Moving Students into the Longtail of Sustainability

The other day while working with some colleagues on a paper, we began discussing the various approaches to sustainability and responsible leadership that we are seeing within the business school community.

A discussion that has been taking place for several years, but what was interesting about this review was to see the progress that has been made, and how we are seeing others look to advance their programs at a rapid pace.  Similar to having a focus of international business 15-20 years ago, and bringing courses on international business into the core of the curriculum, sustainability and responsible leadership is still largely considered to be a statistical “longtail” for many schools.

It’s a a niche approach that has no mainstream application or relevance in programs that should be focused on “making money”,  or so the theory goes, but this is changing as business schools start to listen to the calls that higher education do more to incubate sustainable leadership.

A trend that I see as having several steps along the way, which are .

for every school, this will come in stages (1,2, and 3 in the above diagram), but for the most part I see the most obvious stages towards responsible leadership being:

  1. Ethics
  2. CSR/ Sustainability
  3. Creating Social value

So, if you look at what programs are doing to create “better” leaders, many schools with start with Ethics as the base, and then over time proceed to increase the level of exposure through CSR/ sustainability content (largely externally focused).  Creating shared value, a concept created by Michael Porter, is where business learn to engage social enterprises and have a more meaningful engagement with the community, but it isn’t until schools have reached the longtail that things come together.

Where the model has changed to something that begins developing leaders who understand the system, and understand the responsibility they have to make decisions for the betterment of their organization..  and of course, to the benefit of stakeholders outside the organization.

Or as Terry Williams, Dean of Hull University Business School, said in the recent Guardian article The role of higher education in creating sustainable leaders:

leaders need to see organizations as complete systems. They consist of many parts. How the parts behave affects the performance of the whole because they are all linked and interdependent. The performance of the whole is more than just the sum of the parts. Studying each part individually is counterproductive and presents a very limited view of any issues.

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