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Impatient for transformational solutions, a handful of sustainability-focused undergraduate student leaders in Canada have joined forces to mobilize youth and prod business schools to modernize how they teach about the climate crisis, income inequality and related issues.

The Canadian Business Youth Council for Sustainable Development, officially in operation this month, is on a mission to share knowledge and drive change – with youth leading the charge.

“Youth have a tremendous role to play in changing business education and also changing the field of sustainable business development,” says council chairman Maxime Lakat, a McGill University Destautels Faculty of Management commerce undergraduate.  “Student organizations like the ones in the council can be tremendous agents of change.” He is also co-president of the Desautels Sustainability Network, one of seven student-led business school sustainability associations that founded the council.

One of its goals is to develop a new generation of savvy leaders. With its members and input from private and public sectors experts, the council released a “Youth Guide to Sustainable Business” on its website, with links to readings, reports, videos and other material on environmental and social issues, sustainable business strategies and relevant commentary.

“The youth guide will be a vehicle for us to propagate ideas that try to push the conversation further,” he says.

A top council concern is the slow embrace of sustainability by business schools, where curriculum renewal requires lengthy academic approval. Lakat says the guide provides an immediate source of current information – and inspiration – beyond the classroom.

As important as understanding climate issues, youth need to act, Lakat argues.

In January, his Desautels Sustainability Network worked with like-minded student organizations at two other Montreal business schools to hold a two-day conference on sustainable business that drew 500 participants from industry, academia and the non-profit sector.

Also in its mission, the council offers tips for students to start their own associations and advocate for curriculum upgrades at business schools. Lakat estimates only 12 student sustainability organizations operate at Canada’s 60-plus business schools. “That is a huge problem when you realize the potential an undergraduate student organization can have in changing what a business school is doing,” he says.

With Desautels Sustainability Network, the council’s other founding members are HEC Montréal’s Groupe HumaniTerre; Ryerson University’s Corporate Social Responsibility Student Association; Association étudiante du développement durable dans les affairs de l’Université Laval; the Sustainability in Business Laurier association at Wilfrid Laurier University; the Corporate Social Responsibility Society at York University; Western University’s Ivey Social Impact Club; and the John Molson Sustainable Enterprise club at Concordia University.

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