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Centre for Building Sustainable Value · Andrew Newton

Business schools align to integrate ESG and SDGs in the classroom

May 2, 2022

On April 26th the Ivey Centre for Building Sustainable Value, in collaboration with Ivey Publishing, hosted a virtual panel discussion, "ESG and SDGs? A shared quest, no longer a question: Incorporating Sustainability into management education."

Management education plays a leading role in teaching and promoting this new integrated sustainability agenda. Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are increasingly used across organizations and sectors for decision-making, and policymakers prioritize and accelerate critical areas of impact.

This level of effort is required at the management education level. Demand is at an all-time high. Institutions, governments, organizations, and society dedicate resources and capital to address the SDGs. Moreover, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a key criterion used to rank business schools.

The session was facilitated by Professor Oana Branzei with guest panelists Gerry George (Professor, McDonough School of Business, Georgetown University), Mette Morsing (Head, Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) Secretariat), and Laura Morgan Roberts (Professor, Darden School of Business, University of Virginia).

To open the session, Andrew Hrymak, Special Advisor to the President on Industry Partnerships, the Green Economy, and Sustainability at Western University, highlighted that "…sustainability and climate change are two grand challenges of our time. Collaboration, innovation and experimentation will be needed to seek bold and innovative and brave solutions."

Dean Sharon Hodgson of the Ivey Business School remarked, "here at Ivey, we've just completed our strategic plan and shared it with the community. Through this process, our commitment to sustainability in our teaching, research, and outreach has been reinforced and amplified."

Indeed, sustainability is embedded in Ivey's purpose. The school's purpose statement inspires leaders for a sustainable and prosperous world. This was an intentional decision since we fundamentally believe that sustainability needs to be the core of the school and business management education.

Panelists Discuss the Role of Business Educators

The panel discussion recognized that the SDGs are interconnected as they provide a vision for a thriving world on the social, environmental, and economic dimensions. 

Setting the targets is not enough – the leaders of today and tomorrow must organize themselves and their organizations to work towards these goals. Business students and future graduates will need to come together to address issues including poverty, improving health and education, reducing inequalities, and building a more sustainable world. All of this while building profitable and viable businesses.

Today's leaders are called to answer these urgent challenges. Their organizations must aim to engage communities, protect nature, and govern responsibly, especially during global crises. ESG and the SDGs are business priorities and play a critical role in business decision-making. 

Tackling Urgent and Complex Problems

The panel discussion highlighted the need to educate the leaders of tomorrow to accelerate the world's progress towards achieving the SDGs, starting with bringing climate change, human rights, and other issues into the classroom. This will also require professionalizing faculty and integrating ESG and the SDGs in all aspects of business management education.

Today, educators discuss management issues as if we lived in a bubble defined within the sphere of the organization. We must move forward to understand the boundaries between the firm, society, and community and their interrelationships. These themes and critical learnings should come through in all courses – they must be embedded in pedagogy. Another layer to educating the leaders of tomorrow will require standalone courses on these topics while also integrating them into traditional business education courses.

While the SDGs and goals may seem ambitious and challenging to achieve, we must start somewhere. Even the most minor step will get the ball rolling.

Educators must shift how they teach students. Today, we still adopt a "me first" attitude. Students learn that what matters most is their career, advancement, and salary increase. This is also reflected in how business schools are ranked among these dimensions and not on their capacity to build more responsible managers.

The urgency to address these urgent and complex problems is increasing. Rising sea levels impact communities, poverty and inequalities rooted in systemic challenges deny communities access to basic necessities to live, and new challenges emerge in areas of healthcare and education that require innovative solutions.

This week, Western was recently ranked first in Canada and third in the world among universities working toward the UN SDGs. This announcement and the panel were timely considering the world's focus on addressing the SDGs and as ESG becomes a priority in the business world.

If you are an educator looking to integrate the SDGs in your teachings, Ivey Publishing is tagging all its cases that address them. You can view them here and filter them by the SDG you hope to teach on.

Business education and how we teach is about going between structural thinking and functional thinking; and iterating between the two allows students to appreciate the bigger picture and how we fit in that. We cannot talk about climate and sustainability without thinking of marginalized communities that are already suffering the direct effects of pollution and a warming planet, and how this perpetuates gaps in health and wealth. All of these problems are deeply intersectional.