The sustainability issues within Business curriculum


Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, the problem of global sustainability is widely recognized by world leaders, and a common topic of discussion by journalists, scientists, teachers, students and citizens in many parts of the world (IUCN, 2006). Corporations are being encouraged or required to address sustainability issues and incorporate sustainable practices at all levels of stakeholders to improve both the environment and their own competitiveness (Rusinko, 2007). At the same time, various institutions are exploring the means to integrate sustainability into curriculum. Over the past few years, there has been a significant increase in attention to courses in business curriculum dealing with the topics of environmental and social issues (WRI, 2001). Courses such as environmental management, design for the environment, corporate social responsibility, business ethics and sustainability are increasingly finding their way into business programs. However, in India, there appear to be very few business courses for which the primary focus is on the topics of sustainable development and sustainability. But efforts are visible that business schools have begun to recognize the need of infusing the values of sustainability among students, potential to lead the society towards sustainable development.

Defining sustainability

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Sustainability or sustainable development refers to "meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" (World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987). This definition of sustainable development provided three key points for reference throughout the remainder of the course. First, it emphasized intergenerational equity. Establishing a future-focused lens emphasizes the role of long-term objectives that require concerted efforts for an extended duration (e.g. eradication of cholera by 2015). Second, it incorporated the ideals of intra-generational equity. Although this ideal objective is likely unachievable, it recognizes the importance of setting short-term objectives to alleviate the most pressing issues (e.g. sanitation) and leads to discussions of establishing achievable outcomes (e.g. building centrally located wells in villages) with current resources. And, third, it introduced the cornerstone concept of sustainability - the linkages between social, environmental, and economic conditions - and related directly back to ideas of inter- and intra-generational equity and whether the three pillars of sustainability were necessarily tradeoffs or possibly mutually reinforcing pursuits. More specifically, it raised difficult questions as to whether or not economic development inherently comes from the sacrifice of environmental preservation and social equity, and vice versa.

In simpler words, sustainability may be defined as a concept that activates the inner sense of individuals, companies and societies to initiate, promote and sustain practices to protect and enhance the human and natural resources needed by future generations to enjoy a quality of life equal to or greater than our own.

In a firm-specific definition of sustainability, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) describes - "Sustainable development involves the simultaneous pursuit of economic prosperity, environmental quality and social equity. Companies aiming for sustainability need to perform not against a single, financial bottom line but against the triple bottom line". From this definition, three key points were emphasized to set the context for the remainder of the term. First, strategic and operational actions of a firm should be considered in light of their economic, environmental and social impact. Second, each company operates within a constellation of stakeholders and sustainability-based decision-making requires an assessment of the needs of these stakeholders and the potential impact they have on its long-term viability. Third, a sustainability-oriented strategy requires formulating and implementing effective measurements and concomitant information systems for environmental and social activities. DESD Draft Implementation Plan (UNESCO 2004) also supports the similar viewpoint that sustainability education must address all three parts of sustainability - social, environmental, and economic - because this allows all people to develop the necessary skills, knowledge, and perspectives to make decisions to improve quality of life at all levels.

During the early talks with various professors of Indian business schools, the academic community was found divided on how to respond to the emergence and integration issues of sustainability in business education. Some appear quite comfortable with the term and seek to use this term with in the framework of traditional environmental education. Others, who clearly are uncomfortable with the continued sustainability focus, express concerns about the nature of the sustainability issues to be integrated in business education and stress the need to nurture alternative perspectives. In short, many academicians find the concept of sustainability too abstract and broad. Further, educational institutions lack sufficient personnel and adequate resources needed to justify sustainability initiatives (Leal Filho, 2000).


