By Lee Davidson, Senior Associate Copywriter/Editor, AACSB International
At the recent Accounting for Sustainability Project (A4S) event in London, sponsored by the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) and hosted by London Business School, AACSB’s vice president of outreach, Michael Wiemer, participated in the important discussions surrounding the topic of sustainability in business—particularly as it relates to accounting and finance—a subject that figures prominently in our Standards of Accreditation, especially those established in 2013.
The A4S project is a charitable foundation of His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales that aims to engage the global business community to take action toward more responsible and effective business practices around the world that will endure for future generations to come. Other notable attendees at the event include representatives from accrediting bodies EFMD and AMBA; from institutions such as Harvard Business School, HKUST Business School, INSEAD, ESADE, University of Oxford Said Business School, Cambridge Judge Business School, MIT, University of Chicago Booth School of Business, Copenhagen Business School, and NYU Stern, among others; from major firms such as Ernst & Young; distinguished publications including Financial Times and The Economist, and from the global improvement initiatives GRLI—an AACSB strategic partner—and PRME—of which AACSB is a co-convener.
AACSB’s participation in the A4S event demonstrates not only our level of access to the preeminent conversations occurring about sustainability but also our dedication to supporting this crucial cause by both contributing ideas and listening to others’ opinions about how best to improve the current business economic environment into one that enables long-term, globally resilient financial health. While having a seat at this table of highly influential guests enables us to be at the forefront of thinking about sustainability, it also places responsibility on us to examine the ways in which we implement this new knowledge for the benefit of our stakeholders. Our active engagement with platforms such as A4S ensures that our positions within our accreditation standards, our informational materials, and our messages align with the foremost thinking in management education and in business practice.
Also pointing to the tie between education and practice, Charles, The Prince of Wales, himself mentioned the special relationship business schools have with industry. In a speech that concluded the day’s discussions, he addressed the school representatives present by saying, “Ladies and Gentlemen, your business schools are rooted in both academia and industry and I believe you have a very special role to play. Society needs to be able to look to you with confidence for some of the best thinking and the most enlightened education, to secure the future for our children and our children’s children.” With the high number of business school representatives in attendance at the event, greatly outnumbering participants of any other category, what is clear from this gathering is that business schools are viewed as highly instrumental leaders in the global sustainability movement and will be called on more and more for not only insight but action.
In regard to the steps business schools could be taking toward a sustainable financial future, Prince Charles further asked of business schools, “[A]re you truly tapping into the brilliant intellects at your disposal, and developing the innovation, creativity and breadth of understanding that your M.B.A. students will need in order to be to be effective leaders in an already dangerous and uncertain world?”
He continued, “How often for instance do key words such as population, poverty, climate change, ecosystems and biodiversity, human rights, Africa, mega-cities, and the empowerment of women appear in your lectures or academic publications?”
Rather than providing a dogmatic set of guidelines for attendees to take back and apply to their respective jurisdictions, the A4S event instead encouraged attendees to have and to continue open conversations about new ideas and best practices for sustainability in business. In the closing of his speech, Prince Charles issued a challenge to the event participants: “[M]y challenge to all of you is to build on what you are doing already and find ever better ways to integrate sustainability into every aspect of your research and teaching. … I hope you will have the courage to step out of the comfort zone of the current paradigm and ask the really difficult questions about what it will take to succeed in business in the next 50 years.” We, too, will be asking these difficult questions of ourselves.