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NBS Sustainability Centres Workshop Notes 2014

Discover valuable insights from the 2014 NBS Sustainability Centres workshop, which brought together the directors of sustainability centres around the globe.

This document contains valuable insights from the June 2014 NBS Sustainability Centres workshop, which brought together administrators and academics from sustainability centres around the globe to a two and a half day conference at Harvard University.

The workshop objectives were to:

  1. Meet and build relationships with business sustainability centre directors from around the world.

  2. Share advice for addressing common challenges in teaching, research, outreach and administration.

  3. Scope opportunities for deep, ongoing collaboration.

A strong focus at the workshop was on breakout groups. As part of the collaborative theme of the workshop, participants at the conference divided into groups with the goal to identify and discuss key sustainability questions and challenges. All topics discussed fell within the broader categorizations of:

  1. Teaching and Curriculum;

  2. Research Learning;

  3. Outreach Learning;

  4. Strategy and Operations.

Below are findings reported by participants.

Teaching and Curriculum

To improve interdisciplinary curricular efforts in curriculum:

  • Dean-level support is required; industry pressure to influence deans could help.

  • Capitalize on student demand and grass roots interest from faculty.

  • Funding opportunities should be designed for problem-based approaches.

  • When teaching case-based learnings, the business case should be used, but different questions should be asked as well.

  • Seek to broaden and loosen journal requirements.

When teaching, try alternative methods:

  • Instructors could try a holistic approach, removing silos and implementing a bottom-up approach.

  • It would help if students could see a continuum between life inside and outside work.

  • For the many business students interested in consulting, create a toolkit to help students assess a company code of ethics.

  • Integrate consulting into teaching (as part of core).

  • Bring in executives to present to students an ethical dilemma.

When teaching as part of an interdisciplinary team:

  • Coordinate between teachers.

  • When teaching a large class with several sections, try use more detailed teaching notes (scripts) to get all professors on the same page.

  • Have more frequent meetings.

Innovative with teaching structure:

  • For student projects, try to focus on student competencies and skills and use videos rather than written paper.

  • Teach diverse competencies: Showing students different ways to approach things, skills to navigate in a world with so much noise, communication skills, stakeholder analysis, organizational change toward sustainable practices.

To improve curriculum materials:

  • For making the business case (and other goals), a repository for cases that meet particular learning goals (like make the case for business sustainability) would be paramount.

  • The Sustainability Centres Community could come together to define best practices for integrating materials into the different educational settings (core, electives, extra-curricular, workshop and executive teaching). This would help generate demand for materials and inform their development.


To conduct research with industry:

  • Academics must convince industry about the value of academic research.

  • Try approaching larger companies to address key issues through case studies.

  • Get practitioners involved early to build research agenda based on key problems and issues.

  • Because companies are looking for consultants and trainers, offer a training session near end of research (pair action research with organizational training).

  • Try to get companies to invest in post- docs, as they have the potential for longer- term (and higher- level) research products.

  • Short-term products (after 6-months) can also be offered, or introductory projects that could can build relationships and future projects.

  • Where there is a particular issue to be solved, put companies’ needs first – for example, solve an issue first and then write the academic paper.


How to engage with alumni:

  • Encourage transparency by sharing school updates with alumni (including interest in cultivating donors).

  • Try offering classes where alumni (CEOs) in senior positions share an ethical conflict and students solve it. The alumni value and are impacted by this deep conversation and engagement. These big players may end up joining a board and becoming donors.

When building relationships with industry:

  • Seek alternative models like multi-partner research initiatives (10-15 companies pushing for the same agenda could yield fantastic results).

  • Develop and nurture individual relationships with individual partners.

  • Communication is key; communicate openly on how you/your research will add value to benefit their company.

  • Involve industry partners at all levels throughout; co-design objectives, co-create research, and collaborate on implementation.

  • Be careful to avoid consulting: don’t do research where the results are applicable to only one company only (this is consulting, not research).

How centres can support social entrepreneurship (SE):

  • Support can be at different levels: start up, scaling up, or continued support.

  • Aim for long-term intellectual relationships rather than short-term financial support.

  • Institutions/centres should align funding toward SE education.

  • Try establishing a community of at least 10 social entrepreneurs (i.e.: NBS’s Chilean affiliate has a B-Corp Council that is leading the agenda together).

Strategy and Operations

To measure impact:

  • When measuring impact, develop an impact framework. This should consider (1) who are we trying to impact, (2) how, (3) do we want to influence behaviour change? These questions can be applied to students, schools/academy, and business.

Tips on setting strategy and vision

  • Consider including timeline, strategic process, accreditation, community visioning and criteria.

When testing innovative funding models, try:

  • Memberships (partners pay to play)

  • Corporate sponsorships for specific initiatives

  • Specialized sustainability fundraisers

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  • Emily Joldersma
    Manager, Annual Giving and Donor Relations, Advancement
    Huron University
    MA in English Language and Literature, Queen's University

    View all posts
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