Universities Collaborating with Cities Around Sustainability – UWE Bristol

In 2015, the Bristol became the first city in the UK to achieve the honour of being named European Green Capital. The award is given to a different city yearly by the European Commission and aims to promote and reward sustainability initiatives in cities, to spur cities to commit to further action, and to showcase and encourage exchange of best practice among European cities.

UWE Bristol played a key role in the year, not only working closely with Bristol City Council and others in supporting the bidding process for the award, but also as a founding member of the city-wide Bristol Green Capital Partnership (now made up of 800 local organisations). The year provided an opportunity to weave sustainability into the curriculum, undertake focused research on sustainability and celebrate and get people thinking and inspire action for sustainability.

I recently spoke with Georgina Gough, James Longhurst and Svetlana Cicmil from UWE Bristol about the insitution’s engagement in progressing SDG11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities and their involvement in Bristol’s Green Capital year.

How is UWE Bristol engaged in the topic of sustainable cities?

UWE Bristol’s teaching and research mission explicitly supports the development of sustainable cities. We have a number of degree programmes and research centres located across the university academic portfolio that focus on this topic. A few examples include our

World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre for Healthy Environments which is part of the European Healthy Cities network, the Centre for Sustainable Planning and Environments which aims to develop understanding of how to achieve places that are environmentally sustainable, socially just and economically competitive: the Centre for Transport and Society which aims to to improve and promote understanding of the inherent links between lifestyles and personal travel in the context of continuing social and technological change; and the Air Quality Management Resource Centre which is widely recognised by air quality and carbon management practitioners, nationally and internationally as a leader in this field. The Bristol Leadership and Change Centre is further internationally and locally recognised for developing leadership practices driven by the vision of sustainable cities and the global sustainability agenda

How was UWE Bristol involved in the European Green Capital in 2015?

Our campuses were buzzing in the Green Capital year. Social media channels were used extensively to connect students and staff and promote activities. Budget allocations encouraged engagement and innovative action from academic departments, professional services, the Centre for Performing Arts, the Students’ Union at UWE and others, embracing research, teaching, music, work in schools, volunteering, internships and extra curricular activities. Over 5,300 staff and students attended presentations/stalls specifically about Bristol Green Capital 2015 including 200 events either led, co-ordinated or facilitated by UWE. Over 3000 students engaged, volunteered, interned or undertook Green Capital projects. We had some 600 students sign up to be part of UWE Green Team working on student-led sustainability projects on campus. This is just a brief snapshot.

What was the Whole Earth Exhibition?

One of UWE’s busiest thoroughfares was transformed into an outdoor art gallery for The Whole Earth Exhibition, a powerful visual statement of the environmental and sustainability challenges facing the world as we struggle to provide for the needs of more than 10 billion people while safeguarding our planetary life-support systems and conserving the non-human lifeforms that make up those systems. The Hard Rain Project and the National Union of Students (NUS), who curated the Whole Earth exhibition, invited students and universities to share the sustainability work that they are doing and approaches they are taking that might underpin future security for all. Embedded in the exhibition were a series of challenges to the university sector. When UWE Bristol opened its Whole Earth Exhibition, the President of the Students’ Union at UWE formally requested that the university publically respond to the University Challenges presented in the exhibition.

What was the MOOC on ‘Our Green City’ and how did it come about?

Our Green City celebrated and showcased UWE academics and Bristol based sustainability organisations to develop public understanding of sustainability issues in Bristol’s year as European Green Capital 2015. Based on a free, open, online course format, c2000 learners signed-up to gain insight into themes of food, nature, energy, transport and resources through a range of video presentations, tasks, quizzes and community discussion forums.

Our Green City featured the work of 14 academics, 24 organisations including The Bristol Green Capital Partnership, Bristol 2015, Bristol City Council and the Department for Energy and Climate Change.

We have archived all the materials for future use, including by schools and will soon be creating a series of school engagement and outreach products from the learning materials that will form part of our BOXed project, an outreach programme of STEM related activities aimed at youth aged 11-18.

Did that year change the way the institution interacts and works with the community?

