Business Schools Fall Short On Sustainability

Sustainability hasn't been completely embraced by b-school administrators, say researchers in the United Kingdom.
WHILE SUSTAINABILITY IS NOW a mainstream topic in business curricula, it hasn't been completely embraced by b-school administrators, say researchers in the United Kingdom. The team included sustainability and ethics expert Mollie Painter-Morland, as well as Ehsan Sabet, Petra Molthan-Hill, and Sander de Leeuw, all of Nottingham Business School at Nottingham Trent University; and Helen Goworek of the University of Leicester.

To learn what European business schools were doing to embrace sustainability, the team analyzed data from a previous survey of deans, directors, and faculty conducted by the Academy of Business in Society (ABIS) in partnership with EFMD. They defined a school’s attention to sustainability by its attention to four areas: ethics, society, corporate governance, and environmental performance (ESGE).

According to Painter-Morland, these deans shared promising attitudes about their business schools’ ability to reduce their environmental footprints and adopt more sustainable procurement processes. “Unfortunately,” she says, “the commitment toward integration of sustainability into campus management procedures is not matched with similar resolve.”

Her team’s analysis showed gaps between how business school leaders viewed their commitment to integrating sustainability concerns and how faculty viewed that commitment. The gap was particularly pronounced when it came to the extent to which school leadership provided the support and training required to make ESGE issues a mainstream part of the culture and curriculum.

WE CANNOT TEACH OUR STUDENTS TO DO WHAT WE OURSELVES CANNOT MUSTER

For instance, significant disagreement existed between deans and faculty members when it came to supporting the ESGE champions, says Molthan-Hill. That disagreement revealed that “either deans overestimate their own support, or faculty members do not fully experience the leadership support of their superiors.”

As a result, the researchers recommend that business school leaders add a new protocol called Systemic Institutional Integration (SII), which would help schools outline a plan and track their efforts to ensure that sustainability is not overlooked.

"SII ... is a commitment to the agenda from bottom-up, through all the organization’s business practices, as well as ... top-down, through strong leadership directives,” says Painter-Morland. “Those who are committed to transformation in business schools must receive real institutional support in terms of capacity building, through hiring criteria, strategies, and performance management policies. We cannot teach our students to do what we ourselves cannot muster within our own institutions.”

Their report, “Beyond the Curriculum: Integrating Sustainability into Business Schools,” is forthcoming in the Journal of Business Ethics.