France-headquartered business school Insead is to roll out a renewed MBA curriculum that embeds sustainability into all 15 of its core courses, as well as introducing a new sustainability-focused, final student assignment, or capstone. Ambition editor Colette Doyle spoke to the school’s dean of degree programmes, Urs Peyer to find out more
As of September this year, all MBA core courses at Insead will incorporate a learning element related to sustainability. Students can further tailor the programme to suit their individual needs, choosing from a wide selection of more than 75 elective courses across nine different academic areas.
“Students can start with learning about sustainability in the core programme, deepen that knowledge in the elective courses and then integrate it into the capstone process”, elaborates degree programmes dean Urs Peyer. The focus on sustainability has come about because of its importance as a hot-button issue at global level and also draws on new faculty research; “from a programme point of view, we have put sustainability into a framework for students to learn from”, affirms Peyer. “Part of the problem [relating to sustainability] has been created by business, so it should be resolved by business”.
He continues: “It’s about thinking: how can companies create a circular economy? That’s not easy, it’s not just about recycling.” Fortunately, there is a wealth of expertise on offer at Insead: as he points out, “our faculty influences European legislation on initiatives such as the use of solar panels.”
Businesses must be more aware of tools at their disposal
The reimagined curriculum builds on the Personal Leadership Development Programme introduced by Insead in 2017. “That focused on the individual and their impact on others, in a company-within-a-country environment; this time there a lot more tools that can be used to think about sustainability”, comments Peyer. “No one stakeholder can solve societal problems, so the business sector needs to be aware of what it can and cannot do.”
He presses home the importance of highlighting the kind of tools that exist for a company to use in the context of ‘externalities’; when calculating a business’ cash flow, he says it’s vital to “ensure students understand what assumptions they’re making when they value companies they way they do. They have to be consciously aware and work with regulators to find a win-win solution.” In the case of laying off staff for example, companies may wish to factor in the cost of support to help employees retrain.
New elective course on responsible consumption
Currently, there are 20 elective topics related to sustainability; the most recent additions include energy, transition finance and sustainable finance. New electives will be progressively added every six months to support learning the latest business practices. Peyer notes that these will be based on information gathered during the course of interviews with both alumni and recruiters; the latter asserted that they were looking for generalists when it came to hiring managers, but confirmed that “having a special interest is good to drive change”.
Other electives are likely to include a marketing course on responsible consumption given that the sustainability debate is not just environmental, but also contains social components. According to Peyer, the definition of sustainability depends on the region: “in Europe it’s environmental, we focus on climate change and the circular economy, whereas in the US the DE&I aspect is much more prominent.” In Asia and Africa the debate revolves around social sustainability and economic issues: “if a sustainable source of energy costs more to buy, consumers won’t go for it because they can’t afford it… that will make people worse off and have a negative impact on their health.”
Integrating performance and progress
The new sustainability-focused capstone will be introduced during the last period of the students’ MBA journey and is designed to put theory into practice. It is a mandatory three-day process that sounds like it’s not for the faint-hearted. Students will role-play being part of an executive team in a mega-case study scenario and will have to deal with a series of thorny challenges.
Asked to expand on the kind of strategic problems students will tackle, Peyer singles out fast fashion – “issues around the supply chain, the way the business model lacks a circular aspect, as well as how to highlight the good points.” Students need to approach the exercise “from a holistic point of view”, he remarks, adding: “they then create a vision for their company, keeping in mind the financial implications of their decisions.” To make the course even more realistic, students will have to handle worker strikes, activist protests and even fend off probing questions from the media.
So, what kind of leaders does Peyer imagine will emerge from Insead upon graduating from the reinvigorated MBA programme? “Managers who will appreciate the performance of a business but also keep in mind progress; outside the framework of corporate responsibility, they need to take into account the social and environmental impact that they make and create solutions. It’s all about integrating performance and progress”.