This August, the Business Roundtable, a group of powerful American executives, including the leaders of Apple, Ford, Walmart and Pepsi, renounced their longstanding position that corporations exist principally to serve their shareholders. While some dismissed it as a public relations stunt, it’s a sign of the times that businesses now recognize it is no longer sustainable to make gobs of money at the expense of people and the planet, but rather that business must be fair to the planet and people, because they are the foundation on which all economies rely.
With climate strikers in the streets around the world and businesses singing the praises of serving all stakeholders, it’s a fair question to ask: what are business schools doing to keep up?
Not enough, according to a recent report in the Financial Times on responsible business education, which found “there is widespread agreement that business schools should do more to provide research and teaching for the next generation of students with greater focus on sustainability, ethics and social purpose.”
“Employers are hungry for graduates with that value added of sustainability,” according to Rumina Dhalla, corporate social responsibility coordinator at the University of Guelph’s Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics and coordinator of the MBA graduate program. But Frances Edmonds, head of sustainable impact at HP Canada, says that most business graduates lack basic sustainability skills and have no clue, for instance, how to account for the carbon footprint of a product’s supply chain.
But business schools are beginning to get with the program. More than two-thirds of the Financial Times’ 100 top-ranked MBA cohort now integrate a holistic purpose of business into at least one core course, while business faculty research related to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals has increased markedly, numbering 5,000 published articles in the past year.
It turns out that 10 of the best business schools for the world are right here in Canada, with four of the top 40 calling Southwestern Ontario home, according to a new ranking by Corporate Knights. The ranking evaluated 146 business schools around the world to see which were doing the best job at baking sustainability considerations into their core courses, institutes and faculty research and diversity.
York University’s Schulich School of Business ranked number two on the back of a world-class research program. No other business school published as many articles on sustainability themes per faculty member in peer-reviewed journals. Articles ran the gamut, with titles like “Societal Trust and Corporate Tax Avoidance,” “Institutional Transitions and the Role of Financial Performance in CSR Reporting” and “Linking Societal Trust and CEO Compensation.”
If accountants really are going to save the world, as Peter Bakker, head of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, is fond of saying, Schulich’s Charles Cho, a professor of accounting and the Erivan K. Haub Chair in Business and Sustainability, is part of the vanguard, editing four influential journals and teaching a score of courses, including the popular Accounting and Sustainability.
While he may not be a household name, Schulich’s Dirk Matten, a professor of strategy and the Hewlett-Packard Chair in Corporate Social Responsibility, co-authored one of the most widely cited sustainable business articles of the last decade: “‘Implicit’ and ‘Explicit’ CSR: A Conceptual Framework for a Comparative Understanding of Corporate Social Responsibility,” which addresses the question of how and why corporate social responsibility differs among countries and how and why it changes.
Schulich has been one of the top-ranked sustainable MBA schools for most of this millennium, thanks in part to its top-notch faculty. It’s also a reflection of Dean Dezsö J. Horváth, now the longest-serving business school dean in the world. Before landing in Canada, Horváth’s family fled Hungary in 1956 and settled in Sweden, where the stakeholder approach to capitalism left a lasting mark on the young engineer; he has made it a central part of his legacy at Schulich. In 2016, Horváth, together with Schulich’s Matthias Kipping and management consultant Dominic Barton (previously of McKinsey & Company, now Canada’s ambassador to China) published a seminal tome called Re-Imagining Capitalism, a series of essays that reflect on both the urgency of needed action and the opportunity to achieve a wide-ranging and lasting movement toward a more responsible, equitable and sustainable economic model.
Better known for its veterinary and agricultural programs, the University of Guelph is also home to the Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics, ranked the 18th most sustainable business school in the world. Lang offers an MBA in Sustainable Commerce, with 60% of its core courses making sustainability a central theme, including Sustainable Value Creation, Business Practices for Sustainability, and Governance for Sustainability. Perhaps not surprisingly, Lang’s dean from 2009 to 2019, Julia Christensen Hughes, cut her teeth at Schulich. In Guelph and on the world stage, she is obsessed with making “business a force for good.”
In 2015, Hughes was invited to address the United Nations General Assembly on behalf of the 700-plus business school signatories to the UN’s Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) initiative, where she repudiated Milton Friedman’s famous statement that businesses have no social responsibility beyond making money. She has also championed a revamped Introduction to Business course that “on-boards” students through “the great ethical dilemma,” a required course in corporate social responsibility that engages students with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Until recently, the main badge of honour on Tiff Macklem’s wall was for saving the world from financial collapse: when he was deputy governor of the Bank of Canada, he played a key role, from his Blackberry, in the global response to stop the financial crisis from becoming a full-fledged depression after the housing bubble popped in 2008. Since 2014, he has been dean of the Joseph L. Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. He is also the chair of the federal government’s Expert Panel on Sustainable Finance, which has issued a blueprint for rebooting Bay Street to deal with climate change and stay solvent in the 21st century.
Some of this is clearly rubbing off on the Rotman School, which ranked as the 31st most sustainable business school in the world, partly because it’s home to some of the country’s leading institutes advancing sustainability, including the Clarkson Centre for Business Ethics and Board Effectiveness, the Institute for Gender + the Economy, the Martin Prosperity Institute and the Michael Lee-Chin Family Institute for Corporate Citizenship.
Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management ranked as the 37th most sustainable school in the world, with highlights including its Institute for the Study of Corporate Social Responsibility, the partial integration of ethics and social impact into several core courses, and one of the most gender-diverse faculties in the world (40% of its professors are female).
The fact that Canada has 10 of the top 40 most sustainable business schools in the world is worth celebrating. But the bar is rising fast, which is good for the health of society and our planet, and essential for the legitimacy of business.
For complete ranking, head to our Better World MBA results.