Politecnico di Milano School of Management in Italy has made a commitment to further engage in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through responsible education initiatives, research projects and internal as well as external collaborations. They are engaging in the SDGs through their Sustainability SoM project, a team of staff involved in exploring sustainability in teaching, research, service to the Community and the Work Environment. Paola Garrone and Hakan Karaosman from the School of Management shared some more insights into the work that there are doing and what’s next.
What is the Sustainability SoM project and how did it come about?
As a large School that operates at the intersection between engineering, management and economics we are well aware of the many problems that affect society and the environment today and have an impact on future generations. At the same time, we can contribute to sustainable development, by setting up interdisciplinary research projects, innovating our programmes, and cooperating with industry and social stakeholders. However, this does not happen by chance.
We need to monitor and communicate our activities in this domain, to support internal and external linkages, and to let the School members experiment sustainability themselves. In 2015 we set up the Sustainable SoM project, a team of faculty members and postdocs serving these tasks though a portfolio of actions (as you can see from our progress report).
Where did the team start?
We started by doing an ‘as is’ analysis that represented the School’s strengths and weaknesses, as for 2016-’17. We asked questions such as How present were sustainability, responsible management, and ethics concepts in our curricula? And in our research projects and products? How was the School doing with civil society involvement? And with resources consumption and waste management? Subsequently, we launched the Sustainable SoM program with the aim of starting to fill the gaps in the four areas, i.e. Teaching, Research, Service to the Community and the Work Environment. Each of these pillars aim at embedding sustainability into our core activities and challenging our current behaviors.
What is the focus area of the SOM team today?
A first, maybe obvious, impact of this analysis was a greater and more diffuse awareness about unexploited research and teaching opportunities among the School members. New joint research proposals related to sustainability challenges have been launched, and a few courses have started covering sustainability problems, theories and tools. A second notable initiative was the SoM for Non Profits program. After a first year of the program, over 200 students worked on managerial challenges raised by 24 non-profit organizations and social enterprises. Today, we are fully committed to maintain and possibly to expand it. Our work is of a practical nature too and we look at campus operations as well. We now have a food waste policy, and water dispensers around the School. Now we are currently coping with the challenge of curbing the use of single use plastics.
What are some of the other initiatives that the Sustainability SoM team and the School at large are involved in?
1. Polisocial is a University-wide social responsibility and engagement program. Professors and students from all the departments of Politecnico di Milano can take part in Polisocial initiatives, including the School of Management. Some of the School’s research projects mapped by Sustainable SoM have been awarded the Polisocial grants.
2. The SoM for SDGs Award: Starting from 2017 the School of Management has decided to award students whose final works may have a sizeable impact on Sustainable Development. The second edition took place in October 2018. The jury examined 12 submissions, and awarded 2 Master of Science dissertations and 2 MBA final works with the “SoM for SDGs” prize (1,000€ per winner).
3. The Observatories: The Observatories are the way through which the School covers a wide range of interdisciplinary topics in multiple industries through practice-oriented research. Coming to the SDGs, each industry has specific yet challenging business priorities that are requiring special care. Examples of practice-oriented projects are those that concern Sustainability in Luxury and Fashion Supply Chains or Food Sustainability. Given the complexity of the subject and industry dynamics, we involve multiple business and social stakeholders in pre-competitive innovation, and organize engagement events whereby research results are shared, and joint discussions are held. Further collaboration may be established with single players.
4. MOOCs on sustainable development challenges: In 2015 some members of the School started working on youth entrepreneurship in Egypt and other emerging countries, thanks to a grant from Polisocial. We knew that METID, our University center for digital innovation in learning, could help us develop a training program that reached a large audience. Given the great expertise of UNCTAD’s Entrepreneurship Unit in this area, we invited them to cooperate and design with us a joint MOOC – Massive Open Online Course. Across 4 editions, “Entrepreneurs without borders” reached around 2,000 registered participants, and single online lectures are used and re-used here and there in a few courses. Recently our cooperation with UNCTAD produced a second joint MOOC, i.e. “Designing and Implementing Effective Entrepreneurship Policies”. Another nice example is “Share Food, Cut Waste”, which addresses the food waste challenge and is produced with the Italian Food Bank (FBAO).
How do you measure impact?
We generally measure the reach of our initiatives. Nonetheless, we do not systematically report outcomes nor we adopt codified methods to measure the impact (in spite of the fact that some of us do research exactly in this area!). So no doubts this is an area where we have to make progress.
What advice would you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar into place?
Collaboration, communication and commitment are antecedents to sustainability. And each School should pinpoint the unique contributions it can give, given its specialization, context and organization. Having said that, we must jointly stand up for what we stand for. We believe that the efforts made by other Italian schools and us to set up an Italian chapter for PRME can foster the achievement of this goal.
We are committed to prepare our students to accelerate sustainability transformation. To this end, as a School, our next steps involve developing illustrative and enriching projects by which they can develop the necessary skills and capabilities. As a School’s infrastructure, Sustainable SoM will go on monitoring the initiatives put in place by the School’s members, and facilitating internal and external linkages and exchanges.