May 16, 2012, by ICCSR

Changing behaviours is difficult stuff.

Changing behaviours is difficult stuff. Years of public information campaigns to reduce smoking and drink-driving bear testament to the cost and time required in convincing people to make safer and healthier lifestyle choices.

So why then, as I reflect on a recent teaching experience with aspiring MBAs, am I surprised at the time it seems to take tomorrow’s business leaders to break away from their short termism and  appreciate the urgency of the sustainability challenge?

A relatively new addition to the MBA syllabus, ‘Sustainable Decisions and Organisations’ is a fast paced, intensive core module requiring students to develop and present a strategy to rescue an ailing, fictitious UK retail chain. Running over five days (and sometimes nights), the program offers an opportunity for students to integrate learning from past modules such as marketing, operations, finance and of course strategy,  whilst demonstrating an appreciation of the longer term risks and opportunities confronting the company. Critical is that they are able to show the benefits of integrating this longer term, sustainability thinking into both strategy and culture.  Presenting this coherently to a ‘faux’ Board and Media Panel on the final day comprising high profile business leaders and journalists is perhaps the biggest challenge.

Herein lies the problem. All too often, students revert to a ‘band aid’ solution of short term, tactical fixes to a potentially terminal problem.  Considerations of longer term impacts on the environment and the community fall by the wayside in pursuit of short term financial return. Does this sound at all familiar?!

The students are of course no different to most companies or indeed to the likes of you and I grappling with this self-same issue. Balancing our short term needs with the desire to mitigate our longer term impacts presents a challenge to us all. Breaking this cycle of cause and effect is challenging when we are all set in our ways and the problems appear so varied and complex.

A recent report from KPMG (‘Building Business value in a Changing World – Expect the Unexpected,’ February 2012) highlighted the ten megatrends facing business and society in the coming decade. The report highlights that increasing economic wealth will come at a significant social and environmental cost. Most notably this includes scarcity of water and material resource and ecosystem decline, resulting in ever greater climatic unpredictability.

So how do we apply the financial brake and slow our ever increasing demand for goods and services, energy and water? Do we need to change the workings of free market economies or can we convince the masses that less is more?

As I said at the outset, changing behaviours is tough stuff.

by Simon Wright, Lecturer in Sustainability & Responsible Business at the ICCSR.

Posted in Academic ACTIVITY