What impact are impact business schools having on the climate change agenda?

Education | Energy & Low Carbon Industry | Reports

Senior Business School leaders recognise the impact climate change will have on business and their personal lives but share an optimism that passionate students and the wider business community will find solutions, according to the research behind AMBA & BGA’s International Climate Change Report, in association with Jyväskylä University School of Business and Economics.

The results of the survey provide a snapshot into the views and beliefs of some of the most senior-level members of the Business School professional community, on the topic of climate change, during a time when many countries were in a period of lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

This research, which draws on the views of 597 senior leaders at Business Schools across the world, finds that nearly nine out of 10 of those surveyed (88%) believe that their Business School has at least some responsibility to tackle climate change.

However, only 3% of this sample are of the belief that their Business Schools’ current efforts in addressing climate change are ‘excellent’. It is clear, therefore, that leaders see the need for significant improvements in their institutions.

When it comes to Business School leaders’ personal beliefs about climate change, most are in agreement that the temperature of the planet is changing due to the activity of humans (69%). Leaders are also in agreement that this change would have a negative impact on their lives (71%).

However, taking personal action on this issue was up for debate – respondents were split on whether they had changed their behaviours in the past six months to lessen their impact on the environment. While 51% had changed their habits, 48% had not.

Business School leaders are apprehensive about the future of our planet when looking ahead to the next 10 years and the next 25 years, especially when their responses are compared to those of current students and graduates.

Key findings  

  • Seven in 10 Business School leaders (69%) agree that the planet’s climate is changing and think human activity is the main driver of this.
  • A similar proportion (71%) believe that the impact of climate change on their lives will be negative.
  • Two thirds (65%) of Business School decision makers think their own School is ‘excellent’, ‘very good’, or ‘fairly good’ at playing their role in preventing further climate change.
  • More than half (56%) rated their students as ‘excellent’, ‘very good’ or ‘fairly good’ in terms of their efforts to address climate change.
  • When Business School leaders were asked to rate their programmes out of 10 in terms of how effectively they thought their teaching was in covering the role that managers should play in contributing to climate change prevention successfully, the mean score across leaders was 5.9.
  • 46% of Business Schools leaders believe Business Schools need significant funding to support research into the relationship between business management and climate change prevention in order to maximise Business Schools’ impact in averting climate change.
  • Business School leaders are very positive about the role of business in addressing climate change: nearly nine out of 10 respondents (87%) agree that business is capable of finding the solutions to tackle climate change; with two fifths (40%) in strong agreement that this is the case.
  • Business School leaders are split in terms of how they have changed their behaviour in the past six months to lessen their impact on the environment; with 51% having either changed their behaviour ‘a great deal’ or ‘a fair amount’; and 48% not having changed their behaviour ‘very much’ or ‘at all’.
  • When comparing optimism about the planet in the next 10 years between Business School leaders, current students, and graduates, current students are the most optimistic with 65% saying they are either ‘very optimistic’ or ‘fairly optimistic’ and Business School leaders were the most pessimistic with nearly half (47%) stating they are ‘not very optimistic’ or ‘not at all optimistic’.

Hanna-Leena Pesonen, Dean of Jyväskylä University School of Business and Economics in in Jyväskylä, Finland, said: “Business Schools are taking efforts to prevent climate change, even if a lot more could still be done.

“More can be done in education (dedicated courses and programmes as well as incorporating sustainability aspects into all courses), in research to support sustainable transition in business and society, as well as by offering faculty expertise for advancing the climate change agenda of businesses and society.

“The carbon footprint of the Business School itself should also be followed and actively reduced in order to signal the significance of the issue. Improving a Business School’s own climate footprint provides the foundations for credibility in climate change education and research.

“Views of the world’s leading Business School leaders give reason to be hopeful that Business Schools are indeed prepared to re-evaluate their role in the society as a “force for good”, to start critically revisiting traditional economic and business concepts, frameworks and theories, and to further integrate climate change into all activities. This will raise a new generation of business leaders that are prepared to deal with the challenges climate change poses for businesses and to act as a leading force in creating solutions to tackle climate change and other sustainability challenges.

“As some Business School leaders pointed out, the pressure and support from ranking and accreditation bodies can potentially be a decisive driver for Business Schools in their sustainability efforts.”

