7 keys to foster sustainability teaching at business schools

7 keys to foster sustainability teaching at business schools

Classroom image by bikeriderlondon via Shutterstock.

Many strategies exist for teaching students about sustainable business. Depending upon resource availability and institutional receptivity, centers can offer activities including student clubs, course development and re-training faculty.

Below are seven activities, for educators, including tips for implementation. Activities are ordered according to "magnitude of change" required for implementation, beginning with those requiring the least amount of institutional change.

1. Organize a speaker series

A speaker series brings prominent figures to engage students on sustainability topics.

Tips:
• Schedule your series during the lunch hour and offer food. Food relaxes the atmosphere, fosters conversation and may attract more students.
• Use these sessions to promote other sustainability programs, including courses, certificates and student clubs.

2. Support student clubs

Passionate students may create major impact. Help students organize clubs that take on sustainability projects. Clubs can focus on sustainability generally, or on specific issues such as energy, social impact or international development. Faculty mentors should guide participants to increase their efficacy.

3. Review current courses and highlight sustainability content

Sustainability likely is already taught in many of your institution's courses, but may not be labeled. For example, the "Ikea case" taught in Introduction to Operations may teach students about sustainable supply chain management.

Work with professors to identify sustainability content they already teach and encourage them to highlight it in their syllabi by relabeling it or making it a course objective. This encourages faculty and students to think actively about sustainability.

In addition to elevating content in course materials, consider profiling sustainability teaching on the website of your center, program or school.

Tips:
• Use tact and diplomacy when proposing new ideas. If you are too direct in suggesting changes to faculty, you may shut down conversation.
• Be flexible in your terminology. For example, some faculty may be comfortable talking about sustainability, while others refuse to teach sustainability but are happy to talk about climate change.
• Make changes easy for instructors. Even if they agree to syllabi changes in theory, execution is more likely if you make the edits and send to the instructor for approval.

Classroom image by bikeriderlondon via Shutterstock.

4. Create new teaching materials

Professors may want to teach sustainability, but lack the resources to do it. Consider hiring students to develop sustainability cases of interest to faculty. You can compile new and existing resources and offer them free online.

Tips:
• Let faculty take small steps. If they resist teaching new material, suggest they add an optional reading. If students find the reading interesting, perhaps it can be required in the future. If uptake is low, material can be dropped.
• Offer faculty training on how to teach sustainability cases. Otherwise, sustainability content may not be emphasized even if the case is taught. For example, if a carbon accounting case is used to teach a core accounting method, faculty unfamiliar with climate change may teach only the core topic, avoiding climate conversation.

5. Develop a dedicated course

If a program is receptive, consider developing an entire course dedicated to sustainability issues.

Tips:
• Leverage junior faculty. They often have fresh, flexible ideas and may stay with the institution for a long time.
• Connect course content to learnings from other courses. This will help students understand how sustainability fits into all aspects of business.
• Offer financial support. The school may be hesitant to invest money in new courses. Funding the course, or offering back up funding in case of enrollment deficits, may provide an incentive.

6. Bundle experiences in a certificate

A sustainability certificate may include various curricular and extra-curricular activities such as courses, capstone projects and community engagement. Developing a certificate requires much institutional cooperation, but the certificate also can help keep sustainability on your institution's internal agenda.

Tips:
• Find senior faculty sympathetic to sustainability. Leverage them to encourage program administrators and other faculty to support certificate development.
• Measure achievement against a recognized ranking, such as the Aspen Institute's Beyond Grey Pinstripes Global Ranking. Measuring performance may help incentivize change.
• Teach students how to sell the certificate to employers, as some may be hesitant to broadcast their specialization out of fear of being labeled. Help students understand the unique skills sustainability fosters, including systems thinking, which will make them an asset to companies.

7. Build capacity at many levels

Advancing sustainability in teaching requires broadly trained faculty who understand managers' needs. It requires business schools that foster collaboration and interdisciplinarity. It requires shifting business school mindsets globally. The Global Doctoral Alliance, a program in development by 50+20 and the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative, is aiming to achieve these objectives by offering:

• First-order solutions: Courses to help broaden the skills of individual academics, program directors, executives and consultants
• Second-order solutions: Sustainability tracks adoptable by existing PhD programs
• Third-order solutions: An entirely new doctoral program adoptable by any institution

Classroom image by bikeriderlondon via Shutterstock.

Reprinted and edited from Network for Business Sustainability.