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Business 'not as usual' helps the Business School reach global sustainability goals

5 May 2020
Business School commits to aligning teaching and research to UN SDGs
National and global crises this year including the Australian bushfires and the coronavirus pandemic highlight the important role of the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in achieving a sustainable, equitable and climate-ready future.

The University of Sydney Business School has begun a comprehensive mapping of its teaching, research and operations against the UN SDGs, as part of its commitment to the UN’s Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME).

Professor Greg Whitwell, Business School Dean, committed to aligning all units of study, research and operations to the SDGs in the School’s new five-year strategy, called Business Not As Usual 2.0.

“Our purpose as a business school is wrapped up with the notion of responsible management, which is why we became a PRME signatory in 2016,” said Professor Whitwell at the recent launch of the School’s second PRME Sharing Information on Progress Report.

“This commitment is key in developing and equipping the next generation of business leaders with the knowledge and skills needed to effectively navigate the social inequity, climate and environmental challenges facing the world.”

Lead author of the report, Dr Anna Young-Ferris, said, “For too long the assumption underpinning the curriculum taught at business schools is that the fundamental responsibility of businesses is to maximise profits and to give primacy to shareholders.

Dr Anna Young-Ferris at the PRME report launch.

"The SDGs give us a platform through which we can acknowledge all stakeholders, and not just shareholders, and start to establish more balanced systems. The tertiary education sector has a significant role to play in bringing about this transformation.

“This report demonstrates how much progress we have made but there’s more work to be done. The current pandemic shows we need to be teaching programs and asking research questions that examine our over-reliance on global production and consumption systems that also perpetuate inequality and the destruction of nature.”

The report, Transforming management education beyond shareholder primacy’, outlines the School’s achievements in relation to each of the Principles for Responsible Management Education and details future action.

It also highlights specific activities reflecting the School’s commitment to the SDGs, including:

  • The Rural and Remote Enterprise (RARE) program, which connects students with remote, rural and Indigenous social enterprises such as Waltja in Alice Springs (SDG10).
  • Critical research on the climate responses and actions of large corporations (SDG13).
  • Research offering a solution to address drastic inequality in a world where an estimated three billion people have wealth, while four billion live on less than $5 a day (SDG1).
  • Understanding physiological, emotional and socio-cognitive factors that enable employee health and wellbeing (SDG3).

CEO of Business Council for Sustainable Development Australia and member of the Business School’s Board of Advice, Andrew Petersen, explained: “While we’re slowly seeing business profit and purpose converge, the Business School has a critical role to play in preparing graduates with the skills they’ll need to lead in a future of work that’s more sustainable than the environments we’ve previously built.”

The student experience also features in the report. Reflecting on the relevance of the Sustainability Accounting subject, BCom/Liberal Studies student Olivia O’Connor said, “One issue that particularly grasped my attention was the tension between achieving SDG8, that includes ‘Economic growth’, and many of the other goals such as climate action, life on land and life below water.”

Business schools should be champions of the need to secure a sustainable and inclusive economy.
Professor Greg Whitwell, Dean of the Business School

Dr Young-Ferris, who also coordinates the Sustainability Accounting unit, added: “We need to respond by building resilient students who can take the necessary skills into the workforce and the community.”

“We don’t want to only focus on the problems; our role as a business school is to provide a social good through the sharing of research-based solutions and preparing our students to be adaptable future leaders who are also climate-ready. Australia’s bushfire season shows us that the environment is saying ‘enough is enough’.”

After becoming an Advanced signatory in May 2019, the Business School is now seeking to become a PRME Champion by 2025. This involves greater interaction and collaboration with other PRME schools around the world “to affect action and systematic change of business school education”.

The six principles of PRME require signatories to contribute to the implementation of the SDGs in order to improve living standards, protect the environment and encourage good governance, peace and security.

“Business schools play a vital role in the preparation of our future leaders through management education, research, partnerships, and dialogue with business, civil society, and government. Business schools should also be champions of the need to secure a sustainable and inclusive economy,” Professor Whitwell concluded.

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