Work together and go further

Businesses can run more effectively by considering their impact on society

Ethical issues in business were brought to the fore in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The Body Shop made headlines and profits with its "trade not aid" philosophy. McDonald's came under fire for deforestation and animal cruelty, Nike for using sweatshops. Companies realised they had to watch their social and environmental policies as well as their bottom line. But did business education shift in line?

"Sustainability MBAs are still very unusual," says Professor Malcolm Kirkup, director of the One Planet MBA at the University of Exeter Business School. In 2010, the institution started developing its sustainability programme in collaboration with students from its existing MBA course, WWF, and 11 other company partners, including IBM, Coca-Cola, Sony and Canon. During 2011, the previous programme was dropped and One Planet was established as the school's only MBA offering.

This programme isn't about being "worthy", as perhaps demonstrated by its partners, which are focusing on sustainable issues to guarantee the viability of their businesses in the long-term. Coca-Cola, for example, relies on water to produce drinks in some countries with challenging supply conditions. Kirkup says, "If they don't help communities around the world protect their water and stop it being polluted, their business model can't survive."

Canon, meanwhile, sees green manufacturing as key to running an efficient organisation. "It's not about conservation," says Kirkup. "It's not about doom and gloom. It's about innovation. It's about how business can be both profitable and more responsible, saving on resources but also using waste, recycling and remanufacturing in such a way that everyone benefits."

"Sustainability is vital to the business world," agrees Shannon Springer, a student on the One Planet MBA. "Whether you care about the environment or not, and whether you care about the social impact of business or not, the fact is that if you don't look after your people and your environment, it will impact on your business."

Other programmes in the UK offering a focus on ethics include Ashridge Business School's Masters in sustainability and responsibility and the University of East London (UEL)'s MBA in sustainability and energy management. Meanwhile, Sophia Taylor, external relations manager at Nottingham University Business School, says, "Our MBA has been repositioned to emphasise sustainability issues in the context of leadership development. There's less stress on only the corporate social responsibility programme and more on sustainable organisations, business engagement and leadership development."

Kirkup says: "We believe that MBAs should be teaching business leaders of the future that they have to be more planet-minded, that they have to think about the impact of business on the community, on the environment, on society and take a more sustainable approach. We look at every module through a sustainability lens, and we have introduced modules that you just won't find on any other MBA programme." Some examples of these are courses on business and collaboration – unusual, says Kirkup, in an arena that has been traditionally motivated by competition – and another analysing the business lessons of nature. "When something dies, it becomes compost or food for the next generation," Kirkup explains. "In business, typically, you make waste and you get rid of it. We look at how you can take a waste product and use it as a raw material for another business."

The programme's unique selling points have not only brought a new approach and teaching style, but also a unique student environment. "A typical MBA would have 85 per cent males – many of them alpha males," says Kirkup. "Our MBA is different: 65 per cent of our students are women, which is absolutely unheard of. The other thing is, we've got a very diverse nationality mix, with students from 18 different countries."

Springer, for example, is an American. She has been particularly impressed by the business approach advocated by the One Planet programme. "We are an incredibly collaborative group. It's interesting to see that spirit prevailing over a competitive spirit. We're driven by the mentality of getting further by working together. It sounds clichéd, but it has shown to be true for us. That is the key to businesses today," she notes, "finding out where you can collaborate without taking away the competitive element that is fundamental to business success."

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Recruitment Genius: Graduate / Trainee Sales Executive

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate/Trainee Sales Executive is re...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Graphic Designer - Peterborough - £18,000

£22000 - £23000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Graphic Designer...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Developer - Cambridgeshire - £23,000

£22000 - £23000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Front-End Develo...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Application Support Analyst

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003