Canadian universities on a long road to fossil fuel divestment

Once rooted in moral arguments, campus campaigns snag high-profile wins with financial case for going fossil-free

When the University of Victoria ended fossil fuel investments in its $225-million working capital fund in February, student activists cheered a hard-won victory.

“It has taken eight years of student action to get to this point,” says Emily Lowan, lead organizer of Divest UVic. “I wish the speed of action was quicker, but still it is a major victory that should be celebrated.”

The campaign is not over. Activists are now focused on UVic’s $445-million endowment foundation. Over the past four years, the endowment has cut fossil fuel investments to below 2% of its portfolio, but it has not as yet promised full divestment. “We are still only halfway there,” Lowan says.

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Testing grounds for sustainability

From UBC to Mohawk College, Canadian colleges and universities are deepening their green commitments

Canadian colleges and universities are starting to dream big about sustainability. Curriculum renewal, low-carbon buildings, fossil fuel divestment, and increased multi-institution collaboration top a growing list of commitments by Canadian post-secondary institutions. But is it enough, given the climate emergency?

“Movement is happening, but it is all about accelerating change,” says John Robinson, the University of Toronto’s presidential advisor on the environment, climate change and sustainability, emphasizing the urgency of the moment. A sustainability scholar who heads a university committee of senior administrators, faculty, students and staff, Robinson warns that “the longer we take, the worse the consequences.”

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More business schools step up on sustainability

Australia’s Griffith Business School leads this year’s Better World ranking of the top 40 MBA programs

Australia’s Griffith Business School leads this year’s Corporate Knights list of the top 40 global business schools that embrace planet-friendly values – doing so without using “sustainability” or “responsible corporate practice” in the name of its Master of Business Administration program.

Of course, when pitching to prospective students, the east-coast Australia school highlights sustainability and responsibility as two core values (the third is its Asia-focused location) in curriculum and research; it just sees no need to attach an adjective to the MBA.

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How do Canada’s business undergrad programs rank on sustainability?

For the first time ever, Corporate Knights scores Canada's BCom programs

As in the MBA scorecard, the top performers in a Corporate Knights ranking of 10 undergraduate programs in Canada make express commitments to sustainability.

Ryerson’s Ted Rogers School of Management, which placed first, names sustainability as one of nine learning outcomes reported to the Ontario government.

“We can’t let our students graduate without understanding these [sustainability] principles and how their decision-making is important,” says Cynthia Holmes, associate dean of faculty and academic. The school recently hired 21 professors, adding to its diversity.

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Meet three of Canada’s top young researchers

Canada’s brightest minds on the biggest threats to our environmental, economic and social well-being

As a scientist with two advanced degrees – and the youngest program director of the National Research Council (NRC), at age 27 – Phil De Luna could come to the climate change table as a technocratic know-it-all. Instead, he brings empathy for Alberta’s oil and gas industry and other sectors disrupted by what he sees as “the biggest problem we have as a species.”

“What I am really passionate about is ensuring this transition [to a low-carbon economy] is a just one and there is economic opportunity for everyone in this energy transition,” says De Luna, whose people-oriented outlook is rooted in experience. Growing up in Windsor, Ontario, in a family of Filipino immigrants to Canada, he witnessed the devastating 2008/2009 recession that eviscerated a once-vibrant community dependent on car manufacturing. His father was among thousands laid off. “The theme of economic prosperity really resonates with me, and today, when I look at Alberta and our energy sector, that really resonates with me again,” he says.

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Sustainability-dedicated MBAs still the exception

University of Victoria joins pioneering MBAs that are going all-in on training a new generation of leaders for a better world

In recent years, business schools have been steadily adding sustainability to course electives and specialty degrees that complement the meat-and-potatoes of management education: finance, accounting and marketing.

Only a few pioneering schools – and this September add one from Canada – have gone “all in” to replace the conventional master’s in business administration with one that blends social justice, ethics and environmental concerns with principles of finance, accounting and marketing to train a new generation of leaders.

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Sustainability-minded donors are becoming agents of change

While the future of giving maybe uncertain, environmentally driven philanthropic support for business schools is growing

In 2018, a €40 million ($61 million) gift marked one of the largest sustainability-linked donations to a global business school.

Swiss billionaire, conservationist and pharmaceutical company scion André Hoffmann and his wife, Rosalie, chose to give to INSEAD, a graduate school based in France with locations on four continents, not for a new building or program but for an idea: to reimagine business as a force for good, not just profit.

While the future of post-pandemic giving is uncertain, philanthropic support for business schools to incorporate sustainability is a budding phenomenon.

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Mintzberg’s Declaration of Our Interdependence

The rebel of management theory issues call-to-action to rebalance society

Henry Mintzberg, an award-winning academic, contrarian thinker and Order of Canada recipient, is not afraid of big ideas.

Described as “the rebel of management theory” by Forbes magazine in 2019, Mintzberg is a tart critic of business schools that teach graduate management education as if it were a science like engineering and medicine. Instead, the management studies professor at McGill

University’s Desautels Faculty of Management believes managers become successful leaders through practice and experience. As faculty director for McGill’s International Masters for Health Leadership, Mintzberg leads a program to equip global healthcare professionals with tools to become thoughtful leaders, not number-crunching technocrats.

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New youth council targets sustainable business education

Student leaders prod business schools to modernize how they teach about the climate crisis and income inequality

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.

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Joining academic forces generates a win for sustainability

Multidisciplinary degrees at universities of Calgary, Guelph and McMaster bring real-world approach to green business

Kristin Skelton returned home from overseas in 2014 when the economy of her home province of Alberta was at a low ebb.

“I was applying for a lot of jobs and not getting anywhere,” says Skelton, a sociology undergraduate with a work internship in Washington, D.C., and teaching experience in Asia.

She decided to return to school for a graduate degree, spotting an intriguing program at the University of Calgary. A 16-month Master of Science in Sustainable Energy Development, offered jointly by Haskayne School of Business, Schulich School of Engineering and the university’s faculties of Law and Environmental Design, hit the right notes with its interdisciplinary approach to sustainable energy.

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