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How to Engage Students in Sustainability: Event Series

Business school sustainability centres are more powerful when they engage students. How can centre leaders do this well?

The NBS Sustainability Centres Community (SCC) hosted a series of virtual events to explore the world of student engagement. Engagement can mean listening to students, enabling their ideas, and sparking their interest in sustainability.

From December 2022 through April 2023, leaders from four centres hosted virtual café sessions to share their experiences and advice – and create space for discussion. Read their session summaries below, and watch any of the session recordings from the series. The goal of these sessions was to bring sustainability centres from across the world together to find ways to achieve the engagement and impact they all seek.

(If you run a business school sustainability centre, but aren’t yet a member of the SCC, join here.)

Session 1: Developing empathy among business school graduates

Host: Divya Singhal & V Padmanabhan, Centre For Social Sensitivity and Action, Goa Institute of Management, India

How can educators develop empathy in their graduates?  For the past decade, the Goa Institute of Management has used a service-learning-based community engagement model.

Session leads spoke about how they designed and executed the program, its impact over the years, and how other schools can replicate it. Then, participants discussed how they could build empathy within their own schools. 

Session 2: Exploring the intersection between futures studies and sustainable management

Host: Marina Schmitz, World Institute for Sustainability and Ethics (WISE), IEDC-Bled School of Management, Slovenia

Future studies” aims to imagine diverse futures and then provoke action and change. It can be an amazing way to engage students. If you’ve ever wondered how to use this approach in your teaching, this session will be of great interest.

The session shared insights from developing a course called “Future Scenarios for Sustainable Business Solutions.” The course introduces students to futures studies and sustainability in a management context, by developing visions/scenarios for respective corporate and industry-related sustainable futures.  Schmitz discussed how to go beyond the introductory elements of futures studies, by using (inter)active and experiential learning methods. She tore down the walls between management education and futures studies by learning about selected tools and methods e.g., solarpunk-inspired online role plays (inspired by sociodrama and improv in theater studies) or collaboration board-enhanced visioning exercises and prototyping, as well as futures literacy laboratories (FLL).

After presenting these tools and approaches, session participants discussed ways to incorporate such exercises into management education to foster students’ futures literacy competence.

Session 3: Integrating sustainability across business bachelor programs

Host: Roman Mesicek & Sarah Schäfer, Institute International Trade and Sustainable Economy, IMC University of  Applied Sciences Krems, Austria

How can we ensure every business student is exposed to sustainability concepts?

IMC accomplishes this by introducing a sustainability and business ethics base course in all its bachelor courses. The goal was to lay the foundations for a systemic understanding of societal challenges, which students will reflect upon during further studies.

In this session, IMC shared their experiences and challenges so far in integrating this course across the Bachelor’s program. They were interested to hear from other centres’ experiences with similar initiatives. 

Session 4: Each Discipline Makes a Difference: Defining the Business Curriculum of the Future

Host: Erik Foley, Center for the Business of Sustainability, Penn State University, United States

Additional Speakers:

Have you ever had a business student say “But I specialize in [Finance, Accounting, HR, etc.] How does sustainability apply to me?”

Sustainability is important for every discipline in business, and for every student. But how can educators make this connection clear?

At Penn State, we’ve created a website, “Major Sustainability,” to make it easy – now we’re making the results of this work available to the world. This website was developed after 5 years of work with 30 faculty across every department in our business school. With these partners, along with student contributors, we identified how each business discipline contributes to sustainability. This session provides an overview of the sustainability-focused learning objectives by discipline we found, the beautiful site we have created, and recommendations for its use.

We discussed how to partner with centres on various use cases of the resource as well as collecting data on teaching effectiveness.

Stay tuned for future event series from the SCC!

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    The Network for Business Sustainability (NBS) is a non-profit advancing sustainable development to build a fairer and more environmentally sound future. We aim to improve business practice by facilitating knowledge sharing across an international community of business leaders, scholars, students and policy makers. With these stakeholders, we co-create high-quality content that enables practical action. Our content focuses on 6 critical sustainability themes, from climate change to social justice.

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