UWE is an initial funding partner of Bristol Green Capital Partnership (BGCP) and serves on the Board of Directors of this Community Interest Company. The 800 organisations who are part of BGCP work together in pursuit of the Partnership’s aim to develop a sustainable city with a high quality of life for all. The research activity of the university supports the work of the Partnership and current activities include Urban ID, a study diagnosing the sustainability issues and challenges in the city region. An innovative multinational Horizon 2020 project ClairCity is exploring solutions to air pollution in 6 cities including Bristol. UWE is actively engaged with and supports (with financial and in kind support via time of students and staff (including very senior staff)) the work of sustainability minded organisations and networks in the city (which in Bristol are many in number!).

What have been some of the challenges? Successes?

Delivering enough support, given the extremely high demand for knowledge, research and action, is a key challenge. Aligning the rhythm of the academic year to the needs of the city and its communities can also be challenging at times.

UWE’s activities to support Bristol Green Capital complemented those in and around the city and our commitment was recognised by key Green Capital players. UWE staff have produced a number of research papers and reports on the Green Capital year which are available in our Research Repository.

What advice would you have for other institutions thinking of putting something similar into place?

Consider the strengths of your institution and the needs of your potential partners in order to identify the most fruitful project partners. Have an open mind and willingness to work through challenging situations. Commitment to the objectives of the project by senior management is important in working through challenges. A diverse project team is useful for enabling action across the institution.

What’s next for the initiatives?

The Green Capital Student Capital project has formally ended. However, much legacy work continues. The project team continue to disseminate their experience via publications and conference presentations in order to support other HEIs to undertake similar projects. An online portal, SkillsBridge, has been established by the project team to facilitate the development of opportunities for students to support sustainability work of organisations in the city of Bristol. This work is being undertaken in conjunction with the Bristol Green Capital Partnership. UWE, Bristol’s sustainability work is ongoing, in accordance with commitments made in our Sustainability Plan.

For the month of May Primetime will be featuring examples around the Special Focus area Sustainable Cities and Communities (SDG 11). Click here to see the rest of the articles in that feature.

Creating More Sustainable Cities – The Urban Innovation BootCamp

Business Schools looking for opportunities to engage with a range of stakeholders and organisations should look no further than their backyard. The community that the school is part of provides the perfect laboratory to not only test out new ideas but in the process contribute to creating more sustainable cities in line with Sustainable Development Goal 11.

Teams of interdisciplinary students at Universita Ca’Foscari Venezia in Italy are working together to develop new, innovative business ideas to make the region of Treviso more sustainable. I spoke with Alessandra Scroccaro, Program Manager of the Action Learning Lab at the University about this programme.

What is the Urban Innovation BootCamp and how did it come about?

The Urban Innovation BootCamp is a 6-week action-learning programme where 5 local companies and 40 university students and graduates under 30 accelerate 5 innovative ideas. The Social Issues that the students worked on included Urban Mobility, Smart Services, Urban Regeneration, Social Inclusion and Sustainable Tourism within Treviso in Venice. The objectives of the programme were three-fold:

  • Innovate the way of teaching/learning in academia
  • Build the 21st century skills for innovation of students and young graduates across the region;
  • Support the creation of a new ecosystem for urban innovation linking civil society (NGOs), academia, companies and local institutions towards making Treviso a smarter city
  • Integrate asylum seekers and refugees.

The first edition which ran in 2015 resulted in a final demo day at the Palazzo dei Trecento, the seat of Treviso Provincial Council.

What impact has this had on the city?

Treviso City Council approved the initiative right from the beginning and promoted and communicated it in two editions. The Mayor was involved in searching for partners, as a sponsor and in promoting a stakeholder network. They have also been supporting some of the final projects.

What were some of the ideas accelerated through the BootCamp?

There have been 10 ideas accelerated so far through the different editions of the BootCamp. A new bamboo park is being implemented to regenerate an empty green space near the city and give families a place to meet up. The sale of the bamboo canes and sprouts will also represent a new source of income for the Treviso Municipality. Another idea is StarTempo, a new social network that matches organisations that implement projects for positive impact in the city with students and professionals who are looking for meaningful volunteer opportunities within the Municipality of Treviso. Smart Home Treviso reinvents the concept of social housing to address the challenges of modern urban living in Treviso combining technology, smart design solutions and the principles of the sharing economy to offer affordable accommodations and a sense of community to its dwellers.

