Sustainable Business Examples from Around the World – UK, USA, South Africa

Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 12.05.26As businesses become 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 repeatedly hear the same examples from the same international companies.

In an attempt to share some new examples of good practise, 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. Below are some examples from the UK, USA, and South Africa.

Professor Michael Sherer, Director, Essex Business School, UK

The Green Light Trust is an environmental Suffolk-based charity, operating principally across eastern England. Green Light enables people, communities, and organisations to develop their relationship with nature to create sustainable lives and a future that protects our planet via consultancy work with individuals, community groups, and businesses. The East of England Cooperative Society is collaborating on a research project with the Essex Sustainability Institute, investigating the links between local food production and wellbeing. QualitySolicitors FJG, a long-established firm of solicitors, is the biggest legal aid provider in the Eastern region. The firm worked closely with Essex Business School to conduct a thorough review of the firm’s family law section and identify more efficient and environmentally friendly practices that could be implemented. It is committed to offering affordable legal services for clients, despite changes to the legal aid system.

Dr. Donna Sockell, Executive Director of CESR, Leeds School of Business, USA

New Belgium Brewing Co., led by CEO and co-founder, Kim Jordan, is staunchly guided by its core values and beliefs. The company’s high involvement ownership culture, keen focus on environmental metrics, and support of the local community provide a compelling example to students of how a for-profit company can sustainably “walk the talk” of caring for people, planet and profits. Davita Inc., the largest independent provider of dialysis services, stands out not only for their impact on patients suffering from chronic kidney failure, but also for their unique management philosophy that empowers every employee. Kent Thiry, Chairman and CEO, has managed to build Davita into a true community that is passionate about social responsibility, leadership development, and excellence. WhiteWave Foods Company helped create some of the biggest consumer trends in food. The company’s core value is that good food should nourish the body and mind while preserving the planet, so WhiteWave sets specific goals to track progress and measure improvement. By using the power of its brands, the passion of its people, and both the small and big scale of its business, WhiteWave demonstrates how a successful for-profit company can create meaningful and lasting change.

Dr. Japie Heydenrych, Milpark Business School, South Africa

MTN’s CSR initiatives focus on six communities in some of South Africa’s most remote rural areas. They have brought about positive change through job creation, better healthcare, improved education, and support for entrepreneurial businesses and ideas in the areas. In education, for example, they help improve the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) connectivity in rural schools, building new science labs and centres, using technology to provide scholars and teachers with tele-teaching aids and skills, and making the infrastructure in schools better. Nedbank’s Green Infinity is an initiative through which the company donates money on behalf of clients who have one of the Green Infinity products. After more than 20 years in existence, the WWF Nedbank Green Trust has funded projects in climate change, freshwater conservation, marine conservation, the preservation of outstanding places, the conservation of species of special concern, and conservation leadership.

Infusing ethics and social impact into today’s business school – Leeds School of Business

Dr. Donna Sockell, Executive Director of CESR, introduces an executive speaker in a unique course she created called, Leadership Challenges: Exercises in Moral Courage.

Dr. Donna Sockell, Executive Director of CESR, introduces an executive speaker in a unique course she created called, Leadership Challenges: Exercises in Moral Courage.

Business schools around the world have been exploring a variety of ways to infuse ethics and social impact into their curricula and train their students to be responsible leaders. At Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado – Boulder in the US, this is manifested through the creation of their Center for Education on Social Responsibility (CESR), which not only provides a wide range of courses and events, but also looks at how to apply these lessons throughout the curriculum. I recently had the chance to speak with Dr. Donna Sockell, Executive Director of CESR about the work of the center.

1. What is the Center for Education on Social Responsibility and why was it created?

CESR was developed almost exclusively as a curriculum initiative to help develop the socially conscious, values-driven leaders of tomorrow with passionate support from the donors of our school, the Leeds family. The Center is devoted to helping all our students develop an inward understanding of what motivates them, who they are as people (values), the type of business leaders they seek to become, the existing businesses that match their values, and those they will seek to build. Equally important as this self-discovery process is its social context; we want our students to be socially conscious–and recognise that their decisions ripple through the lives of others directly and indirectly. Our Center reaches over three thousand students a year through required and elective courses, not including non-CESR courses that are infused with discussions of values, ethics, sustainability, and CSR. We also have extensive extracurricular activities, such as our recent 16-event Stampede, that support in-class learning. The CESR Stampede is a week of driving values in business through class visits, panels, speakers, a case competition and project showcase, and an annual Conscious Capitalism Conference.

