The role of sustainability in a complex business world

“In a time of tight budgets, difficult choices have to be made. We must make sure our very limited resources are spent on priorities…” – Bob Riley, Governor of Alabama

In corporate boardrooms around the globe, sustainability has become an increasingly pressing issue, slowly dominating conversations that once focused largely on dollars and cents.

Global leaders and the movers and shakers of the business world have begun to recognise that climate change, labour conditions and reliability on finite resources are ultimately issues that impact the bottom line, thus the need for viable and maintainable business solutions.

Thankfully, we live today in a generation that cares about going green, a generation that understands – and more importantly, respects – that success is measured not just by meeting the traditional bottom line of profit and loss, but by meeting the “triple bottom line”, which takes into consideration the social, environmental and financial aspects of doing business.

And so here lies the benefit of a higher education that focuses on these central issues, and the aspiring student of this generation is well aware of that.

As Professor Frederik Dahlmann, assistant Professor of Global Energy at a prestigious business school told The Guardian: “Students see this as an area that they can no longer choose to ignore.”

“Many business schools are now driving it as an area where they can have a competitive advantage.”

According to a 2013 research by Net Impact that was carried out for the creation of the Business as Unusual Guide, it was uncovered that the prospect of making an environmental and social impact via business had swelled from ‘nice to have’ to ‘must have’ among prospective graduate business students.

In fact, a hefty 91 percent of a total 3,300 students cited social and environmental issues as things that were either ‘very important’ or ‘essential’ to long-term business success.

According to Marsha Willard, Executive Director of the International Society of Sustainability Professionals, the power of a degree in sustainability is “increasing as each day passes”.

“The field of sustainability is still fairly new,” she says, “When job titles started showing up 20 years ago, most of us who were working in the area at the time came to the profession from a disparate set of backgrounds; there were people who were environmentalists, architects, organisational development specialists…there were a bevy of skill sets.

“That collective perspective created a pretty rich foundation for the field, but since that time, it’s no longer enough to have a degree in organisational development, environmental studies or engineering,” she concludes. “It doesn’t sound specific enough. And higher education has responded by offering more degrees that have sustainability in the title.”

One notable university that has responded to the global sustainability drive is James Cook University Australia (JCU), an institution that is committed to the principles of sustainability in order to ensure that its actions do not limit the range of social, cultural, environmental and economic options open to future generations.

Sustainability is a recurring theme throughout JCU’s business course offerings, which all place heavy emphasis on sustainable business practice.

In its Economics for Sustainable Business course, for example; as well as Business, Environment and Society in the Tropics; Innovation and Entrepreneurship; and Economics for a Sustainable World, the sustainable ideal is undeniably present. Here, students learn about sustainable economic, social and environmental practices, before learning how to apply these theories within a real-world business context. JCU’s College of Business is expert at teaching students the value organisations can derive from implementing long-term, green practices.

While every course in the university’s extensive business portfolio incorporates sustainability in one way or another, several of its majors are specifically-focused on developing knowledge and innovation in tropics-related sustainability, including the Bachelor of Sustainability in Business and the Bachelor of Business and Environmental Science. With a number of new courses also in the pipeline, JCU is well-equipped to meet growing demand for graduates that are well versed in this field.

In addition to this, not only do JCU’s MBA students learn about innovative and sustainable change in business, they also develop the expertise needed in order to lead this change, bolstering their career prospects and global opportunities.

As further testament to JCU’s success as a leader of sustainability within higher education, the institution recently announced the creation of a ground-breaking course in environmental practice, established to teach the next generation of students how to tackle sustainable challenges threatening the globe.

“In an increasingly populated world, answers to environmental problems are becoming more and more complicated,” says Professor Marcus Lane, Dean of the College of Science and Engineering at JCU.

“Corporate Environmental Management will combine business literacy with environmental skills, ensuring large companies and others comply with environmental laws to better manage business impacts on the environment,” Professor Lane concludes.

Professor Ray McNamara, acting Dean of the College of Business, Law and Governance, added that, “Increasingly, companies are concerned with ‘triple bottom line outcomes’ – environmental, social and economic.”

JCU’s brand-new major in Corporate Environmental Management will also be included in the Bachelor of Business, allowing students to gain an environmental perspective alongside their business degree.

“This is a tremendous innovation for our Business degree,” Professor McNamara concludes. “It gives graduates a broader range of employment opportunities in business.”

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All images courtesy of James Cook University