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B-Schools’ New Sustainability Initiatives Latest Effort To Make Social Impact

INSEAD's new business sustainability program latest push by top business schools toward triple bottom line approaches, and NYU Stern recruits leading sustainability executive.

Mon Jun 8 2015

A new business sustainability program launched by INSEAD this month is one of the latest pushes by a top business school toward the triple bottom line.

The Leading the Business of Sustainability program came within a few days of NYU Stern announcing that it signed up the president of the Rainforest Alliance, Tensie Whelan.

INSEAD's program — which will be available at INSEAD’s Singapore campus in November 2015 — will help senior executives better understand the environmental and social paradigms of business.

A number of high ranking business schools have rolled out sustainability modules and research centres. These include the initiatives at Ivey, Copenhagen, Cornell, Mendoza, Carnegie Mellon and Michigan Ross schools.

NYU Stern's Center for Sustainable Business will join the group when it opens in January 2016. The Center will seek to assist business leaders in tackling the environmental and human challenges confronting business and society.

“Coupled with its prime location in New York — home to the financial sector, Silicon Alley, the UN and NGOs — Stern has an unprecedented opportunity to drive this conversation," said Rainforest Alliance's Tensie, who has an MBA from Stern.

The Rainforest Alliance has recruited 5,000 companies across 60 countries to transform the engagement of business with sustainability with a $50 million budget. 

Peter Henry, dean of NYU Stern, said the US business school encourages students to embrace the tools of business when it comes to tackling the world’s most intractable problems. 

Sustainability has become an increasing focus for companies, which are coming under pressure to align people, planet and profit. INSEAD’s new program seeks to equip executives with the tools they need to make sustainability an integral and profitable part of their companies. 

“A number of innovative companies and their leaders are showing that there is a better way to face the challenge of sustainability,” said Jean-Francois Manzoni, INSEAD professor of management practice and the program’s director.

“Companies are particularly interested in standards and their enforcement,” Luk Van Wassenhove, director of the Humanitarian Research Group at INSEAD, told BusinessBecause.

The launch came ahead of a landmark agreement by the Group of Seven nations — Germany, Canada, Japan, France, Italy, the UK and US — on Monday to phase out the use of fossil fuels this century.

Business schools believe that as the educators of future business leaders, they have an important role to play in leading sustainability initiatives.

“We are in a strong position to help organizations navigate this complex global issue and we aim to put them in a position to take more control, drive new successes, and create greater value for both business and society,” said Michael Pich, INSEAD dean for executive education.

​Jennifer Griffin, professor in the Public Policy Department at GWU School of Business, said schools have an important role to play as thought-leaders and disseminators of best practices, and must showcase corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives.

In the past few years, several business schools have launched specialist MBA concentrations and masters programs in sustainability, including Boston University, Penn State Smeal and Brunel.

Michigan Ross’ Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise offers MBAs courses on sustainable finance and green real estate. And the Center for Sustainable Enterprise at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School was established 15 years ago, offering experiential learning, enrichment activities and career development.

Poul Hedegaard, director of the MBA at Copenhagen Business School, said that MBA students are increasingly focused on developing strategies to set companies up for long-term success, rather than just making money.

Kevin Lyons, Rutgers Business School’s Center for Supply Chain Management professor, said: “Sustainability is now becoming part of an effective business strategy that can reduce risk, improve and enhance innovation, resilience as well as the financial bottom line.”

Companies are reaping the economic and social benefits of sustainability practices.

“Certain social and environmental initiatives pay off financially,” said Frank Wijen, academic coordinator of Sustainable RSM, the sustainability initiative at Rotterdam School of Management, including energy efficiency measures to save resources and finances. 

But many organizations have not yet fully appreciated the business opportunities associated with sustainability. They often perceive it as a “feel-good” feature promising limited financial return, added INSEAD’s Jean-Francois.

Nonetheless, a number of leading businesses including Ikea, AXA, and Bank of America have invested in sustainability measures, which are helping them to recruit executive talent.

“There is no question that sustainability helps to not only recruit talent, but also to retain it,” said Tima Bansal, director of the Centre for Building Sustainable Value at Ivey. She added that research shows employees work longer and harder for sustainable companies.

Professor Bruce Buchanan, director of NYU Stern’s Business and Society program, said that society and consumers increasingly expect companies to address social and environmental issues in their business models.

"Corporations, in turn, are seeking new employees who come ready to innovate and contribute," he said. 

The INSEAD program will gather an international group of senior executives making significant business decisions, with a limited number of seats also available for regulators, NGO professionals, social entrepreneurs, investors and other key stakeholders.

It will be centred on four key topics: strategy and innovation; stakeholder engagement; leadership and change; and measurement and reporting.