.

The programme, full-time or part-time, is delivered in collaboration with the University’s School of Environmental Sciences.

Alongside more generic business modules, students cover specialist topics such as ‘the economics of the low carbon environment’; ‘corporate climate change management’; and ‘accounting and
carbon finance’.

At Nottingham University Business School (NUBS), recognised for its strong corporate social responsibility teaching and research, the study of sustainability-related issues is integrated into the school’s MBA in Corporate Social Responsibility, as well as its general business MBA and specialist programmes.

“All Nottingham MBA students are required to take an innovative core module ‘sustainable decisions and organisations’,’ says Chapple. “A specialist module, ‘managing for sustainability’ is open to all Nottingham MSc students.’

The good news for prospective students interested in the topic is that sustainability is increasingly recognised as distinct career track. So, for example, Norwich Business school’s Carbon MBA alumni have gone on to work at the Carbon Trust and Carbon Disclosure Project in the UK and the Global Carbon Exchange in India, as well as national and international consultancy firms.

“There are multiple career paths,’ says Whiteman. “You could be in climate financing for example, or on the green marketing side, or in sustainable supply chains, in operations and logistics.

And a lot of the executives I know working in sustainability feel that they are using the power of business in a progressive and important way – doing something for the world that is important for the future.’

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