Sustainability: the big 'S' buzz word of the moment. We all hear it a lot; many of us talk about it; some of us are trying to put it in to practice in one way or another.
Here are a few of my experiences of trying to be sustainable as an entrepreneur and some examples of sustainable MBA courses offered for entrepreneurs.
What is Sustainability?
According to Wikipedia, "Sustainability is the capacity to endure. For humans, sustainability is the long-term maintenance of well being, which has environmental, economic, and social dimensions, and encompasses the concept of union, an interdependent relationship and mutual responsible position with all living and non living things on earth."
For the business world, sustainability is about how your business operates whilst having a positive social and environmental impact. I particularly like a quote from the Chair of Corporate Responsibility at Berlin's European School of Management and Technology (ESMT), Professor C.B. Bhattacharya, who says it's important "to see that financial value can only be created through sustainable investments as a consequence of creating social and environmental value; in other words, the need to combine doing good and doing well". ESMT is one of the few business schools that offers a specialist 'Global Sustainable Business' MBA option.
The Challenge of Sustainability
The concept of 'doing good and doing well' sounds great but, as many entrepreneurs know, is not always easy. When starting out, most new business owners are most concerned about making sales and keeping their heads above water. The cheapest office supplies and manufacturing processes might not be the most environmentally friendly. Many small companies survive with low-cost business operations and low-paid interns — not necessarily socially optimal.
As a boot-strapped entrepreneur I have to admit I haven't always prioritised sustainability, although it is something I hope to focus more on next year.Â I'll give you some small examples: in January earlier this year we had a particularly bitter winter (for the UK — sorry for those of you in Chicago, Moscow etc — I know I can't complain!) and we had 3 electric heaters blowing out hot air to keep us warm in our office unit. In my defence the unit has no central heating and abysmal insulation, but even so I guess we could have sanctioned the heaters or worn more thermal underwear. We also struggle to recycle as our office building doesn't provide separate bins for types of rubbish/ trash and I haven't fancied the idea of taking trash home with me on the train. This is all a little embarrassing, particularly as my older sister, Anna Semlyen, is an avid green-liver who doesn't own a car and has turned her house into an eco showcase with solar panels, insulating paint and home grown vegetables (check out her fantastic pocket guide on 'Cutting Your Car Use').
On a more positive note, our little company does lots of other things that could be classified as 'sustainable'. For example, we don't print anything and we store all our documents in the virtual 'cloud', which I'm told uses less energy than running our own server or a physical shared drive. We avoid travel, especially long-haul flights, instead opting for skype calls and gmail chat. BusinessBecause provides an online network for business students around the world — facilitating helpful connections between MBAs in different countries and often leading to job opportunities. The network is free to join and we actively try to promote the non-profit or sustainability initiatives of our members (e.g. the admirable Emzingo program set up by IE business school to place MBA consultants in NGO projects in South Africa).
Making it Happen
For anyone who's serious about running a sustainable business, you might want to immerse yourself in a specialist MBA that gives you the tools to understand sustainability and implement good business practices. To choose a course you could look at Beyond Grey Pinstripes, an independent, biennial business school ranking (managed by the Aspen Institute’s Center for Business Education) that looks at how academic institutions prepare students to meet ethical, social and environmental challenges. In the US Stanford comes up trumps and in Europe the IE business school in Madrid is highest ranked.
Perhaps one of the most dramatic changes in 'sustainability' teaching for the business school world has been this year's launch of the 'One Planet MBA' by the UK's University of Exeter. In partnership with the WWF this MBA program embeds sustainability into every module. One of the current cohort, Shannon Springer, previously a sustainability consultant in California has told us "the course looks at business through the lens of a resource restricted world and seeks realistic reactions to our responsibilities". Seems a sensible approach to me — I wonder if they would sanction the use of electric heaters in my office this winter!
Kate Jillings is the co-founder of BusinessBecause and EngineeringBecause, specialist news, networking and jobs sites for business and engineering students around the world. Read more about Kate here.