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The Role of Sustainability in the History of Business Schools – Case Studies from France, Germany, and UK
Recent business related scandals such as the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh, where many European Apparel Brands sourced their textiles show the responsibility of the business sector for human wellbeing on earth. Most firm decision makers are educated at business schools. While concrete actions on sustainability remain too insignificant as having a major impact on on-going environmental crisis such as climate change or ocean plastic waste contamination, some educational institutions have realized the importance of sustainability education the concrete design of related pedagogy and curricula long time ago.
We investigate historical trajectories of non-for profit business schools in Europe and how they have educated managers for the for profit business world. We investigate in what sense sustainability, responsibility, and ethics have not only shaped curricula but also pedagogy and formation and form of the schools.
This paper builds on recent work on the history of European management education. While some work has been done on British Business Schools much less work has been done on German and French business schools. Our paper deals with the question how Business Schools founded on concepts of humanism and sustainability have or have not adapted to neo-liberal trajectories of commodification (Bridgman, 2007) of higher education. More specifically this analysis answers the following questions: This paper builds on various quantitative and qualitative empirical data. First, it assesses the sustainability education of the top 100 Financial Times Business Schools. It builds on a web-based content analysis drawing on an identification of their voluntary and obligatory programs/ classes on sustainability, existence of contact person for sustainability, membership of UN Principles of Responsible Management Education (PRME hereafter), sponsorship, student fees, salary, sustainability related publications, Business School initiatives on sustainability, student initiatives for sustainability. Second, it analysis data from a student survey on sustainability conducted at three Business Schools in France, Germany and UK. Third, it draws on an in-depth case study in these three European Business Schools, which have a strong sustainability orientation: Essca a over hundred years old Business School formed on humanistic values in France; ISM a 30 years old sustainability front-running institution from Germany, where large scale private business schools have been a rarity until very recently; Newcastle Business School as part of a small group of higher education institutions being part of PRME Champion Schools. In this case studies we rely on semi-structured interviews with students, alumni, professors and emeritus professors, local business representatives, local government agents on the narratives on the business school.
Our findings suggest that not-for profit and humanistically shaped Business Schools adapt from the very beginning to sustainability and ethics and therefore may better implement international instruments such PRME. These universities may be more successful in terms of social innovations for sustainability as their “DNA” already includes sustainability education since the beginning of the existence. Institutions, which have historically applied of what is socially and personally meaningful, seem to be better in dealing with crisis.