Sustainability Centres Collaborate for Greater Impact

Sustainability Centres Collaborate for Greater Impact

Sustainability Centres, institutes, and initiatives are a nexus between academia, corporations, government, and NGOs working to solve sustainability challenges.
Erika Herz July 21, 2014
Centre directors have a unique perspective on how to achieve impact, which is one reason why the Business and Environment Initiative at Harvard Business School (HBS BEI) and the Network for Business Sustainability (NBS) organized this terrific workshop I attended in June. I represented two organizations, Darden’s Institute for Business in Society and the Alliance for Research on Corporate Sustainability (ARCS), a consortium of 19 universities advancing corporate sustainability research.

Who would have thought that a workshop for sustainability centre staff and faculty would be quickly oversubscribed? But that is what happened. Clearly there is a need for those in this role to share best practices. Sixty of us convened in an HBS classroom for a series of roll-up-your-sleeves sessions on how to further integrate sustainability and social impact topics into our respective business school offerings.

We tackled the areas below, which give you a sense of what centres do. For each we identified: 1) Key questions and challenges; and 2) Best practices and good ideas.


1. Teaching and Curriculum
(For Darden, see a recent article on global field projects for sustainability here and a recent piece on a sustainability case we wrote with Walmart here.)

2. Research
3. Outreach
4. Centre Strategy and Operations
I especially liked the “Collaboration Open Mic,” an innovative format in the workshop which allowed us to suggest topics real-time, gather with a group of interested colleagues and develop a set of recommendations and goals. My group began sharing our schools’ lists of sustainability topics that we thought all students should learn. We considered the viability of business school accreditors such as the AACSB including sustainability competencies in their evaluations of MBA programs.

A corporate perspective was also present in the workshop, with representatives from 3M, BASF, Mahindra Sanyo Special Steel and TD Bank discussing What Corporations Need from Business Schools – And What They Can Offer. HBS Professor Michael Toffel (@MikeToffel), winner of the 2014 ARCS Sustainability Scholar Award, facilitated.

Overall, the big question we all had was: how do we prioritize our activities, especially when students regularly bring interesting new ones to our attention.

We discussed that activities should fit the following criteria:
Thank you NBS and HBS BEI for giving the sustainability center community a chance to collaborate and enjoy each other’s company.

This article was originally published on Institute for Business in Society at Darden.

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