Alexis de La Tour du Pin, Executive Director of the MSc in Sustainability Transformation and Chair on Environmental Transition Chair at ESSEC Business School, opens the second of a three-part feature on education and the shift from sustainability transition to sustainability transformation.
Education: A change-maker in sustainability transformation by Alexis de La Tour du Pin.
Education as a change-maker
Mindsets, talents, global standards, measuring impact and innovation & entrepreneurship are key areas to address in the move from not only a sustainability transition, but a sustainability transformation. As such, the role of education is absolutely essential to nurture a generation of sustainability talents.
This learning journey should ideally begin as early as kindergarten. We can already see younger generations educating their parents on sustainability topics, showing the way in terms of commitment. And when it comes to schools of business and management, I believe they have a specific role to play to source and accompany the emergence of these talents.
Indeed, environmental issues have for many years been considered a topic for engineers and technicians. And on the other side of the coin, social issues were considered a topic for universities and degrees specialising in political or social sciences.
Yet sustainability, by definition, has 3 pillars: environment, society, and economy. Business and management schools have a central role to play here, for they can educate their students on both environmental and social stakes in order to imagine the transformation of our economy.
The world needs more generalists and more talents with all-around skills, something that is at odds with the current, widespread perception of learning highly specific skills sets. Granted, sustainability will need an increasing number of experts, technicians, social researchers, specialised accountants, and so on, but sustainability also requires hybrid talents: talents who can tackle the complexity of all these topics, develop a holistic vision while speaking the technical languages of environmental and social impact, finance or accounting .
As such, schools of business and management are ideally positioned to develop these hybrid, sustainability talents while also ensuring the need to develop sustainability experts, starting with sustainable finance analysts and sustainability marketers, to name but two professions.
Education as a primer for innovation and imagination
Education in sustainability transformation will also have to foster innovation & imagination and trigger the motivation for budding innovators and entrepreneurs to engage in sustainability issues. This constitutes a key differentiator – younger generations are not yet too conditioned by the way our system works, and therefore they possess the audacity to imagine radically new solutions.
In education, this entails accelerating the development of school and university incubators, and the development of entrepreneurship and creativity courses geared towards a new sustainable paradigm.
This new sustainable paradigm is essential – because entrepreneurship has been almost exclusively either associated with tech and digital or geared towards financial profit. The startup model is, after all, a model of financial hyper growth that leverages technology.
But what if entrepreneurship education gave more space to sustainability ventures and with a priority to boost social and environmental impact? ‘As for tech and digital, they will continue to play a central role when it comes to disrupting our models, but what if they were primarily at the service of sustainability impact?
The use of tech & digital also have negative externalities, such as rebound effects – for example, using 5G will have consequences on usage intensity that can cancel the carbon efficiency gains of 5G compared to 4G, if not worsen the climate situation. In this light, it is important for education to allow for the wider development of creative solutions and entrepreneurship in general that are not technology-intensive, but which can rely on other types of innovation – social innovation, psychological innovation, methodological innovation, organisational innovation or even low-tech innovation.
Of models, values and sustainability soft skills
Finally, education has a role to play when it comes to the transmission and the anchoring of certain models and values, as well as “sustainability soft skills”. Indeed, education is where models can be renewed – with, for instance, the transmission of the stakeholder value model (the company at the service of a multitude of stakeholders) to go beyond the lingering shareholder value model with the company maximizing value for a group of potentially less committed shareholders. Business schools in particular have a role to play here – for not only are they training future finance leaders, but they have for long been the main flag bearers of the shareholder value model which responsible business practices now have to transform. Furthermore, in order for sustainability transformation to happen fast, education must encourage the development of “sustainability soft skills” – namely diplomacy, resilience and agility. Diplomacy to convince, resilience to not give up in the face of sustainability crises and obliviousness, and agility to adapt constantly to a changing social, environmental and economical context.
Sustainability in education: Environment, society, economy
ESSEC Business School has been something of a model in progressive thinking over the years – the first business school in France to accept female students, a co-developer of the UN PRME (Principles for Responsible Management Education) the developer of schemes such as the ‘A Top Business School, Why Not me?’ initiative to coach high school students from the local community to access higher education, or the creation of the social innovation incubator ESSEC Antropia in 2008 which has since nurtured 350 social enterprises with a 75% survival rate and the creation of 3,000 jobs.
In the spring of 2020, the school made a major shift in launching an ambitious ecological and social transition initiative: Together. Designed to help the School fulfil its mission of training future leaders capable of responding to major social and environmental challenges, Alexis de La Tour du Pin cites ESSEC Prof. Anne-Claire Pache, Academic Director of the Together strategic initiative and a leading academic in the fields of philanthropy and social innovation. “Together is the fruit of deep and sincere collective consultation on the transformations our societies need – as much as on social as environmental themes that we consider very closely linked. The global crisis we are going through today shows us the extent to which the need is urgent.”
Among the innovations already underway, Alex de La Tour du Pin emphasises the training of all students at the school in contemporary social and environmental issues, where since September 2020 students enrolled in undergraduate and graduate programmes take a compulsory 20-hour course on climate change challenges and a 15-hour training course on social responsibility. With the commitment to reduce the school’s carbon footprint by 25% over three years, notably through developing local distribution channels, eco-citizen workshops, and greener travel, the setting up of an exemplary environmental management of the various campuses constitutes a second initiative.
In parallel, and ready for its first intake in September 2022, is the ESSEC MSc in Sustainability Transformation. And this is where Alexis de la Tour du Pin comes in – with the final feature in this series on education and sustainability.
- To further your insight into acquiring the knowledge and skills to make the transformation, discover the ESSEC Business School MSc in Sustainability Transformation
- Link up with the MSc in Sustainability Transformation community on LinkedIn
- Link up with Alexis de La Tour du Pin on LinkedIn
- Read a related article: Sustainability Transformation – Triggering the change.
Learn more about the Council on Business & Society
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The Council on Business & Society (The CoBS), visionary in its conception and purpose, was created in 2011, and is dedicated to promoting responsible leadership and tackling issues at the crossroads of business and society including sustainability, diversity, ethical leadership and the place responsible business has to play in contributing to the common good.
In 2020, member schools now number 7, all “Triple Crown” accredited AACSB, EQUIS and AMBA and leaders in their respective countries.