Academic journal article Journal of Management and Organization

Sustainability in the Undergraduate and Postgraduate Business Curriculum of a Regional University: A Critical Perspective

Academic journal article Journal of Management and Organization

Sustainability in the Undergraduate and Postgraduate Business Curriculum of a Regional University: A Critical Perspective

Article excerpt


The challenge to embed sustainability in the formal curriculum has been greatest for the business studies curriculum. Schools of business have been perceived as key socialising agencies for the intelligentsia of advanced capitalist societies, whereas the students of sustainability need to be helped to critique the dominant capitalist paradigm and consider its alternatives. Drawing on a critical perspective of education for sustainability, this paper presents a detailed examination of the sustainability curriculum at a regional university in Australia. The paper contributes to the discussion needed to understand what sustainability skills are required by managers and how tertiary education programs may need to change to develop these skills. In this way the nature of the role that business schools should be playing in leading and managing change towards sustainability is further informed.

Keywords: sustainability, sustainable development, critical curriculum theorising, education for sustainability


Sustainability is emerging as a megatrend (Lubin & Esty, 2010), affecting policy at all levels of government, corporate strategy, consumer decision- making and education. Business as major polluters and consumers of natural resources (Johansen, 2007; IPCC, 2007) are a major cause of unsustainability and, therefore, an essential component of a sustainable solution (Kiuchi & Shireman, 2002). With their financial resources and innovative capacity, business is well placed to drive progress towards sustainable solutions (Hargroves & Smith, 2005), particularly when managers have the requisite education and motivation to implement such practices (Bridges & Wilhelm, 2008).

Reasons for business entities to make the transition to sustainability are many and varied. Sustainability, like corporate social responsibility is linked to long term competitive advantage (Franklin, 2008; Lubin & Esty, 2010; Porter & Kramer, 2006) and an organization's increased ability to attract high quality employees (Hargroves & Smith, 2005). Many executives, particularly those within relatively large organizations (over 100 staff at the corporate level) see the long-term value and success of their business as inextricably linked to the integration of sustainability into corporate management and operations (Ferraro & Sands, 2009). Smart companies treat sustainability as innovation's new frontier, one that yields both bottom-line and top-line returns (Nidumolu, Prahalad, & Rangaswami, 2009).

The business case for sustainability depicts resource waste as inefficient in both a business and ecological sense (McDonough & Braungart, 2002), and is supported by empirical observation of economically viable organizations, which are implementing a sustainable business paradigm such as 'natural capitalism' (Lovins, Lovins, & Hawken, 1999; Stubbs & Cocklin, 2008). Further, the responsibility of business to respond to the needs of a broad range of stakeholders to maintain their license to operate is made by Schaltegger and Wagner (2006) and supported by DesJardins (2007), who argues that social responsibility beyond profit making has always been the primary objective of business.

However a positive relationship between sustainability and profitability is not proven (e.g., Bonini & Oppenheim, 2008; Hamschmidt & Dyllick, 2006; Levy, 1995; Sharfman & Fernando, 2008). Indeed, a recent study found that only 47% of Australia's fifty largest publicly traded organizations integrate sustainability or environmental issues in to their mission statement and into at least two of the marketing mix components (e.g., promotion, product, place or pricing; Polonsky, Morrish, & Miles, 2009). This suggests that while sustainability is frequently being talked about within organizations as being important, it does not necessarily translate into a strategic integration across activities. …

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