If business needs to integrate sustainability, so should business schools

Nyenrode castleOn October 10, 2014, I chaired a workshop at Business University Nyenrode to further integrate sustainability into Nyenrode’s core business: its programs. A diverse group of alumni, students and faculty members worked together across three areas: Degree Programs, Executive Education and Research.

Leadership – Entrepreneurship – Stewardship

Dean Leen Paape kicked off the workshop through the lens of the core focus areas of Business University Nyenrode’s programs: Leadership, Entrepreneurship and Stewardship. Stewardship is the newer element, focused on values, a holistic perspective and broader stakeholder interests. A sustainable future requires responsible leaders that serve society at large, building teams that are ready for any circumstance, ready to deal with uncertainty. He closed his introduction by sharing his optimistic outlook, highlighting the need for leaders with the right character, unleashing the power of creativity and innovation to tackle the challenges of the transition to a sustainable future.

Business as a force for good needs future proof leaders

Corio’s Head of Corporate Social Responsibility Lara Muller shared a corporate perspective on why it is important that leaders integrate sustainability into their thinking and actions. The world needs leaders that see business as a force for good, who are responsive to the changing environment. Sustainability is not a new “green” church, but all about reshaping capitalism to combine prosperity and profitability. CSR and sustainability often do not make for engaging board room conversation in and of themselves – they become much more relevant and even business critical when framed from a business perspective. Integration of sustainability is not the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do. She closed with her personal conviction that future-proof business models starts with education.

Embed a values-based approach

For the Degree Programs, the group came back with the idea to embed a values-based approach in all programs, rather than making this separate courses to add to the existing programs. A core thought was to keep it very pragmatic. Ideas included defining the business imperatives and incentives as socio-economic benefits and downside risks; exposing students to the what and how of real-life business cases and becoming a platform to showcase best practices.

A mind set on sustainable change

The Executive Education discussion focused on the mindset and competencies of sustainable leaders. This included strategy topics like balancing short and long term, systemic thinking, assessment of risk and impact, situational insights but also skills and characteristics like empathy, communications, relationship building, learning how to learn, courage and vulnerability. The discussion then focused on whether this should be a separate program, or something to be integrated throughout, as compass for content and work forms.

Connecting the dots for leverage

The Research subgroup zoomed in on social enterprise, showcasing the relevance and practical application of a current PhD research project. The conclusion was that there was a world of opportunity in the research area by better connecting alumni to the research area and creating awareness about what is already being done. Alumni could be more involved in the generation of research ideas and case studies, and they are interested to have better access to current projects and conclusions.

Closing the gap between theory and practice

Dean Leen Paape closed the workshop with his reflections on the ideas shared by the group. He highlighted the opportunities to connect better to the business community on this topic, in order to close the gap between theory and practice, and to make sustainability more mainstream. He shared the challenges of a small university and need to go beyond the box. The next steps will therefore focus on enabling Nyenrode’s team to be brave and embrace this going forward.

Logo TOTAALOctober 10 is National Sustainability Day in the Netherlands. Around the country, there were thousands of events geared at a sustainable future, fueling Twitter, Facebook and other media for tremendous coverage.

Written by Marjolein Baghuis (@mbaghuis)


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