Sustainability Issues Within Business Curriculum Education Essay

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To translate this vision into action, it takes time, efforts and sincere leadership and managerial commitments towards sustainable global development. Therefore the role of Business Schools is critical in generating a work force to cater such needs. This paper focuses on the top Business schools in India who promote sustainability issues, exploring the challenges of incorporating sustainability in the business curriculum and practices developed by leading professors and business schools to address these issues.

Design/methodology/approach - A sample of 50 faculty members from the top 20 business schools in India forms the basis of this research. Data is collected through on-line questionnaire, telephone interviews and in-depth exploration of teaching plans and course materials.

Findings - The findings highlight the importance of sustainability issues within the business curriculum and the value of integrated case studies which provide a wider perspective to students. Faculty members face serious challenges in the conflict between monetary and sustainability orientations of the curriculum, maintaining students' interest, applying new pedagogical tools effectively, and including considerations of social costs and quality of life.

Originality/value - This paper contributes to existing knowledge about the practical challenges of designing and teaching sustainability issues through integrated courses. It also explores the effectiveness of innovative pedagogical tools to address such issues.

Keywords - Sustainability Studies, Business Curriculum, Integration Challenges and Practices

Paper Type - Research paper


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.

Indian institutions of higher education, especially business schools, have begun to recognize the need of infusing the values of sustainability among students, potential to lead the society towards sustainable development. But this exercise of integrating sustainability in business curriculum poses enormous challenges before the educators.

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Concept of sustainability

Leal Filho (2000) notes that there are some areas within the higher education sector where the concept of sustainability is not yet fully understood. Leal Filho contends that 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 concludes that concrete initiatives are needed to provide a clear plan of action for implementing sustainability initiatives.

Surely there are various obstacles, but numerous institutions are engaging in integrating sustainability across the institution by transforming disciplines, operations, and research at both the national and local levels. According to Clugston (1999) and Leal Filho (1999), evidence of the following specific practices should be required from postsecondary institutions that claim they integrate sustainability concepts: written mission statements, academic programs, energy and purchasing practices, outreach, faculty hiring, and faculty development. Leal Filho identifies additional areas of commonality among institutions implementing sustainability including:

the integration of sustainability in measurable objectives; an awareness of the role of the post-secondary educational institution in social and ecological systems; the use of knowledge of sustainability as a criterion for promoting faculty and granting tenure; the support of campus life services which emphasize practices promoting sustainability; and the engagement in forming partnerships both locally and globally to enhance sustainability.

Both Clugston and Leal Filho agree that the manner in which post-secondary educational institutions define and approach sustainability varies.

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In summary, recent research provides evidence of an increasing focus by post-secondary institutions on incorporating the concepts of sustainability into research and operations.

{{From the initial concerns for sustainability in the early 1970s to the development of the Talloires Declaration in 1990, }}

business schools are beginning to recognize the importance of positive environmental stewardship. Despite this progress, the literature suggests that there is a paucity of research on the integration of the concepts of sustainability into teaching at post-secondary educational institutions.


{{Carol Boyle IJSHE 2004

The basic concept of sustainability as defined by the World Commission on Environment and Development (1987) requires an understanding of human and societal needs and the environment and its limitations, as well as a context of time and future. The myriad interactions which occur in both ecological and human social systems make the global system highly complex even without taking the temporal context into account (Kelly, 1998). Thus sustainability requires an understanding of complexity and systems far beyond that taught in traditional engineering programmes.}}


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Arjen E. J. Wals 2002

{Tern the following into indian context- no refs}

Not surprisingly, the education community is divided on how to respond to the emergence of education for sustainability''. Some appear quite comfortable with the term and seek to infuse this term with meaning, or use it to address issues under-represented by traditional environmental education (Huckle, 1999; Gonzalez-Gaudiano, 1999; Gough and Scott, 1999). Others, who clearly are uncomfortable with the continued sustainability focus (Sauve, 1996, 1999 Berryman,1999),express concerns about the globalizing nature of the "education for sustainability'' agenda and stress the need to nurture alternative perspectives.

A third group, while recognizing limitations to this terminology, seek means to accommodate the global political agenda (i.e. Smyth, 1999). As a tentative stepin this direction, Smyth speaks about ``education consistent with Agenda 21''. As these examples illustrate, there are multiple perspectives on sustainability, education for sustainable development, and education for sustainability and multiple perspectives on the way educators should interpret these ideas.


