Sustainability and the MBA Andrew Main Wilson is CEO of the Association of MBAs (AMBA) According to former US President John F Kennedy, a crisis consists of two things: a danger and an opportunity. This is especially prudent when considering the state of our global environment and depletion of Earth’s natural resources. The simple fact is that companies will be unable to sustain growth on the scale they hope for, unless these leaders – and leaders of the future – rise to the challenge a new way of working. AMBA – The Association of MBAs – is the international impartial authority on postgraduate business education and the only global MBA-specific accrediting body. The Association accredits programmes at 259 business schools worldwide. AMBA is also a professional membership association with 34,000 student and graduate members in more than 150 countries, connecting MBA students and graduates, accredited business schools and employers across the globe. A solid understanding of sustainability Last year AMBA unveiled the findings of its biggest ever Careers and Salary Survey of 3,355 members in 120 countries, which revealed seven out of 10 MBA graduates agreed that their MBA had given them a solid understanding of the impact of sustainability issues (such as water scarcity, carbon emissions restrictions and social inequality) and on business performance. Almost nine out of 10 (86%) agreed that working for a responsible and sustainable organisation was as important to them as high salary. Another AMBA survey of 2,000 of our student and graduate members, and found that 71% had received modules in ethical and sustainable leadership during their MBAs and 68% believe employers will be looking for these skills more and more in the future. This is great news but more needs to be done. In 2016, I became Chairman of United Nations’ PRME (Principles for Responsible Management Education). Its mission is to champion responsible management education, research and thought leadership globally. The world is looking to leaders in business and education to play lead roles in solving our planet’s resources, energy and social equality problems. Shortly after my appointment to United Nations PRME, I interviewed Paul Polman, Global CEO of Unilever. He agreed that while no one company has the answer to the sustainability dilemma, business schools can work collectively to address this. He said: “We need to make these multi-dimensional – economic, social, environmental – and have broader coursework between different departments. The silos we have to watch out for in companies, as we move this agenda forward, also exist in universities, so the more we can move towards horizontal training and get people exposed to the social, psychological and economic issues, the better the human beings we will create. This is a challenge for MBA programmes.” In saying this if we can join forces and take the sustainability agenda forward, Polman told me we have a realistic opportunity, within the next 15 years, to eradicate global poverty. Doing this is will benefit of all of us. The effects of runaway climate change, poverty and the refugee crisis, plus increasing unemployment, are more apparent each and every day. The role of the business school In a planet riddled with volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, leaders from AMBA-accredited business schools regularly tell me that content and discussion sustainability and ethics is the red thread that runs through all their programmes and in an ever-changing world, this is something that needs to be at the forefront of the minds of their graduating classes. Returning to my opening comment, the planet is facing an ecological crisis and business schools are turning this danger into a significant opportunity. In May 2018, Deans and Directors from the AMBA-accredited Nordic schools participated in an exclusive insight panel to discuss the future of MBA programmes at AMBA’s Global Conference 2018 taking place in Stockholm, Sweden. Given that the Nordic region is arguably one of the most innovative parts of the world and sustainability, I was interested in their insight around sustainability and the innovative ways in which they’re nurturing a sustainability mindset in their student cohorts. AMBA Chair, Bodo Schlegelmilch moderated a focus group around the challenges, opportunities and innovations facing business educators in the region. The discussion highlighted business schools’ commitment to the triple bottom line business model, that is, people, planet, and profit. Schlegelmilch stressed the importance of teaching students the skills related to the sustainability of our planet. Håkan Ericson, Director of the GU School of Executive Education at the School of Business, Economics and Law, University of Gothenburg, said his school is pursuing a clear strategy to make sure all master programmes represent aspects of the triple bottom line business model. He said: “Sustainability in all three aspects is prevalent in all of our master programmes. We do focus beyond profit.” Irene Rosberg, Executive MBA Shipping & Logistics Programme Director (The Blue MBA) at Copenhagen Business School, also explained that it was important for employers to have MBA graduates who can understand the challenges of today and come up with innovative solutions. She said: “Sustainability is of course part of the strategy.” Ericson emphasised that sustainability is an important means for business schools to stay relevant in a constantly changing environment. Building on this point, Schlegelmilch introduced the innovative concept of ‘MBAs for rent’, explaining that in light of today’s complicated business environment, there are many challenges to navigate. He said: “Imagine if, in three or five years, degrees were for rent and an MBA wouldn’t last a lifetime.” This could mean, according to Schlegelmilch, that MBA graduates would have to come back to business school every three or five years to learn about the latest developments in the industry and renew their knowledge – especially on sustainability initiatives. Hanna-Riikka Myllymäki, Business Area Director, Degree Programs at Aalto University Executive Education, also explained that taking into consideration the unprecedented speed of change, and the need to constantly acquire new competencies, business schools must keep the degrees up-to-date. She said that it was a crucial time to make individuals see the need to renew their education in order to be competitive in the market. So which employers are successful rising to the challenge of the sustainability agenda? Peter Lacey, Global Managing Director for Sustainability Services at Accenture Strategy, was interviewed at AMBA’s Global Conference for Deans and Directors in Venice Italy, where he gave the example of one of the world’s leading disruptive businesses. “Airbnb is fundamentally clearing inefficient markets,” he told me. “It is better matching supply and demand using digital technologies, with assets that are idle, wasted resources, and they’re