2. Why do you believe it is important to teach students about social responsibility?

Every decision made – especially in a business context – has a social responsibility or an ethical component. Continuing to act without regard to the full consequences of our decisions is detrimental to the fabric of our society, And each of us has the responsibility to think critically about our obligations to others. As educators, we have a moral imperative to train future leaders to understand, embrace, and then act on these responsibilities. If we help to foster a world of people who think critically about their responsibilities to others, the possibilities for great things are endless. When we fail to do so, we experience dire consequences such as the recent tragedy in Bangladesh, collapsing world economies, and so forth on grand scales, as well as many less known injustices on smaller scales.

3. How do you teach social responsibility to students?

There are two key tasks in “teaching” CSR, which we prefer to call “learning facilitation.” The first is to get our students to recognise the impact of their actions, followed by training them to ask the right questions. Our role is to help them develop individualised approaches to answering these questions. We have discovered that discussions, exercises, and action learning – environments with the highest level of student engagement – are the most effective approaches. Support from business professionals, using timely issues, and placing them in real life situations with a toolbox of approaches creates self-discovery and enduring learning. In this sense, we are catalysts.

The second task is to reinforce their education throughout their studies so they habituate critical thinking that they will employ in their careers. Our education is, in a sense, “scaffolded” both vertically – from the very first semester until the last – and horizontally, as our students learn that these issues are significant in all functional areas.

4.     What have been some of your challenges? Your successes?

Many academics in traditional business disciplines were resistant to having the Leeds School focus specifically on values, ethics, and CSR, claiming that these issues were not mainstream and therefore worthy only of minimal class time and resources. However, involvement of a broad range of faculty and administrators in this educational effort is critical to its success. It has taken time, patience, convincing, incentives, cross pollination, and collaborative experiences to melt this resistance since the initiative was founded in January 2007, but it has happened. The school and the students are better for it!

There is no better measure of success of CESR than impact on students. We have countless stories from our alumni on how the CESR emphasis affected not only their choice of jobs but how they behave at work. Because of the limitations of anecdotal evidence, however, we recently conducted a survey of alumni who took at least two CESR elective classes. They said these courses increased awareness of ethical issues at work (77%), made them more confident in dealing with ethical issues at work (72%), influenced their career behavior (72%), and helped them identify business cultures that matched their values (63%). Though we recognise the selectivity bias of this sample, these results are heartening.

5.     What advice do you have for other schools looking to embed social responsibility into the curriculum or put in place a similar Center?

It always is best to start with funds, since organisations are more likely to be responsive to imperatives that carry funding with them. The key is to break down the resistance of traditional disciplines to integrate issues of values, ethics, and CSR into the classroom. The “cause” must be championed by at least one passionate person who can build relationships with a small group of department faculty liaisons. In the early stages, opportunities for collaboration and cross-pollination must be seized. This includes the preparation of materials that discipline-based faculty can use in their classes, providing training for interested faculty, offering and delivering guest lectures, collaborating on speakers and workshops, and, ultimately, cross-teaching, cross-developing and cross-listing classes.

On the course development side, it is important to dedicate at least one class to values, CSR, ethics, and sustainability to set the framework for how students will view these issues throughout their education. Then it becomes critical to increase the developmental collaboration in course design and delivery.

Finally, there needs to be a structure that oversees course offerings, quality control, collaboration, and so forth, whether that is a Center, a department, or another body that codifies the school’s commitment to education in this area and ensures that it continues and grows. Issues of internal and external legitimacy are key.

6.     What is next for the Center?

CESR has been participating in the revision of our required core curriculum and the school’s new business minor, and we will be heavily involved in designing and implementing those new programs. We will continue to develop and offer cutting edge electives in collaboration with division-based faculty. We will also redouble our outreach efforts and continue with our CESR Stampede next year.

Because we want to share our learnings about mounting a Center and infusing CSR into the fabric of our school, we started a Curriculum Think Tank, consisting of approximately 15 schools with which we have met and speak regularly via conference calls. The number of participant schools has been growing regularly.

Board Fellows Programmes Part 3 – 5 questions for Sarah Boulden Board Fellow from Leeds School of Business

(This blog is part 3 of a three part series looking Board Fellows Programmes. Click here to read part 1 and part 2.)

For the final part of this three part blog on Board Fellows Programmes, we speak with a student who is taking part in the programme. As we saw in part 1 and part 2, Board Fellows Programmes are a growing trend in MBAs across the US where students are placed as non-voting board members for not for profits and charities.

Sarah Boulden is an MBA student at Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado in the US. Since January 2011, she has been a non-voting member of the board of Voices for Children CASA (Court Appointment Special Advocates) a nonprofit based in Boulder, Colorado. Sarah is part of Leeds Business School’s Board Fellow Program, which places students in nonprofits across the city, including the Boulder History Museum and the YMCA of Boulder Valley. I recently had the chance to speak with Sarah about the programme.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself and the organisation you are working with.

