The State of Sustainability and Management Education – Thoughts from the Community

STateOver the past couple of years, ongoing discussions have been happening between the Global Compact LEAD companies, a group of approximately 50 corporate sustainability leaders from across all regions and sectors, and the PRME Champions. Together they agreed on the importance of supporting the embedding of sustainability within higher education, more specifically in management education. The two groups have been working together over the past year through the Shaping the Future Business Leader project.

Earlier this year a survey was sent to the PRME Champions to request feedback for the project. Signatories from across all continents responded and shared their thoughts on the topic of how business schools and business could further engage and collaborate in order to further advance the integration of sustainability in management education, to create stronger leaders and more relevant research.

Respondents of the survey believe that the role of management education in sustainability is to mould future managers to understand the responsibilities they have towards the world around them and understand the contribution that they play. Business schools play a critical role and are in a unique position to play that role and provide a pool of applicants for companies that are knowledgeable about sustainability issues.

Respondents believe that business schools have really pushed their efforts, in particular over the past five years because of the financial crisis, participation in PRME, engagement of the accreditation bodies and clearer messages coming from companies themselves who are taking sustainability more seriously. The biggest push however has come from the student body.

Half of the respondents say that their schools are taking this seriously and everyone is on board. The other half say that only parts of the school are active with many faculty, in particular in finance and accounting, not as engaged.

When asked what the state of sustainability in management education respondents said that awareness of sustainability and teaching is low, and that there is a need to move from these topics being seen as add-ons to really integrating them. Sustainability is often a buzz word that lacks real substance. Despite this, interest in particular from students is growing rapidly.

The current trends in management education and sustainability include an increase in business schools engaging and signing up to PRME, a growth in sustainability-related courses including interdisciplinary courses as well as courses related to social entrepreneurship, new accreditation standards and increased government involvement, and increased engagement with the business sector and local community. Respondents mention growing interest from students and PhD cadidates as well as the business community itself.

The challenges schools are facing in moving forward in sustainability include (in order of mentions):
– Engaging faculty members in including sustainability
– Resources (financial, time etc.)
– Faculty compensation (tenure, research)
– Management support and engagement
– Tools to measure performance/impact and integration
– Framing the issues more clearly – defining sustainability
– Integrating it into the overall agenda of the university and not just a part
– Administrative buy in
– Missing courses
– Creating a bigger sense of urgency
– Lack of demand from business
– Lack of student participation

A key part of the project is exploring how business schools and business can collaborate together. Respondents said that the following engagement from business would help to overcome the above challenges:
– Funding research and PRME events as well as chairs in sustainability
– Making clear links to recruiting and careers – including sustainability in job specifications
– Developing and participating in curriculum reforms
– Sitting on advisory group and promoting the agenda as alumni, partners etc.
– Funding chairs in sustainability
– Providing internships
– Supporting faculty by sharing best practices
– More dialogue and open communication between the two groups

A full report on the State of Sustainability in Management Education provides an overview of the degree of sustainability integration in business schools and outlines the challenges business schools face in moving forward was launched at the 2015 Global Forum for Responsible Management Education.

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