What have been some of the challenges?

One of the goals of the programme was to integrate asylum seekers and refugees. We collaborated with Treviso Prefecture and different refugee associations who selected five university students and graduates asylum seeker and refugees to be part of the programme. Out of the 5, 3 have decided to continue to study at the university. One of the asylum seeker won a scholarship in Ca’ Foscari University.

Successes?

As a result of the BootCamp, all 10 innovators have moved forward with the development of their ideas. Five of them have reached pilot stage. Eighty-six students have completed the programme and among them more than 2000 interviews have been conducted in the community. We also surveyed the students after each BootCamp and 95% said that the experience helped them build their creative confidence and that they learned new skills and how to work better in teams.

What advice do you have for other schools thinking of organising something similar?

We encourage other schools and universities to organise similar initiatives, putting students at the centre of the learning process, creating and reinforcing network of local and international stakeholders and acting as an impact actor in Global change.

What’s next?

We will be organising the next 6 week learning programme on urban innovation in the summer of 2017 (19th June – 28th July), focused on welfare and social inclusion. The programme will also include asylum seekers and refugees among the 40 young students and graduates from a range of different disciplines. In the next editions we also hope to engage other national and international universities.

 

For the month of May Primetime will be featuring examples around the Special Focus area Sustainable Cities and Communities (SDG 11). Click here to see the rest of the articles in that feature.

Eco-Innovations in Cities – Warsaw School of Economics

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 focuses on making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. More than half of the world’s population lives in cities and by 2030 it is projected that 6 out of 10 people will be urban dwellers. Despite numerous planning challenges, well-managed cities can be incubators for innovation and ingenuity and key drivers of sustainable development.

In response to SDG 11 and the European Union strategy “Europe 2020” in which sustainable development, responsible investment and green property solutions are the focal points, Warsaw School of Economics in Poland put in place the Eco-Innovations in Cities project between 2013 and 2015 and a resulting specialization based on the project which is still in effect today. I spoke with Prof. Anna Szelagowska from the university about this project.

Why is SDG 11 so important?

Today, we are living in extraordinarily dynamic times of permanent change, fast-paced globalisation and unprecedented pace in urbanisation. New paradigm shifts move with breath-taking speed past eco-city, blue city, white city, clean city, intelligent city, sustainable city, revitalised city, smart city and innovative city train stations. But there are also smog-cities, congested cities, polluted cities, littered cities, abandoned cities, deprived cities, bankrupt cities, heavily indebted cities and ghost cities. Cities and contemporary urbanisation trends differ in particular parts of the world. But the fact remains that every city faces great challenges and such challenges may be formulated into problems which require answers to the following questions:

  • How can we improve the quality of life and wellbeing of city inhabitants (young and old, single households and large families, healthy and sick, poor and rich), visitors and tourists?
  • How can the status of an eco-city be achieved?
  • How should we plan and manage a creative city?
  • How can we discover the city’s potential?
  • What can be done to efficiently regenerate deprived areas of any city?
  • What can be done to enhance competitiveness of a city in the region?
  • How can the best conditions for green businesses be secured in a city?
  • In what ways should innovative solutions be implemented for the benefit of the present and future generations?
  • What strategy for smart and sustainable development is to be selected?
  • How should the above undertakings be financed with the limited resources of a city?

At Warsaw School of Economics we try to find answers to the above questions in our specialization “Eco-innovations in cities”. In October 2017 this specialization will be renamed “Financial and green innovation in cities”.

Introduce the Eco-innovations in cities specialization

The main aim of the project was to strengthen the educational potential of the university in the field of eco cities. One of the results of the project was the Eco-innovations in cities specialization. This specialization includes a blended learning course with a range of up to date case studies about green/sustainable urban projects focused not only on buildings, but also on transportation, society and other issues concerning temporary cities. The course includes lectures on eco-cities, green urban regeneration projects, green project funding, planning and management in eco-cities, new models of urban entrepreneurship and making the 21st Century cities. Half of curriculum of each course is carried out on-line (15 hours) and the other half (also 15 hours) is held in the form of 3 interactive workshops. All MA students that take part in the programme also need to complete a one-month apprenticeship in companies and organisations active in the field of eco-innovations in Poland. Approximately 10% of the best students received internships in related academic research units across the EU. It is the first such educational programme for M.A. students, not only in Europe but also worldwide. 20 academic staff and doctoral students were also involved in the project.