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Defining and Interpreting Sustainability

While there are multiple definitions of sustainability, for the purposes of this paper, sustainability will be defined in a manner consistent with one of the most cited definitions, that of the Brundtland Commission. That is, sustainability refers to that which "[..] meets 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, p. 8).

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 order to move into a global business application of sustainability, the next definition provided to the students was based on an industry perspective. The Lowell Center for Sustainable Production (LCSP) offers the following definition:

"Sustainable production is the creation of goods and services using processes and systems that are: non-polluting; conserving of energy and natural resources; economically efficient; safe and healthful for workers, communities, and consumers; and, socially and creatively rewarding for all working people".

The LCSP definition introduced two key considerations that linked the ideas of sustainable development and sustainability. First, it extended the linkages between environmental, social, and economic systems by recognizing the concentricity of environmental, social and economic systems. That is, students were introduced to the basic premise that economic systems depend on the health and welfare of the social systems; social systems, in turn, depend on the regenerative capacities of the ecological systems (Starik and Rands, 1995). Second, it brought out the tension between global and local policies, industries and citizenries, which is a tension that arose in nearly every topic throughout the rest of the term.

Finally, students were given a firm-specific definition of sustainability offered by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) which is as follows-

"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.

According to the UNESCO (2004), 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.

……………From the survey………………

Part 3, portion 2 expctd...

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 and professors mould the definition of sustainability similarly. As per conducted survey, 72% of them confirm the wide definition of the term while 12% limits their reach up to either environmental or natural issues. 7% were interested in corporate governance and ethics whereas remaining 9% dedicated their efforts towards social and health care issues.

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 b'schools


Intro + definition + finding 1 is over....

Literature Review

No doubt Sustainability is not a very old topic but 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 SHE. Scott and Gough (2006) 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 SHE 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 this paper presents how professors of different colleges of India are integrating sustainability topics in their classes. It is something new because lots of work has been down on how to integrate sustainability in higher education, what are the difficulties in introducing sustainability in higher education but not much has been down on how professors are presently integrating sustainability in higher education. The lack of research on this topic motivates us to choose this topic.

Integration issues

Kevin Warburton IJSHE, 2003

These concerns raise questions about the need for innovative educational approaches that facilitate real cross-disciplinary thinking. For example, is there scope for a new academic "discipline" for trans-disciplinary studies to consider effective ways to translate, reconcile and integrate disparate discourses, traditions and methodologies? As an illustration of the differing approaches than can be exhibited even by related (in this case biophysical) disciplines, river science provides a good example (Thoms, 2001). There has been a growing

trend in recent years to manage rivers as ecosystems. This requires a holistic framework that recognises interconnections between physical, chemical and biological components in rivers and the surrounding environment, and the different scales at which these interactions operate. Separate disciplines (e.g. hydrology, geomorphology, ecology) differ in language but a common factor is their use of a hierarchical approach. However, they tend to focus at different scales (e.g. biologists focus on small-scale, single cause-effect problems, while geomorphologists operate more at much broader scales and acknowledge ulticausal factors). Identifying appropriate scales or levels of organization that link the same attribute across disciplines, and asking questions at the right scale, has rarely been attempted because of entrenched paradigms within individual disciplines. How then do we provide students with the conceptual tools to move across disciplines to recognise patterns and causal relationships between economic, environmental and equity issues? Consistent with the aim of systems-level thinking, principles such as the following might be identified:

Those who teach or serve as academic administrators in higher education institutions face a wide variety of challenges in their efforts to deliver the best educational experience to their students. How institutions and instructors define and evaluate the educational experiences they offer is one of the core determinants in deciding what types of educational experiences are offered. Some educators emphasize emanicipatory, democratic, and pluralistic goals of sustainability education (Wals and Jickling, 2002; Hempel, 2002; Alvarez and Rogers, 2006), while others emphasize the more practical goals of skills building, practical applications, integrating disciplines, and jobplacement (Wille, 1997; Foster, 1999; Jucker, 2001; DiConti, 2005; Stelmack et al., 2005).

Regardless of the specific educational goals sought, one of the most time-efficient and cost-efficient ways of delivering higher education is through the traditional lecture-centric curriculum (Karayan and Gathercoal, 2005). However, the lecture-centric approach alone is limited in its ability to meet some of the key goals identified commonly pursued by higher education institutions (Boyer, 1987). These limitations are particularly pronounced in the field of international sustainability studies (Maniates, 2002).

