July 18, 2012, by Maggie

CSR or sustainability education – the practitioners perspective (or wearing many hats).

As a precursor to CSR Futures – the conference marking the 10th anniversary of the International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility – Alumni of the MBA in CSR and MA/MSc in CSR programmes – now working in related fields, were invited to share their views on the profession with students past and present. In particular, the speakers were asked to reflect on the programmes and to assess how successfully their experience at Nottingham had equipped them for the world of responsible business:

The alumni present were from a broad range of industries and in quite varied roles:

  • Tobin Postma (MBA in CSR 2006-7) now sustainability communications specialist at ArcelorMittal.
  • Tess Lenk (MA in CSR 2009-100) now Global CSR Coordinator at Turner & Townsend.
  • Stephen Gee (MBA in CSR 2004-5) now Senior Business Development and Support Manager at Business in the Community.
  • Catalina Secreteanu (MA in CSR 2008-9) now Programme Manager at UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association.
  • Simon Wright (MBA in CSR 2005-6) now Lecturer in Responsible Business & Sustainability at the ICCSR.

Despite covering such a broad range of industries, a consensus of opinion rapidly emerged amongst the speakers, largely mirroring the recent evolution of CSR to embrace broader concepts of sustainable development and environmental management. Technical skills were considered important and examples such as environmental management (ISO 14001), carbon management (ISO 14064), social return on investment, and environmental and social impact assessment.

Linking theory to practice was also a constant theme.  Past and present students recognised the value of theory to underpin and contextualise activity – but also encouraged a continued emphasis on organisational and issue based case studies.  However given the dynamic nature of the agenda several former students felt strongly that the theoretical background promised to provide a more enduring support to their practice given that business trends and hot topics moved on so quickly.

Interestingly, the speakers all reminded us all of the need to focus on action and implementation, integrating sustainability into core business activity. Further, CSR specialists needed to be versatile and resilient, opportunistic and optimistic, communicators and sales people, yet with strong appreciation of the business drivers and bottom line benefits of their actions.  Leadership, innovation and risk taking were also identified as critical characteristics of the skilled CSR practitioner.

Given the demanding nature of the role and the super human skill set seemingly required for these corporate creatures, why would anyone even attempt to take on these roles? Unsurprisingly a desire to influence businesses to shape a better world for us all, sustain our lifestyles and protect our natural environment all featured highly in the reasons for working in the field. Encouragingly, all alumni spoke highly of their time at the ICCSR whilst acknowledging that developing their practice was in itself a continuous improvement process. 

The lessons for the team at the ICCSR?

  • Strong theoretical foundations are important and appreciated, but often after the fact – we need to do more to help students understand the abiding value of this aspect of their education and demonstrate its relevance to practice.
  • Other hard skills are also important once our alumni begin to practice – we should ensure that we provide mechanisms to keep students abreast of developments at the technical end of the field.
  • Soft skills are the most critical in delivering such a broad and dynamic business agenda – communicating, managing, and negotiating.
  • A set of personal traits necessary to survive in CSR or sustainability practice also seemed to emerge – optimism, resilience, persistence, conviction and confidence…. (a module in looking on the bright side while juggling many hats anyone?).

By Maggie Royston & Simon Wright

Simon Wright is a lecturer in sustainability and responsible business at the International Centre for Corporate Responsibility at Nottingham University Business School.

Maggie Royston is the Business Development & Centre Manager of the International Centre for Corporate Responsibility at Nottingham University Business School.

Photograph taken by Arty Smokes Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/artysmokes/3463122487 reproduced under the terms of the creative commons licence agreement – Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0


Posted in EVENTS at the ICCSR