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Business education needs to respond to sustainable needs – we do not have an option!

The business world is under threat. There are forces beyond human control that play an increasingly critical role in the world’s economies. Businesses around the world are reeling from the impacts of climate change, supply chain shortages and disruptions, agricultural uncertainty and disruptions in workforce management. A report published by NASA claims that we are currently living in the hottest decade of the past 140 years. Higher temperatures lead to continuous weather disturbances which in turn negatively impact businesses. These can be disasters such as flash floods, storms or hurricanes and wildfires, as well as droughts and water shortages. The impact of climate change on businesses can also be systemic, in that it can affect agricultural systems and output due to the unpredictability of monsoons and crop failures, leading to intense shortages of raw materials for various industries. The long-term consequences of this are food shortages, production failures and economic distress and instability.

At first glance, these seem to be concerns of companies and not educational institutions. So why should a business school be concerned about these disruptions? However, the role of a business school is by definition to prepare students for the outside world. Taglines from several global business schools include “industry-ready,” “cutting-edge education,” and “relevant pedagogy.” Then, with the business world reeling under the impact of a major disruption that only looks set to intensify in the coming years, what choice do schools have but to prepare their graduates with the required skills? Sustainability in business education is therefore no longer a luxury but an absolute necessity.

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Worldwide, the term VUCA – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguity is used to describe the current state of the world. Business schools use this term to make necessary changes to the curriculum to train students to manage the constantly evolving and changing needs of different industries. Concepts of sustainability are often incorporated into various curricula, such as ESG matrices in strategy management, triple bottom line calculations in financial management, and corporate social responsibility in business courses and development. But nowadays it is not necessary to consider sustainability as an additional subject, but to teach sustainable development and concepts of sustainable business as technical courses and sustainable development as a regular part of corporate curriculum. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) and the United Nations Principles of Responsible Management Education (UNPRME) speak of the intersection of business and sustainability goals (see Figure 1). Developing strategies to manage the same needs specialized skills to be imparted to students preparing to run businesses in the future.

ANNEX 1 – UN SDG GOALS

SDG 8 – Decent work and economic growth

SDG 9 – Industry, innovation and infrastructure

SDG 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities

SDG 12 – Responsible consumption and production

SDG 17 – Partnerships for the Goals

Understanding sustainable development means understanding business development strategy from the point of view of innovation, growth and business model redesign. Tools such as sustainable business model canvases and triple bottom line calculations need to be integrated into the emerging stage of businesses. This reduces costs and avoids major business overhauls that become a necessity for policy-based compliance. Such compliance is becoming a global reality as countries strive to manage their carbon footprint and emission levels. Companies that have integrated these concerns into the planning phase have the first mover advantage and can achieve their goals faster and more efficiently than competitors that need to radically rethink existing business models.

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Raw material management and the risks of supply chain interruptions are met by closed loop operations and innovations in product development that require technical skills and know-how of new research methods to meet market demand. Again, business students need training to meet these industry needs, a need that cannot be met by imparting partial knowledge in additional courses.

FIGURE 2 – SKILLS FOR GLOBAL MANAGERS

· Innovation Management

· Product innovation and diversification

· Closed loop management of the supply chain

· Circular economy processes

· Community-based problem-solving skills

· Come up with design

· Diversity and inclusion

· Sustainable HRM

The popular Indian term ‘jugaad’ is used worldwide today to describe local level innovations to solve local problems. Innovations have been considered part of business solutions for decades, but understanding local solutions to local problems is catching up. Meeting these needs requires community-based solutions, knowledge of approaches such as design thinking, disruption management and bricolage skills. These skills require specialized input and cannot be delivered to business students through generic interventions.

The impact of business changes and disruptions is felt not only in the world of physical resources, but also in the process of people. The past two years of the global pandemic have had an immeasurable impact on the world of work and managing teams today looks very different than it did five years ago. There is a greater reliance on technology solutions and global teams with diverse members in a more reality than before. Ongoing fears and the demise of an impending recession have led to increased stress levels, especially among minority workers and those who are at an intersectional disadvantage in the labor market. Recent research in 2019 has shown that the introduction of green workforce management has a positive effect on the economic performance of companies. Skills in aspects such as green HRM and sustainable workforce management need technical input and business students need to be equipped to address the concerns of the future workforce.

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From managing business strategy, raw material procurement, production processes and raw material consumption, supply chain management, consumer behavior and marketing to economic performance indicators and human resources management, Industry 4.O demands sustainable solutions. Preparing future managers will therefore require in-depth skills and knowledge. Business schools should therefore approach corporate sustainability as a core part of business education.

To be a leader, we must to disturb our corporate curricula are relevant and future-proof.

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