While the four goals above may be a high priority for students and educators alike, each of these four goals is more difficult to assess than other educational goals typically evaluated by higher education institutions (such as GPA, writing skills, aptitude tests, etc.) and thus are less likely to be measured by administrators and researchers. Unfortunately, goals that are not easily assessed in the real-world setting typically move down the list of criteria by which success is measured. Measuring the extent to which students are engaged and empowered can be particularly problematic, but as is argued later in this paper and by others (Wals and de Jong, 1997), engaging and empowering students is often a prerequisite for advancing other educational goals.

Challenges and concluding remarks (Experiential Learning) - Joseph J. Domask 2007

With all of the benefits of experiential learning, why are higher education institutions not putting these types of approaches into practice more often and why are individual professors not taking the lead in incorporating these elements into their courses? There are a number of very clear and obvious reasons why experiential learning has not taken off as a common approach in undergraduate education, but there are some steps that we as educators and leaders in educational institutions can take to help foster a more welcoming environment for such approaches.

Some of the more obvious barriers to implementing some of these forms of experiential education include the built-in reward and penalty systems for schools and faculty. For professors, time is an extremely precious commodity and one that is safely guarded and essential for publishing. Taking time out to schedule guest speakers, to arrange off-site visits, or even to organize three weeks of overseas travel requires a great sacrifice of time. The amount of the administrative work, logistics, legal and bureaucratic requirements, and actual time spent on overseas travel in particular (24 h per day with the class) can consume an endless amount of time. Trying to incorporate these experiential approaches will thus detract from the amount of time an educator has for his or her own research and scholarship. As few would deny, scholarship and publishing are the prime determinants of tenure, career advancement, prestige, and recognition as an expert in the field, and this is a very real and oftentimes frustrating dilemma faced by many experiential learning educators.

Kezar and Rhoads (2001) discuss these dilemmas in detail, noting that most universities reward publishing, not teaching, and studies of salaries also reflect this reward system. Beyond these real limitations and obstacles to implementing experiential learning, universities also struggle with assessing the impacts of experiential learning in terms of better grades, increased analytical abilities, improved graduate school test scores, and job marketability of students (Lowenthal and Sosland, 2007; Gosen and Washbush, 2004; Wingfield and Black, 2005). While the author's impressions and personal observations - as well as what some of the preliminary research in this area have indicated - would lead one to believe that all of these outcomes are improved through experiential learning, there has been a dearth of research to effectively show statistical improvements in these areas directly resulting from experiential learning.

Unfortunately, most of those involved in implementing experiential learning simply do not have the time to devote to studying the impacts of experiential learning. As explained by Kezar and Rhoads (2001, p. 150), "the tripartite divisions of teaching, research, and service make it difficult for instructors to adequately communicate their efforts in the area of service learning". The author of this article personally struggled greatly in finding the time to write this paper to share his experiences on experiential learning. Much of this paper was in fact written while on the rivers of the Amazon region in Brazil, in between hikes in the forests, meetings with community members, working out trip budgets and payments, helping students with translating menus at restaurants, and beginning to plan the upcoming trip to South Africa and Mozambique in the coming semester. The "dynamic tensions" - as Kezar and Rhoads call it - are real.

Given such time constraints on time and such heavy increases in workload that experiential learning can require of faculty members, the academic community cannot depend on individual professors to carry the entire burden of carrying out experiential learning without lending additional support from university administrative or support offices. Kezar and Rhoads, among others, argue that university programs should provide alternative sources of incentives for instructors pursuing experiential learning approaches since pursing such approaches directly impact the amount of time that instructors have to put toward research or service. The university administration, assuming it supports the notion that experiential learning can provide the benefits described in this paper, need to find creative ways to reward efforts to design and implement experiential learning and to mitigate the penalties that faculty members incur when conducting experiential learning courses. This proposal, however, might be difficult to find acceptance among higher education administrators especially in light of the increasingly competitive markets that higher education institutions face (Wille, 1997; Paul, 2005). While the educational missions of each institution are fundamental to the types of educational programming, often times in these increasingly competitive environments, the financial mandates and performance indicators take precedent over the educational missions. Experiential learning, with all of its promises, faces a rather uncertain and tenuous future in higher education institutions.

