By Stephan Dilchert, Ph.D., Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College, City University of New York
If you found your way to this website you probably don’t require persuasion that environmental sustainability should be a goal, even for most for-profit businesses. Similarly, the MBA students in my sustainable business courses don’t need to be convinced that environmental responsibility should be one of their guiding principles. Many have chosen this path not only out of a sense of personal obligation, but also because they know that “being green” makes good business sense.
What, then, are the lessons we want our future leaders to experience before they take the helm of some of the world’s most impactful organizations?
Other contributors in this series on the Green MBA have discussed the skills organizations are seeking among new hires for sustainability-related positions. These skills are indeed critical, and some are underdeveloped in traditional business school curricula. However, beyond these skills, I believe sustainability-minded executives need a fundamental understanding of the role that the entire workforce plays in maximizing the triple bottom line.
It is true that in some cases, such as the inspirational example of the carpet manufacturer Interface, the impetus of organizational transformation comes from the top. However, the best leaders (such as Ray Anderson, the late CEO of Interface), recognize that everyone in their organization must set out on the path of sustainability. The pursuit of any mission, economic or environmental, requires an actively engaged workforce. It isn’t the organization that acts – it’s its people. Or, as work psychologists have put it, "people make the place."
At the same time, as we stress the importance of these topics in the Green MBA curriculum, we must not think that this emphasis will lead to a “softening” of business education. On the contrary – like cutting-edge HR practice, which is driven more and more by talent analytics and the use of big data, people-based sustainability efforts can be quantified and their success measured. Organizations that are at the forefront of talent analytics are using this approach to increase environmental performance. For example, on its annual employee survey, Procter & Gamble has included questions to assess awareness of the company’s sustainability goals as well as employees’ performance of the relevant, pro-environmental work behaviors. Others, such as Aveda Corporation, use traditional HR tools of recruitment and employee selection to proactively compose a workforce whose members are aligned with the company’s socio-environmental mission.
Working through such cases in our MBA curriculum leads our students to intuitively understand the role that people play in pursuing environmental goals, and to acquire the specific skills needed to manage talent in the pursuit of sustainability. Our hope is to educate future leaders who are not only aware of the interconnectedness of people, planet, and profit – but who also know how to achieve it in their management practice.
Stephan Dilchert is an Assistant Professor of Management at the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College, City University of New York, where he teaches people-focused sustainability courses in the Sustainable Business MBA and Executive MBA programs. His research focuses on staffing and personnel decision making to increase organizational productivity and sustainability. Most recently, he published a practitioner-oriented handbook on Managing Human Resources for Environmental Sustainability, co-edited with Professors Susan Jackson (Rutgers) and Deniz Ones (University of Minnesota).
[Image credit: MQF]