The Meaning of Sustainability
For some, sustainability has become synonymous with environmentalism and the preservation or sustainable use of precious natural resources. If you recycle and have switched to compact fluorescent light bulbs to reduce your carbon footprint, you are a practitioner. At the Moore School, the concept is broader than that.
Since the 1980s, a “global” perspective of sustainability includes issues that are not just environmental, but also economic and social. In 2008, the Moore School adopted a new strategic direction, Sustainable Enterprise and Development, with the mission to promote education and research to tackle the complex issues related to corporate responsibility, viable economic development and care of resources — both human and natural.
In a sense, this initiative is not new to the Moore School; the school has long been a leader in global business education, which inherently must address the complex interplay of economic, social and political forces.
Accelerating demand for finite resources in developing countries, the necessity of sustainable economic development in poor countries, the demand for ethical behavior and transparency in corporate governance and the ambition of today’s students to do more than make money — that is, to make the world better — are all factors in the evolution of the Moore School.
In one of the first definitions of sustainable development, the World Commission on Environment and Development (1987) defined sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations.” They furthermore proposed that such development would entail: “a process of change in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investments, the orientation of technological development and institutional change are made consistent with future as well as present needs.” While this early definition has been debated and refined, we use this classical definition as a starting point for our initiative. The broad concern of sustainable development is to examine the balance between the needs of today and those of future generations. This on-going balancing process is likely to lead to changes in the ways that resources are used, investments are made, technologies are developed and organizations are managed.
In business schools, the concern for sustainable development has become translated into a concern for sustainable enterprise: the study of the role of private enterprises in achieving development goals. For instance, firms may examine the impact of their activities not only on the single bottom-line of firm profitability, but also on a triple-bottom line that includes social and environmental outcomes as well. The concept of “social impact management” also illustrates the growing concern for sustainable enterprise. While it is common for a business strategy discussion to explore a firm's purpose in terms of its vision for competitive positioning, social impact management also considers the firm's intentions and their implications for consumers, employees and community members. Social impact management examines short- and long-term time horizons, a wide set of actors and stakeholders, and a complex set of metrics and evaluation tools.
Sustainable Enterprise and Development
Our focus on sustainable enterprise and development is designed to ensure that our discussions and projects look at both private and public solutions to the challenges of sustainable development. Business school research often takes a purely private perspective to the study of sustainability, examining the benefits that private enterprise can bring to achieving development goals. In contrast, policy research often takes a purely public perspective to studying the same issues, examining the benefits that governments, non-governmental organizations and civil society groups can bring in providing public goods, regulations and norms that advance sustainable development. We believe that both perspectives provide valuable insights into understanding and managing sustainable systems, since solutions to the large-scale social issues of our time are unlikely to be solved solely within the private domain of business activity or the public domain of government and policy. We therefore position ourselves within an emerging space of educational organizations that explicitly look at the intersection between the public and the private in achieving the twin goals of sustainable enterprise and development.
We believe that both public and private actors can benefit from increased collaboration, discussion and research. Public officials interested in advancing policies of sustainable development need to understand the private sector if they wish to harness the capital, expertise and creativity of private enterprise in achieving policy goals. Business executives similarly need to understand the public sector as both new risks and opportunities arise from increasing social and political demands for sustainable business activities. Finally, our students need to understand both public and private perspective on sustainable development if they wish to develop the problem-solving skills necessary to cope with the large-scale public issues that their generation will inevitably face.