We live in an era of environmental and social crisis. Humanity’s inventiveness has over the last two centuries created unimaginable wealth for a small part of the world’s population. However, this unsustainable growth and overconsumption have come at a huge environmental and social cost - increased greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, pollution, climate change, ocean acidification, species extinction, resource depletion, income inequality and unemployment form merely the tip of the iceberg.
Businesses have played a crucial role in creating many of these problems we now face. Nearly two-thirds of GHG emissions generated have been attributed to activities of just 90 large companies like Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell and BP. While businesses have been the major (and knowing) contributors to our current environmental and social crisis, they are also best placed to respond to these threats through technological innovation and economic reinvention.
Consequently, businesses are beginning to see sustainability as a key context within which core functions of strategy, finance, operations and marketing operate, posing risks and opportunities. This has created a need for managers who can respond to sustainability-related issues faced on a day to day basis. Such managers need to understand and integrate sustainability, till the recent past a fringe issue, into organisational decision-making. Thus, concepts like corporate sustainability, CSR, corporate citizenship, corporate social opportunity, stakeholder management etc., are gaining prominence not only in the parlance of management practices, but also in management education.
Current trends in business schools show that sustainability-related subjects are increasingly being included in the curricula of business courses, particularly in MBA programmes. Business schools have responded in a variety of ways such as:
(1) Incorporating classes on sustainability into the core curriculum (Darden Business School)
(2) Developing degrees focused on sustainability and related issues (Stanford University)
(3) Offering specialised electives such as in energy or climate change (MIT Sloan School of Management)
(4) creating innovative dual/joint degree programs (Harvard Business School) or
(5) creating sustainability-focused teaching materials or modules for core business school subjects (Ivey Business School).
This increasing focus on sustainability is also evident in the Indian context from the number of national and international conferences being organised around the theme of sustainability by leading business schools such as IIM Bangalore, IIM Calcutta, IIM Shillong, XIMB and IIT Madras to name a few. Most of these institutes have either integrated sustainability in their curriculum in the form of core courses or electives. IIM Lucknow (IIML) went a few steps ahead and introduced a full-time two year postgraduate programme in sustainable management in 2015. This dedicated MBA programme challenges managers to question and reframe their assumptions about business’ responsibilities. The key features of the programme are:
• Practice-driven pedagogy
• International exposure to sustainability initiatives
• Mentorship from industry leaders, policymakers and academics
• Industry engagement and partnerships
Through this programme IIML answers the industry’s call to produce sustainability leaders who can establish an equilibrium between the financial, social and environmental aspects of organisational profitability.
The authors are assistant professors, business sustainability, Indian Institute of Management, Lucknow.