Testing for Sustainability

The Sustainability Literacy Test allows individuals and organizations to determine how much they know about sustainability.

How can businesses, universities, and individuals make sure they’re working toward sustainability? In 2015, the United Nations identified 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that include ambitious objectives such as ending poverty, ending hunger, ensuring education, and achieving gender equity. The list was generated three years after the United Nations held the World Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, an event known as Rio+20.

But knowing about sustainability isn’t the same as working to achieve it. To make sure that political and economic leaders are aware of key global challenges, a group of academics and professionals developed the Sustainability Literacy Test—or Sulitest—in 2013. The online multiple-choice test not only gauges how well individuals or members of an organization understand sustainability issues, it also can guide them to more knowledge on specific topics.

Kedge Business School in France was a key player in developing the pilot version of the Sulitest. Since then, the online tool has received financial support from 11 higher education institutions and eight corporate or professional organizations. Today, the Sulitest is an autonomous NGO based in France and supported by national committees in 27 countries. More than 600 universities have registered with the platform and more than 78,000 students have taken the test.

While the online quiz consists of an international set of questions designed for all users, it’s available in customizable modes. The free “learning mode” allows users to learn the right answers and develop a greater understanding of the issues. A fee-based mode enables organizations to add their own questions, a timed “certificate mode” allows users to earn credentials, and shorter modes let organizations use the test in training or informational sessions.

In July 2017, the Sulitest was expanded with a new module called “Rebalancing Society,” based on a book of the same name by Henry Mintzberg of McGill University in Montreal, Quebec. The module was launched by McGill, Kedge, and the Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) network of the U.N.

To discuss the state of sustainability education at business schools today—and how the online tool can shape the conversation—BizEd spoke with Jean-Christophe Carteron, CSR director at Kedge Business School and president of the Sulitest Association.

WHAT CHANGES HAVE YOU SEEN IN THE WAY THAT BUSINESS SCHOOLS TREAT SUSTAINABILITY? 
For a long time, higher education institutions have had committed teachers, administrators, and students who have tried to make sure that we train more responsible managers. Unfortunately, in most of those institutions, those people have had neither the recognition nor the means to act effectively. Today, numerous national and international networks have been created, such as PRME and the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative.

But for me, the big change dates from Rio+20. It was there that the academic community recognized its responsibility—though not its guilt— in the behavior of its alumni, and consequently recognized the need to introduce notions of sustainability into its activities.

WHAT DO YOU THINK BUSINESS SCHOOLS SHOULD BE DOING IN THE AREA OF SUSTAINABILITY THAT THEY ARE NOT? 
There is one real challenge: to ensure that all students, not just a few committed activists, are properly equipped to make informed decisions. We have to train people to integrate into their daily decisions the notions of long-term vision and overall performance, including social performance.

And we cannot wait for our current students to rise in the hierarchy. The majority of the crises facing humanity and the planet are the result of human decisions, mostly made in a professional context by well-educated people. Therefore, business schools must consider how to integrate sustainability into all of their executive education modules—whatever the topic.

HOW DO YOU THINK SCHOOLS COULD USE THE SULITEST TO BEST PREPARE STUDENTS FOR OPERATING IN THE WORLD TODAY? 
When we ask all of our students to take the Sulitest as soon as they arrive on campus, we get an amazing snapshot of their awareness, and we can adapt our actions to and around the classroom.

At Kedge Business School, for instance, some professors have developed their own sets of questions so they can better understand where their students stand on certain topics such as marketing, finance, and supply chain management. Kedge also is working to create a module for students and staff that allows us to learn everyone’s level of awareness. When we see the results, we can benchmark and launch specific actions. By 2020, Kedge will make it mandatory for students to get a minimum score on the Sulitest before they graduate.

What impresses me the most is that we’ve created a movement. As soon as you bring people together to discuss what ten or 20 things all staff and students should know, people discuss, debate, agree, argue, and sometimes even fight. But the movement is launched. For more information about the test, visit www.sulitest.org. To learn more about the Sustainable Development Goals, visit sustainabledevelopment.un.org/partnerships/unsummit2015.