North American business schools are increasing their focus on sustainability

Academics and students at North American business schools have produced some of the best recent research, teaching and student initiatives on sustainability, according to the FT’s second annual Responsible Business Education Awards presented on Monday.

In the academic publications category, two of the four winning papers selected by an independent jury included papers by researchers from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Business, Boston’s Questrom and Rochester’s Simon. There were also American co-authors on a further seven of the 18 highly praised runner-up works.

European business schools — Iese in Spain, Bocconi in Italy and ESMT in Germany — most impressed the judges in the category of student start-ups and projects with organizations during their degree, with the fourth winner coming from National Chengchi University College of Commerce in Taiwan.

Faculties from European business schools — Imperial in the UK, Antwerp Management School in Belgium and France-based ESCP — also produced three of the four winners in the sustainability-related teaching resources category, with the fourth coming from Michigan Ross in the US. .

However, North American schools, including Berkeley’s Haas and Canada’s Ivey Business School, performed strongly overall after taking into account a range of highly commended entries in three different award categories.

The quality and quantity of projects reflects increasing action by business schools to respond to pressures from students, companies and their own staff to pay more attention to sustainability, driven by concerns such as climate change and demands for a greater focus on purpose.

The influence of business schools in the US — the birthplace of the MBA — comes despite growing domestic criticism of companies embracing environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) factors. There is also heated debate over whether “stakeholder” capitalism should replace the long-standing focus on shareholder primacy to maximize returns to investors rather than employees and society.

However, the large number of US business schools and their significant resources mean that they continue to dominate the creation of innovative research and teaching with a variety of topics and approaches, including those that embrace ESG factors.

AACSB, the American accrediting agency for business schools, recently unveiled a new framework for evaluating institutions based on their broader impact on society, using the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals as a framework.

Other groups, including the Responsible Research for Business and Management network, have called on business school leaders to ensure that their hiring and promotion of faculty places greater emphasis on the social impact of academics’ research.

The British Academy also called in its Future of the Corporation program last year for companies and educators to balance profit with people, purpose and planet.

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