“Some of the ways global business is taking sustainability seriously is fascinating and quite inspiring.”
For the colossal global challenge that is climate change, many of the causes – and the solutions – involve business.
Climate change has forced a re-examination of basic business principles including economic growth, consumption and the use of resources. It requires the business world to make changes – from reducing packaging to driving less – to lessen their environmental impact. And it calls for ingenuity for businesses to come up with better technologies and products.
So for Management lecturer Dr Sara Walton, preparing students to do their bit to help the human population tread more lightly on the planet is part of belonging to a responsible, future-focused School of Business. It’s an area, she acknowledges, with “lots of unknowns”.
“A lot of what we do is play with ideas,” she says. For example, one assignment involves the management strategy of “scenario planning”, imagining alternative plausible visions of Dunedin in 20 or 50 years’ time. “Would students travel down here, or would Otago become a virtual, bookless university? What would this mean for ‘Scarfie culture’?”
Other projects draw upon a perfect on-hand example for the challenge of introducing more sustainable practices under strong economic constraints – living in a student flat. “Students each do a carbon footprint of their lives. It very quickly gets you thinking about what is too expensive or complicated to change, but also what can be done if you think creatively.”
Students also learn about case studies from the real world of business, including UK supermarket giant Sainsbury’s efforts to track the carbon “hoofprints” of the cows whose produce they source.
“Some of the ways global business is taking sustainability seriously is fascinating and quite inspiring,” says Sara. She believes it’s part of a society-wide shift in how we address the global issues we are facing.
“Students come into the course with a lot of enthusiasm and awareness for how they can make a difference. Sustainability is a mainstream issue now. A few years ago, I had to focus on ‘the business case for sustainability’ – I don’t need to do that now. There’s a huge acceptance that taking environmental considerations into account is just part of doing business in the world today. That’s a very exciting development.”