Time for business schools to wake up and smell the emissions.
After spending three years and $18,000 on my bachelor of business administration degree at SFU, I’ve only discussed a green economy for a total of one hour. I’m appalled. Canadian schools continue to teach that poisoned waters, fouled air, decimated forests and a warming climate are acceptable costs of doing business. Yet every day climate change, polluted oceans and water shortages increasingly jeopardize businesses and the Canadian economy. At my business school, I am required to take calculus, statistics and accounting. Not one required course looks at green technology, climate change or an economic system that actually gives a damn about the natural world. This business-as-usual education proves to be typical across Canada. The 2007 “Knight Schools” guide, published by Corporate Knights Magazine, found that only 35 per cent of Canadian undergraduate business schools have at least one mandatory core class dedicated to the vague category of “green and socially responsible business.” These ideas are not new. They’ve been around for 40 years. Yet schools such as SFU progress at the frustrating pace of a 100-year-old man slowly crossing a busy street at rush hour. Master’s programs are greening faster than undergraduate programs, but not all of tomorrow’s managers and business leaders do post-graduate degrees. The business world has not been nearly this slow. Even the former chief economist for the World Bank, Nicholas Stern, has hopped on the green-economy bandwagon. In his widely known 2006 Review for the British Government on the Economics of Climate Change, Stern suggests that dealing with climate change now rather than later will save countless human lives and decrease the costs of global warming from 20 per cent to five per cent of global GDP. Greening the economy makes sense even to old-school economists such as Stern. Many aspects of business school impede the transition to a green economy. For starters, my current curriculum focuses on the traditional, limited practices of the past, which include manually balancing budgets and calculating profit ratios. But society will need future business leaders who can solve complex problems threatening the economy and our quality of life. For this duty, traditional task-oriented thinking proves useless. Approaching issues differently will be the only way to get out of this unsustainable mess that traditional thinking created. Business relies on teamwork. But in an average business school, vicious grade competition remains standard practice. Grading is on the curve system; my scores depend on how others in the class do. That means that helping my classmates hurts my grade. This goes against the most basic laws of nature: co-operation and codependence. In natural systems, organisms depend on one another to survive. Business school drills the importance of profit with the intensity of a Vietnamese re-education camp. It’s not that I’m against profit; businesses can’t stay in the red for long and survive. But this profit obsession neglects new research that shows money alone doesn’t make people happy. Healthy relationships, feeling secure, belonging to a community and having a meaningful career make people happy – not huge profits and six-figure salaries. The curriculum must be fine-tuned if business schools want a lead role in building a green economy. Greening existing courses should be top priority. My Financial Accounting class must slither out of the Stone Age and promote triple-bottom-line accounting, where environmental, social and economic considerations are equally valued. Macro Economics should cease framing pollution as an “externality” of the market and instead teach that fouling the environment has an economic cost. In addition, business schools should create new courses on sustainable energy, local economic systems and climate change. Business students should also be reading Deep Economy, by Bill McKibben (a hopeful guide to a greener economy), and Field Notes from a Catastrophe, by Elizabeth Kolbert (a powerful primer on climate change). Turning out leaders and entrepreneurs who don’t know a damn thing about greenhouse-gas reduction, renewable energy or green economics is neither good for business nor smart for the economy. Bryan Gallagher is a student in SFU’s Bachelor of Business Administration program.