Sustainable Business Examples from Around the World – Sweden, India and Brazil

As businesses become more and more engaged in sustainability around the world, we are presented with an increasing range of examples of active companies. However, when I speak with students and faculty, they say that they often hear about the same examples from the same international companies over and over again.

In an attempt to share some new best practice examples, I asked a handful of faculty members from around the world about their favourite classroom examples of local companies that are actively involved in sustainability. Here are some examples from Sweden, India and Brazil

Elizabeth Mary Barratt, Stockholm School of Economics, Sweden

Filippa K has developed a new business model based on sustainability which includes integrating circular economies in their value chain as well as their “Lease the Look” trial where they are testing the sharing economy trend by leasing out their clothes.

Max Hamburgers are nudging their customers with information to choose the most sustainable burger alternative, along with significantly expanding their vegetarian alternatives.

Axel Johnson AB has set a measurable target that their management will have at least 50% women in their companies, along with at least 20% with an international now-Swedish passport.

Dr Kasturi Das, Institute of Management Technology, India

Jayaashree Industries provides low cost sanitary napkins to rural women who cannot afford them because they are sold at a premium price as well as l sanitary napkins making machines which can produce the napkins at low cost to encourage the development of local entrepreneurs.

Goonj recycles discarded clothes and household goods into useful products for the poor. It collects and delivers 1,000 tons of materials a year through a network of hundreds of volunteers and partners. It also runs local development projects in villages and slum areas.

Julio Cesar Borges, FEA-RP/USP, Brazil

Votorantim Cimentos, a Brazilian cement company, is working with one of our alumnus on embedding sustainability into large projects taking place in an extremely poor region of the country.

CPFL, a Brazilian energy company, has been working with some of our professors to develop sustainable solutions for the energy sector. They outline their targets and progress of the targets on their website.

Celebrating Student Achievements at FEA-RP/USP

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As we have seen over the past month on PRiMEtime, the students themselves are often the drivers of new ideas and change on campus relating to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and PRME. Their energy and willingness to get involved and engaged can lead to some exciting new initiatives and programmes. At FEA-RP/USP in Brazil, students created the Sustainable Student Organisation Awards to annually support student projects relating to sustainability, PRME and the SDGs. I spoke with Julio Cesar Borges and Professor Adriana Caldana at the University about this initiative.

Why is it important to engage students in the SDGs on campus?

The time that students are at university is a crucial time to form responsible leaders. Students complete the course and most of them do not return to academia. They will follow their professional life in companies, NGOs, personal etc.. Therefore it is crucial that we educate them about the SDGs and sustainability issues during their time with us. The interest in sustainable projects has been growing every year spontaneously among students. The school and some professors are facilitating actors of this emerging phenomenon. 

What are the Sustainable Students Organisation Awards?

There are nine student organisations at FEA-RP/USP who have been a major drive in promoting the SDGs on campus. These groups are self-managed and offer hundreds of engagement opportunities to students across campus. In September, the Sustainability Office in collaboration with the students created the Sustainable Students Organisation Awards (2nd edition). Its intention is to promote projects that are current in progress and stimulate the creation of others.

This year the competition was to create a video of up to three minutes, demonstrating a sustainable project related to the Sustainable Development Goals and how these projects have impacted the lives of people. The next challenge was to disseminate the videos on Facebook and social media in order to publicise the SDGs, the student projects and the importance of systemic and responsible vision in a school of management that occupies a position of prominence and national recognition.

Describe one of the projects

The winning student organization was the Financial Market Club and their “Nest Egg Project” (Projeto Pe de Meia). 59 million Brazilians are defaulters and 81% know little to nothing about personal finances. The project delivers financial education in a dynamic and intuitive way. It has been active in 7 states and 16 cities across the country and has already served 5000 people. There are two strands of this project. First the work with children and adolescents and second with executives and workers from the most diverse sectors of the economy. The goal of the project is really to bring financial education to everyone.

What have been some of the challenges? Successes?

