A new year usually mean new year’s resolutions. This morning I decided to have a look through some of my notes on what business schools report as their future goals in relation to sustainability and the SDGs more broadly. I was particularly inspired by an example I featured in last week’s list from UBC Sauder School of Business in relation to embedding Climate (example 5).
What are your business school’s new year’s resolutions in relation to sustainability? What are your individual work related sustainability goals? What do business school goals tell us about the future of business schools?
1. DO SCHOOLS MAKE SUSTAINABILITY RELATED GOALS?
Last year, I analysed all the Sharing Information on Progress Reports submitted by Signatories to the UN Principles for Management Education. One of the things I looked at was what goals schools reported having for the upcoming year(s). Of the 254 reports I looked at, 28% had no goals, 25% included goals that were not connected to sustainability and 37% included very general goals. Only 10% of the schools clearly reported future goals, including metrics and KPIs in some instances.
2. WHAT KIND OF GOALS ARE THEY MAKING?
The most common goals are for schools “to ensure that sustainability is a part of our work” or “to continue to engage in sustainability at the school”. These are very general, and many schools repeat the same set of goals every year. Another challenge is that many schools set goals that don’t seem connected to issues that would seem most material. For example, increasing the number of people attending a particular event on campus but nothing on teaching, research or student engagement. While schools are generally able to clearly communicate actionable targets for operations (e.g., we will cut waste by 50%), the same is generally not true of their core activities.
3. DO SCHOOLS REACH THEIR GOALS?
If we go by the reports, then no. Most reports don’t have clear goals and therefore there is no way of knowing whether the goals are being reached or not. Even when goals are clear, often reports continue to lay out new goals without looking back at progress on previous goals (including not just successes but challenges and even failures). Even when goals are clear, the strategies that are being put in place to reach these goals are not. For example, “we aim to achieve this goal by engaging in projects that expand our knowledge base”. What projects? Which knowledge base? And within what time period”.
4. WHAT DOES THE FUTURE LOOK LIKE?
Looking at the content of the future goals outlined by business schools, the future of not just mainstreaming sustainability into business education, but business education itself, isn’t looking very exciting. Very few goals are far reaching or ambitious (e.g., “we aim for one student research project relating to sustainability”). The goals are also rarely connected to current events or issues that are particularly critical at this moment. For example, the SDGs themselves come up in less than 20% of the reports as part of a future goal (and generally only broadly to raise awareness). Even when goals are mentioned, the why and the how rarely are, which is arguably even more interesting.
5. SO, WHAT’S NEXT?
In our context, I would say that goals are a conversation of what you would like to see happen and why, how you can mobilise your institution to make that happen, how things progress towards your desired goal, what you learn along the way and how the goal is reached or adapted. Not reaching a goal can potentially be more impactful than reaching it if it leads to internal debate, awareness raising, individual change, new connections and the creation of other, more far-reaching goals. However, not making any goals and just seeing what happens, the most common approach, isn’t exactly in line with what business schools themselves teach as being best practice. Finally, bring your goals together into a story that you can use to engage your stakeholders. What can I do as a student, faculty, partner, staff to help my institution reach this goal? How can I be part of setting it in the first place?
I’m going to continue looking at goals in next week’s List and share some specific goals and approaches to presenting them that I’ve found interesting. If you would like to share yours, or your approach to setting and reaching them, please email me.