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Teaching Business Students to Create and Navigate Sustainable Futures


Tomorrow’s leaders need new visions of the future. Marina Schmitz shares insights from her course merging futures studies and sustainability.  

Marina Schmitz is Researcher and Lecturer at IEDC-Bled School of Management and was previously at the CBS International Business School.  

“Futures studies” aim to imagine diverse futures and then provoke action and change. As a pilot attempt to blend sustainability and futures, I’ve been teaching a course called “Future Scenarios for Sustainable Business Solutions” for Master’s students in International Business at CBS International Business School in Cologne, Germany. 

In a recent NBS-hosted webinar series, “How to Engage Students in Sustainability,“ I shared insights from the course. I want to help others find the links between management education and futures studies, especially with interactive and experiential learning methods.   

The webinar video is below, and you’ll find the course syllabus and resources at the end of this piece. Below I’ve also described my approach, with the help of a “futuristic” co-author – ChatGPT.  

Using ChatGPT to Write About Futures Studies 

When NBS staff asked me to write this article about the course, I decided to engage ChatGPT as a co-author. Why? I wanted to save time but was also curious about this possible future of collaboration between people and machines.  

I used a Chrome extension to upload documents into ChatGPT so that it could interact with the information I already gathered. I uploaded the pdf presentation I used during the webinar and gave this prompt: 

Using chatgpt to write about futures studies

The outcome (ChatGPT’s first attempt!) was the article section below. I edited probably 10% of the text. Overall, I found it an interesting experiment. Especially if you start from a blank page, this approach can certainly help you get started. I think it’s worthwhile exploring these technological possibilities as long as we critically reflect on the outcome.  

Here’s what ChatGPT had to say: 

Shaping Tomorrow’s Leaders: Teaching the Art of Creating and Navigating Futures 

Introduction: In the ever-evolving landscape of education, there’s a growing need for graduates who don’t just adapt to change but actively shape it. The challenge? How do we prepare our students to be architects of their future(s) in a world rife with uncertainty? The answer lies in an exciting initiative – teaching and exploring probable and desirable futures. Let’s take a whirlwind tour through this innovative approach to education. 

Embracing the Challenge: As Marina Schmitz puts it, “Understanding that ‘the future’ is open to variety and that we still have the power to shape it is the key.” Marina’s course, “Futures Scenarios for Sustainable Business Solutions,” delves into the intersection of futures studies and sustainable management. 

Lessons Learned: 

  • Exploring New Horizons: The course encourages students to imagine and design multiple futures. It’s about seeing the world not in terms of “what will be” but “what could be.” This exercise opens minds to a vast spectrum of possibilities. 

  • The Power of Play: To foster engagement, Marina brings improv theater into the classroom. In one exercise, students envision an alternative future for management in 2035 through telling a future story together. Toni, in the year 2035, wakes up in a world without money or competitiveness, where environmental awareness reigns supreme. This playful approach unleashes creativity and helps students think outside the box. 

  • Storytelling Magic: Storytelling plays a vital role. Marina introduces students to “solarpunk” storytelling, a genre that envisions optimistic, sustainable futures. These narratives inspire discussions on what’s possible. It’s not just about facts and figures; it’s about weaving narratives that drive change. 

  • Backcasting for Success: Students list their long-term goals and work backward to identify the steps needed to achieve the envisioned futures. This strategic planning method empowers students to chart a course toward their desired future, empowering them to lead change. 

Conclusion: In a world where change is constant, teaching futures equips students with the ability to not only survive but thrive. It fosters creativity, imagination, innovation, and a deep sense of agency. As one student remarked, “It was great to have had the opportunity to move around in class during the improv workshop and not just sit on your chair and hide behind a laptop.” The future belongs to those who actively shape it, and this initiative is lighting the way. So, let’s embrace the unpredictable with open arms, one playful exercise at a time. 

Further Material on Teaching “Future Scenarios for Sustainable Business Solutions” 

I (Marina) added this section manually.  


Books to get you started: 

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  • Marina Schmitz

    Marina Schmitz serves as Researcher and Lecturer at the Coca-Cola Chair of Sustainable Development at IEDC-Bled School of Management in Bled, Slovenia as well as CSR Expert/Senior Consultant at Polymundo AG in Heilbronn, Germany. She draws on several years of work experience at the Center for Advanced Sustainable Management (CASM) at the CBS International Business School in Cologne, Germany as well as the University of Göttingen . Marina is passionate about challenging the status quo of how we understand and teach economy and management-related content to our students. To accomplish this goal and create a more inclusive and sustainable society and business environment, she seeks exchange with fellow educators and practitioners. Her focus is on how to use diverse global sustainability reporting frameworks, such as the GRI and CSRD, as levers to initiate corporate transformation. Additionally, she is currently involved in various international research projects dedicated to innovative higher education pedagogy, involving gamification, theater, and other methods informing arts-based management.

  • ChatGPT

    Chat GPT is an AI-powered language model developed by OpenAI, capable of generating human-like text based on context and past conversations.

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