Teaching Material Issues

Kevin Warburton IJSHE, 2003

There is continuing pressure for curriculum changes involving broad-scale, cross-disciplinary reorganisation to facilitate education for sustainability (e.g. Dyer, 1997; Fien, 1997; Madden and Peacock, 2001). In many institutions such changes are most likely to follow positive appraisals of attempts to introduce elements of sustainability education into existing course structures. A measure of the success of such attempts will be their ability to stimulate the use of deep learning strategies by students. Relevant here is the fact that some students may feel uncomfortable, at least initially, when dealing with aspects of sustainability that require them to cross disciplinary boundaries regularly (especially the "divide" between science and the humanities), and to modify entrenched patterns of personal study. Students with a science background are more likely to emphasise operation learning while those coming from arts tend to emphasise comprehension learning, and these approaches to learning are reinforced by differences in culture and teaching style in contrasting disciplines (Ramsden, 1997). To be successful, sustainability education must help students develop a versatile style of learning that balances operation and comprehension learning - thereby reducing the chance that some students (e.g. from science) are unable to describe the meaning of what they know, while others (e.g. from arts) are incapable of deductive reasoning (Ramsden, 1997.) There is a need for more research on ways to promote this balance, and on the impact of personality, educational history, and single-discipline associations on the use of deep learning strategies to develop inter-disciplinary understanding.


Experiential learning - Joseph J. Domask 2007

Over the past several decades, experiential learning has become an increasingly popular non-traditional approach to higher education and has even become a fairly popular area of research for scholars (Kolb, 1984; Cantor, 1995; Fenwick, 2000; Marlin-Bennett, 2002; Kolb and Kolb, 2003; Gosen and Washbush, 2004; Alvarez and Rogers, 2006). There are no doubts many varieties and definitions of experiential learning. According to Kolb (1984, p. 38), probably the most cited scholar in this area, experiential learning is "the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience".

Cantor (1995, p. 1) defines experiential education more simply as "learning activities that engage the learner directly in the phenomena being studied". In the simplest definition, experiential learning is learning by doing. From here, one must address what is meant by the word doing? In a more strict definition, doing implies that the student is actually doing work in the field that he or she is studying. In other words, doing implies that a student is participating in an internship of one kind or another. However, the concept of experiential learning also generally includes the following types of activities: interning, conducting field work, participating in overseas travel courses, service learning, participating in in-class simulations, partnering with outside organizations, etc. All of these activities "engage the learner directly in the phenomena being studied" (as defined by Cantor).

If one were to take an even looser definition of experiential learning, one could argue that all learning is experiential to some degree because when students are in class, reading texts, and writing papers, etc. they are actually doing something, even though that something is not directly a part of the practitioner's world. Fenwick (2000, p. 245) among others embraces a broader definition of experiential learning by arguing that "experience flows across arbitrary denominations of formal and informal education, private and public sites of learning ..." A broader definition of experiential learning would thus include the activities shown in Figure 1, all of which in reality do involve learning by doing.

Obviously, including all of the activities in Figure 1 blurs the line between experiential learning and the traditional lecture-centric approach. The more inclusive definition of experiential learning would allow one to see all learning as experiential learning, though to varying degrees. As such, one could identify different degrees of experiential learning across a spectrum instead of simply categorizing educational experiences as experiential or not.


Luis Velazquez et al. IJCHE, 2005

During the last decade, thousands of people, at all levels, in higher education institutions around the world began to consider sustainability as a key element in education for sustainable development. However, the process of becoming a sustainable university is still in its infancy. As outlined in this paper, the adequate conditions for the successful implementation of sustainability programs do not exist. There are many obstacles preventing the success of sustainability initiatives on campuses around the world.

Some of the possible factors listed here have contributed to slow the progress towards the goals established in Agenda 21 and it is very likely they would affect the success of the UN Decade for Education for Sustainable Development. Even impacting in a different way, it seems that there are not strong differences in the obstacles to be overcome by sustainability leaders around the world when trying to promote sustainability in higher education institutions. Yet, a university's conservative organizational structure and the lack of awareness of the university community seem to be the greatest obstacles to be overcome by the people responsible for sustainability initiatives.

Until the lack of sustainability policies or the existence of policies with zero enforcement on many campuses is not longer a problem, cultural awareness seems to be one of the best strategies for implementing sustainability initiatives. It is intended to bring here all the possible difficulties that are preventing sustainable initiatives. However, even though the list of barriers addressed here is extensive, it is very likely that there exist other problems that are hampering the implementation and good progress of sustainability related initiatives. Those obstacles also need to be addressed.