What kinds of partners does the programme work with?

Since 2013 the project has been implemented with support from academics from around the world including Spain, the UK, Austria, Sweden the Netherlands and the USA. Six teams, each including a professor, doctor and Ph.D. student paid 3-month visits to selected universities in Europe and the USA, to exchange knowledge and experiences with our partners in the Project, to prepare e-books and case studies for the courses as well as to continue the academic cooperation.

Apart from the academic cooperation, the strengths of this project and specialisation are companies and institutions in which our students had obligatory internships including a range of businesses (local and international) as well as national and local ministries and municipalities doing projects on eco-cities.

What have been some of the successes?

The project finished successfully with 118 students completing their studies in this field. A range of workshops and case studies were developed with professionals. A group of 40 students also took part in a study visit in Scandinavia (Lund, Malmo, Copenhagen) in which they met with representatives of green companies, eco start-ups and saw the most popular Swedish and Danish examples of eco-innovations.

Six e-books which are included in the academic content taught to students of “Eco-innovations in the urban regeneration projects” program have been published within the framework of the project. These e-books can be downloaded free of charge.

In addition, an International Conference on Eco-innovations in cities was organised in December 2015. Students of our specialization were actively engaged in this conference and presented their best case studies related to the sustainable development in cities.

What advice would you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar into place?

The dissemination of knowledge about city eco-innovations as well as the SDGs related to cities appears to be the most effective, where lasting interactions take place among research entities (such as Warsaw School of Economics, businesses, municipal authorities and inhabitants themselves). The best way to encourage students to study in this field is the international cooperation between universities (the double diplomas) and to offer paid internships in green companies or eco-organizations. The study visits to eco-cities are also essential for success.

What’s next for the initiative?

We are exploring a range of possible options for this project including new undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral courses (including interdisciplinary Ph.D. courses), distance learning courses. We will be further developing cooperation between universities and companies in this field and engaging employers in the implementation of teaching programmes. Additional career support will be added for students in this field. We are looking into organizing internships and training courses for our teachers and doctoral students in leading foreign and Polish academic and research centres to promote their knowledge in this field.

In my opinion, every graduate of our university should understand a city’s complexity and be prepared to cooperate with local authorities and residents. Only then can business and cities cooperate not only for bigger profits but for higher quality of life inside cities. Therefore our graduates should understand cities and know how to cooperate with their authorities and inhabitants. This is our way of thinking on a topic and it explains why we decided to prepare and implement the project at Warsaw School of Economics.

 

For the month of May Primetime will be featuring examples around the Special Focus area Sustainable Cities and Communities (SDG 11). Click here to see the rest of the articles in that feature.

Take One Step – Engaging with the SDGs at Monash Business School

The call is out for universities to engage with the Sustainable Development Goals in multiple ways; through research, through curriculum and partnerships. But equally important is to raise awareness and engage individual students on a day-to-day basis. At Monash Business School, an online platform that challenges participants to make an SDG-inspired change in their life and document their progress was launched in 2016. I spoke with Professor Michaela Rankin from the School about this successful initiative.

Introduce Take One Step and how it came about

Take One Step is an online platform developed by Monash Sustainable Development Institute (MSDI), Monash University, which aims to engage and educate students about the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through social interaction, light learning content and quizzes. The interactive platform plays on student’s competitive instincts and incorporates the use of achievement badges to encourage action. As part of the challenge, students are asked to commit to an action, allocate an SDG that aligns most closely with the action, post updates, take quizzes and read learning content. It also inspires social interactivity through the ability to share, like and follow other people’s challenges.

The platform also provides an enhanced education experience to our students in order to support the School’s commitment to PRME and implementation of the SDGs.

What are the key features of the programme and how does it work?

