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Integrating Sustainability into Traditional Education: Revamping the M.B.A.

Submitted by: Kelly Eisenhardt

Posted: Sep 04, 2015 – 06:00 AM EST

Series: Education for a Sustainable Future

Tags: education, sustainability, mba, business

 
Kelly_eisenhardt

This is the most recent article in our series "Education for a Sustainable Future". For more articles, go to http://www.csrwire.com/blog/series/86-education-for-a-sustainable-future/posts

Business school graduates who understand the concepts of sustainability and demonstrate practical knowledge, stand a better chance at landing positions with today’s leading companies.

Giselle Weybrecht is the author of The Sustainable MBA: A Business Guide to Sustainability (2nd edition 2014 Wiley). She has 20 years of experience working in the field of sustainability and business with a focus on embedding sustainability into management programs. She is Special Advisor to the UN Global Compact and works with a wide range organizations, business schools, and businesses globally on engaging students and employees in making sustainability a part of every job, regardless of the job. @gweybrecht www.thesustainablemba.com

Why did you decide to take on the challenge of getting business schools to implement and adapt sustainability into their curriculum?

I spent many years working with the United Nations on the sustainability issues in particular water. Back then, there was a distinct lack of engagement from the business sector. It was clear to me that in order to move forward, we had to involve them. 

So I decided to learn the language of business. I wanted to understand how the next generation of business leaders were being trained. With this in mind, I enrolled at London School of Business. 

What struck me odd right away was that the students and the faculty at the business school knew little of the world I had just come from and the sustainability concepts I had always been immersed in never came up in the context of classes within the business degree.

Many of the students became interested in the topics I was discussing. At that point, I knew it was important to help schools integrate sustainability practices and processes into their curriculums and campuses. I started working on my book during my business degree, writing simple one-page briefs that introduced sustainability and correlating it to traditional business degree disciplines.

My goal was to raise awareness and show that sustainability is integrated into business and not separate. When I graduated I spent a year interviewing business leaders from around the world and wrote The Sustainable MBA: A Business Guide on Sustainability. The book introduces sustainability as it relates to the core business topics: Accounting, Economics, Entrepreneurship, Finance, HR, Operations, Strategy, and Marketing, and gives tips and tools for readers to bring sustainability into their job, regardless of what job they have. It is currently used by university students at all levels around the world as well as a large number of businesses to train their employees.

Knowing that a “Sustainable MBA” is a concept and not a curriculum, how does it differ from the standard teachings in an accredited Masters of Business Administration (M.B.A.) degree?

As you mentioned, the Sustainable MBA is not about the degree itself but about the concepts that need to be included into a traditional M.B.A or any degree programme for that matter.

In my research, I’ve found that a large number of schools in the U.S. are trying to incorporate sustainability into their mainstream programs. Many schools are building new electives and certificate programs that highlight sustainability. In addition they are also trying to create opportunities for students to get involved in programs that support sustainability on and off campus, but much more needs to be done.

Your first edition was widely adopted by many organizations and universities and sold out globally. What resonated most with readers and students and why?

The biggest surprise has been that many didn’t realize how much sustainability plays a role across every part of an organization. Instead of being pet projects performed by certain groups within the company, sustainability affects all disciplines.  The book has been used a lot by students in a range of different degree programs. Many give it to all of their students at the beginning of the year as a tool to help guide them through their whole degree programme. Faculty also use it quite a bit (I do faculty workshops) as a way to help integrate these concepts into their courses, but also to better understand the bigger picture).

The book is primarily used by businesses of all sizes. Many use it in training programs or give it to all their employees or their team as a toolkit to help engage employees in bringing sustainability into their individual jobs and projects.

With the printing of the second book, did readers’ feedback weigh heavily? What new concepts can we look forward to reading about?

In all of the work I do I try to bring together concepts and make them easily readable, understandable, and useable. I want my readers to take this information and take action with it.

The first edition sold out very quickly. This was exciting and gave me the chance to do add, edits, and changes before the printing of the 2nd edition.

I didn’t want to put out a book that would be outdated as soon as it was published. There are some parts of the book that have stayed the same—the basic concepts and definitions—and yet, we’ve added a ton of new information. I think it’s a stronger edition with more resources with new sections throughout. My hope is that schools (and businesses) use this to teach the deeper integration of sustainability into the traditional disciples and not as something being taught as a separate module or two weeks in an ethics class.

So many high-profile executives, organizations, and universities have endorsed your book. How did you build the consensus that a Sustainable MBA is the next step for business students?

I was really fortune to get endorsements from Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever; the Executive Director of the UN Global Compact, Georg Kell; the President of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, Achim Steiner; and the President of BSR, Aron Cramer, among others. Most of the endorsements were gained through talking with each of the executives, one on one. I spoke with many organizations about the need to really embed sustainability into educational programs. I spoke with many of the companies about how this would help their brand, employees, and bottom lines.

Many of the people I spoke with continue to look for graduate students for positions at their firms. They’ve expressed that many graduates from business schools don’t have a grounding in sustainability concepts. Their challenge is always about training new employees.

It’s time to develop innovative ideas and to rethink curriculums globally, along with embedding new opportunities for students to practice sustainability. My role is to help lead the conversation and to enable the changes we would all like to see.

With such a global reader base, how do you connect with your audience on issues relevant to their companies and parts of the world?

I am fortunate that my audience is global. I keeps my mind fresh in thinking about ways in which sustainability is perceived.

I recently moved to the U.S. after having been based in the U.K.

Working with schools and businesses around the world has shown me the word sustainability means and is applied in different ways globally. One needs to connect the key points of the discussion to what is relevant to each audience in their own country and how they relate to the world abroad.

Companies and incoming students alike will all be looking for the best of the best training in sustainability. What key concepts or courses would you recommend students look for when searching for a Sustainable MBA program?

Number one, most important thing to look for above all else is for schools that embed sustainability into their programs.

Ask many questions. Find out what the dean and the faculty are saying and teaching about the subject. Research if the school puts into practice what it teaches and actually teaches what it preaches.

Look for the range of opportunities available to students. Beyond what is taught in courses, find out if there are opportunities for specialization in sustainability. Some schools offer special programs and additional certifications at graduation. Look for the chance to participate in internships or special consulting projects. Find day to day opportunities around the school where you can demonstrate a commitment to sustainability. Look for ways to turn whatever degree. you’ve earned into an opportunity to expand the mission of sustainability.

This is the most recent article in our series "Education for a Sustainable Future". For more articles, go to http://www.csrwire.com/blog/series/86-education-for-a-sustainable-future/posts


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