Engaging High School Students in Sustainable Business – San Francisco State University College of Business

ethics-classroom-SFUEngaging business school students in ethics and responsible business is important, but business schools can also play another important role to influence students before they even enter business school. Many, such as San Francisco State University’s College of Business in the US, are providing a range of programmes to expose high school students to these topics. This provides opportunities to not only introduce younger students to sustainability, but also to introduce them to the business school environment, and in the process engage current students, staff and faculty. I spoke with Denise Kleinrichert, Director of the Center for Ethical and Sustainable Business (CESB) at San Francisco State University College of Business about this initiative.

What is the High School Student Summer Sustainability Workshop?

The High School Summer Sustainability Workshop began as a collaboration between several faculty members and MBA students in which the Center for Ethical & Sustainable Business hosted a sustainable business workshop for high school students. The workshops started in 2011 with 12 students from private schools that came together for half days over a one week period. The success of this camp and its students’ enthusiasm encouraged the development of an ongoing project that would be expanded to include the San Francisco United School Districts’ 19 public high schools in 2012 and 2013,drawing up to 40 students each summer. After a two-year hiatus, a 2016 summer workshop is in the planning. The workshops are free to public high school juniors and seniors through application process, including teacher and parent recommendations/approvals. We receive some financial support for the learning materials, beverages and snacks for the week from a continuing relationship with a Bay Area bank through the support of one of our MBA alum.

What are the key features of the programme?

Key topics of the week include understanding human and business impacts on the environment, such as:

  • Access to and maintaining clean water, arable land, and clean air
  • Ecological footprints of individuals and businesses, life cycle analysis of durable products and their manufacturing, waste management and recycling
  • Understanding supply chain impacts from raw materials through product end-of-life
  • Closed loop production; consumer awareness and overconsumption impacts on the environment
  • Fair Trade practices and food sources
  • Technology and clothing industries and their environmental impacts
  • Social entrepreneurship practices and their positive impacts

Why have it? 

We hold these workshops because high school students are just starting to understand environmental impacts on the communities in which they live. We want to broaden their global perspectives of how business can effect positive outcomes. High school students also have so much fun and energy and so many ideas – it’s great to introduce them to a university campus environment.

How are current business students and faculty involved?

We have had strong support from MBA students and upper division business undergraduates who show an eagerness to get involved and help. The mentoring possibilities are valuable for both sets of students. We also now have alumni who want to continue their ongoing roles, and new alum eager to also give back to their campus and the local community by volunteering their time for this project. Faculty also volunteer their time and expertise for the development and leadership of this initiative.

What have been some of the challenges? Successes? 

We haven’t really had too many challenges, except for faculty travel or teaching that might conflict with leading the annual workshop each June. Also, due to the diverse community in which we are located, some parents do not have the language skills to understand printed materials, such as approval forms or materials we provide about the programme. However, the successes are found in the connections we are able to make by bridging the high school to university experience through the students’ shared interest in sustainability.

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

We wouldn’t be able to host this event without the strong support of the city school system’s administrative staff who oversee the science curriculum for all 19 high schools. They are the ones on the front lines promoting our workshop, securing student applications and attendance approval forms from parents. Also, at least one or two Science teachers/Administrators attend every day of the workshop to assist in managing 40 students.

What are 2 or 3 other initiatives at your school you are particularly proud of in this area from the Center for Ethical and Sustainable Business?

CESB hosts an annual Business Ethics Week each November (just celebrated our 10th year in 2015) that includes a wide variety of out-of-classroom activities and events focused on business ethics topics, including corporate social responsibility, social entrepreneurship and sustainability. During Business Ethics Week, students attend campus events, such as speaker panels, film and documentary screenings, ethics debate competitions on case study solutions, and hands-on exercises with industry leaders. There are two to three events each day. Additionally, at least 50% of faculty integrate ethics-related topics or speakers into class lectures during that week.

CESB also hosts an ongoing series of full day industry-to-student Ethics & Compliance Workshops with cross-industry executive panels tackling trending ethics and compliance issues in healthcare, pharma, banking and finance, consulting, risk management, tech and privacy, and hospitality. These workshops discuss real world ethical challenges, case studies and strategies for issue analysis, successful mitigation, and employee training.

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