: Magazine : Back
Issues : Jan/Feb
2000 : New Set of Lenses
New Set of Lenses
The next generation of business leaders
need to look at the bottom line with —lenses that see
beyond profit to social equity, economic performance and
environmental responsibility. The Kenan-Flagler Business School serves
as an example of how one program is changing the way business will
be conducted and how
it is valued in the 21st century.
by Janet Wiens
There is a fairly quiet
revolution brewing in America’s business schools. It isn’t
one that will usher in a new world order. In all likelihood, however,
its success will dramatically change both the way business is conducted
and how it is valued in the next century. Equally important, it
may significantly impact the health of the planet we call home.
America’s business schools are going green. At the foundation, is the triple
bottom line, a term created by author John Elkington. Rather than measuring success
against the bottom line, i.e. profit, business success will be measured by three
elements: social equity, economic performance and environmental responsibility.
Environmental responsibility will not be viewed as a foe, forced on companies
by regulations and other outside influences. Businesses will be more environmentally
responsible, working toward sustainability, because it makes good business sense.
And that requires looking at the world in a much different way.
Stuart Hart is associate professor of strategic management and director of the
Sustainable Enterprise Initiative, Kenan-Flagler Business School, at the University
of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (UNC-Chapel-Hill). Hart is a champion of sustainability
and of the “greening” of America’s business schools.
“Everyone knows that we cannot continue doing business as we are,” Hart
states. “Companies that are successful in the decades to come will look
at the environment and sustainability in a new way, through a different set of
lenses. The business opportunities for both individuals and companies that seize
these opportunities will be enormous.”
Hart’s platform, and those who share his views, can perhaps best be captured
by reviewing his words from an article published in The Harvard Business Review: “Like
it or not, the responsibility for ensuring a sustainable world falls largely
on the shoulders of the world’s enterprises, the economic engines of the
future. Clearly, public policy innovations (at both the national and international
levels) and changes in individual consumption patterns will be needed to move
toward sustainability. But corporations can and should lead the way, helping
to shape public policy and driving change in consumers’ behavior. In the
final analysis, it makes good business sense to pursue strategies for a sustainable
The mission of the Kenan-Flagler Business School is to give the next generation
of business leaders the new set of lenses they will need to achieve business
success—success that includes environmental responsibility and sustainability.
Hart came to the Kenan-Flagler Business School from the University of Michigan,
which is also noted for bringing together business and the environment in positive
ways. The Kenan-Flager Sustainable Enterprise Initiative, which Hart directs,
is a set of integrated programs focused on establishing sustainability as a core
platform in the school.
“Our goal is to leverage an environmental focus and sustainability issues
into all our core materials at Kenan-Flagler,” comments Hart. “By
doing this, we will expose all our students to a new way of measuring and viewing
A key element in all materials is showing a direct salience to the traditional
corporate agenda, which in turn breaks down stereotypes regarding the marriage
of business and environmental responsibility. According to Hart, business leaders
and the stakeholders in their organizations must be able to tangibly see the
benefits that can be reaped by adhering to the triple bottom line.
Hart’s first class as part of the Sustainable Enterprise Initiative, “Competitive
Strategies in the Environmental Age,” drew 14 students in 1997. The class
addressed opportunities, markets and seizing a global perspective. By this fall,
nearly 70 students from the Kenan-Flagler Business School, the Nicholas School
of the Environment at Duke University, and from other schools on the UNC-Chapel
Hill campus, enrolled in the course. And the numbers continue to grow.
According to Hart, student interest in the principles being set forth, which
was admittedly latent when he arrived on campus, is growing.
“We now have 70 to 80 students in the business school’s environmental
and social club, NetImpact. Demand for this content is growing not only within
the business school, but with other related majors on campus as well. Environmentally
focused material and sustainability will eventually be part of all courses. We’ve
already ramped up radically from where we were three years ago.”
The ultimate goal is to weave both environmental (sustainability) and social
responsibility into every MBA, Ph.D., and Executive level course offered at Kenan-Flagler.