The main challenges is being able to change the mindset of students, and staff in relation to sustainability and business. The more the students get engaged, the more successes we are seeing as they have a significant impact not just on other students but on the staff as well. Hundreds of people were impacted by the student projects presented in the videos. In a one week period there were over 7,800 views and 1,700 involvements (likes, comments, shares). The final stage of the challenge involved representatives of the student organization presenting the videos to a judging commission composed of teachers, professionals and a doctoral student. The Dean of the college delivered personally the trophy to the winners.

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

Provide students with freedom of expression and action, autonomy, and protect and encourage genuine and spontaneous action. Be sure to respect the differences while also promoting and recognising student´s achievements. The school also plays the important role of listening to the criticism it receives (even if it is inappropriate), to mediate conflicts and to provide additional resources and support where possible.

What is next for the initiative?

The “Sustainable Students Organisation Awards” will be continued in the coming years. We will focus on obtaining sponsorship and recognition of companies engaged in sustainable development. We will also be working to get more participation of students and professors.

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What do Students Think about Responsible Management Education

Every two years, The United Nations- supported Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) and Macquarie Graduate School of Management (MGSM) Associate Professor Debbie Haski-Leventhal collaborate on an international study that measures that attitudes of business students around the world have towards responsible management education and corporate social responsibility.

The results are increasingly positive. As would be expected, a growing number of students around the world are not only aware of, but requesting more focus on sustainability within their business degrees. Here are twelve insights pulled from the survey data.

  1. Students understand how important these topics are to business. 92% felt the overall effectiveness of a business can be determined to a great extent by the degree to which it is ethical and socially responsible, 96% believe that social responsibility and profitability can be compatible, and 95% believe companies should be doing a lot more for society and the environment.
  1. Of these, a growing number understand the importance of it also being taught in business school. Between 70 and 80% of students believe that schools should teach them about business ethics, environmental sustainability, the SDGs, CSR. 59% of students reported to have been educated about business ethics to a good/excellent degree.
  1. But not all students are being reached, and not all to the same degree. 26% percent felt that there was already too much emphasis on these topics in their business education. Between 20-30% felt that schools shouldn’t teach students about sustainability topics at all. 
  1. The students that are interested want more: Only 40% of respondents felt their school met their RME expectations to a high degree or better. 28% wanted their school to teach them more about these topics, particularly around ethics and environmental sustainability.
  1. General sustainability topics are being presented but what about specific topics and to what extended? Respondents felt that while topics such as business ethics, CSR and diversity were being taught to a good degree, more specific topics within sustainability, such as anti-corruption, human rights, fair trade, social entrepreneurship not as much with between 11 and 16% of respondents saying that had not learnt about these topics at all.
  1. Students are not aware of some of the key players that will increasingly be relevant in their post degree careers. 24% of students were aware of the UN Global Compact, 26% were aware of their schools involvement in PRME (67.5% were unsure) and only 37% had heard of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
  1. Students want to know what they can do to get more involved, especially on a daily basis. Respondents showed that they regularly engage in sustainability behaviour through their products they purchase (over 90%), boycott ‘bad’ companies (81%), buy organic (85%)
  1. Students also want their schools to get more involved. When asked if students felt their business school was doing enough to help develop responsible leadership Over half of the students felt that schools provide either just enough or more than enough, 28% felt their school was helping but not enough and 6.5% suggested their school wasn’t helping at all
  1. Students not only need to be exposed to sustainability, but perhaps more importantly, how to use it within their post degree jobs. 38% of respondents felt that they were either well equipped or very well equipped to apply their CSR knowledge in real life (16.7% felt either not very well or not at all equipped).
  1. Engaging in sustainability goes beyond just teaching. It is also about students getting involved in their community and causes that are important to them. 33% of respondents were involved in volunteering activities and over three quarters of respondents participated in no social movements.
  1. Students are willing to take a pay cut to work for companies that take CSR and sustainability seriously: 88% of respondents felt it was between fairly important and absolutely essential to make a lot of money. However, half of the respondents would give up more than 20% of their initial financial benefit to work for a company that cares about employees. One in five students would sacrifice 40% or more of their future salary to work for a company that demonstrates several aspects of CSR.
  1. Students have some good ideas as to what schools could do to increase their teaching of responsible management. When asked what else business schools should do to increase responsible management the respondents suggested adding additional topics and contents to their programmes, utilising real life case students and industry speakers to explore the topics, and providing more encouragement for students to engage further these topics.

