[We’re pleased to welcome authors Shannon Deer of Mays Business School, and Jill Zarestky of Colorado State University. They recently published an article in the Journal of Management Education entitled “Balancing Profit and People: Corporate Social Responsibility in Business Education,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, Deer discusses the research:]
Together several events and circumstances motivated us to research sustainability education in business schools.
- My co-author, Jill, and I have PhDs in Education and Human Resource Development, with an emphasis in adult education. Jill has a background in mathematics and mine is accounting and finance. Our experience in the PhD program really highlighted for us the lack of attention to issues of social justice in business and STEM disciplines. I could see a strong desire in my business students to make a difference in the world by addressing significant problems. This study, and the associated business solutions to social problems class, were one way for us to give them an outlet for exploring such issues.
- Mays Business School just developed a new strategic vision. Our vision statement is advancing the world’s prosperity. To achieve this vision, we are challenging our students to broaden their focus from primarily profit driven to all three Ps – people, planet, and profit. In the class studied in this article, students explored profitable ways to address problems we don’t always talk about in business schools – hunger, literacy, and human trafficking. At Mays, we believe businesses can help fill the gap left by government and nonprofit organizations in solving the big economic, environmental, and social problems facing the world. We are excited to see our students make an impact in this area in the future.
- At the same time, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) updated their requirements to require sustainability education in business curriculum. As instructors and researchers, we wanted to make an impact, but we were developing a new course with a paucity of research related to incorporating sustainability into business curriculum. There are some programs that have done it well for a while, but limited information on how they did it and to what effect. We wanted to research our process in implementing this curriculum to help others starting this journey.
A happy accident in the research was finding sustainability curriculum is also a great vehicle for teaching critical thinking. The students chose problems they were motivated to solve – big problems without simple solutions. The students gained confidence in their ability to solve big problem through exposure to the curriculum. The course culminated in a case competition. The winning team developed a prototype for a backyard cricket farm using repurposed food barrels. Families, especially in developing countries, can use the system to produce a quality protein source. Though unconventional, cricket flour is becoming a popular, healthy alternative to wheat, even the US. This was an innovative use of existing materials and technology to solve an emerging problem, which demonstrated the critical thinking skills we hoped students would develop.
As scholars, we took away a renewed hope in our students. Despite some faculty who grumble about Millennials, we saw a students who are truly committed to doing the work to help improves the lives of others was really heartening. These rewards are what make teaching worthwhile.