Alexis de La Tour du Pin, Executive Director of the MSc in Sustainability Transformation and Chair on Environmental Transition at ESSEC Business School, puts the spotlight on the new and innovative sustainability transformation degree programme at the school.
Innovation in Education: The ESSEC MSc in Sustainability Transformation, by Alexis de La Tour du Pin.
The step further
‘ESSEC Business School has traditionally had a strong presence on many sustainability issues,’ says Alexis de La Tour du Pin, Executive Director of the new MSc in Sustainability at the school. ‘With many of the faculty, as well as pedagogical and research chairs tackling topics such as food transition, leadership & diversity or sustainable finance.’
Indeed, some of these Chairs – notably ESSEC Philanthropy Chair and the Impact Entrepreneurship & Innovation Chair (formerly social entrepreneurship) have been there for decades, pioneers in their fields of study and education and with an impact at both local and national levels.
‘However,’ states Alexis, ‘it was important for ESSEC to create a programme that would offer a holistic approach to sustainability through deep, 360° transformation. In this way, the school can continue to play a pioneering role in the field of sustainability education, and push education forward in general.’
Innovating in education
This approach is still quite rare in the field of higher education, sustainability training traditionally having been mainly focused on technical branches – sustainable finance, renewable energies, permaculture – or on social sciences. Some existing programmes revolve around sustainability management, but none seem to develop a full transformative approach, tackling social and environmental stakes at the individual, organisational and societal level.
‘It’s important to note,’ continues Alexis de La Tour du Pin,‘ that ESSEC remains a school of business and management. Before the launch of the MSc in Sustainability Transformation, it had never recruited students with the primary purpose of educating them on sustainability – though we’ve had some Master in Management students citing the Impact Entrepreneurship & Innovation Chair’s curriculum as a key driver to join ESSEC. For the first time we will recruit students looking for training in business management, with a primary focus on sustainability.’
The programme is set to be launched in September 2022, with a first intake of students on ESSEC Business School’s main campus at Cergy, near Paris. Initially, the programme will take the format of a 1-year MSc programme before becoming a classic 2-year Master’s degree. The programme is now open for recruitment to students with at least a 4-year BBA or Master’s degree (‘M1’ in France).
First and foremost, asserts Alexis de La Tour du Pin, the new programme is all about transformation. ‘We want to push sustainability education forward with a more comprehensive approach that will train all-around sustainability managers, or better yet, sustainability transformers. Most programmes on the market around sustainability are more specialised, catering for the finance field, social stakes and issues, or even engineering skills – while business approaches tend to focus more on sustainability communication.’
For Alexis de La Tour du Pin, none seem to approach sustainability from a wider angle. In doing so, the ESSEC learning experience encompasses every sustainability issue at stake, and on a more transformative level, going beyond analytical skills and tackling change management as well as physical experience, emotions or psychology. ‘We understand that sustainability is complex. But we believe in training great, agile generalists,’ states Alexis.
In concrete terms, the first trimester of the curriculum is meant to impart and strengthen the fundamentals of environmental and social transition, with focuses on CSR and impact measurement. Business and management fundamentals are also covered through the lens of sustainability – sustainable finance, marketing, supply chain, accounting, data-management.‘ Only then we can start approaching sustainability transformation as a whole,’ says Alexis de La Tour du Pin,‘ with the support of consulting and facilitation frameworks, cases and subject matter experts.’
Please take a chair
Beyond the generalist approach, the programme offers a major anchored within ESSEC’s strengths: academic Chairs relating to sustainability matters. At ESSEC, these Chairs form a dedicated track with dedicated courses, research assignments, field trips and experiences. As such, the 2nd and 3rd trimesters of the MSc in Sustainability Transformation are partly dedicated to a major chosen by each student among 6 Chairs: Circular Economy, Inclusiveness & Diversity, Food Transition, Sustainable Finance, Climate & Biodiversity, and Social Innovation & Impact Entrepreneurship. These 6 pedagogical Chairs are usually accessed through the classic, internationally ranked ESSEC Master in Management with a selective application process and a limited number of seats. ‘With the MSc in Sustainability Transformation, it’s a unique opportunity to join one of these Chairs right away and add a second “brand” to your resume,’ states Alexis de La Tour du Pin.
Sustainability Transformation: No longer an afterthought
Radicalness is a final key word for the MSc in Sustainability Transformation.‘ Not in the sense of rejecting existing solutions,’ explains Alexis de La Tour du Pin,‘ but in the sense of going back to the roots of the issues at hand, and imagining solutions that work, solutions that can bring a fundamental transformation.’
Moreover, business and society is at a tipping point in the history of sustainability. No longer an afterthought, sustainability is rapidly moving to the core of every conversation, every political platform, every corporate strategy – although care must of course be taken to sort those who simply talk the walk, and those who actually do walk the talk. It is a perfect time to reflect and dig deeper into the roots of issues, but also past solutions, frameworks, measurement tools, successes and failures. ‘It’s also is a perfect time,’ continues Alexis de la Tour du Pin,‘ to accelerate and imagine more transformative solutions that strive to remain compatible with our existing systems.’
An example? Most climate experts give us until 2030 to transform our systems and durably curb greenhouse gas emissions. Organisations are adapting and committing to 2030 pledges around net zero emissions – or 2040 if their core activity is CO2-intensive. ‘However, on closer examination, a lot of them talk before they can actually walk,’ says Alexis de la Tour du Pin. ‘They commit before having a plan to transform their organisations, shifting mindsets, hire the right talents, adapt their supply chain, accompany their suppliers in this change, and educating their clients. As such – and unfortunately – this type of corporate communication is tainted with greenwashing, although it’s neither black nor white: there are various levels of reliability and authenticity, but overall it’s getting extremely hard to decipher. By conveying radicalness, we aim to teach students how to go back to the roots of why it is important to change, what works, what works less, and thus be more demanding about what can be said and done.’
Physicist and climate activist Aurélien Barrau asks the question: does it still make sense to not be radical in the face of environmental crises? For a business and management school programme, the challenge is to promote and imagine radical transformation while striving to keep sound economic balance.
- 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: The CEO’s Journey to Sustainability
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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.
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