Australian Financial Review
Feb 8, 2022
Graduate business schools now routinely incorporate environmental, social and governance course material in their MBA programs, as ESG and sustainability themes become part of everyday business practice.
“If sustainability is not part of your core MBA units, the degree is not relevant. It’s not an elective, it’s got to be embedded,” said Sydney University Business School’s MBA director Guy Ford.
Ford says his school’s MBA cohort includes business people who are already doing cutting-edge work incorporating sustainability principles and practices into their work.
This helps to ensure his MBA candidates are constantly exposed to new thinking in what is still an emerging area.
It’s a similar story at the University of Queensland. Nicole Hartley, director of the university’s MBA program, says sustainability is not an additional area of interest, it is a fundamental consideration in the degree.
“Our students retain a focus on sustainability as a strategic imperative, regardless of the business decisions they are tackling, from global logistics networks to human resource fluctuations,” Professor Hartley said.
A centrepiece of UQ’s MBA is Australia’s first accredited short course with a carbon focus, the Carbon Literacy program. The course teaches students about the impact of everyday activities on the climate and the steps required to reduce emissions.
The University of Wollongong is another leading MBA school for sustainability content. The degree has been recognised internationally for its Jindaola program.
Course material explores the way Indigenous people use language and dialogue to build relationships and safeguard cultural knowledge. It allows them to reflect on how these themes could apply to a corporate context.
The Jindaola course also explores Aboriginal leadership, stakeholder consultation and decision-making. During the course, an Aboriginal elder takes students on-country to explain how decisions are made and the importance of consistently considering how sustainable different actions and decisions are.
“For example, he shows students a tree used to make fishing spears,” says Grace McCarthy, dean of the University of Wollongong’s Business School.
“His message is to make only one spear. You can’t fish with two spears; why take more than one? Why would you want two boomerangs because you can only hunt with one?”
This part of the curriculum had to migrate online over the past few years, with material being delivered by video rather than sitting in yarning circles on the forest floor.
New industry standards are a sign of how the teaching of sustainability principles in postgraduate courses is becoming more sophisticated.
For instance, many local universities have signed up to the UN’s Principles for Responsible Management Education. PRME’s goal is to raise the profile of sustainability in business and management schools around the world.
“As signatories, we commit to drive thought leadership and responsible management education to advance sustainable development,” says Keryn Chalmers, dean of Swinburne Business School, which is a PRME member.
In late 2021, the Australian Business Deans Council allocated funds to investigate how ABDC-member business schools are incorporating the UN Sustainability Development Goal 13, which deals with taking urgent action to combat climate change, into their curriculum.
Kristine Dery, associate dean of Macquarie University’s Business School, says it is vital to understand ESG can’t be taught in isolation. It has to be taught alongside other disciplines such as data analytics and digital transformation.
“This is critical to understand ESG and leverage value in ways that matter for organisations. This is an area that is going to transform business,” she said.
“The ability to understand new business models and translate those into value that is sustainable and ethical within the community is what is going to make our leaders stand out.”