Business school leaders must do more to support sustainability champions


By Professor Mollie Painter-Morland, Head of the Responsible and Sustainable Business Lab, and Dr Petra Molthan-Hill, Principal Lecturer in Business Sustainability, Nottingham Business School

Sustainability is high on the agenda for many business schools these days, but research findings have shown that business school leaders need to do more to support their staff in fully integrating sustainability into the curriculum and ethos of their organisations.

A recent project carried out by our team at Nottingham Business School looked at what business schools across Europe are currently doing to implement sustainability into their practice and teaching, and how staff are being supported. We analysed data from a previous survey carried out by the Academy of Business in Society (ABIS) in partnership with EFMD, which questioned both deans and directors and faculty members.

While the results showed signs that ethics, social, governance and environmental performance (ESGE) issues have become a mainstream concern within business school and University curricula, it seems that more needs to be done with regards to institutional operations.

Responses from the deans showed promising views on campus management, including facilities, reducing environment footprint, having sustainability-related criteria in procurement process, policy-designs, and engagement with local communities. Unfortunately the commitment towards integration of sustainability into campus management procedures is not matched with similar resolve in integrating it into human resource management.

The analysis showed several gaps between how well the business school leaders thought they were doing in terms of sustainability and the views of the faculty members - deans and directors have stronger views on whether the ESGE agenda is fully integrated into their institution’s mission than the faculty respondents.

There was a significant disagreement between deans and faculty members when it comes to supporting the ESGE ‘champions’ taking the lead on sustainability within these institutions, revealing that either deans overestimate their own support, or faculty members do not fully experience the leadership support of their superiors.

When comparing the perceptions of deans and faculties on whether their institutions offer training to build sustainability-related skills and competencies to their staff, the result was again significantly different.

There seems to be a mismatch between the perception of the deans and what is actually happening. Many faculty respondents, as recipients of the training, didn’t know what opportunities were available to them. This also raises the question of whether staff need more training to be able to mainstream ESGE issues into their teaching.

Due to the outcome of the research, we suggest adding a further element into business school sustainability, that of Systemic Institutional Integration (SII).

Staff need to be supported and given an incentive to integrate ESGE issues into their work and the analysis shows that this is not happening. A moral conviction that they want to do it is not enough, because it doesn’t support their overall career planning in any way.

SII goes beyond the curriculum and is a commitment to the agenda from bottom-up, through all the organisation’s business practices, as well as implementing it top-down, through strong leadership directives.

It needs to go beyond individuals and towards broad institutional buy-in. Those who are committed to transformation in businesses schools must receive real institutional support in terms of capacity building, such as through hiring criteria, strategies and performance management policies.

We cannot teach our students to do what we ourselves cannot muster within our own institutions.