Sustainability and business – not such strange bedfellows after all

Office of sustainability at the U of M hosts seminar at Asper school of business

Sustainability has entered the modern lexicon in a significant way. Business people and those who teach business are increasingly employing the term, once used almost exclusively by artists and activists, as an important part of smart decision-making.

To highlight the importance of incorporating sustainability in teaching modern business practices, the office of sustainability at the University of Manitoba recently held a seminar in the Asper school of business, with talks given by the faculty’s Bruno Dyck, and Ken Berg, a representative from Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC).

Dyck, who teaches courses in management and organizational theory, has co-authored a textbook entitled Management: Current Practices and Future Directions.

It was refreshing to hear a business professor talk about the importance of businesses being mindful of economic equality and environmental protection.

“Why aren’t all our cases putting sustainability front and centre if we believe that economic inequality, and climate change, and externalities are important issues? Why isn’t it part of all our teaching and all our models? We need to overcome shortcomings of the short-term planning and budgeting cycles that still dominate business practices today.”

Dyck went on to make the case that not only can sustainability help people and the environment, but it can also improve the bottom line, and help companies succeed.

This success has no better example than that of MEC. The Vancouver-based co-operative was founded in 1971, and has since expanded across the country, to stores in 16 cities.

Berg spoke about some of the things MEC does to be more sustainable.

“We make sure our supply chains use fair labour practices, that conditions are safe, that people are being paid a decent wage, and we partner with other brands to help give us leverage in our sourcing.”

Berg explained that the company is constantly looking to improve, and reduce its environmental footprint.

“We had compostable toilets put in, so that our water usage is now way down. We have to shovel out the end result [ . . . ] but we have a strong culture, and people are always wanting to pitch in and do more. I think it makes us a very dynamic place to work, and the people who work with us see that and want to do more themselves for the environment.”

Dyck pointed out that firms with sustainable business practices are often more innovative and may have higher satisfaction and productivity from their employees.

According to Dyck, Asper has incorporated more sustainability content at the undergrad and graduate levels.

“We now have courses on corporate social and environmental responsibility, and on alternative management frameworks, which takes things out of the traditional profit maximizing framework [ . . . ] we need to educate business students, and we need to equip firms to understand the macro-sustainability issues which are going to be critical to the future of the planet.”