The term ‘triple bottom line’ was made famous by John Elkington, a world authority on corporate responsibility and sustainable development and a visiting professor at the UK’s Cranfield University. He claims that only by considering three factors—economic, social, and environmental—can a company take full account of the cost of doing business.
This view was alluded to in a letter sent to the CEOs of public companies last month by Larry Fink, the CEO of BlackRock—the world’s largest asset manager.
‘Without a sense of purpose,’ the letter read, ‘no company can achieve its full potential. It will ultimately lose the license to operate from key stakeholders.’ The letter encouraged business leaders to move away from short-term reactive measures to drive profit.
Instead, it argued, companies should be focusing on innovation, employee development and capital expenditures that deliver positive societal impact. Social purpose drives profit.
This is the belief behind the Management and Corporate Sustainability MSc at Cranfield School of Management, which shares modules with the Management MSc—ranked first in the UK and 7th in the world in the Economist Which MBA? Masters of Management 2017 rankings.
The one-year specialized master’s degree is led by course director Professor Hugh Wilson who explains that, for a business to flourish today, it can’t be harmful to society, or the environment, or both. This shift in priorities from profit to social values is something that’s been occurring in business for decades, but has picked up speed in an age of social media and heightened public scrutiny.
While sustainable practices were once a ‘nice to have’, they are now proving valuable routes to growth and profit. “The brands with strong purpose based positioning outperform the brands that don’t,” Hugh explains.
“Sustainability expands the profit pools in which you can play,” he continues. “Look at energy companies: generating power has small margins whether from renewables or carbon sources, but by positioning yourself in the renewable category there’s a route to growth.
“By helping customers transform into lower-carbon businesses and homes through energy meters and smart energy, companies move into a whole area of service that gives them access to profit in ways they simply hadn’t thought of before.”
Cranfield’s Management and Corporate Sustainability MSc gives students insight into sustainability through a blend of practical experiences and masterclasses from experts in the field.
While the momentum and intention to be sustainable is there across industries, the practicalities of adapting a business are complex and have many obstacles. Companies require people with mixed skills. Cranfield’s MSc students are uniquely placed to drive the change agenda after graduating, with their blend of high level management education and sustainability specialization.
“We need T-shaped people,” says Hugh. “People need expertize in sustainability in particular as well as a breadth of business expertise to engage with their senior cross-functional colleagues. It takes both sustainability specialists and functional experts with a sustainability awareness to achieve change.”
This is something that Ricardo Weigend, a recent grad from the Management and Corporate Sustainability MSc, can attest to. He is currently working in Mexico as a circular economy business developer at Nobel Environmental Technologies—a recycling technologies developer.
“I’ve been able to put in practice, with passion and hard work, how to approach our job every day in a responsible manner; economically, socially and environmentally,” he says. “Cranfield gave me the right skills to implement corporate sustainability principles into my work and push the agenda of corporate sustainability.”
Since graduating from the Management and Corporate Sustainability MSc program, Ricardo has been able to develop his career in a field that he’s passionate about. He wouldn’t be where he is today without Cranfield School of Management.
“Cranfield gave me the technical capabilities, but also the right managerial skills to implement across different fields,” he says. “I went straight from graduating to working; bringing the freshest sustainability ideas to business and putting them into practice.
“We are a generation that cannot be passive,” he continues. “We need to come up with better practices and sustainable solutions that will provide our generation, and the next, with a better world to live in.”