Going for green

Business Impact: Going for green
Business Impact: Going for green

In 2002, the then French President Jacques Chirac uttered the phrase, “notre maison brûle et nous regardons ailleurs” to open his speech at the Fourth Earth Summit, held in Johannesburg. This translates as, “our house is burning and we are looking elsewhere”.

Fast-forward 20 years and his words are finally sinking in. For too long, we have treated Earth as an infinite resource to plunder. In very recent years, however, humanity seems finally to understand that, without urgent action, we are heading for environmental catastrophe.

Since its inception, CEMS (formerly, the Community of European Management Schools and International Companies) has been committed to preparing responsible leaders capable of innovating and driving change within global organisations. Responsible leadership is deeply embedded within the CEMS culture, curriculum and ethos.

In 2021, a survey of 4,206 alumni from 75 countries told us that the environment is the greatest concern facing modern-day business leaders. We decided to harness the resources of our unique global community to combine insights from the corporate and the academic world into how we might tackle this challenge and develop the critical skills needed.

The need for collective leadership

Our new report, Leading for the Future of our Planet contains interviews with four global corporations – L’Oréal, Kearney, United Overseas Bank and ABB – and four leading academics from the University of Sydney Business School, NUS Business School at the National University of Singapore (NUS), the Norwegian School of Economics and the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business, outlining current challenges, thinking and practice from around the globe.

Many of our contributors agreed that we need to move to collective leadership. “We cannot leave the solution to grand environmental or societal challenges to governments or global corporations. Every one of us can make decisions that influence the world for future generations. It takes all of us to succeed, every single day,” comments Heidi Robertson, group head of diversity and inclusion at ABB.

“For an organisation to make a meaningful impact, I believe we must shift from hierarchy to an ecosystem-oriented modus operandi,” Robertson continues.

“In ABB, we operate in a decentralised model where empowerment and accountability are key principles. Each of us comes together as pieces of the puzzle to drive the company, environment and community forward. Younger generations, in particular, thrive on this bold approach. There is an expectation and a desire to influence change, not to be part of a pattern of directive leadership. That is why I am so positive about the next generation – there seems to be an innate courage to take real and decisive steps.”

Double skillsets

However, contributors also highlight a current skills gap. As Lars Jacob Tynes Pedersen, head of the centre for sustainable business at the Norwegian School of Economics, points out: “Many organisations are quite open when it comes to saying they have a competency gap when it comes to sustainability. I believe in having a combined set of skills and competencies – a double competence in business and sustainability. While you can hire people with sustainability skills to do specific sustainability jobs, we need people who understand how they can impact the sustainability agenda to effect real change.

“We need to integrate competencies and skills from the core fields (accounting, finance, strategy and marketing) with sustainability competencies and skills. In this new reality, we must enable financial institutions and markets to operate in a way that supports the green transition, and marketeers need to enable and encourage consumers to buy greener products.

“We must also have reporting that speaks to the sustainability footprint of the company, as well as its economics. I’m seeing graduates with this double skillset being fast-tracked as the current generation of managers were never taught these skills.”

Leading for the Future of our Planet includes actionable takeaways for young professionals to equip themselves with the skills required. As the decision-makers of the future, they will be key to driving change. 

Actionable takeaways for students

  • Balance academic study with intelligent networking and try to understand the business environment through interacting with corporates
  • Explore environmental topics and issues deeply
  • Seek internship/work experience opportunities with companies of all sizes in different industries that are working on the sustainability agenda
  • Understand that having sustainable business on the curriculum provides a competitive advantage and use this to specialise and/or fast-track your career
  • Bring your voice and knowledge of environmental issues into the workplace
  • Bring fresh perspectives to the table – but be patient, it takes time to turn a tanker
  • As a global citizen, bear witness to the impact environmental issues are having
  • Invest in self-awareness and understand your purpose and values

Nicole de Fontaines is the executive director of CEMS, an alliance of 34 of the world’s leading business schools and 70 corporate partners who together deliver the CEMS Masters in International Management.

This article originally appeared in the print edition (November 2022) of Business Impact, magazine of the Business Graduates Association (BGA).

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A World of Difference

An annual summer school offered to executive MBA (EMBA) students studying at multiple locations around the world allows participants to come together and transform their differences into assets that drive personal growth. Director of EMBA programmes at the School of Management Sciences at the University of Quebec in Montreal (ESG-Uqam) Kamal Bouzinab offers an in-depth guide to an intensive week of experiential learning, cross-continental dialogue and networking.

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