Rewriting the Story of Climate Change

A new training program works to boost carbon literacy.
Rewriting the Story of Climate Change

IF THE WORLD doesn’t reduce its carbon emissions in the next 12 years, it could suffer catastrophic consequences as a result. That’s a conclusion of “Global Warming of 1.5° C,” a November 2018 report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But is the next generation of leaders prepared to tackle the challenges of climate change?

Probably not. Recent data from “Rising Leaders on Environmental Sustainability and Climate Change,” a 2016 report from the Yale School of Management in New Haven, Connecticut, indicate that 79 percent of 3,700 business students surveyed feel only “moderately” to “not at all” knowledgeable about how to make businesses more environmentally sustainable. The report’s authors also found that 64 percent of students want environmental sustainability integrated into core curricula and career services at their business schools, and 96 percent think businesses should be leading efforts to address climate change. (For a Yale survey that looks at climate change from the faculty perspective, see the sidebar “Time to Reframe the Climate Change Narrative” at the end of this article.)

These findings sound a note of urgency for business schools, which need to produce carbon literate graduates capable of achieving the required change as quickly as possible. That’s why, at the Nottingham Business School at Nottingham Trent University in the United Kingdom, we have developed a carbon literacy training program to help faculty and their students assess their roles in reversing climate change.


Although broadcast television might seem an unlikely place for inspiration, we turned to a popular U.K. soap opera, “Coronation Street,” for guidance as we designed our program. The show’s producers have made the television program one of the “greenest” in the world. Their efforts are part of a wider project undertaken by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) in cooperation with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the Independent Television network (ITV), and other television channels in the U.K. The project also involved the U.K.-based Carbon Literacy Project, which offers any interested individual a day of carbon literacy training.

In 2011, the BAFTA Albert Consortium was created to promote sustainable practices in the screen art industry. The consortium was founded on the idea that significant carbon emission reduction can be achieved only if all employees in every department—whether lighting, sound, or costumes—understand how they contribute to carbon emissions.

64% of business students want environmental sustainability integrated into core curricula and career services at their business schools.

The consortium’s efforts are supported by three elements: a carbon calculator that production units could use to measure and report their carbon emissions, carbon literacy training, and a certification. Productions that have earned the certification can display the logo in their end credits—those that have done so include series six of the popular program “Downton Abbey.”

BAFTA, BBC, and ITV have achieved impressive reductions in carbon emissions. That’s why we wanted to discover not only how “Coronation Street” has embedded Albert’s training in its production, but also what part of the training managers and employees perceived as most influential in changing their behaviors. In a fact-finding mission, Nottingham faculty visited the station where “Coronation Street” is produced to interview 20 heads of department across the organization; we also went to the BBC’s offices to speak to its director of sustainability and observe its carbon literacy training firsthand.

For instance, in one innovative exercise, employees were asked to imagine two possible outcomes—one was a dystopian future in which we had done nothing about climate change, and one was an optimistic future in which we had acted upon every insight we have about reducing the severity of climate change. Most interviewees told us that, when they saw these two stories in front of them, they realized that the decisions we make as individuals and as a society will determine which future we will get.

This exercise was followed by activities that highlighted changes that employees could integrate in their lives and at their workplaces that would contribute to achieving the more optimistic outcome. Their trainer emphasized to us just how important it was for the training to help participants believe that they have the power to do something to combat climate change.


We then took what we learned to develop a carbon literacy training program specifically for business school faculty. In our developmental workshop, organized in conjunction with the U.K. and Ireland chapter of the United Nation’s Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME), we welcomed 50 academics and senior managers from business schools around the world to participate in our pilot for the program.

The program took participants on organizational and personal journeys. The first part of the carbon literacy training was developed with the help of oikos International, a student-driven organization that promotes sustainability in economics and management; the Carbon Literacy Project in Manchester, U.K.; and the creators of the training used by “Coronation Street.” This session introduced participants to the science behind climate change, the relevance of climate change to business, and the impact companies have on reversing its effects.

The second part of the training asked participants to consider climate change literacy in relation to their individual disciplines. They broke into separate customized sessions, where they delved deeper into climate change education tools currently being taught and used in their specific disciplines, which included accounting and operations.

The decisions we make as individuals and as a society will determine which future we will get.

Parallel to that session, the senior managers worked on designing the Carbon Literate Executive Leadership Package. In this training, executive leaders explored best practices for adopting environmentally responsible leadership and raising awareness of climate change within their institutions.

For the third and final part of the training, we created a session called Carbon Literate Action, in which participants were asked to make personal and organizational pledges for the future. In our pilot of the workshop, for example, individuals pledged to change energy suppliers and switch to reusable water bottles. Teams committed to making climate change a part of their institutions’ strategic decisions and to discovering how their academic colleagues are incorporating climate change in their teaching.

The entire Carbon Literacy Training package is designed to equip academics with ideas that they can integrate into their teaching—some participants already have taken these ideas back to their institutions. The full version of the training was ready in August 2019.


We also plan to roll the program out to students. As a first step toward this goal, we have conducted research on how business school students conceptualize climate change, gathering feedback from focus groups of students in England, China, India, Pakistan, and South Africa. We especially wanted to know whether they could be considered “climate change skeptics,” and, if so, whether this conceptualization is influenced by cultural or national factors. We wanted to understand whether carbon literacy training could change business students’ preconceived notions of the effects of climate change.

Once we had their feedback, we delivered three hours of training to participating students. Next, we asked them to complete a quantitative survey that assessed whether their knowledge and understanding had changed after the intervention. Initial findings show that the training improved the students’ knowledge on the science and impacts of climate change. Our student participants also have indicated that the training provided them with information that they could use to evaluate and engage with climate change in a more systematic and authoritative manner.

After their training, these students made a range of personal pledges, from consuming less water to reducing waste generation to increasing education about climate change in the workplace. Perhaps not surprisingly, students from different cultures had different perceptions of climate change and made different pledges for future actions. For example, students in South Africa focused on issues around poverty and equality of opportunity, largely due to South Africa’s political and economic context.


The full training is now ready to be used by business schools worldwide. So far, we have trained academics from the United Kingdom, Denmark, South Africa, India, the United States, Germany, Austria, Sweden, and Russia. Our carbon literacy training became a major part of Nottingham Business School’s role as a 2018–19 United Nations PRME Champion. Academics from PRME Champion institutions also are helping develop peer-to-peer materials that will enable more business schools to complete the training.

For our next step, we will pilot discipline-specific webinars with support from Copenhagen Business School in Denmark and the Gordon Institute of Business Science at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. We will collect best practices, from how to use climate change mitigation tools in operations and carbon accounting to how to integrate these tools into core curricula.

This training is meant to be a catalyst for business schools to engage with climate change, embed climate mitigation in their teaching, and commit to further developing discipline-specific teaching materials. Our hope is that all business schools will consider the impact they can have on the environment—and that all faculty will keep climate change at the forefront of their minds as they teach their students, conduct their research, and engage with business leaders.

Petra Molthan-Hill is head of the Green Academy at Nottingham Trent University in the United Kingdom, as well as an associate professor of sustainable management and education for sustainable development. Rachel Welton is a principal lecturer in tourism and international business at Nottingham Business School, Nottingham Trent University.

Those interested in participating in webinars or obtaining information about the training can reach the authors at [email protected] or [email protected]. Learn more about the Carbon Literacy Project