Business schools around the world have been exploring how to bring sustainability into the classroom, but how do you get students talking about sustainability in between classes? In an attempt to increase student interest and debate around sustainability issues, the Milgard School of Business at the University of Washington Tacoma in the US regularly posts current sustainability news on a prominent column in the main lobby of the school. I recently had the chance to speak with Joe Lawless, the Executive Director of the Center for Leadership & Social Responsibility at the Milgard School of Business about their efforts.
1. What is Milgard’s approach to sustainability/responsible leadership?
The Milgard School’s approach to sustainability/responsible leadership is a comprehensive approach through curriculum integration in all courses, as well as course offerings that specifically address the topic. More essential, however, is creating an environment where students are consistently exposed to corporate citizenship and sustainability issues through communications, activities, and speakers who bring abstract concepts to life with real-world issues that face business leaders. Many of these activities are coordinated by our Center for Leadership & Social Responsibility.
2. What is the Communication Column?
The Communications Column was developed to provide a forum for students to be exposed to the innovative ways that companies are dealing with sustainability and corporate citizenship issues. The column is in the main lobby of the Milgard School of Business building, and students pass it on a daily basis. We took what was a simple support column and wrapped it with a 4-sided, wooden (reclaimed wood from a campus remodel project) display case. The column came about because we needed a way to keep the messages of responsible leadership, social responsibility, sustainability, and integrity in front of students in order to affect the culture within the school. It was a simple way to leverage unused space to move the Principles of PRME forward with our students.
3. What is posted on the Column?
We promote our Center’s events and activities, like our CSR Student Case Competition or speakers series. On a weekly basis, we rotate stories of companies and their sustainability/citizenship initiatives. The stories are researched, compiled, and displayed by a marketing/public relations student. The student involvement is crucial to our mission and also provides stories through the lens of student experience. As we rotate to new student workers, they will bring new perspectives and approaches. We keep links to full stories on our Center’s website at: https://www.tacoma.uw.edu/clsr/column, so that students can read the full story and/or cite it in their research papers. Typically the column contains more graphics with story “briefs” for a quick read.
4. What impact has the Column had on the campus community?
The column has had a very subtle, but meaningful effect on the tone of our students’ experience. We hear students reference stories that they have seen on the Column in class and in conversation. Often times a conversation with a student will begin, “I saw that story about how XYZ company is handling their energy impact on the column…”
5. What was your biggest challenge?
The biggest challenges were getting the column designed, built, and through the administrative maze of approvals. We overcame this challenge through sheer determination. It took about 2 years for the entire process, but it was well worth it. Our next challenge was keeping the stories updated and relevant. We began by having our (very limited) staff creating and building content, but quickly realised that in order to do it well, we needed someone’s full attention. We pay a student worker for 10-12 hours a week to do the company and/or story research, create the graphic and story details that will go on the Column, and update the website with links to the full source information. This model has worked out very well for the school and for the students who have served in this role.
6. What advice would you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar into place.
Make sure that you have the resources and/or systems in place to keep the information relevant and continually changing. If the same information stays on display for more than a week, students will begin to ignore it. Having a website set up for links to full source information is also a great way to archive materials over time and to provide an additional service for students. The last word of advice would be to have someone with a good sense of graphic design do the displays. The more visually appealing the stories are, the more they will make an impact.
How do you encourage discussion about sustainability issues on campus? Share your experiences in the comments section below.