finding they can connect these with customers and produce a better customer experience. They’re addressing wasted capacity – albeit indirectly – and it’s having a game-changing effect. This means we don’t have to run hotels at empty capacity.” Lacey added: “The key [to a sustainable future] is about using the power of business to drive the products and services people want and to fundamentally think about that in a different way, that delivers the ultimate goal of sustainability: enough, for all, forever.” The situation is obvious: our planet is under pressure. Resources are finite, global terrorism is rising, social inequality is a prevailing issue. There is a growing trend among MBA graduates towards working together for a sustainable future and AMBA is committed to driving forward this long-term approach to business and societal change. Be responsible or take risks As a business leader, you have the choice to be responsible or take risks. Responsibility is about considering the impact that we have on our colleagues, clients, sector and function, and society. Even the most successful businesses cannot operate in a toxic environment, so there is an imperative to take an interest in the wider world, and focus on nurturing ethical practices and building a sustainable and socially responsible culture. In 2017 AMBA celebrated its 50th Anniversary, dubbing it, ‘The Year of the MBA’ and my belief is that it’s never been more important to bring the MBA community together and create positive change across the world; sharing our ideas on responsible and ethical business, and understanding how a shared purpose around sustainability is the key to long-term shared success. As brands can rise or die by their CSR credentials. Companies are being defined by their purpose and values, how they improve the lives of customers, and how they enhance the quality of life for their employees. By placing purpose maximisation alongside profit maximisation, and fostering a culture that promotes this, companies can unearth new sources of innovation, and help people express these values in their work. Many studies show that people are not motivated by money, but by emotion. I believe businesses can have the best of both worlds: establish more sustainable ways of working that don’t compromise profit and growth, but build on them for the long term. Sustainability is a core principle of AMBA-accreditation criteria and all AMBA-accredited MBA curricula must emphasise the impact of sustainability, ethics, and risk management on business decisions, performance, and society as a whole. The impact of this policy is evident. More than seven in 10 (71%) respondents to AMBA’s Career and Salary Survey agreed or strongly agreed that their MBA had given them a solid understanding of how sustainability issues impact business performance. We expect that this year AMBA will welcome its 37,000th MBA student and graduate member into our global network of MBA student and graduate business leaders. I believe this growth is integral to our mission, as AMBA is set to become the world’s largest and most exclusive network of MBAs. The reason for the importance I place on our growing numbers is two-fold. First, this international network is creating a body of like-minded innovative individuals, who can collectively share though leadership, seek guidance from, and offer advice, online and at networking opportunities in various countries. The second reason our swelling number of members is so vital, is that we are working to create a collective force for good. As more forward-thinking MBA graduates move into roles across business and society, they’re bringing with them ethical, responsible, and sustainable leadership ideas, and initiatives that are having a positive impact on our world. Our MBA scholarship is offering six individuals from six continents a collective scholarship of US$50,000 to support them in their studies and we’ve already awarded four of these scholarships. I’ve been inspired and humbled by the scholarship entries and I’m encouraged by the progress that AMBA’s global force for good – of which all our members and accredited business schools are an integral part – is set to make across the world. Purpose A major focus of the work we do at AMBA is changing perceptions of the MBA from a business qualification, to being key to global societal and positive change. A key differentiator in this work is instilling a sense of purpose in the leaders of today and tomorrow. Business author and guest lecturer at Copenhagen Business School and the IT University of Copenhagen Erik Korsvik Østergaard has told me that a purpose-driven leader focuses on purpose and profit at the same time, but has purpose as his or her cause, value-creation as his or her goal, and profit as the result. In short, it’s OK to make money, as long as you work for purpose too. He explains that there are various types of purpose-driven businesses, but they all adopt a way of balancing purpose, people, planet, and profit. The financial side of business is very much part of this balance. Part of my job is finding out the impact that the MBA is making to the world in terms of business, economics, poverty alleviation and social mobility. In the past year alone my team and I have interviewed to a wealth of MBA graduates, who are making a difference across the world: one who has set up an off-shore centre to promote business growth across west Africa; one strengthening diplomatic relations between Russia and the UK; one who is working across government in Bhutan; another who is promoting education for street children in Caracas; one who is striving to preserve and protect the art and antiquities from war-torn Syria; a group of AMBA members saving women in Bogota from domestic violence through entrepreneurial projects; one who is consulting with charities across Africa, to ensure that their good work is not misdirected; one who is rejuvenating the engineering sector in Brazil by creating more points of entry for women; one who is captaining the Belgian football team in next month’s FIFA World Cup and lobbying to loosen the corporate clutches on ‘the beautiful game’, allowing more people to afford to spectate affordably; and one who is working to combat modern slavery in the UK. And those are just a few of the stunning MBA stories we hear about in the AMBA office every week. In businesses across the world, MBAs are putting purpose before profit and taking a long-term sustainable view; revolutionising how companies are run and taking our economies forward in innovative and inspirational ways. All these people have told me they wouldn’t have been able to have the knowledge, the network or the courage to do these things had it not been for their MBA. As a group of MBA graduates, they’re a purpose-driven global force for good.
The world is looking to leaders in business and education to play lead roles in solving our planet’s resources, energy and social equality problems

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