A climate of change? Global agreement on the responsibility of Business Schools for addressing climate change

There are grounds for optimism in the sense of responsibility Business School leaders feel with regards to addressing climate change, but much work remains to be done. Ellen Buchan and David Woods-Hale outline the findings of new and exclusive research from AMBA & BGA

Senior Business School leaders recognise the impact climate change will have on business and their personal lives but share an optimism that hopeful students and the wider business community will find the required solutions, according to the AMBA & BGA International Climate Change Report, in association with Jyväskylä University School of Business and Economics. 

Among 597 senior leaders at Business Schools across the world that were surveyed as part of the research, 88% believe that their Business School has at least some responsibility to tackle climate change. However, only 3% are currently of the belief that their Business Schools’ efforts in addressing climate change are ‘excellent’. It is therefore clear that leaders see the need for significant improvements at their institutions. 

When it comes to Business School leaders’ personal beliefs about climate change, 69% are in agreement that the temperature of the planet is changing due to the activity of humans, while 71% agree that this change would have a negative impact on their lives. 

However, there was less consensus on taking personal action in this area – while 51% said they have changed their habits and behaviour in the past six months to lessen their impact on the environment, 48% said they have not. Business School leaders are also apprehensive about the future of our planet when looking ahead to the next 10 and 25 years. 

Business School leaders’ perspectives on the future of climate change 

When asked to select what they believed were the most important issues that businesses would face over the coming five years, those relating to the environment were high on the agenda. 

The most frequently cited options were ‘thinking about how businesses can become more sustainable’ (cited by 42% of participants), ‘the ability of companies to innovate’ (38%), and ‘embracing cleaner, more environmentally friendly technologies’ (35%). Leaders were less inclined to select issues such as ‘creating diverse teams’, ‘automated technology and robots’, ‘closing the gender pay gap’ or ‘increased selection and competition’.

Business Schools’ role with regards to sustainability and climate change 

Where does the responsibility for addressing climate change lie? There is widespread agreement among Business School leaders that ‘scientists in the field of climate change’ have a large amount of responsibility for dealing with the current situation – 72% agreed that they are either ‘fully responsible’ or ‘very responsible’. The governments of the world’s eight biggest economies – the G8 – meanwhile, were labelled as being ‘fully responsible’ or ‘very responsible’ by 58% of participants. The equivalent figures for businesses, Business Schools and the UN are 55%, 53%, 52%, respectively. A smaller proportion (46%) of Business School leaders polled felt that students from their Business School or the general public are ‘fully responsible’ or ‘very responsible’ for dealing with the climate change situation.

How well do these different groups handle their responsibility, in the eyes of Business School leaders? Among respondents, 13% rated the efforts of scientists in doing their bit to prevent climate change as ‘excellent’, while 69% rated them as either ‘very good’ or ‘fairly good’. In comparison, 62% think their own Business School is ‘very good’ or ‘fairly good’, but only 3% would say current efforts in working to prevent climate change are excellent. More than half (56%) rated their students as ‘excellent’, ‘very good’ or ‘fairly good’ on the issue. 

At the other end of the scale, a much smaller proportion (21%) of participants think governments of the world’s biggest eight economies were ‘fairly good’ or better in their current efforts to tackle climate change (21%). Business School leaders are also sceptical in their views of the business community in this regard, with just 29% rating current efforts as ‘fairly good’, ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’. 

How business education needs to improve

Nearly a quarter of participants (22%) said their Business School was ‘neither good nor poor’ in their current efforts in working to prevent climate change, while 13% scored their institution as ‘fairly poor’, ‘very poor’ or ‘terrible’ – indicating clear room for improvement in the eyes of Business School leaders.  

Improvement could come from further resources being earmarked for efforts in this area – 46% of those surveyed said Business Schools need significant funding to support research into the relationship between business management and climate change prevention, and a further 33% are of the opinion that academics need training in terms of how to disseminate their research findings for greater effect. Meanwhile, 30% of Business School leaders believe that there needs to be more collaboration between Schools on the topic of climate change. 

Of course, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t already research and collaboration taking place at Business Schools in the field of climate change. Close to half of respondents (48%) said they are sharing knowledge and research on business and climate change with the global Business School community, and nearly two fifths (39%) said they are producing research on ‘how businesses can act to mitigate their carbon footprints and reduce climate impact’. However, only 33% reported incorporating climate change as a core module within their Business Schools’ curricula. 

The impact of climate change and personal beliefs 

Business School leaders were asked if their programmes had changed over the past three years to ensure they offer their students an up-to-date understanding of the significance of business management in helping to tackle climate change. In response, 66% reported that their programmes had indeed changed, while 24% said they had not changed and 10% were not sure whether they had changed or not. 

Almost all Business School leaders (96%) believe that the environment will have some sort of impact on business in the coming decade. Encouragingly, 87% believe that business is capable of finding the solutions to tackle climate change effectively, and 40% strongly believe that this is the case. 

None of the respondents think that the climate is not changing, but 2% do believe that human activity is not responsible for this at all. However, a clear majority – 69% – believe that the climate is changing and that human activity is the main driver for this. 

Nearly three in 10 (28%) believe human activity is only partly responsible for climate change, while again being of the belief that the climate is changing. 

More than nine out of 10 (92%) of leaders agree with the statement that recent environmental disasters (for example, hurricanes, bush fires, and extreme hot and cold weather) are due to climate change. Only 1% of respondents disagree with the statement and 6% ‘neither agree nor disagree’ with it. 

A fifth of respondents (20%) believe the impact of climate change will have a ‘very negative impact’ on their own lives, while 51% say it will have ‘a fairly negative impact’ on their lives. Among those polled 13% are unsure if the impact will be positive or negative and 15% are of the belief that the impact of climate change on their own lives will in fact be either ‘very positive’ or ‘fairly positive’. It could be that this final proportion interpreted the question as an opportunity to consider how they, as an individual, might make a positive contribution towards addressing climate change. Then again, it is also possible that they simply do not regard the effects of climate change (if they perceive any) as being detrimental to their own way of life.   

Conclusion

To say that climate change is a ‘hot’ topic would be an understatement. As little as five years ago, the very existence of this issue was still being debated. Yet, a global movement to secure the future of our planet has pushed climate change firmly into the public arena; and now the damage climate change is causing is undeniable. 

The AMBA & BGA International Climate Change Report is a call to action for, but also from, the leaders at Business Schools to do more to tackle the rising pressures of climate change. The report also contains cautious optimism for the future potential of Business Schools – and the ability of business in general – to come up with the solutions that can help save the planet.

Participant demographics

The results in this report are based on a survey, conducted between March 2020 and May 2020, of 597 Business School leaders based in the following regions: Europe (excluding the UK) (45%); UK (14%); Latin America (11%); Africa (6%); Asia (excluding China) and the Middle East (5%); North America and the Caribbean (7%); Oceania (2%); China (including Hong Kong, China) (5%).  

Among those who participated in the survey, 49% are senior leaders at a Business School, i.e., a dean or director; 10% work in designing or delivering management programmes at Business Schools; 9% work as a business management academics; 8% work with management students and graduates (e.g., careers and alumni staff); 18% work in another capacity within a Business School (common examples cited were accreditation and marketing departments); and 6% said they work in other roles within business and management education.

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