I am a JD/MBA student. Since January 2011, I have been a non-voting member of the board of Voices for Children CASA, which provides investigation, advocacy, monitoring and direct service to child victims of abuse and neglect. The organisation helps to find safe and permanent homes for these children.

2. What kind of work you are doing on the board?

My Board Fellows project was to develop a strategic marketing plan for the organisation. I used skills I learned during my time at CU Boulder in the Leeds MBA program as well as past experience to develop this plan. I presented it to the board at the end of the summer, and we are beginning to implement it. The board at VFC CASA is unique compared to many nonprofits, in that it is a “working board.” All board members are very active, not only in deciding on big picture plans for the organisation, but also helping with the implementation of its programs.

3. Why did you get involved in the board fellows project?

As a JD/MBA student, this nonprofit was a great fit, because I got to see both legal and business issues within the organisation. Although I have worked with nonprofits in the past, I had never sat on a nonprofit board before. The Board Fellow Program allows students like me to learn how nonprofits operate while also adding value to the organisation throughout a year-long project.

4. What you are learning?

In addition to working on and beginning to implement a marketing plan, I also helped kick-start a new volunteer program and helped plan the organisation’s first-ever golf tournament fundraiser. Serving on committees has allowed me to make a significant impact on the organisation as well as allowed me to get to know board members, who are also strong community leaders, on an individual basis.

5. Any tips for students interested in joining the Program in the future?

Working with a mentor is really a key part of the programme. I met with both the head of the marketing committee and the President of the Board about once every other month. I also met with the Executive Director monthly, so I got a good feel for how the board and staff interacted, and I learned a lot from them. My time on the board officially ends in December 2011, but I plan to continue volunteering at Voices For Children CASA.

Board Fellows Programmes Part 2 – 5 questions for Becky Johns, MBA 2012 and coordinator of the programme at Leeds School of Business

(This blog is part 2 of a three part series looking Board Fellows Programmes. Click here to read part 1.)

 In part 1 of this 3 part series on Board Fellows Programmes we looked at a growing trend of placing MBA students as non-voting board members of not for profits and charities across the US. In part 2 we look at one particular programme and how Net Impact is promoting these programmes nationally and internationally.

Many Board Fellows Programmes across the US are student initiated and most of these are started by student members of the Net Impact club, an international network of students dedicated to sustainable business. A few years ago, Net Impact launched their Board Fellows Programme, providing support for local clubs in the form of guide books and dedicated conference calls. Boston University School of Management Board Fellows Programme, BU on Board, was started by their Net Impact club in 2010 and works with a range of non-profits, including Cambridge Childcare Resource Center, Aids Action Committee of Massachusetts and Medicine Wheel Production. Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado also recently started their programme, and I had the chance to speak with Becky Johns (MBA 2012) who is leading the programme.

1. How long has the Board Fellows Programme been going on at Leeds

Tyler Hammer and Emily Stanley, both MBA students, founded the Leeds Board Fellows Program during the spring of 2010. The first class of Fellows started in January 2011 and is just finishing their term this December.  We are finalising matches for the 2012 class this coming week.

2. How many students do you place each year?

We have 10 MBA students who completed the 2011 Leeds Board Fellows Program. Our goal for future years is not necessarily making more matches, but ensuring that we make quality matches between students and nonprofits.

3. Do you find it easy to get not-for-profits engaged in the programme?

We were fortunate enough to align ourselves with an organisation called the Nonprofit Cultivation Center, which was founded by a Leeds MBA alum, Amy Rosenblum, to support nonprofits in Boulder County. Our connection with Amy and the Nonprofit Cultivation Center lent legitimacy to our new program when we reached out to local organisations, so it has not been difficult to get nonprofit engagement.

4. Who manages the programme at Leeds?

The two individuals who started the program, Tyler and Emily, graduated this past May. I took over the program with another classmate this year, and we have three students from the class of 2013 preparing to take over for next year. The Program has two professor mentors and support from the Nonprofit Cultivation Center.

5. Any tips for other schools thinking of putting in place a similar programme?

The Leeds Board Fellows Program is a national programme that is part of Net Impact. For schools that already have a Net Impact chapter, setting up a board fellows program is relatively easy. Net Impact provides templates, national conference calls, general guidance and resources.

The Net Impact Board Fellows Programme Manual provides sample letters, application forms and other resources for Net Impact clubs interested in starting a programme on campus. Although board fellows are currently found primarily on US campuses, materials and support are available for interested international clubs.

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