Seven Approaches for Fostering Sustainability Teaching at Business Schools

Seven Approaches for Fostering Sustainability Teaching at Business Schools

Chelsea Hicks-Webster July 8, 2013
Trying to engage faculty in teaching sustainable business? You’re not alone. Sustainability centre staff and directors around the world share this challenge. On June 13, 2013, they met on a webinar to discuss strategies for teaching sustainability. If you’d like to participate in future interactive webinars, join the Sustainability Centres Community.

The webinar’s featured speakers included Jason Jay (MIT Sloan), Kai Hockerts (Copenhagen Business School) and Katrin Muff (Business School Lausanne). Centres participating in the webinar came from many countries, including Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Denmark, Switzerland and Austria. The primer below summarizes their thoughts.
Many strategies exist for teaching students about sustainable business. Depending on resource availability and institutional receptivity, centres can offer activities ranging from student clubs, to course development, to re-training faculty. Below are seven possible activities, including tips for implementation. Activities are ordered according to “magnitude of change” required for implementation, beginning with those requiring the least institutional change. 

1. Organize a speaker series.

A speaker series brings prominent figures to engage students on sustainability topics.


2. Support student clubs.

Passionate students can create major impact. Help students organize clubs that take on sustainability projects. Clubs can focus on sustainability generally, or on specific issues like energy, social impact or international development. Faculty mentors should guide participants to increase their efficacy.

3. Review current courses and highlight sustainability content.

Sustainability is likely already taught in many of your institution’s courses, but may not be labeled. For example, the “Ikea case” taught in Introduction to Operations may teach students about “sustainable supply chain management." Work with professors to identify sustainability content they already teach and encourage them highlight it in their syllabi by relabeling it or making it a course objective. This encourages faculty and students to think actively about sustainability.

In addition to elevating content in course materials, consider profiling sustainability teaching on the website of your centre, program or school.


4. Create new teaching materials.

Professors may want to teach sustainability, but lack the resources to do it. Consider hiring students to develop sustainability cases of interest to faculty. You can compile new and existing resources and offer them free online.


5. Develop a dedicated course.

If a program is receptive, consider developing an entire course dedicated to sustainability issues.


6. Bundle experiences in a certificate.

A sustainability certificate can include various curricular and extra-curricular activities such as courses, capstone projects and community engagement. Developing a certificate requires much institutional cooperation, but the certificate can also help keep sustainability on your institution’s internal agenda.


7. Build capacity at many levels.

Advancing sustainability in teaching requires broadly trained faculty who understand managers’ needs. It requires business schools that foster collaboration and interdisciplinarity. It requires shifting business school mindsets globally. The Global Doctoral Alliance, a program in development by 50+20 and the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative, is aiming to achieve these objectives by offering: To learn more about the Global Doctoral Alliance, contact John North at (

About the Sustainability Centres Community (SCC)

Hundreds of sustainability centres at business schools around the world are dedicated to driving sustainable business. These centres teach, conduct research and work with industry to facilitate social and environmental change. The SCC advances collaboration between centres by allowing them to (1) find one another using searchable profiles, (2) share opportunities on a Community forum and (3) share best practices through quarterly webinars and success stories published monthly.  Add your centre to the Community now

SCC Webinar Series

Quarterly webinars allow direct dialogue between centres from around the world. Webinar topics are decided by SCC members and focus on an element related to sustainability teaching, research or practice.  This document summarizes discussion on embedding sustainability in business curricula during a webinar hosted in June 2013.