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The education sector, and in particular business schools, provide the real key to sustainability. When we change the way that the next generations of employees, managers, CEOs and leaders think and act then this will lead to broader changes across industries around the world.
Educating students in sustainability issues is about giving them the tools to understand the issues and teaching them how to use and apply them in different business environments, especially in the traditional business areas that most will be entering. schools around the world are experimenting with different approaches for introducing the notion of sustainability into their programmes. Here are a few tips:
1. Be realistic Do not present sustainability as only being about saving the world or doing good.
Prepare students to be able to understand the balance between business and society – that sustainability is about good business and can be about making money (or not losing money). Many f the lessons relating to sustainability are not even bout sustainability itself. They are about teaching students to be open minded, innovative and collaborative.
2. Make it useful and relevant Presenting sustainability as a separate concept is not useful to the majority of students, who will not go into a job focused on sustainability. sustainability should be taught as it relates to what is currently happening in the business world. Present it in a way that allows students to understand how these ideas can be incorporated not just into NGOs and social enterprises but businesses of all sizes.
3. Practice what you want to teach A university is a business as well. Look at how sustainability can be incorporated into the daily operations of your institution, from HR to accounting. Not only will this set a good example with students but it will also create some first-hand experience to build on.
4. Get engaged in the discussion There are now a wide variety of international networks of universities and professors exploring these issues including EFMD, PRME, GRLI, Aspen Institute and EABIS to name but a few. Universities also have a lot to learn from more general business and sustainability networks such as WBCSD.
5. Approach it from different angles Provide a variety of different ways for students to be engaged in these issues, from student clubs or international student networks such as AIESEC, OIKOS and Net Impact to student projects. Have speakers in from the sustainability area and from general business presenting not just success stories but also challenges and failures. use case studies, independent projects, lectures, videos, field trips, websites, books and so on.
6. Offer a range of opportunities Show students that they can make a difference without necessarily getting a job with the word sustainability or green in their job title. universities can play a role in helping students to understand that they can have a positive impact in any job they go into.
7. Remember that faculty members are key Faculty members who teach sustainability concepts alongside traditional business concepts send a strong message to students that this is an important business reality. Make sure instructors are aware of these issues and how they relate to their teaching. Provide training, opportunities and guidance for faculty on how they can incorporate sustainability into research and classes.
More and more, the real success of a business education programme will be judged by whether it is able to train graduates to think about business and making money in different ways, aligning social and environmental objectives with financial goals.