How ESCP Europe Are Pushing MBA Grads to Be More Sustainable

How This Business School is Pushing Sustainability Measures Throughout the Curriculum main image

Recently, TopMBA.com was invited to attend ESCP Europe Business School’s ‘Executive MBA Designing Tomorrow’s Management Forum’, held as part of their bicentenary celebrations.

At the event, we were able to learn more about how ESCP Europe is pushing to incorporate sustainability measures both in its academic program, and through the ethos of the school – hoping this mindset will overflow into the leaders of tomorrow who will be faced with tackling global warming and other ecological crises.

The need for sustainability

There’s an increasing emphasis on responsible management and sustainability, but this isn’t always reflected in the output of students – as many big schools continue to produce graduates who enter into finance, consulting and marketing.

So, how do business schools like ESCP Europe produce master’s and MBA students who are principled and sustainably minded?

Professor Aurélien Acquier, Head of Sustainability Transition and Scientific Director of the Circular Economy Chair, told us: “We have different degrees. The Executive MBA is one, we have the MiM (Master’s in Management) and other executive education programs. We also created a degree in International Sustainability Management which is taught between our Berlin and Paris campuses.”

As a sustainability expert, Acquier realizes the only way to spread the wealth of knowledge is through education.

“Starting next year with the Executive MBA program, we’re going to have an induction seminar where the whole MBA cohort will have one week devoted to this question.

“We’ll expose participants to the reality of climate change, starting with the big issues. We’ll have a workshop to explore the mechanisms and impacts of climate change.

“We won’t talk about business initially, just CO2, global warming, biodiversity etc. We will show them the process, and when they realize how serious the problems with biodiversity erosion and climate change are, we can dig into how it impacts business.”

Integrating sustainability through the school

To ensure a sustainable world, the brunt work can’t be left to the dedicated few, it needs to be an active choice by the masses.

This is something Acquier strongly believes in. But to what extent are sustainability modules integrated in the teaching across ESCP Europe?

He informed us: “When I started, we developed standardized courses. At the beginning it was a small sustainability team, made up of super-motivated people.

“The challenge today is to reinforce our teams and infuse the school with sustainable work values. Something I consider a great achievement is the transversal seminar. We’re going to do it for the MBA program, but then in September with our 400 cohort of MiM students. We have 15 groups of 30 students to manage, and we’re not 15 sustainability professors.”

Although there wasn’t a large pool of sustainability professors at ESCP Europe, the business school has taken this opportunity to train professors across different sectors. At a recent professor meeting in Berlin in February, Acquier invited professors to play a climate game and he told us it was a huge game-changer in terms of training.

According to Acquier, although people are aware of sustainability issues, they aren’t necessarily knowledgeable.

“It was a great achievement for us that we gathered professors from across departments, some of whom were very active on sustainability topics, but not all. I’m proud and happy to see that, by involving them, they will now expose students to the reality of what’s happening, and they will realize innovation is going on.”

The evolution of sustainability in business schools

A year ago, Acquier took the position of head of sustainability transition following the school’s realization they needed a sustainability professor who could take responsibility to stimulate change across different programs.

He said: “It was an opportunity to show them we aren’t there yet, and they also need to make the changes. I think it’s becoming something fundamental in the school’s strategy.

“We want to say all our generalist management programs need to include specific topics on sustainability transition.

“Over the last two to three years, the school’s management has really understood how important the topic is. We’re not there yet though. We need to train students, professors and top management.

“A good thing about ESCP Europe is that, when I took this position, I found around 25 percent of the current output of research was already related to sustainability or business and society topics – across all departments.

“It’s good to see we have dedicated professors on this, but also people in different departments doing research on this.”

Global issues

Sustainability as a concept has different meanings around the world. As a business school attracting international students, it’s important to offer a global perspective on sustainability to allow students to make well-rounded decisions.

For example, if a student wanted to launch a company in several different countries, how will they be prepared to understand how other countries function?

ESCP Europe hopes to demonstrate challenges such as this through its courses. For instance, Acquier told us: “I created a course called ‘Darkside of Sustainability’ which considers the potential dangers of giving increased political responsibility to firms – these types of topics.

“I’m amazed by the positive feedback from students. They love to tackle the complexity of things, even if we don’t have answers yet, to understand the complexity and move into more intellectual content to understand them.”

Written by Niamh Ollerton

Niamh is Assistant Editor of TopMBA.com, creating and editing content for an international MBA student audience. Having gained her journalism qualification at the Press Association, London and since written for different international publications, she's now enjoying telling the stories of the business world.  

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