It was not so long ago that Jaclyn Rosebrook-Collignon and her colleagues were dismissed as the “hippies on the third floor”. But over the 12 years he has been head of sustainability and global responsibility Grenoble Business School (GEM) in France, she has seen her role change from that of grassroots agitator to council chamber influencer.
“For many years, people ran away from me when they saw me in the hall,” Rosebrook-Collignon says. “Now students and faculties come to me and ask, what are we doing to be more sustainable and how can we go faster?”
Business schools’ initial response to the explosion of interest in environmental, social and governance issues (ESG) was a reconsider curricula, the introduction of relevant electives and programs. More recently, they have been refurbishing their campuses, installing new garbage collection systems, solar panels, wind turbines and even bee colonies while deans try to practice what they preach.
But now, says Rosebrook-Collignon, business schools need to go beyond unrelated ad hoc initiatives, bout-on courses and compliance checklists. To truly “walk the talk”, they must undergo “entire organizational transformation”, she argues.
School on a mission
For GEM, this meant adoption company with a mission status. Like benefit corporations in the US, companies with a mission is defined by law as organizations that aim to make a positive difference to society and the environment. So far, about 100 organizations – mostly large companies – have adopted this status in France. Grenoble is the first business school to take the step.
What this means in practice, according to Rosebrook-Collignon, is that everything the school does must comply with five commitments – including gender equality and becoming a zero-waste school – linked to one or more of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Retain company with a mission status requires full disclosure of the school’s activities, which are audited every two years by an external audit.
“An overwhelming majority of our staff and students want to make a positive contribution to society, but enabling them to do so requires cultural transformation and real, strategic, top-down action,” he said. Rosebrook-Collignon. “This new status means that every part of the business school must re-evaluate its annual goals through this prism. But it also increases the visibility of what we deliver and the pressure on us to do what we say we do. Our stakeholders, and especially our students and faculty, seek it transparency and accountability. ”
Other schools have also turned to the SDGs to frame their sustainability efforts. BI Norwegian Business School chose SDG 13, climate action, as a priority (along with SDG 5, gender equality) and set out to halve its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. To that end, he is taking measures ranging from installing solar panels and using seawater cooling at his Trondheim and Stavanger campuses to serve more vegetarian and local food in his cafeteria and refurbish chairs instead of buying new ones.
“To achieve our climate goal, we need to make significant changes in how we work,” says BI President Inge Jan Henjesand. “We are well on track with many dimensions, including cutting disposable plastic, increasing recycling rates and reducing carbon-intensive foods. The past year has also seen a significant cut in business travel. But we must continue this momentum. “
There are big differences in schools’ efforts to tackle climate change. When the FT surveyed more than 140 leading business schools in 2020, less than a third said it was a goal to become carbon neutral. Just over a dozen have set deadlines of 2030 or earlier, while other target dates have given as far as 2060.
Among the more ambitious, today, are Haas Business School. It works with its parent institution, the University of California, Berkeley, to be carbon neutral by 2025, for both direct and indirect emissions from electricity consumed (its target for indirect emissions elsewhere in its value chain – so-called Scope 3 emissions). – is 2050). Two of the four buildings on his campus are certified as zero waste – defined as diverting more than 90 percent of garbage from landfill.
Kogod Business School at the American University in Washington DC, says he has already reached his target of being carbon neutral, after promising in 2010 to reduce his emissions to net zero within a decade. The university and business school have made buildings more efficient, promoted eco-friendly behavior among staff and students – from turning off lights to changing commuting habits – installing 2,500 solar panels on campus and offsetting international travel emissions by buying energy-efficient stoves for rural families. in Kenya.
In April 2021, American released a new five-year sustainability plan that, says Megan Litke, director of sustainability programs, is designed to “move beyond carbon emissions and to the broader sustainability issues and how they affect our communities.”
A similar social awareness informs other schools’ strategies. By HEC Paris, says Marcelle Laliberté the key to achieving her goals as chief diversity officer is to follow a holistic approach. “It is our job as a business school to cross diversity with research, teaching and action,” she says. Initiatives include a program called Stand Up, run by HEC’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center, aimed at women from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Similarly, the Paris branch of Creative Destruction Lab (CDL) – a seed stage program co-led by HEC Entrepreneurship Professor Thomas Astebro for technology beginners – is trying to promote a fairer gender balance in the sector. Applicants are asked to provide demographic data, including gender, that enables CDL to assess its success. The gender mix among entrepreneurs admitted to the program is also monitored with a view to identifying any prejudice against companies founded by women.
Astebro says its application-scoring mechanism means that 45 percent of CDL-Paris’s businesses have a female founder, while nearly 30 percent of the program’s mentors are women. To put this in context, female-only founders accounted for only 2.2 percent of global venture funding in the first eight months of 2021, according to startup platform Crunchbase.
“That natural reflex – where we ask ourselves questions like, are we considering gender or are we considering disabilities? – is much more dominant than it was even three years ago,” says Laliberté. “There is now a conscious awareness of the integration of diversity in the actions we take from the beginning, as opposed to [treating] it as an afterthought. ”
The winners of the FT Responsible Business Education Awards 2022 will be announced on January 19