A graduate with a sustainability background has more to offer than knowledge of environmental issues. Research suggests that sustainability programs build many competencies in students that are of value to prospective employers (Wiek et al. 2011).

Workplace Competencies of Sustainability Graduates

  • Systems Thinking: Sustainability programs teach students to understand complex issues from many angles: e.g. social, economic and environmental. Students also learn to consider issues at multiple scales, from local to global.
  • Long-term Visioning: Students learn to consider an action’s long- and short-term implications. This allows them to anticipate and manage possible outcomes.
  • Ethical Thinking: Sustainability conversations are often value-laden, teaching students to consider their actions’ moral implications.
  • Strategic Thinking: Sustainability classes address complex problems. Students are taught to evaluate the feasibility, effectiveness and efficiency of potential solutions, and anticipate unintended outcomes.
  • Collaborating: Learning to solve complex sustainability challenges requires interdisciplinarity. Students work across disciplines and develop the ability to lead multi-stakeholder projects.

How Research Centres Foster Valuable Skills

Business schools are constantly innovating in the area of sustainability education.  These efforts are often lead by a sustainability centre within the school. NBS has captured cutting-edge educational efforts by members of its Sustainability Centres Community, a group of more than 80 business school sustainability centres.

Approaches used to develop diverse competencies in students include:

  • Embedding sustainability into existing programs. The University of Colorado Boulder uses scaffold learning to teach progressively more advanced sustainability skills in each year of its HBA.
  • Creating new courses and programs. The University of Waterloo created Canada’s top-ranked sustainability undergraduate program.
  • Allowing students to experience real-world challenges. The University of California Berkeley created a student-run socially responsible investment fund that earned a 50% profit in five years.

For more examples of centres’ innovative sustainability education activities, explore out past success stories on teaching.

NBS is Empowering Centres

The Network for Business Sustainability is increasing centres’ capacity to create change through its Sustainability Centres Community, an online community used to collaborate and share best practices.

To learn more about the activities of a centre near you, search the Sustainability Centres Community directory.


Wiek, A., Withycombe, L., & Redman C. L. 2011. Key competencies in sustainability: a reference framework for academic program development. Sustainability Science, 6: 203-218.