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Integrating sustainability and the environment into an effective business education

By Dave Pearson - June 22, 2012

Green appleRio is an exciting cosmopolitan city but even this dynamic and festive city received a jolt of activity when 5,000 registrants arrived this week for the much-anticipated United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20). One of my first activities after I arrived was to take part in the “Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) Summit” which preceded the official opening of Rio+20. 

As many of you know, education is a primary global focus for corporate responsibility at Deloitte, so it was energizing to hear discussions around the future role of business management education in creating the society we all want and deserve. The PRME initiative is a partnership of a number of academic and public sector international organizations that support the notion of business schools having a unique niche at the forefront of innovation for sustainable development. These groups believe that action must be taken now to envision and implement a business education construct that adequately takes sustainability issues and the environment into consideration of how business gets done.

One key takeaway from the presentations, for example, was from an academic dean’s perspective who emphasized how we need to get started in the process of adapting management education principles that will meet complex sustainability demands in a 21st century global economy. His chief point was that we can’t wait for the “perfect solution” before getting started. We can’t put progress on hold while we wait for the perfect curriculum, the perfect faculty mix, and all of the other possible ingredients for the perfect construct. 

Agreeing, another participant on the same panel noted that we can start now by taking steps to break down barriers among educational disciplines and envision a business education environment in which knowledge from the sciences—natural, humanistic, environmental—are blended with business, economic, and management theory. Their point was that the academic construct that worked for business schools 50 years ago is simply no longer viable in a world that has changed so dramatically, in which resources are known to be finite and climate change a reality that must be addressed. 

Simply stated, business success in our world today and for the future is about far more than just profit-seeking, so how do we approach these issues as a society and as future business leaders? I found this discussion about the future of business schools very engaging and was glad to be part of the dialogue for making the changes needed to ensure sustainability is part of the future business school curriculum. It was an inspiring way to begin what has been an exciting week in Rio!

David PearsonDavid Pearson is Global Director, Member Firm HR Support, and Director, Internal Sustainability, for Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited. He previously served as CEO of Deloitte CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States). David has more than 20 years' experience in public accounting and private industry as well as extensive experience working with large Russian and multinational businesses in the telecommunications, consumer products, mining, and metallurgical industries. In particular he has assisted clients seeking success in developing markets or transforming into efficient, well-run companies with a high level of corporate governance.


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