For example, the accounting course now focuses on the design of organizational control measurement systems, emphasizing that what a firm chooses to measure — in this case, the stakeholder contributions and requirements that it tracks — determines its ability to accurately forecast performance. And a new course, Managing Value-Chain Partnerships, emphasizes the building and managing of long-term and mutually beneficial relationships with alliance partners, vendors, and distributors.
The school has also created an introductory required course, Stakeholders, Resources, and Competitive Advantage, that lays out its resource-based theoretical framework, and a required course called Business Ethics and Public Stakeholders that serves as a capstone to the entire curriculum. Finally, as an example of the evolving emphasis on implementation as well as principles, WSU is creating a course on negotiations and stakeholder engagement that focuses on how managers communicate and operationalize a sustainable stakeholder strategy once they have built it.
Yale and Washington State are not alone. Georgia Tech, the Presidio School of Management in San Francisco, the Bainbridge Graduate Institute in Washington state, Duquesne University’s School of Business in Pittsburgh, the College of Santa Fe, and the Monterrey Institute of Technology in Mexico are all reframing their curricula around the theme of sustainability, defining business purpose broadly, with explicit concern for its impact on the wider society. This reframing can take many forms, such as encouraging the development of new elective courses or designing a program rooted in a commitment to sustainable business practice.
Other schools are using the concept of sustainability as a new lens through which to view a variety of traditional MBA disciplines. Columbia Business School and the University of Stellenbosch Business School in South Africa are both applying the concept to finance and operations, exposing students to the latest tools and metrics being used in the finance and insurance industries to measure potential risks arising from the environmental or social impact of investments. The University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business has made Creating Sustainable Enterprises one of the six foundational courses that anchor its curriculum redesign. Each of these courses aims to integrate intellectual rigor with practical experience across multiple disciplines. Sustainability has also been an umbrella for many of the entrepreneurship courses, projects, and business plan competitions at such schools as the University of Virginia and University of Colorado.
Finally, sustainability is often a mechanism for tapping multiple perspectives within the business school and for creating conversations across schools and professions. At Cornell University, for example, under the leadership of professor Stuart Hart (author of Capitalism at the Crossroads: The Unlimited Business Opportunities in Solving the World’s Most Difficult Problems, Wharton School Publishing, 2005), the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise is sponsoring a new program to foster ventures that develop, institutionalize, and bring to market clean, renewable, and nontoxic technologies. The related courses and research projects draw on Cornell’s schools of business, engineering, hotel management, and industrial relations.
Many of these programs have an emphasis on experimentation; faculty test new approaches with students, and students are engaged in real-time, messy, and less “packaged” materials. For example, Yale’s series of case experiences called Integrated Leadership Perspectives gives students a chance to apply their understanding of sustainability and strategy to actual corporate decisions. One “live case” experience allowed students to shadow the Blackstone Group’s private equity bid to purchase the real estate investment group Equity Office Properties Trust. This hotly contested takeover battle, with competing bids and board conflicts, was actually taking place as the case was being taught. Students had only raw data at their disposal: press coverage, current financial filing information, and so on. Just as the perspectives courses allow students to take a multidisciplinary approach to one stakeholder or constituency, these integrated cases allow them to take a multi-stakeholder or constituency approach to a particular management situation.