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Business schools must treat sustainability as a critical skill set

Updated: 2 days ago

These summary insights are from the roundtable on the theme: Tackling the Sustainability Skills Gap: Transforming business education. The provocateur for this rountable was John Byrne, Founder & Editor-in-Chief at Poets&Quants. Learn more about our roundtable series here.


Sustainability isn’t a fad


Business schools across the world may be working hard to create new sustainability focused programs, as well as to embed sustainability into existing courses — but is this work going deep enough? In the words of one of the participants in the roundtable: “How cosmetic — or genuine — are these efforts?”


Attendees were quick to assert that sustainability in business schools — and, indeed, in the wider corporate world — is not a fad. Everyone from major global companies to SMEs are making meaningful changes to their strategies and operations, causing a spike in demand for employees with relevant skills. According to research from LinkedIn, job postings requiring at least one green skill grew by a median of 15.2% between February 2022 and 2023. What’s more, demand for green workers is set to surpass supply by 2026.


The demand for sustainability skills goes beyond the traditional “green fields”, such as renewables; they impact every position in every business, from CFOs reporting on climate outcomes to marketers appealing to environmentally conscious consumers and operations teams adjusting supply chains. 


With companies struggling to find talent with both business skills and sustainability knowledge, business schools have a vital role to play — and so, we must keep our focus on practice over PR. 


If sustainability is a critical skill set, we need to treat it as such


As one attendee at the roundtable pointed out, if sustainability is now a baseline skill set for all graduating students, why do we treat it as an elective? Rather than viewing sustainability as an add-on, business schools should see it as a core part of the curriculum, alongside modules like accounting.


This will involve upskilling faculty to embed sustainability issues and approaches into every course, just as they would finance. It is also vital to consider every aspect of sustainability — the economic, social and environmental — so that students gain a rounded perspective. 


What’s more, how we teach these skills is just as important as what we teach. By integrating experiential learning into pedagogies, business schools can give students the opportunity to implement their knowledge and ways of thinking, so they can hit the ground running when they graduate. 


Balancing vision with implementation


When it comes to future-proofing business education, it is important to balance vision with a strong implementation plan. If we get stuck in a cycle of box-ticking and reporting, we are in danger of repeating the same mistakes time and time again. We need bold, visionary and responsible leadership to drive the sustainability agenda forward, expose greenwashing, engage with political actors and develop the products and approaches we need for a green future. 


On the other hand, we also need to ground our approach in tangible action, including being able to articulate the business case for incorporating sustainability into all courses. 


Choosing collaboration over competition


Attendees were united in their agreement that, to make real change happen, business schools need to speak freely, share practices and treat each other as collaborators rather than competitors. From identifying holes in curricula to the most effective pedagogical approaches, making space for open conversation will lead to greater impact in a shorter time frame. 


This collaborative approach should be applied within institutions too; a transdisciplinary approach is key to preparing students for the modern workforce. Silos are no longer appropriate — if they ever were.


Collaboration with businesses, too, is essential. One attendee pointed out that high-profile greenwashing cases have made Gen Z suspicious of the corporate world’s integrity around sustainability efforts. By highlighting positive case studies and integrating real-world challenges into day-to-day learning, institutions can help to reframe business as a crucial part of navigating a just transition to a green economy. 


Ultimately, business schools have a shared responsibility to shift away from economic growth at all costs and shape the next generation of business. 


Thank you to our partners, Times Higher Education and the Global Business School Network, and to everyone who attended the roundtable. We look forward to continuing the conversation as we work to create educational models and opportunities that better prepare students for a changing world. 


If you’re interested in learning more about future roundtables, please click here

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