Simply hoping for a sustainable future isn’t going to get us there. When it comes to tackling climate change, we need collective — not individual — effort.
That is where business schools come in, says Steven McGuire, dean of the University of Sussex Business School. They can equip students with the skills to make the changes required to save our planet.
“Sustainability is intrinsically important to the coming generation,” McGuire says. “But wanting to tackle sustainability in a career isn’t enough. Students need to have a critical mindset to be able to evaluate, analyze, and present data effectively.”
CONTRIBUTING TO SUSTAINABILITY RESEARCH
McGuire believes that most people agree with where we need to go environmentally, and students are eager to solve sustainability issues. “The destination isn’t terribly controversial,” he says. “But getting there involves hard work and navigating some complex organizational challenges.”
Largely through its sustainability research — the EQUIS- and AMBA-accredited Sussex was ranked second in the UK for research from 2017 to 2020 by the London-based Chartered Association of Business Schools — Sussex is among those paving the way for other business schools to help solve complex challenges. The school takes an interdisciplinary approach to teaching, McGuire says, which sets it apart from other B-schools in the UK.
“Sussex’s tradition has generally been left of center,” the dean says. “It was set up to reimagine what a university could be like. Ironically, what people thought would keep it from becoming a successful school has actually been central to its success.”
CREATING AN EQUITABLE FUTURE
Sussex’s interdisciplinary style is exemplified in its curriculum. To approach issues like sustainability from multiple perspectives, the school adds “academic firepower” by hiring external faculty who are working on tackling sustainability issues in their own work. Plus, the school collaborates with the university’s Science Policy Research Unit — otherwise known as SPRU — which was founded in 1966 as a standalone research unit in the city of Sussex.
Originally designed to understand the interaction of economic growth and technological change, SPRU started as a problem-focused research unit. Now, it lives as a department of the business school and is larger than it’s ever been, with nearly 97 staff.
With the belief that innovative science policy solutions can help create more sustainable, secure and equal societies, SPRU helps to address big questions related to the future of our planet. It focuses heavily on sustainability development and renewable energy, engaging with a range of UK and international policy debates with hopes of creating an inclusive, sustainable, and equitable future.
A ROUNDED APPROACH
McGuire says the Sussex MBA curriculum pulls its teaching from across SPRU, with researchers contributing to all of the university’s teaching.
“This gives our school slightly greater emphasis on not only sustainability, but innovation and the role of policy in shaping the competitive environment,” he says.
“Students here get a more rounded understanding of sustainability. There’s often a linear approach to these problems. But we’ve observed that that doesn’t always work. By a ‘rounded’ understanding, I mean we take the policy environment more seriously, as it’s integrated into our teaching.”
THE NEED FOR B-SCHOOLS TO HELP SOLVE PROBLEMS
With a growing number of people interested in pursuing sustainability careers, McGuire says that courses on topics like the circular economy and sustainable finance are steadily filling.
However, while the sustainability theme is becoming more and more woven into the B-School curriculum, it isn’t as integrated as fully as McGuire would like it to be, and there is currently no sustainability pathway in the undergraduate business program.
As students become increasingly worried about our future, McGuire believes that all B-schools need to think about how they can help offer students the skills to solve these problems — and make this a priority.
While the University of Sussex Business School aspires to have sustainability much more integrated in its MBA and undergraduate programs in the future, McGuire advises that for now, those who are aspiring to make positive change focus on expanding their skillset in whatever way possible, keeping an open mind, and remaining curious. “It’s a wonderful intention to want to solve sustainability problems,” says McGuire. “But students need practical skills. They need to focus on having lots of tools and training at their disposal.”