The benefits of learning about Social and Environmental Sustainability

24 May 2024

Full-time MBA participant Xiaofei Song discusses the importance of learning about social and environmental sustainability and her commitment to leading the way to sustainability in her career.

Why is learning about social and environmental sustainability important to you?

There is no doubt that social and environmental sustainability is extremely important for businesses nowadays, and new regulations and standards are expected in the next five years[1].    With that said, now is the right time to learn about SES to better equip ourselves for our future career.

I would say that learning SES is indeed a blessing. On a high level, it helps me to formulate the right mindset that sustainability is not just a slogan or vanity project to pursue. Rather, it is a must and this fact is something I resonate with deeply.

Growing up as a millennial in China, I experienced and witnessed the enormous constant domestic development, with GDP increasing by two digits yearly in the 2000s. Meanwhile, side effects from different levels occurred. There are boundaries in pursuing financial growth. Growth or development is supposed to be measured in different dimensions and considered from different angles to better manage risks.

As well as understanding from a mindset level, useful tools such as the ESG Industry Materiality Map and ESG ratings for individual companies were delivered and touched upon during the learning journey. For me, those tools are like an anchor to help make sense of what sustainability really means from a practical level, and how it could potentially be used to maximise ESG opportunities.

How is social and environmental sustainability embedded within your MBA?

Social and Environmental Sustainability is embedded extensively and intensively within my Full-time MBA course in multiple modules. Just taking two examples for instance, a group assignment on this topic allowed team members to explore real industry practices through the lens of Operation Management.

It was equally interesting and thought-provoking learning about ethics and sustainability in Leadership in terms of how to do the right thing, especially when this is an ethical dilemma.

On top of that, a real highlight for me was the opportunity to study an International Elective module on Conscious Capitalism in Portugal for a week, which was a truly inspiring experience. I gained a holistic understanding of where we are, the contradictions, paradoxes, and some useful frameworks and tools, alongside fun and inspiring company visits. 

What are your key social and environmental sustainability-based takeaways so far?

The benefit and necessity of sustainability are needless to say nowadays. I aim to keep myself reminded of the below personal takeaways if there is a need to assess, interpret, or to initiate change towards sustainability.

Uncertainty: We don’t know what’s really happening around sustainability - we still need time to explore while doing things, and it is constantly evolving. Knowing there will be uncertainties, leaders need to initiate change and take a leap forward to incorporate it into strategy with some flexibilities under the frame, so that a real transition can be realised in the long term.

Be critical: While sustainability is a business opportunity, do not blindly accept the data. Sustainability data is not regulated currently, so it is equally important to ask the right questions such as the methodology and framework applied, and then make the right judgement.

How will your experience with social and environmental sustainability help you in your future career?

Understanding the tangible and non-tangible parts of SES has been planted as a seed for me now. I believe my future career will benefit when the mindsets, frameworks, and tools learned in the course meet a real business case when sustainability could play a part.

As someone working in drug regulatory affairs, I see myself potentially playing a role in translating sustainability into strategy or the other way around, even though specific pharmaceutical sustainability regulations have not been put into place yet. Nevertheless, I really look forward to seeing how sustainability will evolve in the near future.

[1] Cited from Professor Rodrigo Tavares' slide shared on 13 April 2024 at Nova.