The platform offers practical tools akin to an online social network. Take One Step sets out a challenge for users to commit to an action or ‘step’ in their own lives that would contribute to a more sustainable future. As part of the six-week pilot, participants who signed up were asked to:

  • Sign up to the platform and outline one (or more) sustainability action they planned to take
  • Share their progress on this step to track its completion (through photos, explanations, comments etc.)
  • Earn five achievement ‘badges’ through milestones on the platform including social media sharing, liking other participant’s steps, reading articles and completing quizzes

Those who completed these ‘badges’ would become eligible to attend a celebration event hosted by the School.

What have been some of the challenges and successes? 

In 2016, Take One Step was delivered as a tailored pilot to students in Monash Business School. A total of 239 students took part, 87 actions were committed to and 60 students registered for an end-of-challenge event featuring the Managing Director of L’Oréal, Australia New Zealand who, as an organisation have taken great strides in implementing the SDGs in their day to day operations. An evaluation of the pilot found that 65% of students improved their understanding of the SDGs, while 80% reported a greater awareness of why sustainability is relevant to business.

As a pilot we were overall very pleased with the results and have identified technical areas to enhance its simplicity. One option for consideration is to develop a mobile app to support user engagement and to provide simple ways to share activities and milestones.

Our pilot audience identified strongly with the issues of sustainability, and we received a wide range of recorded ‘steps’ on the site, with a diverse range of SDGs represented in the actions recorded.

We have also received enquiries and positive feedback from constituents interested in engaging with the platform. The importance of mobilising student groups and staff members to champion the project was critical to the success, as well as gamification elements of the platform. While the project experienced some initial engagement issues, particularly with students who had little or no interest in sustainability, it proved valuable to focus on networking opportunities and linking sustainability to future job roles.

What’s next for the initiative?

Following a detailed evaluation phase, a number of recommendations have been identified and we are looking at ways we can scale up the platform to enable it to be shared more widely. There is significant potential for other institutions to engage with Take One Step providing them with a practical tools to enhance sustainability education in both the education sector and corporates.

In the long run, it is envisioned Take One Step will enable students from different countries to interact, share ideas and work on challenges together. MSDI is looking to create a dedicated platform for the site that can be customised with educational video content and collaboration tools.

For the month of May Primetime will be featuring examples around the Special Focus area Sustainable Cities and Communities (SDG 11). Click here to see the rest of the articles in that feature.

International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development

The United Nations proclaimed 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development in recognition of the tremendous potential of the tourism industry, which accounts for some 10% of the world’s economic activity. This is a unique opportunity to raise awareness of the contribution of sustainable tourism towards development among public and private sector decision-makers and the public while mobilizing all stakeholders to work together in making tourism a catalyst for positive change. The year aims to promote tourism’s role in the areas of

  • Inclusive and sustainable economic growth
  • Social inclusiveness, employment and poverty reduction
  • Resource efficiency, environmental protection and climate change
  • Cultural values, diversity and heritage, and
  • Mutual understanding, peace and security

Many business schools around the world have programmes focused on the topic of sustainable tourism.

Ted Rogers School of Management in Canada has a course on sustainable tourism called ‘The Golden Goose’. The course examines social responsibility and sustainability issues at both the micro and macro levels of the industry and examines the impact and solutions to both local and global issues. Case study analysis is an integral component of the course and the major focus will be to discuss and debate solutions and strategies for ethically optimizing business while minimizing adverse effects. They also have an Institute for Hospitality and Tourism Research that further explores these topics.

Griffith University’s Institute for Tourism in Australia is actively contributing to the International Year through its research projects including its Tourism and Economics programme, Tourism Business in the Asia Pacific programme, Sustainable Tourism and Climate Change programme, Visitor Experience programme and Sustainable Tourism for Regional Growth Training programmes. The Institute has also designed a Global Sustainable Tourism Dashboard that tracks global progress towards sustainable tourism development.

Corvinus University of Budapest  and the Municipality of Budapest established a joint agreement with the Department of Tourism to promote research and development goals in regarding the complex cultural development of the Ferencváros district. The first project aimed at re-designing a special dining and cultural street of the district with an aim to increase sustainable tourism. The student research project involved over 60 students, working with four professors. 700 Hungarian and 300 international visitors were surveyed over the three months of the project.

Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK is working with Positive Impact, a not-for-profit organisation that provides education for the sustainable events industry, to produce an industry report that outlines a number of key sustainable areas and points of action for the event industry. This includes an estimate of the global carbon footprint and global food waste of the events industry as well as an investigatory piece about the power of behaviour change that events have including social impacts. The report is being presented as part of the ‘Year of Sustainable Tourism Development’.

The International Centre of Studies on Tourism Economics (CISET) at CA’Foscari University of Venice in Italy supports and promotes tourism as an engine of economic growth and social development, capable of producing material and cultural wealth for local, national and international businesses and destinations. The approach of the centre is a blend of academic expertise and business know-how, based on a strong synergy between research studies and consultancy services. CISET provide the tourist industry, local administrations and future tourism operators with the tools to approach the market in innovative ways.

JAMK’s Tourism and Hospitality department in Finland organised the 12th International Conference on Responsible Tourism in Destinations last June. They also played a major role in establishing, and is now coordinating, the International Centre for Responsible Tourism Finland. In the summer of 2016 they organised an international summer school called ‘For Seasons in Responsible Tourism’ and are launching a new course in 2017 on Responsible Tourism.

A faculty member at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand has developed a course called Managing Visitor Impact designed to deepen students’ understanding of sustainable tourism development by exposing students to the complexities, realities and tensions commonly observed in developing countries. A key part of the course is a group role-play scenario where students take a virtual field trip based on a real Fijian island.

The Teaching Agrotourism course at University of Applied Sciences HTW Chur in Switzerland focuses on the interface of agriculture and tourism by combining aspects of sustainable agriculture and ecological tourism. The focus is on the interaction between tourism and a sustainable family-farming project. As compared to any kind of mass tourism, this specific form of tourism is directly supporting this regional livelihood. Chur faculty also do research focused on entrepreneurial tourism development in Georgia.

EADA in Spain is doing research on sustainability in the tourism and hospitality industry focused on how the industry can use sustainability not just as a way of absorbing societal costs and changes in the business environment, but to create value and transform those costs into higher revenue.

The Degree in Tourism Management at the Universidad de Occidente in Mexico aims to train experts in the management of tourism organisations and projects with the ability to make ethical, social and environmental decisions. It looks at innovation within this industry and how it impacts society. One of the three focus areas of the programme is centred on Tourism and Sustainable Development

The official website for the year provides a range of resources and links to events happening all over the world around this topic. It also has links to publications that cover the topic of sustainability from a business perspective that can be used in the classroom. The Global Compact also has some resources on the Tourism industry including a webinar on Good Practices to Address Human Trafficking in Travel and Tourism.

 

For the month of May Primetime will be featuring examples around the Special Focus area Sustainable Cities and Communities (SDG 11). Click here to see the rest of the articles in that feature.

 

Integrating Sustainability into Core Courses – University of Fraser Valley

University of the Fraser Valley’s Faculty Training Workshop on PRME

University of the Fraser Valley in Canada, recently submitted their first Sharing Information on Progress Report. As a new Signatory, the University of the Fraser Valley has spent the past few years exploring how to embed the Six Principles of PRME into their curriculum and activities. They have been conducting regular faculty workshops to discuss opportunities to integrate PRME into curricular and extra curricular activities.

A common way of integrating the Principles is by creating new courses on the topic but the School of Business at the University of the Fraser Valley took a different approach. Associate Professor David Dobson has been exploring these issues for several years now and has integrated sustainability topics into his existing course Business Research Methods which is mandatory for all students.

I spoke with Frank Ulbrich, the Director of the UFV School of Business, and Associate Professor David Dobson who leads the student research project about this initiative.

Introduce your student research projects and the place they hold in the curriculum.

Within our program we have a mandatory Business Research Methods class where students complete a major research project to learn the process, methodology, and applicability of various business research problems. This class is placed in the program to ensure that our students have the skills to conduct thorough and critically developed research in their upper level classes and future careers. It was felt that this would be the perfect platform to introduce various topics of social and corporate responsibility for the students to research. Depending on the professor, research topics vary widely from year to year, but the majority of instructors instigate the study of PRME related topics.

