In recent years, many companies have acknowledged the impact their business has on climate change and other environmental issues. Often, there is the belief that a technical solution will solve the problem, allowing companies to avoid negative consequences in the future. But what’s in the rearview mirror is closer than it appears.
To help managers think more holistically about the social and environmental impacts of their business and take action, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business faculty recently launched an online certificate in Sustainable Business through eCornell.
Professors Mark Milstein, Glen Dowell, and Chris Marquis teamed up to develop the certificate and put timely, practical training in the hands of managers, entrepreneurs and operations professionals.
“People often think about sustainability in environmental terms, but sustainability, by definition, has three pillars: social, environmental, and economic,” shares Milstein. “You’re not addressing sustainability if you’re not iterating on those three elements all the time.”
The program includes five, two-week courses that educate and empower participants to implement new business models for their organizations across all three pillars. Additionally, to remain in good standing with today’s consumers, businesses need to take responsibility for their impact on the environment – and the communities and individuals – within their supply chains.
“It’s not so much that a product creates a large footprint,” Dowell says. “It’s where the footprint exists and in what dimensions. Let’s take clothing as an example. A lot of people are not aware of [its] massive environmental and social impact.”
Tremendous accidents like the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza—a garment factory in Bangladesh that failed to adhere to management and safety policies, claiming the lives of 1,134 and injuring over 2,500 employees—uncover the human danger and risk of not ensuring consumer goods are ethically sourced.
“Such accidents leave people’s consciousness; they kind of think that’s been dealt with, but they also aren’t aware of the massive amounts of water, chemicals, and petroleum required just to get you clothing,” Dowell continues. “There’s all sorts of pieces along the production, distribution, and disposal cycle for something that we take for granted, and then this gets exacerbated by things like fast fashion, where we buy clothes that are not meant to be used for long periods of time.”
The Sustainable Business certificate includes exercises and tools to guide business leaders in creating a sustainability implementation plan they can directly apply to their organization. By leveraging the latest best practices and emerging technologies, those decisions can translate into new market opportunities and increased revenue.
The program also includes a course on stakeholder management to help participants secure buy-in from other leaders and managers and embrace necessary changes.
“You can’t use the past as a trend line for the present,” advises Milstein. “You have to think through new ways of doing things. You’ve got to experiment.”
Chelsea Nuesi and Molly Israel are contributors from eCornell.