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Thoughts on the BEST education

October 10, 2017


I have always loved tools. One of the best gifts I ever received was a real hefty toolbox. I like the toolbox but even more I like that I needed to fill it with tools.  Then I could lug it around and always have all the tools I need with me.


For those teaching sustainability in our business schools, there is a need for the right kind of tools.  And for a toolbox.  But even more important is a blueprint of what we are trying to build in the first place. In my view, if business schools are engaged at all in sustainability education, it is characterized by random acts of overload teaching, whim, passion and other sideshow activities.  While the main event takes place under the big tent, sustainability seems content to be invited.  But we aspire for than that don't we?  And surely the challenges and innovation opportunities demand more from us.  At Smeal College of Business we are launching a multi-year initiative aimed to providing a rigorous answer to that question.  We currently call it the BEST Model for "business education for sustainability transformation."


During Spring 2016, a number of interviews and roundtable discussions were held with executives from wide variety of industry sectors, businesses and organizations.  The key question we explored was in the context of the changing landscape of business from narrow financial measures of performance to include social and environmental metrics.  As one executive from a large specialty metals business stated: “The day is coming when all businesses will need to demonstrate social value.”


As a leading business school, we wanted to know: “what are the most important capabilities business leaders need for businesses to demonstrate social value while continuing to succeed financially?”


This whitepaper summarizes these discussions and highlights the following key capability areas:

Macro-Mindset/Skillset:  Making the Sustainability Case for Business

One of the people we spoke with is a vice chairman of a large consulting firm that works with the world’s largest companies.  He told the story of a CEO of a document technology company coming to him and saying that their most strategic issue was climate change.  He pushed back.


“Climate change?” he asked to make sure he heard her correctly.


“Yes, climate change,” she confirmed and went on to explain how a changing climate would disrupt their supply chain, increase costs, and impact the one thing you really need to use one of their main products:  paper.


US Senator Ga