Nearly 1800 students responded to the online survey mainly from Brazil, India, the US, Spain, Canada, Mexico and Australia. The average age was 27 and 46% of respondents were female. Respondents included by undergraduate and MBA students. To read the full report click here.

Students Create New Initiative to Develop Women Business Leaders – Slippery Rock University

Credit:Slippery Rock UniversityStudents are often the ones driving sustainability efforts on campus. Not only are they increasingly interested, but now are also outspoken and engaged in ensuring that relevant sustainability topics become part of their business school experience. Because of this, it is important that schools and faculty be prepared to support student initiatives and give them the opportunity to develop. At Slippery Rock University in the United States, two graduate students saw a need for a Centre focused on development of female business leaders and proposed the development of a new Centre on campus. I spoke with Professor Diane Galbraith, their mentor and faculty leader at Slippery Rock University.

What is the Women’s Business Centre?

As more female business students graduate from Slippery Rock University and other colleges around the world, they may find themselves unprepared for their future careers. Already at an unequal playing field with the current gender wage gap, women must consistently overcome obstacles in the world of business. These obstacles include pay differences, finding mentors, developing negotiation skills, achieving work life balance, and conflict resolution. Men may have already developed these skill sets or have a larger network to help them acquire these skills. According to the Harvard Business Review, “[…] among graduates of elite MBA programs around the world—the high potentials on whom companies are counting to navigate the turbulent global economy over the next decade—women continue to lag men at every single career stage, right from their first professional jobs” (Carter, N.M., & Silva, C., March 2010).

In the fall of 2015, two Slippery Rock University (SRU) Master of Business Administration students, Katelin McCallan and Cheyanne Crevar, embarked on a journey to create a business organization for women in the Slippery Rock area. The students, along with their advisers, Dr. Diane D. Galbraith and Dr. Melanie Anderson, created a new group, Women’s Solar Center, also known as Solar (a metaphor for helping women in business shine). This was started based on an authentic desire to help women succeed.

How was the Centre created?

Katelin and Cheyanne were working as graduate students for the university. They discovered a women’s entrepreneurial center called EMagnify located at Seton Hill University. The head of the center was leaving and the group was going to be disbanded from the area. We learned that the region does not have many centers for women who want to prosper in business or outlets to learn and grow in this space. This resulted in proposing that Slippery Rock University step up and create a center that addresses the needs of our peers and the advancement of women.

They contacted myself and a colleague, Dr. Anderson to be part of this journey. The four of us met on a regular basis to develop the centre, its mission and write up a grant proposal to support the Centre. We received a $4,289 Faculty-Student Research Grant, which allowed the two students to further develop the Centre. They have been working to recruit female alumni in business and create a space where female students and alumni could get support in starting a business, contract negotiations, salary negotiations, mentoring and work/life balance. We had a first start up meeting that drew 50 women.

What are the goals/aims of the centre? 

We want to utilize the resources of faculty, alumni, and students of Slippery Rock University to break down the barriers for women in business and help them on their journey towards advancement and achieving work life balance. The group will reach out to students, faculty, staff, and regional community members. Women involved in Solar will learn about various professional topics including networking, conflict resolution, professional document building, and negotiation. In addition to skill development and education, women will have the chance to participate in mentoring programs with Slippery Rock University professors and community members.

Presently, we are working on securing area speakers to provide information in a variety of areas. Our December speaker was a woman from the Dress for Success organization that focuses on professional dress in the workplace. We are planning to develop an advisory board to further develop the Centre. Students and alumni will need to pay dues to join the Centre, $25 for a semester and $35 for the year. This will help pay for speakers and events.

What have been some of the challenges? Successes?

As a new initiative, our biggest challenge is marketing and raising awareness as well as securing resources to grow and develop the Centre. Local organisations such as the Ohio University’s Women in Business (OWIB) were very receptive to helping us launch the Centre. We have already started offering a range of workshops that appeal to students and group members and this was an essential step for our collective growth as professionals in our respective fields.

