Teaching sustainability to tomorrow’s leaders


The clamor for business schools to educate their graduates not only as managers but also as responsible leaders is increasing in volume. There is a cry for academics and executives to change mindsets and follow new paths that enable more balance and greater stability. We need managers who implement strategies that are not only profitable but also account for the well-being of the planet and its people. ESMT has embedded, and continues to embed, tenets of sustainability and responsible leadership into various aspects of our life including teaching, research, thought leadership, and slowly but surely, lifestyle.

ESMT considers sustainability and responsible leadership essential components of a 21st century business education that develops responsible and entrepreneurial leaders who think globally, act responsibly, and respect the individual. This is shown in a number of ways, including the E.ON Chair in Corporate Responsibility (currently held by the author), an MBA sustainability track, a mandatory sustainable business class in our MBA and EMBA programs, and the Sustainable Business Roundtable, which brings together practitioners and academics in a common forum to discuss strategies for increasing sustainability practices within companies.

Our MBA program offers a variety of core courses, including Sustainable Business: The Triple Bottom Line, Business Ethics and Business in Society that directly or indirectly address sustainability and corporate responsibility issues. More specifically, the Global Sustainable Business track offers a set of electives such as Fighting Poverty with Business, Economic Consequences of Climate Change, and Sustainable Supply Chain Management. Often the field seminar within the MBA curriculum includes a learning trip to an emerging economy. While the courses, as well as the topic of sustainability, is generally off to a good start at ESMT, there is of course much scope for improvement, including:

  1. Building linkages to other disciplines: given the inherent interdisciplinary nature of the topic of sustainability, it would be good to build stronger linkages to non-business disciplines such as political science and philosophy.
  2. Integrating sustainability through the entire curriculum: the message surrounding sustainable business would be far more powerful if key concepts were integrated more strongly into courses on finance, marketing, operations, and the like.
  3. Increasing cross-fertilization across knowledge forums: there is no systematic interaction between MBA students and the ESMT Sustainable Business Roundtable (SBRT). The SBRT provides a learning platform that combines the latest academic insight with best business practices to develop leading-edge concepts that produce a “sustainability advantage” for businesses. Currently, managers from 18 companies participate in two meetings per year, and it would be good from a learning perspective to actively engage students in these meetings.

Corporate Responsibility and Ethics, Leadership and Change

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