Embedding sustainability into institutional culture– Essex Business School

South small 800 x 450 (2) copyBusiness schools around the world are becoming more and more engaged in creating the next generation of responsible leaders. This is easier said than done, as many programmes are working to not just embed sustainability and responsible leadership into the various courses and programmes, but perhaps more importantly, create a culture of sustainability on campus.

I spoke with Professor Michael Sherer, Director of Essex Business School, and Louise Nash about the work that they are doing to embed sustainability into the culture of their business school.

1. Briefly describe Essex’s approach to sustainability.

Our approach: We embed sustainability, business ethics, and social responsibility in all our teaching and it informs much of our research. We believe in a holistic approach to business education that recognises the mutuality between business and society. We believe that this approach is not only necessary, but makes good business sense too; it is this approach that characterises the culture of the school.

We recently ran a workshop examining corporate approaches to sustainability with high profile speakers. It generated a great deal of debate and positive feedback from local companies who attended and extended our network of consultancy and knowledge exchange clients. We have also set up a non-profit social enterprise within the school, Essex Community Advice, which offers professional advice and support on strategic development and capacity building to nonprofit organisations. This is part of our wider commitment to social justice, equality and socially responsible professional development.

2. How do you embed this culture in the school?

Sustainability is a core principle of all of our research, teaching, and business activities. Taught modules include, for example, Managing for Sustainability and Ethical Marketing, and the development of sustainable, long-term business strategies is at the heart of the Essex Business School MBA. We also run frequent seminars organised by the Essex Sustainability Institute (ESI), an inter-disciplinary research center that draws on the research and teaching expertise of internationally renowned researchers. We ensure that our teaching and learning methodologies equip our students with the insights to understand the broader implications of business strategies and practices.

3. What have been some of your successes?

We have been very successful in terms of recruiting staff that not only carry out cutting edge research on sustainability and related topics, but that are also personally committed to our values and are enthusiastic about embedding them in our curriculum and communicating them to students. We are also very excited about the recently begun construction on a new university building which will house the school from 2014, and which both embodies and reflects our commitment to sustainability and excellence in education. It will be a leading example of sustainable construction by way of its zero carbon design, build, and management, and will support our mission to become one of the greenest business schools in Europe.

4. What about your challenges?

The main challenge has been with regard to communication, and in particular, how we are able to articulate our distinctive approach to business education whilst ensuring that sustainability is not seen as a “specialism,” but instead relevant to all our students. We believe that in order to successfully promote our holistic approach, we need to ensure that our values are fully embedded into all of our marketing and communication as well as operating through our teaching and research. In this way, prospective students and other stakeholders know what we stand for and why we think it is important; ethics, governance, and long-term sustainability are not “hygiene” issues but are critical for business today – and linked, we believe, to long-term business success.

5. What advice would you give to other schools trying to embed sustainability into their culture?

Start by ensuring you have commitment from your faculty, your wider university and your Advisory Board so that it quickly becomes accepted as a core value of the school. Recruitment of staff is crucial – they must be comfortable with these values and enthusiastic about communicating them. Encourage the recruitment of research students who are interested in researching relevant areas. For example, we currently have a PhD student who is researching CSR in China from the perspective of both corporations and NGOs.

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