Bringing Business on Board: Sustainable Development and the B-School Curriculum

Article excerpt

SCOPE AND OBJECTIVES OF THIS VOLUME

The goal of achieving sustainable development is arguably the greatest challenge mankind has ever faced, requiring a concerted joint effort among consumers, business and government. It can be argued that if sustainable development is indeed to be achieved, then the sine qua non is the education of the emerging business elite in the fundamental principles of sustainable development, for only with the active engagement of the business community is there any realistic hope that our economic, social, and ecological systems can achieve sustainability. This will require early exposure to the core concepts by embedding them in business school curricula. The objective of this volume, therefore, is to provide a comprehensive guide to issues of sustainable development for business school students at both the senior and MBA levels. This special issue of the Journal of Business Administration and Policy Analysis, an international journal anchored in the Faculty of Commerce and Business Administration at the University of British Columbia, is being produced in both journal and book format in collaboration with Canada's National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. Contributors have been drawn from academe and the business community in North America Asia, and Europe.

This volume is structured in four parts: (1) eight overview pieces to introduce the basic concepts of sustainable development; (2) ten discipline-based chapters (including Finance, Strategic Management and Organizational Behaviour, Marketing, Accounting/Management Information Systems, Environmental Law, Urban Land Economics and Transportation) showing the relevance of sustainable development to these subject areas; (3) thirteen case studies drawing on industry experience and expertise in the area of sustainable development; and (4) four country/regional studies examining the specific issues and challenges of sustainable development facing several countries and regional blocs.

WHAT IS SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT?

The term "sustainable development" emerged from the World Commission on Environment and Development established by the United Nations in 1983. Known as the Bruntland Commission, after the chair Gro Harlem Bruntland, the Prime Minister of Norway, this conference was convened to discuss the critical issues of ecological degradation and Third World development. The definition of sustainable development which emerged from the Conference was beguilingly simple: development that "meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" (WCED, 1987, p. 8).

The concept has proven to be much more intractable than first anticipated; one study by the World Bank (Pezzey, 1992) enumerated almost three dozen definitions of the term. In fact, on the face of it, the concept seems profoundly oxymoronic, as no process of continual development can be sustained in a closed system. Several attempts have been made to address this paradox: first, by focusing more on the sustainability of human activities rather than sustainable development per se; and second, by adopting a more subtle definition of development, focussing on the quality -- as distinct from the quantity -- of output; yet the fundamental challenge of how to both conceptualize the principle and implement it remains unresolved. One of the most common interpretations of the concept is based on the analogy of a three-legged stool: sustainable development requires the simultaneous achievement of sustainability in three disparate spheres: economic, ecological and social. In the last category, sustainable development mu st address both intragenerational and intergenerational equity; i.e. issues of empowerment and distributional equity not only within the human generation which currently inhabits the earth, but also generations yet to be born. Clearly, empowerment across generations is beyond realization, and intergenerational equity itself poses an extraordinary challenge given basic human values and time preference. …