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

Start small since this can be such a big initiative. We are not re-inventing the wheel because others have paved the way for us. We know that we need sponsorships and to tap into the community. People need to be impassioned about helping women. Graduate assistants started this enterprise and we need to secure ongoing resources for continuity. We are still in the initial phases ourselves, so we are exploring options to help this organization succeed.

Solar came about because of students, an MBA project to be specific. It is important that schools and faculty have ways to support student initiatives. We as facilitators are more than willing to take an idea from incubation to reality, since we are advocates for creativity and innovation. When these students proposed their idea, we encouraged them to develop it and then provide the groundwork to bring it to fruition. The culture has to be receptive to new ideas as well as the faculty needs to provide the oversight and business acumen to move these projects forward.

What’s next for the initiative?

We are in the planning stages. We are discussing the creation of a signature event to host annually that becomes synonymous with our organization and our mission. In addition, we are discussing a philanthropic partner who is as passionate as we are in supporting women. As we progress, we would like to expand in the region, even as a center for women in business. When these plans materialize, we will request additional resources, possibly a full-time position and/or director. In the interim, we are attempting to secure graduate assistants in the Business department to assist the organization’s student officers.

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Sharing and Inspiring Student Sustainability Research – The oikos-PRME Research Hub

fotolia_92594158_s-e1445435514678There are a growing number of opportunities for students to engage in PRME. One is a joint initiative between PRME and oikos, a network of more than 45 student chapters at universities worldwide with the joint mission to integrate sustainability into education and research. The oikos-PRME Research Hub is addressed to students in economics and management at all levels (Bachelor, Master and PhD) who are engaged in research projects on sustainability-related topics. With this platform, students have the opportunity to share their works within and beyond the oikos and PRME’s international communities.

Writing a thesis is a long process of deep thinking and discovery, in which students are asked to share their knowledge, opinions and beliefs. Yet, more often than not, the results of this process remain unpublished, especially at bachelor and master’s level. The Research Hub is saying “Hey guys, don’t put your thesis away in a drawer. Share it and make a positive impact!”.” Stefano Ramelli, oikos PhD fellow

How this works in practice

The Research Hub is a platform accessible through the oikos international website. Students can browse the uploaded works and take inspiration from what others are doing in their fields. To submit their own research, all that students need to do is choose the “share” function and include an abstract and a few details of the work, as well as their short biography and picture. Students have the option to either share the whole thesis or to make it available upon request. In any case, the authors retain the full ownership of their work and can modify their data on their Research Hub page whenever they wish.

Examples of shared research

For his Masters in Business Management at the University of St.Gallen, Robin Kleiner wrote a thesis offering an evaluation of the first social impact bond in Switzerland. For her Masters in Economics at the Pisa University, May Hong Nguyen explored CSR and human rights using a game theoretical approach. Despite a great deal of diversity of the projects shared so far, they are all equally inspired by the same desire to use economics and management knowledge to make the world a better place.

The impact on students

The Research Hub aims to encourage more and more students worldwide to write theses that address the sustainability challenges of our time. A positive impact of the Hub is to give immediate visibility to sustainability-related theses, even to practitioners. For instance, a few months ago a professional in the finance industry was interested in a thesis shared on the Research Hub, offering a critical comparison of sustainability indices, and was thus put in direct contact with the author by the oikos team. It is hoped and expected that many other students will be contacted in this way by scholars and practitioners with questions relating to the shared research..

How the Research Hub can be used in the classroom

Integrating sustainability into academic curricula can be a slow and challenging process. However, when writing a thesis, students have the unique opportunity to directly shape their own curricula and to influence the research agenda of their institutions. This is the goal of the Research Hub: to integrate sustainability into educational programmes by leveraging on the enthusiasm, critical thinking and innovation of students when making research.

In their role of supervisors, professors can give a great contribution to this project by inviting and encouraging their students to share their theses on the Research Hub. The support of professors is indeed essential to make the Research Hub grow.

