Raising sustainability awareness is a vital part of the role that management educators must play going forward but of greater importance is developing concrete, immersive learning strategies and activities designed to give students sustainability experience that can be translated into their professional activities. Higher education has done a passable job of informing students that the vital signs of our planet are declining, yet many students even with this awareness and best intentions go on to lead lives contributing, rather than actively mitigating, the growing array of social and environmental problems (Uhl & Anderson, 2001). An important initial step management educators are uniquely positioned to take is to design learning activities specifically to increase the knowledge and skill base needed to transform good undergraduate intentions to effective professional conduct.
MBA Programs Spotlight: Cases in Sustainability
The University of Washington (UW) offers a course called "Cases in Sustainability" for MBA students. Dan Turner, associate dean at UW's Foster School of Business, explains that "it's important for students to be able to successfully incorporate sustainability into business operations, and that's what this class aims to do." Green business classes are on the rise according to a 2009 Aspen Institute Center for Business Education study. Since 2007 the typical business school has added two classes featuring sustainability issues (Ormsby, 2010). Greg Magnan, program director of the MBA program at Seattle University, sees businesses interested in increasing sustainable practices since they save money. Kevin Hagen, director of corporate responsibility at REI, says that "students who don't get elements of sustainability in their MBA program these days will be obsolete before they start" (Ormsby, 2010).
Create a Life Cycle Analysis
Require students to visit the website of Patagonia, which presents the impact costs of 10 of its products including miles traveled, CO2 emissions, waste generated, and energy used. Students should compare and contrast several of the products and discuss possible alternatives to mitigate the impacts.
Use the Sustainable Design Process to Develop a New Product or Service Concept
Students are given a product/service category and asked to brainstorm and build consensus on a sustainable product solution that meets the needs of consumers. An online virtual brainstorming tool, such as Dialog, can be used to accelerate this process. An alternative exercise would be to identify a consumer need and to use Dialog to develop a solution that is more revolutionary than evolutionary (Borin & Metcalf, 2010).
Teaching the BP Disaster
The Aspen Institute's Center for Business Education put out a call for business faculty to share how they planned to teach the BP disaster. Erika Hayes James said that people at the Darden School had the opportunity to go down to the Gulf and meet with people in the incident command center. They produced a video montage of the moment of the explosion and unfolded the story of the incident, and created a network diagram with nodes pointing from a center picture of the Deepwater Horizon Rig.
The nodes included the Obama administration, local fisherman in restaurant tours, BP corporate, a BP franchise owner, and local government.
As this example indicates, one of the wonderful advantages in the second decade of the 21st century is the availability of video with key stakeholders describing the challenges they are facing and what their needs are. The learning objective is to have students be able to get experience in dealing with such situations, to have them come to understand how to manage and to deal with all of the needs of the different stakeholders. You want learners to get experience in creating a collaborative environment in the midst of chaos and complexity. Readily deployable high quality videos discussing many sustainability and business issues are available in the TED talks series, such as Ray Anderson's (2009) The Business Logic of Sustainability and William McDonough's (2005) Cradle to Cradle Design.
Another case developed by Darden related to the BP Gulf incident concerned how to build an organizational structure around the needs of different stakeholders in such a catastrophic situation. Students are given experience on how to make decisions about what to report and what not to report.
The issues involved in teaching a case about the Exxon Valdez oil spill versus the BP Gulf oil spill revolve around the 20 years distance that makes students feel less passionate about the Exxon case, whereas teaching a case that is in everyone's memory results in heightened levels of learned engagement. This is especially if you are teaching a case where the situation is still unfolding, where it is still unclear what the ultimate outcome will be.
John Holcomb and Buie Seawell of the University of Denver discussed various approaches to case study discussion of the BP leak. For a sustain-ability course, the case might be taught to explore corporate responsibility on the one hand, and BP's failure to implement a culture supporting that on the other hand. Students will be encouraged to suggest what the components of a sustainable supporting culture might be. For example, they might put forth the developing of a robust approach to testing safety and backup plans for technologies or products that have the potential for ecological harm if they do not work right.
At the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Weber and Roy (2010) devised a joint project for courses in logistics and administrative law with an emphasis on sustainability. The immediate goal was to create an increased awareness of the environmental footprint of moving a commodity. The students were to develop skills to minimize the environmental footprint. The commodities involved were various spices to be imported, these were chosen because of "relative uniformity of containerization and modes of transportation, students' familiarity with the commodities and direct connection with a local business." The exercise was developed with input from the local spice company Kerry Ingredients and Flavours. An important factor in reducing student resistance to doing the project was emphasizing that they would be obtaining "a marketable expertise" (Weber & Roy, 2010).
Having students meet with business executives can ground their projects in evidence and energize them. This was the situation at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater where James Kuzma, an international spice broker, discussed the financial and legal contexts of the global spice trade and how American importers sustainability policies and programs align with spice trade practices. The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater student groups all focused on air transportation as having more of a carbon footprint than other modes of transportation. They described barge shipping routes to Chicago from shipping ports such as Savannah and compared that to rail or truck transportation options. Student groups considered the impact of shipping spices into the port of Long Beach in California with a focus on how California environmental regulations would come into play (Weber & Roy, 2010).