At the 2017 Global Forum for Responsible Management Education, several Signatories were recognized for their efforts in reporting. The reports that received recognition represent different approaches to reporting on progress against the Six Principles of PRME. One of the Schools to receive recognition in the First Time Reporters category was the College of Business and Economics at Boise State University (COBE) in the USA. But what makes this impressive report unique is that the whole process of putting together the report was lead by student volunteers.
This is the second part of a two part interview with former MBA Student, Graduate Assistant and Sustainability Report Project Lead Taylor Reed about their report. Click here to read part 1.
What impact does this kind of experience have on the students involved?
The experience was challenging and meaningful. The best way I can describe the reporting process in the first year is driving a car down the road while also building it. At least four of the members of the team now work in industries related to sustainability, and I’m confident that all of the graduates are now working in roles where they have to perform research, synthesize and communicate information, or develop buy-in from colleagues, consumers or business partners—these are all skills team members were able to develop by participating in this project.
One of the most valuable lessons that came from this process wasn’t necessarily the data gathered, but rather the conversations that arose throughout the research process. Many students were frustrated that key metrics like the amount of waste generated or carbon footprint did not yet exist. However, by meeting with campus officials, discussing their purpose in creating a sustainability report, and posing questions related to sustainability, students were able to begin to educate campus staff and faculty and empower employees to begin considering social and environmental impacts. Those initial conversations helped build a foundation for the development of systems to capture improved sustainability data.
What were some of the successes?
Three years later the college continues to produce an annual sustainability report and our efforts have inspired Boise State University’s College of Health Sciences and the Student Union Building to publish their first sustainability reports. The reports have driven sustainability achievements such as more sustainable procurement policies, the installation of solar panels, the college’s strategy for inclusive excellence and a taskforce focused on increased inclusion, and increased awareness of environmental and social issues across campus. And of course we were thrilled to receive recognition from the PRME for our work!
The final piece of the report presents sustainability recommendations for the Dean and Associate Deans to consider. After COBE’s leadership deliberates and discusses strategies with student reporters, many of the recommendations are implemented over time. This part is especially meaningful because it’s where the research and analysis performed by students becomes actionable and translates to social and environmental impact—that’s the best part in my opinion.
Why should schools engage their students in the reporting process?
According to the Deloitte 2016 Millennial Survey, 87 percent of millennials believe that “the success of a business should be measured in terms of more than just its financial performance.” Millennials judge the performance of a business on what it does and how it treats people— both of which are data points in COBE’s sustainability reports. More than 60% of millennials believe businesses achieve long-term success by putting employees first, and developing a solid foundation of trust and integrity. Finally, millennials choose employers whose values reflect their own— 56 percent of Millennials have “ruled out ever working for an organisation because of its values or standard of conduct.”
Projects like the sustainability report are the secret sauce to motivating, developing, and retaining millennial employees. By producing a sustainability report COBE achieved all of the following:
- Creating a healthy culture that exists to achieve more than financial results
- Identifying the values of students and providing an opportunity to practice those values in their profession
- Providing hands-on opportunities for millennials to take on leadership roles and gain critical thinking skills that will make them more competitive in the job market and equip them with the skills needed to effect real change
What advice do you have for other schools looking to engage students in the reporting process?
Do it. If schools think that tomorrow’s leaders should understand the social and environmental impact of their business decisions, and take responsibility for them, then students must learn these skills and have the opportunity to practice them.
Create a safe space for students to fail—if they do, coach them through the steps needed to get back on track. When they’re faced with a similar scenario in upon graduation they’ll know how to succeed.
What’s next? Any plans for the next report? Things you will be doing differently?
This fall, students of Boise State University’s College of Business and Economics (COBE) will publish the College’s third sustainability report measuring the social, environmental and economic impacts of the College (we produce reports annually). Student reporters continue to implement recommendations made in the College’s first two reports, and continue to develop new targets based on the feedback of internal and external stakeholders. In line with COBE’s sustainability initiatives, student reporters have transitioned to an interactive online format, rather than a printed report. We have a collective aspiration to produce a university-wide sustainability report in the near future.
A few highlights of the report:
- A summary of percentage of responsible business faculty research organised by department (p. 26)
- An overview of the new College of Business and Economics Building, built in 2012, designed to have minimal environmental impact and maximum environmental efficiency (p.42).
- An overview of how they assessed materiality and what their material issues are, organised by stakeholder group (page 49)
- A detailed timeline and process map for the sustainability report (p. 50)