Business leaders and governments are increasingly identifying environmental issues and social changes as the biggest risks to global business.
Chris Saunders (pictured), Executive MBA director and senior teaching fellow at Lancaster University Management School, says that this makes Corporate Social Responsibility a priority for businesses, business schools, and MBA students.
“Good CSR can mean increased profits”
For one thing, the depletion of natural resources and the rising costs of scarce resources means businesses need to think about how they can continue to compete while making a positive impact.
Chris says that social media also enables consumers and activists to immediately publicize poor corporate behavior to a mass audience—businesses can no longer shy away from their social impact responsibilities without suffering reputational damage.
“It is far easier for a business to manage itself for all its stakeholders than to continuously have to defend itself due to being found out for poor practices,” he says.
Good CSR often translates into good economic growth for a company as well, as it becomes easier for firms to attract investment because the company is more transparent, reducing the perceived risk.
“You only have to look at Unilever’s improved results under Paul Polman to see that good CSR can mean increased revenues and profits,” Chris avers.
Business schools need to prepare MBAs for this reality, and global b-school rankings have started to respond to this increased engagement with social issues, with the Financial Times Global MBA Ranking debuting CSR as a metric in its evaluation this year.
In this ranking, Lancaster placed third in the world, because, on the Lancaster MBA, CSR is not an after-thought, but a core part of the school’s ethos.
This philosophy is evident throughout the Lancaster MBA program with key courses such as Responsible Leadership and Mindful Manager, as well as the Responsible Management and Ethics module.
These courses examine responsible business from an array of perspectives: the individual, the organizational, the environmental, and the global, engaging students in big world issues and allowing them to pick apart what they can do to help tackle climate change and global poverty.
“The focus is on producing managers and leaders who think and act responsibly, and in the interests of all the stakeholders of their business,” Chris attests.
“The banks I work with ask for sustainability data”
Adiya Atuluku is one such leader. She graduated from Lancaster University Management School in 2015 and now works as a manager for strategy and operations at Deloitte in Nigeria, with a special focus on community development and sustainability.
Adiya recently delivered Deloitte’s first sustainability project in Nigeria, and she continues to work with banks and fast-moving consumer goods companies on sustainability issues.
She’s also working with international development organizations helping to monitor and develop strategy for their programs, not to mention her contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals Expert Report, which examines how Nigeria fits into the world of SDGs.
The Lancaster MBA caught Adiya’s eye initially for its emphasis on practical learning—for example, students have the opportunity to swap a traditional thesis for a London-based business project as part of their finals.
It was this hands-on element that was the push she needed to pursue sustainable business long-term.
Adiya had worked in environmental consulting prior to her MBA and remembers telling her boss that she would find a way to combine environmental and management consultancy, but says she got side-tracked in the world of business consultancy.
It was the MBA at Lancaster, specifically the CSR in Business module, that got her back on track—and that made her current career into a reality.
Adiya believes that the recent interest in Corporate Social Responsibility as not just a foundation for charitable projects, but an approach whereby environmental and social impact considerations are woven into organizational strategy, is going to become imperative for world business in the coming years.
She highlights that in Nigeria, it is investors and regulations that are pushing the CSR agenda, for instance the Security Exchange Commission releasing guidelines and mandating that all companies on the stock exchange report on sustainability.
“The banks I work with on sustainability say that their investors specifically ask for this data. And some manufacturing companies I've worked with have had to conduct environmental and social due diligence on their operations as a requirement for funding,” Adiya beams. “It's great to see all this progress.”
Having a social license to operate can make or break a business—and MBA students need to know that CSR being built into business models is future-proofing them for socio-economic success.