How to get involved:

Visit the Research Hub to start browsing existing research and to share your own or write to researchhub@oikos-international.org or more information

Students Providing Ideas for Innovative Solutions to Company-Defined Sustainability Challenges

Continuing on with our theme this month of Student Engagement, this week we focus in on opportunities for students to solve real challenges with real companies, focused on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Breakthrough Innovation Challenge (BIC), a collaboration between PRME and the UN Global Compact, is a year-long programme that brings together young professionals from leading multinational companies to evaluate disruptive technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain and Internet of Things, and build sustainable business models addressing the SDGs powered by these technologies. The project is part of a larger UN Global Compact Initiative, Project Breakthrough, which aims to catalyze breakthrough, rather than incremental, corporate innovation to advance the SDGs.

“Disruptive technologies are radically transforming industries and changing many aspects of our lives. The Breakthrough Innovation Challenge brings together leading companies and young innovators to design the sustainable business models of tomorrow. This is an exciting opportunity for students to put their ideas and knowledge into practice.” Nikolay Ivanov Coordinator, PRME Champions

How this works in practice

Corporate teams of young entrepreneurs will be tasked with developing a solution to a company-defined challenge focused on the intersection of sustainability and a disruptive technology. PRME students are invited to connect with the participating companies and challenge or support their company teams with innovative sets of ideas and solutions to their company-specific challenges.

Student teams are made up of 3 students per team and should be made up of interdisciplinary members from undergraduate and/or graduate programmes. They have until March 19th to sign up and respond to one of the cases presented by the companies. Company teams will then review the submissions and select one response they consider the best for each challenge. The selected student teams will be invited to work virtually with the company teams between April and June to further develop their ideas. They will be invited to participate in the UN Global Compact Leaders Summit 2017 and the teams with the best ideas would present their solutions on September 21st at the United Nations in NYC.

The challenges

Eight companies have defined eight real-life challenges focused on building sustainable business models and solutions powered by disruptive technologies. These include:

  • BRASKEM – Halve the key inputs used by agribusiness while increasing yields
  • ENEL – Affordable, clean and sustainable energy for everyone
  • FUJI XEROX – Creating an innovative work culture for creative, decent, eco-friendly work
  • IBERDROLA – Providing clean and affordable energy to everyone
  • NATURA – Enable a global collaboration network of Natura’s consultants
  • NESTLE – Enable exponential consumer engagement and behaviour change to contribute towards Nestlé’s strategy to prevent and minimise food waste along the value chain
  • SUMITOMO CHEMICAL – Feeding the world through precision agriculture- biosensors
  • YARA – Responsibly feed the world and protect the planet

The impact on students

Students will have the opportunity not just to engage in real life business challenges around the Sustainable Development Goals, but to possibly contribute to real company’s strategies in this area moving forward. This is a unique opportunity to step out of the classroom and make an impact in the way a global company approaches these issues.

Moving forwards

This is the pilot year for the Breakthrough Innovation Challenge with the prospects of having it run annually. The quality and impact of this engagement between multinational companies and innovative students will determine the future design of this programme.

How to get involved

PRME students can register here. For more information visit https://goo.gl/dB0a9a.

Business Students Discovering SDG Solutions – AIM2Flourish

For the whole month of March, PRiMEtime will be featuring examples of student engagement from across the globe including a more in depth look at PRME’s Student Engagement Platform. 

There are a growing number of opportunities for students to engage in PRME, for example through the recently launched PRME SDG Student Engagement Platform, which contains a growing number of new opportunities for Signatories. One of the Platform’s  is AIM2Flourish, an online database of best practices housed at Weatherhead School of Management-Case Western Reserve University.

The AIM2Flourish.com platform invites students from business schools around the world to identify companies with sustainability innovations, interview the business leaders involved and then write up a short case study about the innovation. These are uploaded onto the platform, which currently has a database of over 425 examples of SDG business solutions from around the world. Students and faculty are then invited to comment on the different cases.

