5 Key Messages from Businesses to Business Schools Around Sustainability

PRME Global ForumAt the recent PRME Global Forum in New York City, business representatives from the Global Compact LEAD and PRME Champions groups met to discuss how they could work together to move the sustainability agenda forwards for their respective organisations and beyond. The discussion covered a range of different possible projects and collaborations but, in particular, focused on the need to develop employees and graduates with the relevant competencies and skills that businesses of the 21st century need.

The representatives from the Global Compact companies provided a number of interesting insights during this meeting that are relevant to PRME Signatories. Six key messages came out of the discussion, including:

  1. Business doesn’t need sustainability professionals, but rather professionals that are capable of making sustainable decisions in any role.

Many of the business representatives present suggested that a sustainability course/degree/certificate may miss the point. While basic knowledge of sustainability is of course necessary, more important is that graduates have an understanding of how to apply it in the business context in which they are working and the function that they are filling. They need all of them employees to have this knowledge and not just a few specialized individuals.

  1. Business needs better managers/leaders/team members to move sustainability forward.

Business need graduates that have the reflexes to ask the right questions and to find answers when it comes to sustainability. They should be able to ask “Will the decision I am making today stand the test of time, and if it doesn’t, what decision should I make?” Graduates need to be able to drive and influence change, build consensus, and shift the conversation.

  1. Business can see that graduates are increasingly interested in the topic of sustainability and are seeing some benefits….

Businesses in the room at the PRME-LEAD meeting stated that they receive a significantly higher number of applicants, and higher quality applicants, for all jobs because of their reputation as a sustainability leader. This is particularly true when sustainability is mentioned in the job application. Businesses are noticing the work that academic institutions are doing in this area and are encouraged by the changes they are already seeing in graduates.

  1. …but also recognise that there is more business could do to help in this regard.

As sustainability becomes core to how modern companies operate, it will increasingly be part of all jobs and therefore job descriptions and selection criteria. However, business representatives agreed that this isn’t always the case and these skills, which they admit they want/need, are often not integrated into the recruiting process. Incorporating sustainability into the recruiting process would sent a strong message to students about the importance of being knowledgeable about sustainability topics to increase their changes of being hired.

  1. Business is interested in engaging with business schools, but partnerships need to be mutually beneficial

Business schools want/need business to engage with them in order to move their sustainability agendas forward, while businesses often prefer to engage with schools that they see are already advanced in this area. For this reason business schools need to give businesses a clear reason to want to work with them. Do you have students who are knowledgeable about these topics and can use that knowledge to help a company further their efforts? Does your school have a research focus that coincides with that of a local company engaged in sustainability? There needs to be something in it for all parties involved.

  1. Business schools should become knowledgeable in what business needs are in the area of sustainability today, and prepare for what they may be in the future.

Representatives working in the field of sustainability within leading businesses are busy people with limited time and resources. They do not necessarily have the time to tell business schools what they need and want, it is up to the schools themselves to uncover these needs and tailor programmes and projects accordingly. They can do this by staying connected and up to date with sustainability issues, attending local, country, and regional Global Compact events or organising and bringing together groups of professionals working in this field from their city.


For more on the outcomes of both meetings, view the outcomes documents from the PRME Global Forum and the Global Compact +15. ‘The State of Sustainability in Management Education’ was launched at this meeting and provides a summary of some of the challenges that management education are facing in embedding these topics into their curriculum as well as some of the opportunities for business and academic institutions to work together moving forward.

Creating Teaching Cases around Sustainability: 4 examples

One of the challenges mentioned by faculty looking to incorporate sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) into their classrooms is the lack of relevant case studies. This includes not just case studies relating to responsible leadership, but also case studies specific to the businesses in their region or other regions around the world. Here is a collection of 4 Business Schools around the world that are taking a leading role to increase the number of relevant case studies from their country, region or internationally:

  • In Poland, Kozminski University has been working on a range of case studies from the region of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). The project is coordinated in cooperation with the Center for Business and Society CEU Business School, the Graduate School of Management St Petersburg State University and CSR Ukraine. The aim of the project is to make a selection of the best responsible corporate performers from companies operating in CEE and to prepare a collection of educational case studies. The project will be finalized in 2011 as a booklet of 8 practical teaching case studies for MBA programs. The booklet will be distributed for use by academic institutions to integrate CEE CSR case studies into their mainstream management and executive education programs
  • In Mexico, at Tecnológico de Monterrey, San Luis Potosí, students write and present short teaching cases on businesses in Mexico as a way to provide close-to-real life responsible business learning experiences and to enable students to pass on their learning to classmates. Cases are based on interviews, extensive external resources, and at least one responsible management tool that is taught in class. Students then have the possibility to enter their case into the publication process with the “Centro Internacional de Casos” (the biggest case collection in the Spanish-speaking world).
  • In Italy, ISTUD Foundation has developed a range of case studies around sustainability and CSR of companies based or operating in Italy. This includes 38 case studies based on research projects with companies such as IKEA Italia, BMW Italia, Illy Caffe, Adidas Saloman, and 19 cases of best practices, including Enel Green Power, ENI, Pirelli Labs.
  • In Canada, Richard Ivey Business School, University of Western Ontario has been working with the UN Global Compact to create a repository of real-world examples. A significant volume of cases has been developed around the four categories that are used to encompass the ten Global Compact Principles – Human Rights (55 published case studies), Labour Standards (41 published case studies), the Environment (101 published case studies) and Anti-Corruption (36 published case studies).

Get Involved!

Are you working on an initiative to create case studies around sustainability or responsible leadership in your region? Share your experiences in the comments area below this blog.

The PRME Working Group on Anti-Corruption and the PRME Working Group on Gender Equality are both working to aggregate case studies and other resources (syllabi, research, etc.) related to their respective topics. Those interested in joining/contributing should visit http://www.unprme.org/working-groups/working-groups.php.

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