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Business student in Scandinavia studying sustainability in her top business program

Interested in Sustainability? Here's How Business Schools in Scandinavia Embrace It

Posted February 19, 2019 by Marco De Novellis - Editor - BusinessBecause

The term sustainability—doing business in an environmentally responsible way—is tossed around often. The word may conjure up images of Greenpeace activists and reusable shopping bags. But, in business today, knowing about sustainability is increasingly important.

According to a report published by MIT Sloan and the Boston Consulting Group in 2017, 90 percent of global company executives see sustainability as key. And, while companies that adopt sustainable business practices report up to 50 percent of added profit, only 60 percent of firms have a sustainability strategy.

Employers want to hire future leaders who can manage responsibly. Customers care about it, brand reputation benefits from it, and sustainability can bring profits too.

That’s why business school students should think about exploring sustainability as part of their degree. And when it comes to learning about sustainability, there are plenty of lessons to be learned from one region of the world in particular: Scandinavia.

Learning About Sustainability

In Scandinavia, sustainability is ingrained in society itself—and business school curriculum follows suit.

Take, for example, Copenhagen Business School, where on their very first day on campus over 2,000 undergraduate students enjoy Responsibility Day, a high-profile event that brings the school and the local community together—even Mary, Crown Princess of Denmark, attended last year—to discuss sustainability.

This focus on sustainability can be seen at all degree levels. In the Copenhagen MBA program, students take a four-month course, Managing Sustainable Corporations, in their first semester. Groups of four students each choose a real-life business case, a challenge that an organization is facing, and put their minds together to find a sustainable and profitable solution.

But what students can learn about sustainability at business school in Scandinavia is not confined to one course. I recently spoke with Özge Turhan, a Copenhagen MBA student who, after 10 years working in the oil and gas industry in her native Turkey, moved to Denmark to learn about sustainability.

In the Managing Sustainable Corporations course, Turhan’s team analyzed Norway’s arctic oil drilling projects, strongly opposed by environmental groups like Greenpeace. But, even in Turhan’s operational management module, she reviewed a business case on sustainability in the fashion industry supply chain. In strategic management, she learned how Nespresso would likely boost sales if they made their coffee capsules sustainable.

Sustainability in Society

What makes Scandinavia different is the environment: students live in a society committed to sustainability. That comes from the top down and the bottom up; the government, high-profile companies, and the public are all involved.

West of Copenhagen, Kalundborg is home to the Kalundborg symbiosis, an example of the circular economy in action. Copenhagen MBA students visit the town where a group of industrial companies have created a pipeline system through which they exchange waste and resources, reducing the cost of energy, raw materials, and waste disposal.

Copenhagen itself is a city that has committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2025. Turhan tells me she hasn’t driven a car in more than a year since moving there. She cycles everywhere—to the supermarket, to work, to go out in the evening. When she does grocery shopping, she does it for just one or two days. People in Denmark, she says, have one house, one bike, one coat.

For business school students looking to work for sustainability-driven companies, studying in Scandinavia makes a lot of sense. After completing her MBA in 2018, Turhan quit oil and gas and joined Swedish industrial firm Alfa Laval, where she’s managing the production of fresh water generators for ships, making seawater drinkable.

Global Challenges

Business schools in Scandinavia don’t require students to have a background in sustainability to get accepted, but they do expect students coming to Scandinavia to learn more about it.

At Stockholm School of Economics (SSE) in Sweden, learning about sustainability is mandatory.

SSE’s Misum (Mistra Center for Sustainable Markets) was established in 2015 to integrate the U.N.'s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into the school curriculum.

Development director, Svenne Junker, helped set up Global Challenges, a core course divided into four themes and taught across the first two years of SSE’s bachelor’s program in business and economics.

The course is built around four elements:

  • Knowing: Learning about the SDGs and the global sustainability challenges
  • Doing: Understanding theories that drive sustainable development
  • Being: Looking at individual responsibility as future managers
  • Expressing: Competing for prizes and working on group projects to reach one or several SDGs

Last year’s winners proposed a new way of packaging books to reduce plastic use to a leading digital book store in Sweden, Adlibris, which was actually taken up by the company.

SSE has also created a master’s-level elective—World in the Making, Tackling World Challenges—where students focus on similar topics. SSE’s bachelor’s program dedicates 12.5 percent of the curriculum to Global Challenges. Ten percent of master’s-level electives on offer are directly connected to sustainability.

Scandinavia leads the way with its dedication to sustainability, which is not just about doing good but is key to landing jobs too—Scandinavian companies strongly prefer to hire students with a sustainability education. As global multinationals look to a responsible future, students with in-depth knowledge of sustainability will be well-placed to thrive.

Marco de Novellis, Editor, BusinessBecauseMarco De Novellis is the editor of BusinessBecause, an online publisher dedicated to graduate management education. He writes about careers, edtech, emerging business education markets, entrepreneurship, online learning, and more, and is the creator and host of the podcast, The Business School Question. Follow him on Twitter @marcodenov.