Why was the topic of ‘Fair Trade Coffee’ chosen as one of the topics?

I had heard a lot of people talk about Fairtrade and organic foods within the Fraser Valley. And I thought since Fairtrade was actually an organization it would be interesting to have the students find out more about them, their cause and how customers react to their label. Additionally, I was unaware of any systemic research done on this specific topic and since it wouldn’t be a very complicated research topic for undergraduates to deal with, it aligned perfectly with my course.

What were some of the questions that students explored?

Within this particular semester all the students had the same basic research question, which was to find out what customers’ willingness to pay for Fairtrade Coffee was. However, within the separate teams, the groups developed additional research questions around this topic. Some of the questions that came out were: What are the barriers to purchasing Fairtrade? What are the perceptions existing among society about Fairtrade? And how should the companies selling ‘Coffee’ market Fairtrade coffee? As an instructor I am always pleasantly surprised at the diverse angles and lenses different student groups tackle a similar project with. I am constantly learning from my own students, which I love.

How did the students react to this project? What were some of the lessons? Impact?

Most students were unacquainted with the Fairtrade movement and to be honest probably thought studying coffee for a semester wasn’t going to be very interesting. I usually find that the social and corporate responsibility topics I choose, are initially received with chagrin. But as the weeks progress, combined with the nature of the course it ends up creating a lot of awareness and interest among the students. I would say that the take away impact varies among the classes. At a minimum they are now aware of Fairtrade, some will now choose a product with a Fairtrade label over one without if they are similar in price point, and at the other end of the scale there are those students who really become impassioned for the topic.

What have been some of the challenges? 

The biggest challenge in choosing a social or corporate responsibility topic to ask students to research, is taking into account the limited time frame, and sample sizes and populations. You need to remember that they are undergraduates being exposed to the research process for the first time, and that the class is really in place for them to learn about how to conduct research and not necessarily what are the results of their research. So you need to be able to give them an interesting topic that can be studied in around three months or less and take into account that because of this time based restriction, their sample sizes and diversity might be low. Additionally, this is a huge learning curve for the students. Not only is the topic of study a foreign subject, but the research process itself is all new to them.

Successes? 

I think the success of combining these types of topics into a research class, is that you are not only teaching them skills, but creating positive awareness. If you pick the right kind of topics, ones that are interesting and prevalent, the combination usually creates a buzz. It’s something that the student can take away and remember not just how to conduct solid research, but how to be a better-rounded and informed citizen.

Are other sustainability related topics explored in student projects?

I usually choose new research topics every time I teach the class, which keeps the marking interesting for me. Over the years my classes have studied topics from researching companies marketing practices for various products, to plastic dumping in the sea, and willingness to pay for and perception of various products like Fairtrade coffee, or Organic foods.

What advice would you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar into place?

Choosing research topics based on sustainability or social and corporate responsibility appears to be this big challenge for professors. But it is actually very easy to find interesting and contemporary topics that students can get on the bandwagon with. After you experience the first semester running a class with these topics, you will find that students are very receptive to do something different. Plus they will surprise you with the topics they come back with and trust me you will always be learning from them. I know that a lot of my colleagues are also including social and corporate responsibility into their classes, which is great as students are constantly engaging in positive material.

What’s next for the initiative?

Since this is an area of interest for me the foreseeable future is filled with my Business Research Methods classes being framed around these types of topics. I find it is easier for the students to relate to and conduct research that is somehow based on consumer behaviour and/or consumable goods. While I haven’t fully decided what my research questions will be for next year, I am leaning towards environmental framing for environmental products, or source credibility for these types of products.

What else is happening in this space at University of the Fraser Valley?

April 4, 2017 marked the 5th Annual School of Business Student Research Day. Students present their research to a panel of judges and field questions on academic rigor and research design. Topics are usually sparked from subjects taught in various classes that feature sustainability and or corporate responsibility. Presentations this year included titles such as, “Effects of Valence Framing on Eco-Friendly Seafood Purchase Decisions.”; “Green Trends Among Fortune 500 Companies”; and “Gender at University: Analysis of Gender Equality in Public Universities Across Canada”. We are proud to provide platforms and opportunities for our students to pursue their research interests further in their undergraduate degree. It is extremely gratifying to observe our students taking interest in topics that are related to social and corporate responsibility.

