Yes! Companies are still very embedded in the idea that CSR is about PR and good news and marketing. But in fact, this framing has the unintended consequence of making the public think it is empty and lacking substance. We need to help create a space for admitting imperfection and shared responses to challenges.
Agreed that successful and inspirational stories are very necessary as well. Sharing good practices is crucial.
One way to share challenges and failures can be starting with smaller groups and more controlled programs. We’ve seen examples of how companies are working with students directly through innovation competitions, capstone projects or platforms like Net Impact’s challenges. These settings can make it easier for companies to share their issues and failures, provide valuable learnings, and benefit from engaging students to help them develop solutions.
I’m seeing this happening in the sustainability reporting space, where no one believes the ‘100% on track’ metrics you tend to see, and so companies are more willing to set ambitious goals they can’t meet. I see it less at conferences, in classes and other forums. Perhaps if companies are ultimately successful, they feel more comfortable at sharing the long and bumpy journey that may have got them there. But it is a big challenge, as legal and reputational risk considerations loom large. For example, tough to discuss challenges with addressing trafficking in the supply chain, which are huge (arguably overwhelming) given emerging legal frameworks…
Through corporate working groups and other forums – like some of those led by the UN Global Compact and BSR – businesses can privately discuss their failures and identify a few of the common threads. Then, those shared barriers/challenges can be shared externally in a collective way – without attributing anything negative to a specific company.
This is about leadership. Be it from the C-suite and understanding what is best for the company or from the sustainability professionals making the best case for advancing the company’s goals and interests. I can’t think of any true business that doesn’t have it’s own sustainability in mind, meaning long-term existence and growth. So, how do you do that? Hiding or sharing? Being closeted or being strategic? It takes vision.
One useful way in which to bring sustainable development to business schools is to teach on the topic of poverty and ways and means business can reduce poverty. This topic is never raised in most business schools**-- once again lets focus on the mid to small business schools we never hear of-- that are educating most of tomorrow’s regional leaders. This focus encourages students to recognize, address and critically discuss their relationship as business leaders with the welfare of the poorest billion who are economically marginalized and overlooked by mainstream management ideas-- and business schools
Trust is built up over time. There is where the relationships that faculty members, administrators and companies themselves meet. Just as sustainable development is a long term commitment, so is trust a long term commitment. Nurturing those relationships is key. Q: How do you eat an dinosaur? A: One bite at a time.
One group that is often overlooked in the sustainability discussions are SMEs. Sometimes the bigger corporations dominate our discussion. This is okay. Yet SMEs make the bulk of businesses. They need attention too. Dominican is also focusing on this group of companies.
There’s also more of a need and opportunity to connect business courses to more tangible social issues for employees and workers in the supply chain, from wages to scheduling and other issues related to labor practices and working conditions. Many business courses focus on and limit exposure more higher level strategy, marketing and finance concepts and topics.
Yes, our BSR working group on human rights is excellent for companies admitting challenges and failures - and in front of their peers. But making those lessons public - far tougher!
I believe that realizing that achieving global sustainability is so complex and a major task that requires partnerships, real/honest conversation, trust, and a very inclusive approach could help as Alison says to admit that space for “admitting imperfection” provided that it’s clear that businesses are committed to sustainability, to respect and protect human rights and are acting responsibly. While the market is driven by competition, we will only achieve sustainability through a shift in our mindset that includes a more collaborative and honest approach that generates the trust needed for real partnerships.
It is very true Jason. oikos, as an international student organization, is working closely with companies and we see how open they can be during our conferences and want to understand student perspectives.
I couldn’t agree more. The Working Group on Poverty as a Challenge to Management Education is trying to correct that. Poverty discussions – their complexity and their relationship to all SDGs – needs to be embedded in the business curriculum. We are trying to do that.
I agree on the importance of to teach on the topic of poverty and ways and means business can reduce poverty. Within the PRME initiative we have a very successful Working Group on Anti-poverty that can be found here http://www.unprme.org/how-to-engage/display-working-group.php?wgid=824
Al Rosembloom is one of the Chairs, they have developed many publications and resources to help teach on this issue. Also many PRME schools are teaching through community learning, meaning that students are exposed to real life situations trying to come up with solutions to address the community issues. Much more can be done on this, since it is very important!
Thank you everyone – a lot of really good points there on trust and what it takes to enable greater openness on learning. We have 15 minutes remaining. Here is our last question:
Q4. What should companies do differently to highlight the business demand for sustainable development skills and knowledge?
Social issues are core to aligning to the SDGs, but also an essential part of how we approach sustainability. It is the “ethical” component to our approach to circular economy. And knowing how to report to that is tough because some of the real social elements is interactions happen in developing nations where tracking can be challenging. And that can be a painful touchpoint for many orgs because they don’t have full ownership at that level but it is part of their sourcing or disposal or design or manufacturing line. That must be resolved.
Oh wow, I was just commenting on this too!
A4: Where the business demand is clear, an articulation of the relevant skill sets and opportunities is critical. By definition, this requires very long term, strategic thinking about business.
Where the business demand is unclear, companies should develop a sustainability strategy that includes an implementation and governance plan tied to specific departments, roles and skill sets, and use this to drive partnerships with academic and training institutions.
Where there are clear industry shifts eg into clean energy, then pre-competitive partnerships between companies in the same sector to address critical skills gaps would be very useful. Companies alone can also sponsor academic programs, internships and training opportunities.
A4: Sustainability should be integrated into the core of every business. Communication with all stakeholders is the key.
Employees need to see the sustainable development objectives clearly reflected in their personal targets and rewards. Performance appraisal must take into account the contribution of individuals and teams to longer-term social and environmental goals as well as short-term financial objectives.
Educational institutions should get a clear message from businesses that there is a demand for responsible leaders and change makers and concrete needs addressed to the higher education community on mindset & skills companies now need in their employees to face 21st century challenges.
While there has been definite progress in the past decades on integrating sustainability into higher education curricula, it is not happening at the speed or scale that is required. Most educational institutions continue to focus on operational expertise without addressing the deteriorating situation of the world as a fundamental element across their management and economics curricula.
If we want to speed up the transition to a sustainable world, it is crucial to have the education that responds to the pressing sustainability challenges.
Millennials need to feel that their company tries to make the world a better place. Company’s sustainability performance is crucial for students. Personal values should match company values as well. Our work should not be in conflict with our values, with who we are and what we want to do.
In my experience I think business should be more engaged and partner more actively with organizations like ours as well as directly with business schools and other academic institutions and they should clearly communicate what mindset, skills and knowledge are expected for their employees. Business can and shold advocate more broadly by signing letters, for instance our PRME Working Group on Business & Human Rights have issued a letter for business to request that Human Rights is embed more broadly in the curriculum of business schools. I think they are many many fora to make the case, including by leveraging the UN Global Compact and PRME. I would also encourage businesses to support initiatives like PRME and consider opportunities of partnerships that would mutually help business and business school including internships for students, executive trainings, and overall becoming more involved with the “factories” of our current and future leaders.