Sponsored contribution: Sustainability and the Role of the Business School
Ken Robertson, director of MBA Marketing and Admissions at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University, reports.Now is the most appropriate time for business schools to be involved in the discussion about sustainability because the issue has moved on from being just about the environment, to encompassing all aspects of modern life and development. The social, environmental and commercial all have an interconnected role to play in ensuring that humankind spreads the benefits of progress “….without compromising the needs of future generations….”
So why do business schools, such as Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University, have an important role to play in not just the debate about sustainability, but about the implementation of sustainable practices?
Business is the cornerstone of the standard of living enjoyed by so many of the world’s population, and the vehicle by which the overall standard of living has progressed continuously for many centuries. Whereas the attitude was so often “profit at any cost”, this has changed with the realisation of the environmental and social consequences that this has brought.
Without willing and informed input from business, not only will further progress not be possible, but many of the gains that have been made could very well be lost. Some would see it as a positive to “rein in society”, but it would condemn those presently living in poverty to remain there, while others will join them: a poor basis for securing the present-that-will-be for future generations.
So what does the Rotterdam School of Management, and Erasmus University more generally, contribute to a better and sustainable future?
Research is the foundation of all successful efforts in sustainability. Not research aimed at defining the problems, but in understanding the fundamental processes in play and offering insights into how and where these processes may be changed. These insights must then be communicated in ways that students and society in general can understand.
At the Sustainability and Climate Research Centre, this research is headed by Professor Gail Whiteman, a “business management theorist” whose training is in marketing, and who has extensive private sector experience. Her motivation for this is that her children are important to her, and she wants to facilitate the change to Ssustainability for them. Indeed, she sees them and their contemporaries as “Generation C”, who will face the most critical period of awareness and change.
Research must then be put into terms that can be communicated effectively, firstly through students, and then more generally, especially as those students enter the workforce and gain both experience and influence. Specific courses such as the introductory Business-Society Management are important and well-accepted. However, there needs to be more as the time lag between such studies and the time when the understanding can be implemented is too long to mitigate the longer term effects of present unsustainability.
This is where post experience courses, such as the MBA programmes (Full-Time International MBA; Executive MBA; and Global Executive OneMBA) offered at the Rotterdam School of Management fulfil a vital and immediate role in changing business thinking and business practices to a more sustainable path.
Management education (especially post-experience education) is about the organisation and use of resources, both human and physical. Within the MBA programmes, the research and guidance of groups such as the Sustainability and Climate Research Centre are integrated with the teaching of organisation and use of all resources available to business. Projects and case studies highlight the better use of resources, the fairer use of resources, and the leader’s responsibility to the future.
Yet, without a personal commitment from the students and those who guide them, it would be very easy for the “profit at any cost” mentality to return, making the present dire situation even worse. Identifying and strengthening this personal commitment is one of the ways in which Rotterdam School of Management excels.
Personal Leadership Development is exactly what it says, a personal programme to develop better leaders in business and the community. All MBA students at Rotterdam School of Management undertake this programme as part of their post-experience studies. It begins with a personal evaluation, a personal audit, in which each student looks at their life, attitudes and aspirations, and then begins a programme to realise those within a business, ethical and sustainable framework.
The results achieved mean that the graduate from these programmes is a more rounded individual than the one that entered. Not just within the business community, but in the larger community, they have a sense of who they are, who they could be, and what the community could be for the benefit of all.
Even as students, this is reflected in their attitudes and actions. MBA students at Rotterdam School of Management have initiated and participated in community activities that reflect their understanding of a sustainable society. A charity supporting street children in Indonesia; charity auctions to raise money for worthy causes, both in Holland and internationally; and community support activities are all examples of this.
Even more is this reflected in their activities after graduation, when they have the responsibility and influence to make positive changes, both in the workplace and in society as a whole. They are informed and motivated to contribute to sustainability in the environmental, business and social sense. These well-rounded leaders understand business and society. They contribute to sustainability at a personal level because they understand themselves and care about the future.
This is the role of good post-experience management education, such as that delivered in the MBA programmes offered by the Rotterdam School of Management, supported and guided by research within Erasmus University. Students learn and practice the techniques of management in a climate of personal and community development that is so important for the future of all. They become leaders with the knowledge and will to make the necessary changes. They are also contributing by supporting the Rotterdam School of Management to improve the ways in which this is taught and demonstrated on the principle that there is always a better way.
An excellent philosophy for life, business, and the community in general.
About the author: Ken Robertson is the Director of MBA marketing and Admissions at the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University – a top-ranked international business school renowned for its ground-breaking research in sustainable business practices and for the development of leaders in global business. RSM is constantly ranked among the top ten business schools in Europe.
He is an Economist by training, and an international businessperson by experience. He recently moved to Holland after a number of years teaching in MBA programmes in Australia and business development activities in Asia.