When I discuss the Sustainable Development Goals with business school representatives, and ask what kind of initiatives they are working on in relation to these Goals, the answer is often the same: “We educate, therefore our focus is on SDG 4: Quality Education”.
But focusing solely on, and stopping at SDG 4 is a mistake, and a missed opportunity for the institutions in question and society at large. The role that business schools play is much broader and more important than that. The wider community engaged in the SDGs most often fails to recognise the crucial role that business schools can and are playing in the SDGs but they aren’t the only ones; business schools themselves generally fail to recognise the extent of their own role.
The Sustainable Development Goals are unique in that they are a globally recognised set of goals that outline where we need to go as a planet and where all stakeholders should direct their attention. It is a common language that unites us, that allows for partnerships to grow across sectors, industries, disciplines, all through this shared platform. It is a key for schools to connect into these discussions, to participate in them and to influence them all for the benefit of the school, its faculty and students.
- Ensure everyone on campus knows what the goals are and why they are important: Sobey School of Business in Canada organised a faculty session on the SDGs with a focus on how faculty can better embed discussion of the Goals into their courses. Faculty were asked to commit in writing how they planned to do this in their 2016/17 courses through the use of cases, assignments, additional readings etc.
- Identify which SDGs are most material to your institution: Hanken School of Economics in Finland identified which SDGS were most material to them in order to prioritize first steps. They are now working to understand where they stand on each of them and are exploring how to move forward.
- Embedding the SDGs into the curriculum: Slipper Rock University of Pennsylvania and La Trobe Business School have both been working to benchmark the coverage of sustainability topics within the business curriculum by mapping coverage of the SDGs taught in the courses offered in the core curriculum and whether it is part of the text, a module, part of an assignment or discussions.
- Embedding the SDGs into class assignments/discussions: Students at University of Colorado Denver in the US are tasked with developing an implementation plan for a company of their choice to address specific sustainable development goals and identify how the business could make progress against the specific targets associated with the goals. Students also need to consider actions that the United Nations could take to encourage more businesses to address the SDGs.
- Explore possible solutions: Students at Hult International Business School in the US were challenged to create a company-led “system” to solve a specific Sustainable Development Goal. Proposals ranged from training FARC rebels to meet employment needs while helping them to re-integrate into Columbian society; to challenging companies to get rid of boxes by collaborating with retailers to create new distribution systems for cereals.
- Facilitate interdisciplinary and multi stakeholder discussions to move the goals forward: Kemmy Business School’s Accountability Research Cluster hosted an international seminar on Tax and Poverty as part of their series Architects of a Better World. The event, which brought together a range of stakeholders focused around Goal 1 of the SDGs: No Poverty, the first time that the role of tax in delivering on the SDGs has been specifically addressed in Ireland.
- Work on the goals within your own institution: ISAE/FGV in Brazil reports on what they are doing on campus to reach the SDGS within their own operations including through waste management, water consumption, ethics and corruption on campus, gender equality and access to education.
- Use the SDGs to guide research priorities and impact: The University of Wollongong in Australia reports on what percentage of their research relates to the different SDGs and Manchester Met Business School is aligning their research closely with the SDGs.
- Developing partnerships to advance the goals: Faculty at Nottingham University Business School in the UK are collaborating with an international group of scholars to develop an innovative framework for assessing the impacts of Multinational Corporations on issues relating to the SDGs, in particular SDG 16 Peace Justice and Strong Institutions. The toolkit is being testing through close collaboration with partners from a range of industries as well as research organisations and civil society.
- Report on your efforts and impact in relation to the SDGs: University of Applied Sciences HTW Chur has organised their reporting around the SDGS with a particular emphasis on which SDGs they have a direct, indirect or collateral impact on.
Every one of the SDGs impact, and are impacted by management education, the research that you do, the decisions that your graduates make and how, as a network of schools, we create value. Each of the goals requires businesses and other organisations to work together on the challenges and developing and implementing the solutions. The upcoming 2017 Global Forum for Responsible Management Education – 10 Years of PRME in New York City on the 18-19 and of July will focus on sharing best practices in relation to making the Global Goals local business and how to bring the SDGs into every classroom.