North American business schools focus more on sustainability

Academics and students from North American business schools presented some of the best recent research, teaching and student initiatives on sustainability, according to the second annual Responsible Business Education Awards, published by the Financial Times on Monday.

In the Scholarly Publications category, two of the four winning entries selected by an independent panel of judges included work by researchers from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, Boston’s Questrom and the University of Rochester’s Simon. Of the 18 highly commended runner-up papers, seven also had US co-authors.

European business schools – Iese in Spain, Bocconi in Italy and ESMT in Germany – impressed the judges most in the category of student entrepreneurship and organization projects, with the fourth winner coming from the National Chengchi University Business School in Taiwan.

Faculty at European business schools – Imperial College London, Antwerp School of Management in Belgium and ESCP in France – also produced three of the four winners in the sustainability-related teaching resources category, with Michigan Ross Business School in the US fourth .

However, North American schools, including Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and Canada’s Ivey School of Business, performed strongly once all highly commended entries in the three different award categories are considered.

The quality and quantity of projects reflects growing action by business schools in response to pressure from students, companies and their own staff to focus more on sustainability driven by issues such as climate change and greater focus on goals triggered by demand.

Despite growing domestic criticism of companies’ adoption of environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors, the influence of business schools in the US – the birthplace of the MBA – persists. There is also a lively debate about whether “stakeholder” capitalism should supersede the longstanding focus on shareholder primacy to maximize returns to investors rather than employees and society.

However, the large number and resources of business schools in the US mean that they continue to dominate in producing innovative research and teaching, with diverse themes and approaches, including those that incorporate ESG factors.

AACSB, the US-based accreditation body for business schools, recently launched a new framework, using the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals as a framework, based on its broader societal impact assessment body.

Other groups, including the Responsible Research for Business and Management network, have called on business school leaders to ensure they pay more attention to the societal impact of academic research when recruiting and promoting faculty.

The British Academy also last year called on businesses and educators to develop a “corporate future” plan to balance profits with people, purpose and the planet.

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