Education for Sustainability

I t is not difficult to argue that education is vital in sustainability. From individuals’ behaviour choices to business decisions to government policy, lack of understanding or grasp of the complexity of the bigger picture has demonstrated its shortcomings. An ambition to innovate practical solutions that drive sustainability thinking into core business strategy would often start with education (and empowerment, and engagement).

A long late-summer-night discussion with a dear friend of mine, who has completed a two-year graduate programme in one of the top five US business schools, made me think about another aspect of education for sustainability:

What type of education is needed or suited for solving sustainability issues?

Actually, “solving” might be a wrong word choice as it comes from the same mindset of general and business education, focused on splitting knowledge into disciplines.  Conventional business education works with the model of combining rigorous expertise in one or several areas that would ultimately provide the right answer, the solution to the problem. This approach would probably work well for improving the energy efficiency of production unit or increasing the recycling rate of a plant.

However, the fundamental challenges that we are facing would require more than stitching together expert knowledge from different subjects using cutting-edge models. (One of the reasons why Einstein is over-quoted with his “You cannot solve a problem with the same mind that created it”).  I think we need to disrupt the business education that depletes the creative and cognitive capital into narrow highly specialised areas. Instead of constantly working in a fast-forward mode, focused on growth solutions, business leaders need to learn to pause, step back and reflect.  They need to be able to immerse in the reality of not-knowing, where the key is not finding the right answer or solution but rather to participate in a knowledge network of inquiry.

Action research easily comes to mind. I am not sure what a symbiosis of MBA with action research would be. Whether the linear business models would bend in the cycles of action and reflection, or whether learning by doing would suffice the bolstered business ambition. I am eagerly awaiting for a new tome on action research with reflections from the MSc in Responsibility & Business Practice at the University of Bath. It would be interesting to find more about their experience.

I would really like to see more education programmes that enable thinking in wide and interconnected ways…


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