Your article (“Academic Alliance Aims to Put Purpose and Planet at the Heart of Curriculum,” Special Report, FT.com, January 13) highlights how business schools are integrating sustainability concepts into their curricula.
Necessary, yes. Enough is enough, no.
By itself, integrating sustainability into existing management fields will not provide students with the knowledge and skills needed to work in and lead companies to achieve sustainability goals such as net zero emissions. The world’s great challenges to sustainable development arise from the intricate interrelationships between economic, social and biophysical systems. Addressing these issues requires a deep understanding of economic and social systems, which business students develop through existing areas of management study. However, sustainability challenges also require natural science-based knowledge of biophysical systems. The natural sciences (let alone natural scientists!) are still absent in business schools.
It’s no coincidence that most of the students who won the FT’s new Responsible Business Education Award in the student-led project category created sustainable products, such as drinking straws, using new biodegradable, compostable and zero-waste materials , insoles and buildings. Developing such ideas requires skills in chemistry, physics, biology, botany, agronomy, and the cycles of carbon, water, and matter. While time spent within business school certainly develops managerial and entrepreneurial skills, we suspect that equally important natural science competencies are acquired there.
If business schools do not open their doors to the natural sciences, they risk losing the relevance and resources of other schools, such as the Stanford Dole School of Sustainability mentioned in the report, that appear to be better equipped for the task.
Assistant Professor of Corporate Social Responsibility, Bayesian School of Business
University of London, UK