Economics, environmental management systems, product take-back, marketing, manufacturing,
urban reinvestment and other topics are all included under the Sustainable Enterprise
In addition to course offerings, the integration of the school’s focus
with the business community is obviously vital. To support the Sustainable Enterprise
Initiative, Kenan-Flagler has established an advisory council comprised of approximately
30 major corporations, consultants, government agencies, NGOs and financial institutions.
Representatives from each member organization are on campus at least twice a
year to interface with students and faculty. Student internships with member
organizations provide an opportunity to put classroom lessons into real world
“The interface between our students and people from companies and organizations
that are focusing on sustainability and social responsibility in business is
vital to our
success,” Hart says. “Students must be encouraged that companies
are doing business according to the triple bottom line, and that they are being
successful in this endeavor. At the same time, companies looking to hire students
that possess a new ‘set of lenses’ have to identify those
To further publicize the school’s mission, Kenan-Flagler hosted the 8th
Annual Greening of Industry Conference last November. The 400 attendees, split
evenly between educators and practitioners, were exposed to numerous presentations
relative to sustainability and economic opportunities.
The efforts of Hart and his counterparts at Kenan-Flagler are beginning to achieve
the goals that have been established for the school. According to a report published
by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the Aspen Institute (see chart on
page 43), Kenan-Flagler is one of the top five business schools in the country
teaching an environmentally focused business approach.
In addition to the ranking, Hart and another Kenan-Flager faculty member, James
H. Johnson, Jr., were recipients of WRI’s 1999 Faculty Pioneer Awards,
which were presented to faculty members that incorporate social and environmental
topics into the curricula and into the activities of their business schools.
Johnson, director of the Urban Investment Strategies Center at Kenan-Flagler,
was honored for creating a prototype for partnerships between the community and
the private sector aimed at urban reinvestment and revitalization. He has joined
Hart as co-director of The Sustainable Enterprise Initiative.
According to Hart, three factors will greatly impact the success of Kenan-Flagler’s
mission and the issue of sustainability in business.
“First, there must be a perspective change among the people leading business
enterprises, particularly among CEOs and other top level managers. Business leaders
must see and seize the opportunities relative to sustainability and business
operations. Second, those opportunities and benefits must be effectively communicated
to stakeholders and investors. There must be a positive financial return for
an environmental focus. Finally, businesses must create exciting and high-paying
career opportunities for students in this area to pull demand. It’s a two-way
Hart’s ultimate goal is to have Kenan-Flagler and the Sustainable Enterprise
Initiative recognized as the top program in the country for the education of
business leaders focused on sustainability. That recognition, coupled with the
ultimate success of the program’s graduates in business, will positively
impact both business and the planet for us all.
(1.) Stuart Hart, “Beyond Greening: Strategies for a Sustainable World,” Harvard
Business Review, January-February 1997.
What Can Companies Do?
In its “Beyond Grey Pinstripes” report, WRI and The
Aspen Institute explain that, as the ultimate target audience for
business school programs, companies can have significant influence
over how schools structure their training and design curricula.
The report offers the following questions that can
help individuals and companies assess where they stand in influencing
the development of a labor pool trained to manage the environmental
and societal issues businesses face.
• Do you screen for environmental and society problem-solving skills?
• Do your corporate recruiting materials communicate the company’s
activities on societal and environmental topics in management?
• Do you discuss the company’s societal and environmental challenges during
• Do you use scenario questions to explore a candidate’s approach to societal
environmental issues as business opportunities?
• Do you provide feedback to placement office staff regarding candidate interview
performance on societal and environmental topics?
• Do you support schools that integrate societal and environmental topics into
core curricula or offer concentrations or joint degrees in these areas?
• Does your university relations staff communicate the corporate thinking on
and environmental issues to the universities the company supports?
• Do company executives and board members use their university board positions
promote societal and environmental management training?
• Do you offer internships and consulting projects that allow students to gain
experience in managing society and environmental business challenges?
• Do you support student clubs and activities that focus on society and environmental
• Do you share your thoughts on the importance of society and environmental business
topics in the curriculum and in activities with your alma mater.
• Do you volunteer to speak on such issues in seminars or workshops sponsored
business school? Or serve as a networking resource for students?
• Do you earmark your financial contributions to support teaching and research
environmental and societal business issues?