The role of sustainability and climate change in Business Schools 

Business School leaders are most inclined to believe that ‘scientists in the field of climate change’ are the most responsible for dealing with the current climate change situation, with almost three quarters (72%) agreeing they are either fully or very responsible.

Conversely, less than half of Business School leaders (46%) think students from their Business School, or the general public, are fully or very responsible for addressing the climate situation.

Two thirds (62%) of leaders think their own Business School is ‘very good’ or ‘fairly good’ at working to prevent climate change, however only 3% rated their Business School’s current efforts in this regard as ‘excellent’. More than half (56%) rated their students as ‘excellent’, ‘very good’ or ‘fairly good’ in their current efforts towards addressing climate change.

How business education needs to improve 

Nearly half of those surveyed (46%) said Business Schools need significant funding to support research into the relationship between business management and climate change prevention, and a further 33% are of the opinion that academics need training in terms of how to disseminate their research findings for greater effect.

Close to half of respondents (48%) said they are already sharing knowledge and research on business and climate change with the global Business School community, and nearly two fifths (39%) said they are producing research on ‘how businesses can act to mitigate their carbon footprints and reduce climate impact’. Yet, only one third (33%) reported incorporating climate change as a core teaching module.

The role of sustainability and climate change in programmes offered at Business Schools  

Business School leaders were asked if their programmes had changed over the past three years, to ensure they offer an up-to-date understanding to students on the significance of business management in helping to tackle climate change. More than two thirds of Business School decision makers (66%) reported that their programmes had changed, while a quarter (24%) said they had not changed. Just 10% did not know whether they had changed or not.

The impact of climate change on business 

An overwhelming majority of Business School leaders (96%) believe that the environment will have some sort of impact on business in the coming decade.

Nearly nine out of 10 respondents (87%) agree that business is capable of finding the solutions to tackle climate change; with two fifths (40%) in strong agreement that this is the case.

Comparison of views of Business School leaders, current students, and graduates 

How do Business School leaders’ perceptions measure up against the thoughts of students and alumni?

A total of 752 current MBA students and 2,110 MBA graduates were also polled on their views in relation to several aspects of climate change for comparison.

The emerging picture and looking forward 10 and 25 years 

Business School leaders are the least optimistic about the planet in the next 10 years with less than one in 10 (8%) saying they are ‘very optimistic’ and nearly half (47%) stating they are ‘not very optimistic’ or ‘not at all optimistic’. In comparison, current students are the most optimistic here – 65% say they are either ‘very optimistic’ or ‘fairly optimistic’ in the planet’s next 10 years.

In every group polled there is more optimism about the longer-term future of the planet, over 25 years, than the medium-term 10-year prediction.

Graduates are the most optimistic with nearly seven in 10 (72%) being either ‘very optimistic’ or ‘fairly optimistic’ at the prospects of the planet in the next 25 years.

Again, the largest proportion of concern about the future of the planet, among the three groups polled, came from Business School leaders with 43% admitting they are ‘not very optimistic’ or ‘not at all optimistic’.

However, there was widespread agreement among all participant groups that the current environmental condition of the planet is ‘fairly poor’ (cited by 38% of students, 41% of graduates and 41% of Business School leaders, this was the most popular option in each group).

The survey also asked each group if they had changed their habits in order to minimise their personal impact on the environment in the past year.

Of the three groups, Business School leaders were found to have changed their habits most significantly and are the group who are least likely to have made no changes in terms of the options given (with just 4% of Business School leaders making no changes to any of the factors listed).

Students showed themselves to be most likely to have made changes to their consumption of energy to lessen their impact on the environment in the past year (63% of students have done so). Graduates and Business School leaders prioritised changing their waste disposal habits (63% and 68%, respectively, have done so over the past six months).

David Woods-Hale, Director of Marketing and Communications at AMBA & BGA said: “To say that climate change is a ‘hot’ topic would be an understatement.

“As little as five years ago, the very existence of this issue was still being debated. Yet, a global movement to secure the future of our planet has pushed climate change firmly into the public arena; and now the damage climate change is causing is undeniable.

“This report is a call to action for but also from the leaders at Business Schools to do more to tackle the rising pressures of climate change. The report also has a cautious note of optimism for the future potential of Business Schools – and the ability of business in general – to come up with the solutions that will save the planet.

“We hope the results lead to many constructive debates on the positive contribution that the business education and MBA communities can make, in terms of the climate crisis.”

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