We also have a number of faculty workshops organized by the School of Business to discuss opportunities to integrate the PRME Initiative. This is a new initiative for us. As committed participants of PRME we are continually looking for ways to improve the learning environment for our students. These faculty workshops are wonderful collaborative spaces where as a department we can learn about new initiatives, and also take the time to cross reference with one another about what we have been finding successful in our classrooms. Faculty learning is just as much of a necessity as student learning. When we have informed and passionate professors, we create that knowledge and awareness on PRME related topics, which results in sparking initiatives within our student body.

For more about the University of the Fraser Valley read their latest Sharing Information on Progress Report.

Students Exploring Solutions to Local SDG Challenges – Universidad EAFIT

 

Reaching the Sustainable Development Goals requires the support and involvement of all groups in exploring the challenges but also proposing innovative solutions. This is exactly what the students at Universidad EAFIT in Colombia are doing. Over the past year they have been developing a range of solutions to SDGs with a particular focus on the issues most relevant to their country and community. I spoke with Maria Alejandra Gonzalez Perez, Professor of Management at Universidad EAFIT, about their involvement in the global initiative Ideas for Action.

What is I4A and how did EAFIT become involved?

I4A (Ideas for Action) is a joint project between the World Bank Group and Wharton Business School to foster the engagement of young people in international development, and with a specific focus in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). I4A wanted to increase the participation of Latin America in the initiative. We were personally invited by Prof. Djordjija Petkoski at the Wharton School to participate in the annual competition.

What are the key features of the programme and how does it work at EAFIT?

I4A annual competition aims to promote a generation of ideas for financing and implementing the SDGs. Winners are invited to present their projects at the IMF and World Bank annual meeting, and they receive support by a start-up accelerator in Wharton. In 2017, over 700 projects were submitted, and around 30 of them were by teams from EAFIT.

How were EAFIT students specifically involved?

As part of their CSR course, or as a voluntary project, students designed their projects, and submitted their projects to Ideas 4 action. Students were given academic recognition for the power of their ideas, the realistic possibilities of implementing the project, and their commitment. Click here for an overview presentation. 

What kinds of ideas were proposed/what was the impact on the students?

Most of the projects submitted by EAFIT addressed SDGs 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions) and 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth). The majority of the proposed initiatives were focused on post-conflict Colombia, and how to create economic and social inclusion for former guerrilla members. The ideas range from extreme wild tourism, community based micro-financing, reforestation, and organic agriculture.

Students expressed that this project gave them the opportunity of building ideas for a more inclusive and sustainable future for their country. It also gave them networking opportunities with other students from around the world, and interaction with senior members of the World Bank.

How did you incorporate this into the curriculum?

Nearly 80% of the submitted projects were from students that take the course “Ethics and Social Responsibility” in the Business Management undergraduate programme. They were assessed based on originality, power of the idea, realistic possibilities of implementation, and, background research (data mining) on the issues and opportunities.

The other 20% of the submissions were by members of the student research groups (Observatory on Trade Investment and Development). They participated because they wanted the opportunity to contribute and be heard.

What advice would you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar into place? 

It was our first time participating, and what we found most challenging was ensuring that students understood the importance of the SDGs. It was an excellent way to encourage them to bring together everything they had learned in the business curriculum and apply it to current environmental, social and economic challenges taking place in Colombia. After Brazil, Colombia was the country with most submissions in Latin America. This gave visibility to students, our School, and the country.

What other initiatives are you currently involved?

We are currently involved with WikiRate and have several research groups looking at corporate performance on SDGs 8 and 16. Another initiative on campus that we are proud of is our student research group, the Observatory on Trade Investment and Development. It is a space where students publish articles with short analysis and opinions about the topic of business, investment and development focused primarily on emergent markets and exploring sustainable development. The forum is inspired by the United Nations Conference on trade and Development (UNCTAD). EAFIT is also a member of the Global Compact.

 

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