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Prince of Wales Challenges Prospective, Current Business School Students to Champion Sustainability

lbsSpeaking last week at London Business School (LBS), His Royal Highness (HRH) the Prince of Wales challenged current and future MBA students to demand an education that will prepare them to lead the world toward greater sustainability.

“To all those current business school students – and to those who are deciding where to study – ask yourself, is your chosen business school really going to equip you to be the kind of leader that is so badly needed for the next 50 years? Nothing less will do,” Prince Charles said.

LBS hosted the May 28th event, which was convened by the Prince’s Accounting for Sustainability Project (A4S) and the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL). Speaking to an assembled audience that included deans and leading academics from business schools from around the world, HRH conceded that some progress has been made in the past two decades in terms of incorporating sustainability into mainstream accounting and finance research and teaching within business schools.

For starters, he offered, the CISL that he himself founded 21 years ago has helped train almost 4,000 business leaders on how to find convergence between profitability and sustainability.

“It is clear that new and important research is emerging from many quarters, including that relating directly to finance and accounting,” he said. “And it is good to hear that the M.B.A. programme has developed considerably to meet the widening demands and requirements of future business leaders,” he added. But too often, he continued, specializations on sustainability are being offered as optional electives or as part of ethics classes, rather than being embedded into core curriculum courses.

“Is all this enough?” the Prince asked of those in attendance. “And why on Earth is it taking so long to get the message through?”

Business schools have a responsibility to tap the minds of their students and encourage innovation, creativity and greater understanding as it relates to sustainability, HRH challenged. The concepts of environmental limits and the enhancement of community capital should come up again and again in classes devoted to finance, accounting, marketing, corporate strategy and manufacturing. Key words such as population, poverty, climate change, ecosystems and biodiversity, human rights, Africa, mega-cities, and the empowerment of women should appear regularly in lectures and academic publications, and up-and-coming academics should be rewarded for doing work related to ethics, sustainability and society, he argued.

“In short, are your business schools really in touch with the issues that will increasingly have an impact on the future viability of businesses, or should wise and forward-thinking companies be looking elsewhere to develop their executives for the future?” he asked.

Business schools have a very special role to play, the Prince continued. “Society needs to be able to look to you with confidence for some of the best thinking and the most enlightened education, to secure the future for our children and our children’s children.”

LBS, for its part, is already on board, according to its dean. “I very much support the call to incorporate sustainability in the business school agenda,” Dean Sir Andrew Likierman said in a statement. “Indeed, the issues are already taught as part of the core curriculum in many of our programmes.” As an example, he cited the school’s Business, Government and Society core course, in which students examine how businesses can best balance the drive to make profit with the needs of society.

“This is not only because we see their importance, but as a response to the keen interest of our students,” Likierman added. Student interest in sustainability is also reflected in the rapid growth in recent years of the LBS Net Impact chapter, which presented its 2015 Society.Economy.Environment Summit (S.E.E Summit) the same day as Prince Charles’s visit to the school. The student-led Energy Club is also very active on campus, organizing events such as the annual Global Energy Summit and Clean Tech Challenge.

For any of the strides LBS may be making within the classroom or as part of club activities, it would be foolhardy for it or any other business school to profess to have a solution to the sustainability challenges that face the world today, says Ioannis Ioannou, LBS assistant professor of strategy and entrepreneurship.

“While there isn’t a comprehensive set of best practices that business schools can confidently prescribe, what we can do is to be actively involved in an exciting series of experiments and active learning with the business community, and its stakeholders,” he said in a statement.

“Sustainability has to be discovered. The role of business education therefore, for now, isn’t to teach best practice. It is rather to provide a structured understanding of the challenges, establish the parameters of possible solutions and accordingly drive curiosity, collaboration and adaptability.”

Read the entire speech delivered by HRH Prince of Wales.

Learn more about LBS’s sustainability initiatives.