We are in the middle of a global climate emergency. And although this is a harrowing thought, today, there are innovators, forward-thinkers and activists in universities and business schools using their skills to put in place effective initiatives and strategies to move towards a more sustainable world.
In 2019, more than 7,000 higher and further education institutions from six continents announced that they were declaring a Climate Emergency and agreed to undertake a three-point plan to address the crisis through their work with students.
The three-point plan included committing to going carbon neutral by 2030 or 2050 at the very latest, mobilising more resources for action-oriented climate change research and skills creation and increasing the delivery of environmental and sustainability education across curricula, campus and community outreach programmes.
Higher education institutions making sustainable waves
Kenya’s Strathmore University runs on clean energy and has set up its own 600-kilowatt photovoltaic grid tie system; Tongji University in China has significantly invested in delivering a sustainability education curriculum and encourages other education institutions to do the same; the University of California committed to the system-wide goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2025, while others US universities, such as the American University and Colgate University achieved carbon neutrality by 2019.
The University of Strathclyde now has its first operationally carbon neutral building, The National Manufacturing Institute for Scotland HQ, which is heated by a new low-carbon, renewable and circular district energy network. As the first network of its kind in Scotland, the University of Strathclyde hopes to inspire others to adopt this technology.
Heriot-Watt University (HWU) is currently developing a Net Zero Community Hub, designed as a physical and virtual hub of inspiration, information and innovation to engage and equip communities with the skills and knowledge required to tackle the challenge of reaching Net Zero.
Charlotte Bonner, a Director for Students Organising for Sustainability noted the importance of the plan in 2019: “Young people around the world feel that schools, colleges and universities have been too slow to react to the crisis that is now bearing down on us. We have no time to lose. We will be calling on those who haven’t yet supported this initiative, to come on board. Of course, the most important element is the action that follows.”
And it is the actions of universities and business schools incorporating green and net zero policies that QS Insights Magazine would like to focus on.
Federico Frattini, Dean of POLIMI Graduate School of Management believes that to create sustainable, impactful organisations, HEIs need to start from building a more conscious and meaningful style to lead organisations. “We need to switch from the idea that businesses are such a technical system designed to maximise some measurable objectives, to a view of organisations as expressive systems where their inner meaning is to give sense to the work of people,” says Frattini.
“Through these sense-making activities, we create energy, engagement, commitment, positive emotions. That is what can unleash the achievement of higher, more expansive purposes,” he adds.
Professor Chirantan Chatterjee, Professor of Economics of Innovation and Global Health (SPRU – Science Policy Research Unit) at the University of Sussex Business School says: “Charity, they say, begins at home, so does net-zero consciousness in HEIs.
“Our research on transitions, adaptation costs, innovation and behavioural responses integrated into the teaching curriculum will be fundamental into living greener lives by our children tomorrow.”
Dr Adrian Ely, Reader in Technology and Sustainability (SPRU – Science Policy Research Unit) at the University of Sussex Business School adds: “Social responsibility, ethical practice and sustainability are at the heart of the Business School. We are a school that cares about improving outcomes for business and other organisations for the benefit of society.
“Our school is a member of the United Nations Global Compact which means we are part of a network of companies across the world who work towards the Global Compact’s vision of creating ’a sustainable and inclusive global economy that delivers lasting benefits to people, communities and markets.’”
As part of the UN Global Compact membership, Sussex signed up to the Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) initiative. As a member institution, Sussex incorporates global social responsibility and sustainability values into their teaching and research, working closely with organisations to understand the challenges faced, encouraging debate and innovation to improve policy and practice relating to these issues.
The importance of partnerships in sustainability
Swansea University’s SPECIFIC Innovation and Knowledge Centre (IKC), in collaboration with partners including Tata Steel, is pioneering Active Buildings® which generate, store and release their own solar energy. This includes the Active Classroom®, which was developed in 2016 as the UK’s first energy positive classroom.
Sussex Business School’s Science Policy Research Unit recently partnered with Seoul National University to deliver a tailored Sustainability and Innovation summer programme in collaboration with local sustainable businesses. But why is this important to both partners?
Chatterjee says that South Korea is an “ideal exemplar of Industrial Revolution 4.0 to 5.0 transitions” while keeping in mind sustainability concerns.
“Seoul National University is among the top 30 in the world. Their interdisciplinary cohort of students from across departments brought curiosity into this programme. SPRU has a long history of working with South Korea and being involved with its national innovation and economic development journey.”
POLIMI Graduate School of Management has announced a partnership with the Green Future Project to finance high-impact sustainable projects with the objective to mitigate part of the “carbon footprint” generated by its employees over the course of a year.
“Green Future Project offers the opportunity to finance the regeneration and conservation of natural reserves, the development of renewable energy plants and the regeneration of marine habitats to companies that want to engage in concrete sustainability actions,” says Frattini.
“Sharing common sustainability objectives is what convinced us to collaborate with the Green Future Project. Through this partnership, the school will support the regeneration of the degraded mangrove forest in Marovolavo in Madagascar, the planting of native tree species, the production of clean energy generated by the Tamil Nadu wind farm located in India and forest protection of the Canadé reserve in Ecuador, one of the most important biodiversity hotspots in the world,” Frattini adds.
In fact, POLIMI was recently awarded ‘The B Corp Certification’ accolade, making it the first Italian and only European business school to be accredited, demonstrating the business school’s positive impact performance for workers, communities, customers, suppliers and the environment.
“The decision to go through the process was to really test ourselves as a sustainable organisation. We are trying to establish a serious commitment in being authentically a sustainable organisation, authentic in teaching sustainability or teaching impact,” Frattini adds.
Frattini believes business schools and universities cannot teach sustainability if they do not put it into practice themselves, and one of the main reasons POLIMI wanted to aim for B Corp Certification, Frattini says, is because they understand the role that every company will play in building a better tomorrow for everyone.
He says: “Every single business will need to rethink its purpose, putting front and centre the role that it wants to hold in society. And of course, this is even more relevant for us as a school, because we can directly inspire people from different companies to join forces with us on this journey.”
Read more articles like this from QS Insights Magazine, Issue 11.