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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : Jan/Feb 2000 : New Set of Lenses

A 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 world.” (1)

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 business success.”

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 umbrella.

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 practice.

“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 individuals.”

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 street.”

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.

Recruiting Practices

• Do you screen for environmental and society problem-solving skills?
• Do your corporate recruiting materials communicate the company’s position and
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 and
environmental issues as business opportunities?
• Do you provide feedback to placement office staff regarding candidate interview
performance on societal and environmental topics?

Corporate Actions

• Do you support schools that integrate societal and environmental topics into their
core curricula or offer concentrations or joint degrees in these areas?
• Does your university relations staff communicate the corporate thinking on society
and environmental issues to the universities the company supports?
• Do company executives and board members use their university board positions to
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
business concerns?

Alumni Activities

• 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 by the
business school? Or serve as a networking resource for students?
• Do you earmark your financial contributions to support teaching and research on
environmental and societal business issues?

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