As the urgency to address environmental, social and governance (ESG) challenges continues to mount, business schools are recognizing the need to equip future leaders with the knowledge and skills necessary to make a difference beyond the confines of business: in wider society. This is reflected in the integration of sustainability principles into Master in Management (MiM) programs.
Traditionally, business education has focused primarily on financial metrics and profit maximization. However, the tide is turning, and leading business schools around the world are reimagining their MiM curricula to ensure that graduates possess not only a solid foundation in business fundamentals but also a deep understanding of sustainability principles.
Imen Mejri, the MIM program director at Frane’s NEOMA Business School, says: “Today, there is a growing demand for training in the issues and complexities of sustainability and ethics, from students, teachers and companies alike. This new generation is keenly aware of these issues, and it is our role to show them in practical terms, through experience, that they have the capacity to transform not only organizations but also the environment.”
Environmental issues now feature in 100 percent of the school’s masters programs. But NEOMA is working to go further and ensure that environmental and social-transition issues are integrated into 100 percent of every module by 2027.
From courses that delve into sustainable supply chain management and impact investing to experiential projects that tackle real-world sustainability challenges, business schools are striving to empower students with the knowledge and skills to navigate complex sustainability issues.
Some have gone father and launched entire degree programs focused on these topics. Rotterdam School of Management’s MSc Global Business and Sustainability program challenges students to use the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and ethics to address global challenges such as poverty, environmental degradation and inequality. The curriculum addresses how to drive the transition to a more sustainable society while balancing stakeholder, environmental and social interests.
“Our students come to RSM knowing that our mission is to have them be a force for positive change in the world. Many of them choose to study here for this reason, and they have an expectation that we will help them to become a different kind of leader – someone who can find management success while also being an agent of positive change,” says RSM’s dean of education, Michel Lander.
By integrating sustainability into MiM programs, business schools are responding to the pressing demands of both students and employers.
Today’s students, often hailing from the millennial and Gen Z generations, are increasingly concerned about climate change, social inequality and ethical business practices. They expect their education to align with their values and equip them to drive positive change in their future careers.
“Pretty much every person in a tertiary education setting agrees that climate change, but also connected issues such as inequality and migration, are major challenges that businesses need to help solve,” says Roland Siegers, director of masters programs at ESMT Berlin.
The school’s Master in Global Management program integrates courses such as “Human Rights in Business”, exploring the dilemmas that senior decision-makers face when operating in legal and cultural environments that diverge from the stated values of the company. This seminar is offered in collaboration with the Institute for Human Rights in Business, an external organization.
Likewise, employers across industries are recognizing the need for managers who can balance profitability with environmental and social responsibility. “The main employers of our graduates value this content and believe sustainability to be no longer a question or debate. Their new employees should have been educated in the right way to contribute to it,” says Ciara Sutton, director of the Master in International Business at Stockholm School of Economics.
Like many other business schools Stockholm also seeks to foster a culture of ethical decision-making and responsible behavior among the MiM student body, starting in the admissions process. “Our short-listed applicants are required to solve a real business case from one of our corporate partners, that is always focused on sustainability and/or ethics. This allows us to select not only on analytical ability, but also prioritize students with values that match the program’s philosophy,” says Sutton.
“We know that it also serves as a strong signaling tool to ensure candidates begin the program knowing the focus of our program content and intended learning outcomes,” she adds.
Business schools also recognize the importance of ensuring that sustainability and ethics are integrated throughout the entire curriculum, rather than being limited to individual courses. “We encourage every faculty member to include sustainability aspects relevant to their field. For example, in accounting you can address ESG reporting,” says Kerstin Fehre, director of the Masters in International Management and Strategy at Vlerick Business School in Belgium.
Schools such as Vlerick are also taking innovative approaches including hands-on experiential projects that focus on wider issues in society. “In all action-oriented learning opportunities, where students are working on a real-life challenge, we proactively ask the companies to include sustainability-related challenges,” says Fehre. “In this way, our students learn not only about the topic’s importance and urgency from a societal perspective but also from a business perspective.”