Embedding Sustainability in Business School Curriculum

Mike Chikeleze Ethics, Sustainability, Values

Are we cheating tomorrow’s business leaders by
neglecting to teach sustainability as part of
B-school curriculum?


The business and financial crises of the last decade have left academia asking, Are we teaching the right things in business school? Traditional M.B.A.s may have a single ethics course, which can often be countered by internships and even classroom experience that demonstrates the value proposition in less than ethical behavior. A stronger emphasis in ethics is needed in B-school. But to get ethics right, you’ve got to look beyond governance principles and standards of behavior, and begin to look at the daily choices that make a business ethical. At the forefront of these ethical choices is how the company cares for the future. This is where ethics and sustainability meet, and our business students need a wider education in both.
In the past, companies may have seen sustainability as a “nice-to-have,” but not essential to doing business. In fact, many saw sustainability initiatives as an added cost, thus cutting into profits.
However, sustainability has gained much attention over the past few years.

 With declining natural resources and increasing expectations of companies (e.g. Occupy Wall Street), there is pressure on American companies to view sustainability differently. Companies have started to recognize the need to protect people and planet, while at the same time making a profit. No longer is sustainability viewed as a drain on resources, but rather as a revenue and innovationgenerator. As a result, many companies no longer view sustainability as optional, but rather a key strategic endeavor required for continued future success. Today’s business students need training to lead tomorrow’s sustainability strategies.

As a community college leader, one of my primary responsibilities is to ensure that our curricula are reflective of the needs of the business community. Two important local companies are Fortune 50 companies Kroger and Procter and Gamble, both with corporate headquarters in Cincinnati, where I work. These companies place sustainability at the heart of their corporate strategy. Kroger Company defines sustainability in the areas of environment, food & products, people and community as “improving today to protect tomorrow.” According to Dave Dillon, CEO, Kroger’s goal is to “integrate sustainable practices into their everyday business operations.” The company’s recent pledge to identify more sustainable fish sources is illustration of their sincerity.

Similarly, Procter & Gamble defines sustainability as environmental and social responsibility that ensures “a better quality of life today, for people and our planet.” According to Bob McDonald, CEO, “sustainability often enables productivity” and “the best way to solve sustainability challenges is to innovate.”
Clearly, these companies see sustainability as competitive advantage. They, of course, are not alone. You would expect that sustainability would be an integral part of standard business curriculum. However, as with other business schools, the community college where I work does not embed sustainability in our business courses.
With such clear and direct guidance, why don’t business schools focus more on sustainability? A recent Bloomberg BusinessWeek article highlighted how business schools need to do a better job teaching corporate social responsibility (CSR) by making it an integral part of every class:
David Ikenberry and Donna Sockell of Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado, Boulder, … argue that despite demands from companies, students wanting it, and society and economy relying on it, business schools do not treat CSR as an integral part of the core business courses. They contend that business schools should make CSR part of every course that is taught. This integration will demonstrate to students that CSR is inseparable and “part of a fully integrated toolkit and thought system.”
I agree. Business schools develop talent for American corporations, and these individuals have goals of reaching the senior level ranks. Don’t we have an obligation to equip students with the tools for their success? I contend that business leaders of today and tomorrow are required to have an understanding of sound sustainability practices. As educators, we should do a better job of embedding sustainability across the traditional courses in marketing, management, finance and accounting.
Do you find that sustainability is important in your company? Would you have benefitted from sustainability being more integrated curriculum as part of your business school education? Share your experiences here.
Michael Chikeleze is the associate dean of business programs at Cincinnati State Community College, and a Ph.D. student in values-driven leadershipat Benedictine’s Center for Values-Driven Leadership, where sustainability is actively-integrated in the curriculum.
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