Beyond Buzzwords: Empowering Global Change through Social and Environmental Sustainability Education

27 July 2023

Ehi Obodeh, a participant in the Global Online MBA program, explores how the programme has enabled him to delve into the significance of Social and Environmental Sustainability in relation to business.

The impact of sustainability on social, economic, environmental, and physical well-being, cannot be overstated. As sustainability conversations come to the fore, the real risk will be if sustainability becomes a buzzword and loses its impact. Sustainability is everyone’s job. In the words of Otto Scharmer: “The quality of results produced by any system depends on the quality of awareness from which the people in the system operate.” As such, to deliver a sustainable world, a shared fundamental understanding of the social, economic, cultural and environmental sustainability challenge is required to help humanity co-initiate actions, co-create solutions and co-evolve our planet and its people. This is why social and environmental sustainability education is important in today’s business world.

Reimagining sustainability beyond environmental terms

In the past, sustainability was considered mainly in environmental terms, referenced only in relation to climate change. However, the significant economic and social impact of a rise in sea levels, drought, wildfires, and floods brings about the need to re-imagine sustainability beyond environmental high grounds, to its centricity for our immediate economic and social well-being.

The earth’s temperature has risen 10C since the pre-industrial age, an additional rise of 0.50C could cause severe climate disruptions that will exacerbate hunger, conflict, and drought globally. The United Nations defines Sustainable Development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The earth is currently on course to exceed a rise of 1.50C by 2033, and the United Nations predicts that in eleven years, we may be unable to avert a catastrophe.

The Global Online MBA: Living its sustainable values

The Global Online MBA programme, (including social and environmental sustainability at Warwick Business School & UBC Sauder) leverages technological advances to deliver 83% of the education remotely, and only 17% in-person to reduce scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions of Green House Gases (GHG). Courses are delivered from facilities powered by renewable energy. Where in-person learning has been adopted, it has utilised physical education as an enabler via critical thinking, idea exchange, and the appreciation of the role of all stakeholders for the foundations and transformation needed for a sustainable future. The in-person learning outcomes effectively nullify the associated GHG impact by birthing sustainable change-leaders to deliver a net positive carbon footprint eventually for the environment. Learning has also included real-world social-economic examples from the Squamish community (Canadian first nation community), sustainability in an SME construction business, and UBC Sauder’s clear sustainable campus facilities and operations.

Social and Environmental Sustainability key takeaways

I have learned that sustainability transcends climate change and poses a threat to the ongoing concern for business and human survival. There is a need for evidence-based changes on a global scale, based on a shared value for business and environment. It is important that all stakeholders have a voice at the table, and we must learn to navigate ambiguity, and divergent interests, using tools like system/design thinking as a method for problem-solving. Also, the importance of having the government institute and enforce clear policies for businesses cannot be overemphasised.

My experience with the social and environmental sustainability elements of the course will help me personally and professionally to drive a more holistic agenda within my organisation and my career. I take with me ideas, and frameworks like industrial symbiosis, circularity, and biomimicry, as well as the need for evidence-based accountability regarding sustainability in my organisation and community. I am better equipped to understand where the biggest impacts can be made, distil and articulate the small steps needed to move forward towards sustainability. This course has exposed me to the urgency, complexity, and significance of driving sustainability from multiple facets of environmental and social governance.