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No doubt Sustainability is not a very old topic and this is also true that number of studies has already been conducted on it which is quite prominent like Sammalisto and Lindhquist (2008) emphasized the need for a broad, general approach to sustainability in higher education (SHE). Scott and Gough (2006) also concluded that the dimensions of sustainable development (e.g. environmental, social, and economic) should be viewed simultaneously, and not separately - and likewise for teaching sustainability. Lidgren et al. (2006) and Scott and Gough (2006) address the need to think strategically about integrating sustainability into higher education. Lozano (2006) recommends an incremental approach with respect to SHE, whereby small groups can start out, and if successful, can expand sustainability in higher education throughout the university. Roome (2005) addresses the need to include multiple academic stakeholders, and stakeholders outside of the academic environment, with respect to integrating sustainability into curricula in higher education.

Till now there has been large number of studies on how to integrate sustainability in higher education (SHE). Some of the more recent studies include Benn and Dunphy (2009), Lidgren et al. (2006), Lozano (2006), Roome (2005), Sammalisto and Lindhquist (2008), and Scott and Gough (2006). Several of these studies tend to be case-oriented, and/or focused on an individual course, program, or institution (Benn and Dunphy, 2009; Lidgren et al., 2006; Roome, 2005; Sammalisto and Lindhquist, 2008). But most of the mentioned studies are based on the western region of the world and fail to describe the Indian or Asian viewpoint. Through this paper, the researchers try to present how professors of different business schools of India are bringing sustainability topics to their class rooms and the challenges faced by them. It is something new to research on, how to integrate sustainability in business schools in somewhat different geographical and value setup as compared to available western studies this basically attract and motivate the research team like us to carry on such topic.


The organization of this section consists of the findings associated with four themes examined by this study: understanding sustainability issues, integrating sustainability in business curriculum, pedagogical and other challenges, and current practices, followed by a discussion of each theme.

Understanding sustainability issues

Faculty members of some premium business schools were asked to define sustainability and elaborate on their knowledge base of sustainability. Majority of them (nearly 67%) confirm the wide definition and recognized multiple components of sustainability vis-à-vis environmental, social and economical issues for future. While 18% professors limit their reach up to either environmental or natural issues. Among the remaining, 9% were interested in corporate governance and ethics whereas only 6% dedicated their efforts towards social and health care issues.

As most of the professors interviewed during this study defined sustainability in relation to their own discipline and often differentiated between three dimensions of sustainability, specifically, environmental, social and economical issues. These three dimensions are somewhat consistent with the sustainability dimensions identified earlier in the literature by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD).

Characteristics of the respondent group is worth noticing that sustainability issues are mainly dealt by the professors having specialization in the field of strategic management and most of them were having some international exposure in terms of study abroad or conducting international research. Therefore, it may be the reason why most of respondents confirmed a wider understanding of the term sustainability.

Integrating sustainability in business curriculum

With its wider scope for integration, sustainability issues are dealt differently by varied class of business schools and professors of different streams. Strategy, Production, Marketing, Human Resource, Finance areas of business education deal with such issues of sustainable differently. The reason behind such varied approach to deal sustainability lies in the fact that Indian business schools have not designed separate course curriculum to offer such issues. Most of the business schools,

A generic matrix for integrating sustainability in higher education as suggest by Rusinko, 2010 addresses how it should be implemented or delivered; that is, through already existing structures, or by creating new structures (Sammalisto and Lindhquist, 2008). For example, sustainability can be integrated into business education through an already existing structure such as a course - as a new topic, case, or module. Similarly, it can also be integrated by creating a new structure, such as a new course, major, or program. We have also noticed a debate over whether sustainability should be integrated into existing courses or taught as stand-alone courses (Christensen et al., 2007; Tilbury et al., 2004).

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While attempting to integrate sustainability, it is also necessary to address the focus; that is, a narrower or discipline-specific focus, or a broader or more cross-disciplinary focus (Lozano, 2006). For example, sustainability can be integrated into higher education with a narrower focus, with respect to an individual program or school. Sustainability can also be integrated into higher education with a broader focus, with respect to cross-disciplinary or university-wide requirements.

The findings of the research suggest