These interviews—and the students’ stories that come out of them—have the effect of jump-starting and reinforcing students’ commitments to being responsible business leaders themselves.” Claire Sommer, AIM2Flourish Communications Director

How this works in practice

Using the Sustainable Development Goals as their lens, and with their professor’s support, students identify a world-benefitting business innovation and interview a business leader about it. They submit their story on AIM2Flourish.com using an online form, along with photos and video links. After the student submits her or his story, it goes to the student’s Professor for review and comments. Finally, each story receives a final review from a member of the 30-person volunteer AIM2Flourish Story Stewards community before publication, to ensure that the story reads well and meets the AIM2Flourish publication criteria.

The AIM2Flourish.com community has more than 2,100 citizen, professor and student members from 58 countries. All AIM2Flourish community members can comment and like on stories, and connect to other members. Additionally, they are invited to submit short “Sightings” of businesses doing good in the world. AIM2Flourish students use these “Sightings” as story-starters for their AIM2Flourish assignment.

Site visitors can browse through the stories and sort them by SDG, Certified B Corp status, location, school and author. To help Professors teach students about the UN SDGs, the AIM2Flourish team has created a resource page that is updated weekly.

Some examples of cases

Since AIM2Flourish’s launch at the 2015PRME Global Forum and GRLI All Gathering Momentum (AGM) events, business students worldwide have published over 425 business innovation stories for good. Many students are writing about business leaders in service to big environmental challenges or positive health innovations, like the Lucky Iron Fish, a social enterprise started by University of Guelph business student Gavin Armstrong. Armstrong’s innovation helps combat iron deficiency in Cambodia with a small fish-shaped iron ingot that, when boiled with a meal for 10 minutes, releases a significant portion of a person’s daily iron intake requirements.

Likewise, a student at Ursuline College in Cleveland, Ohio, shared this reflection about writing the story called It’s About the Chocolate: “Researching this business has truly inspired me to be a better person. Researching all that Askinosie Chocolate does for their employees and cocoa bean suppliers and for the community has definitely made a positive impact on me. My findings help demonstrate that there are successful businesses out there who do not rely on economic growth and corruption to make a profit.”

The impact on students

According to Claire Sommer, the Communication Director at AIM2Flourish, “an essential part of the AIM2Flourish experience is that students leave the classroom and have a positive, strengths-based conversation with a business leader. In these interviews, students discover ‘what’s going right’ in terms of profitable innovations at the leader’s organization that help achieve the SDGs. Students tell us that writing an AIM2Flourish story about a business innovation is transformational—it changes how they think about business’ potential for good, and how they see their own potential to be positive social innovators. The business leaders who are interviewed tell us that they see their accomplishments in a new light, feel recommitted to business practices that do good, and appreciate meeting rising talent. These new relationships have led to jobs, internships and even a board seat offer.”

How AIM2Flourish is being used in the classroom

The platform has more than 150 professors around the world who contribute to AIM2Flourish, including 22 professors who have made it a mandatory part of their programme. Some professors offer AIM2Flourish as part of a semester-long course. Others have modified it for shorter classes of 8 or 12 weeks. The AIM2Flourish assignment is being used for online classes, in-person classes, and a hybrid of both. In some classrooms, AIM2Flourish is a mandatory assignment, and in others it’s elective or for extra credit. Students can work individually or in teams of up to 4 people. The assignment was designed for graduate level students, but is being used by undergraduate students as well, from Canada to Morocco.

Moving forward

The cases submitted by students to AIM2Flourish will be considered to be part of a Global Opportunity Explorer being developed by the UN Global Compact (launch mid 2017). The platform will share opportunities and solutions to advancing the SDGs and how to make them work. The platform is in its early stages but is scheduled to go live before the 2017 PRME Global Forum on 18-19 July in New York.

The best stories published by December 31, 2016 will be recognized at the first 17 Flourish Prizes at the June 2017 Fourth Global Forum at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. There will be one Flourish Prize for each SDG, selected by a jury of business and academia leaders. The inaugural Flourish Prizes will be awarded. All stories published in 2017 will be eligible for the 2018 Flourish Prizes.

How to get involved:

All PRME schools are invited to offer the AIM2Flourish assignment to their students, as preparation for students to become Global Goals business leaders. For more information visit AIM2Flourish.

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