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BW Businessworld

'Need For Integrating Sustainability Education In Academic Institutions'

Corporate management should reflect on the available knowledge and use moral imagination to find strategies that allow for an optimal profit with the least negative internal and external impact on society, environment and future generations

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As I did my Masters in Environmental Economics from Ashoka University, I have a first-hand experience in being a student of sustainability education hence I find this topic extremely relevant.

It is very clear from the session that sustainability education has to be very deeply ingrained in academic institutions, so as to foster business ethics and social responsibility among students who will later join the work-force. Being an economics student, I can say that much of firm theory and businesses has been modelled on the concept of profit maximization for shareholders, which I think has to go towards value maximization for society.

As Professor Matten said, he pushes for this change in mindset for integrating sustainability came after various events like the 2000-2001 dot-com bubble, the Enron Scandal and finally the financial crisis of 2008 which brought about true concerns about whether businesses are being undertaken ethically or not. And yes, they became beneficial crises in that way. But we shouldn't have needed these events, the ethos of a business itself should have been based on sustainability. Corporate management should reflect on the available knowledge and use moral imagination to find strategies that allow for an optimal profit with the least negative internal and external impact on society, environment and future generations. There should be increasing consensus on basic elements of a good society, on a fair societal distribution of responsibility and on strategic and behavioural commandments with regard to the creation of more options for future generations.

Firstly, training faculty and pushing the faculty towards research in this realm becomes very integral. It's about mainstreaming this topic, and not just treating it as an add-on. You have to find allies and collaborate, as approaching this from a single silo will be unsustainable, hence in an education system, you need to find allies in the leadership, faculty, and mainly students, who will be actually driving the agenda in the future. There needs to be immersive learning, as practised in SPJIMR, which is going beyond classroom learning and focusing on experiential learning in this realm, and students need to get hands-on experience in what it entails to be part of the sustainability and social responsibility movement.

Another important thing is that the economic value of integrating sustainability whether it be in business practices or education has to be brought out, and its long-term benefits clearly elucidated among the students. As Professor Bhaskar talked about proven models of integration, I would like to add a point that even though it's important to look at case studies and best practices, there should be an avoidance of isomorphic mimicry, which is a direct copy paste of best practices, without adapting it to the local context, and contextualizing it for different scenarios. So there is a need to avoid isomorphic mimicry while executing proven models, but it is still important that case studies of successful sustainability integration are taught in educational institutions.

There is obviously a need for wide-spread information dispersion and in-depth research with a multidisciplinary approach in this realm, which will not only arouse interest among faculty but also students. I am the student of liberal arts, hence I keep talking about a multidisciplinary approach, which I believe is extremely integral in sustainability education. The appetite of a corporation has to be built so as to efficiently let them absorb sustainability professionals, and actually make the economic value of sustainability professionals apparent in the market.

The CSR law was a major step in the Indian context towards actually inculcating the need for sustainability education, not only because it's required in the corporate space as a compliance, but because it is the right thing to do. It's about influencing behaviour and thought processes on an endemic level, and as the groups before me presented, there must be sustainability integrated into the teaching of finance, marketing and human resources in the business curricula. The financial gains from the focus on sustainability have to be clearly researched upon and taught. Responsible marketing is essential, and the integration of sustainability in the marketing pedagogy, as this is where information dispersion comes in again. Again, as the group before me mentioned, the three P's of the triple bottom line includes people, and hence a people-centric approach towards sustainability is important. There was an interesting framework by Kate Raworth, which was about sustainable development not only being about environmental impact and planetary thresholds but also its very people-centric, who are entitled to a just, social foundation. Hence sustainability in the HR domain and linking it to the SDGs (which is also people-centric) is integral.

I truly believe that as our country develops and approaches new heights, sustainability will be more and more ingrained in mainstream education and that institutional leadership, faculty, students and stakeholders of academia will realize how important research, training and knowledge dispersion is to the sustainability of society itself. Sustainability is about survival, and for businesses and corporates to survive, sustainability education at the grass-root level is of paramount importance. I hope in the coming years, educational institutions resonate with my sentiments, and the sentiments of the panellists and those present here, and take note in order to imbibe transformational changes.