Outside of the Classroom: New Ways to Feature Sustainability in Business Courses – Maastricht University

There are many different approaches to incorporating sustainability into business school courses. Janjaap Semeijn, professor of Supply Chain Management at Maastricht University, dedicates a whole week to sustainability in his curriculum. Now, students explore this topic in its full complexity through a mix of company visits, assignments and workshops. Despite a lack of initial funding, the program has been well received by the students.

I recently had a chance to speak with Janjaap about his “Green Week” and how it came about.

1. What is Green Week and how is it organised?

Green Week is a special week devoted to sustainability, concentrated around the new Campus Venlo facility of Maastricht University in the Netherlands. It is part of the Master level business course on Supply Chain Strategy. The week is made up of a range of field trips and activities that aim to raise student awareness of sustainability issues in operations and supply chain management.

On Monday, we start with a consumer perspective by visiting REAL – Future Store,“a supermarket of the future,” in Germany. On Tuesday, the class stops at the Barge terminal in Born, to explore the potential of inland water transportation, before going back to the classroom for a workshop on sustainable Human Resource Management. Wednesday, students visit the MS.Anda, the cleanest ship in Europe. Later, they participate in a workshop on green labeling and are invited to explore the sustainable nature of various green-labeled food products, recently purchased at a local supermarket. Afterwards, they visit a local farm and deliver turnips and other vegetables to the location of the green cooking workshop. Following another workshop on AgroParks, students use these ingredients to prepare a green dinner that they then enjoy with the different speakers from the week.

Thursday, students visit Ewals Cargo Care, known for its work in multimodal transport, and take part in discussions led by PhD students on lean & green and closed-loop supply chains. Finally, on Friday students take part in a workshop explaining how a major international company is going green in its supply chains. They finish off the week with a session on using social media for sustainability and supply chains.

2. Why did you decide to develop this Week?

I wanted to have a fun focal point for all things green in my class. I see it as a way to expose students to the many different aspects of green, and to motivate them to write their master thesis on sustainability in supply chains

It started very low key. I had no budget so I focused on who I could get to give workshops in my network of friends, faculty and PhDs. In 2011, we had a week called Green Week around the same time and students used this opportunity to present literature on sustainable supply chains. Because of the attention in the news to green initiatives in the Venlo region, it seemed worthwhile to expand the concept with more company activities. We figured we could have more fun and more of an impact on the region and its businesses if we had a full week of activities. Many companies were eager to get involved. The company visits were arranged at no cost with the premise that students could be made aware of Green SCM at company x and company x could meet some talented future professionals. Students still had to do presentations but this year they gave them at the company field trips, which allowed them to get feedback from company representatives.

3. What have been some of the challenges and how have you overcome these?

Making a coherent program with so many different contributing participants has been a challenge. One of the PhD students involved agreed to make the schedule, trying to fit all participants in their respective time slots and locations. Another challenge was the transport and logistics of the class members to the different locations: only a few of our students have cars.

4. What are your plans/hopes for the course moving forward?

The plan is to make it a regular feature of the Campus Venlo course offering and to involve more regional companies. It would also be interesting to see whether the week could be made open to other students from other disciplines (not just Business and Economics) or perhaps have similar kinds of weeks focused on other topics in the business school. We have been advertising within the Business School that the green week workshops are open to anyone. For real creativity you could even invite performing art students into business classes.

5. What would you recommend to other schools thinking of putting in place a similar course?

I would stress the importance of student input and participation; make it as interactive as possible and avoid “lecturing” when things can become apparent through fun activities.

Business Examples from Around the World – Poland, United Kingdom, Netherlands

The Eden Project

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

I asked a handful of faculty members from around the world about their favourite examples of local companies actively involved in sustainability for study in their classrooms. Here are some examples from Poland, United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

Boleslaw Rok, Business Ethics Centre, Kozminski University, Poland

I think that the biggest sustainability challenge in Poland is to innovate business models and apply them to produce desired social results, cost-effectively and efficiently. The process of building a successful venture of this kind needs the fundamental redesign of the business model. The best case here in Poland is concentrated on a special product – Milky Start – an instant fortified milky porridge designed in response to the specific local context of nutrition habits, with the price adapted to the purchasing power of low-income Polish households.  Milky Start is a for-profit commercial venture co-created by partners, such as supermarket chain Biedronka, Danone Poland, food producer Maspex, and the Institute of Mother and Child, to promote social change through profitable activity. One can read more on Milky Start here: http://cases.growinginclusivemarkets.org/documents/14

Professor Malcolm Kirkup, Director of MBA Programmes, University of Exeter Business School, UK

I would volunteer the Eden Project, in the Southwest of England.  This is a tourist attraction, charity and social enterprise dedicated to showcasing sustainability in practice.  They run transformational social and environmental projects, undertake research into plants and conservation and run the operations of the business in an authentically sustainable way.

Prof. dr. Marielle G. Heijltjes, Associate Dean, School of Business and Economics, Maastricht University, Netherlands

Gulpener is a brewery in the Netherlands that has focused on sustainability for over 12 years. They apply sustainability concepts to the whole beer making process and source all of their materials locally, through a cooperative of over 60 farmers. Another example is DSM a global science-based company that works in health, nutrition and materials. They have a number of interesting programmes including a focus on cradle to cradle.

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