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Get Schooled in CSR

Published: Thursday, April 05, 2012

Closing the gap in post-secondary Sustainability and CSR education

The CSR profession is still in its infancy despite the concept having been around for years. Until recently, if it was practiced at all, responsibility for it fell under professionals trained in other areas. It's still this way in many companies. Part of the problem in advancing both the profession and its integration throughout organizations, is the lack of education to support CSR and sustainability. Universities, particularly at the undergraduate level, aren't doing enough to feed the appetite for qualified practitioners.

Fortunately, the next generation of future leaders is not one to sit idly by. Current students are taking matters into their own hands and are finding ways to educate themselves while pushing for changes to post-secondary curricula.

Slow to Change

Back in 2003, the majority of 1000 university students questioned in a GlobeScan survey believed that CSR should be taught more in the curriculum and many were interested to learn more about CSR regardless of their area of study. But after almost a decade, students are still clamoring for more CSR programming in university curricula. Why haven't schools been faster and more thorough in their response?

Firstly, there is a lack of qualified instructors. As the recent BCLC report The State of the Corporate Responsibility Profession pointed out, "training future leaders necessitates training today's educators". But only a few PhDs with a CSR-related focus graduate each year. There is also no consistency in content between schools. Where CSR-related content is offered at the undergraduate level, it is often in the form of a handful of electives offered only at the business school.

Also, many companies are still defining what CSR and sustainability should look like within their organizations. How can they recruit graduates with the right skills when they don't yet know what those skills should look like?

So what's a student eager for a CSR education to do?

Driving Change

Some students bring CSR programs to their school. At the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary, the undergraduate Corporate Social Responsibility in Sustainable Development program, is a student-initiated project that has been developed and delivered with faculty mentorship and support. It brings CSR practices into the curriculum and exposes all BComm students to the concepts of CSR and sustainability. It's a wonderful example of students leading the way and universities would do well to seek student input on curriculum changes. But ultimately, shouldn't responsibility for ensuring that a curriculum meets the needs of both graduates and employers fall to the institution?

The UN thinks so. Leading up to Rio+20, the UN has issued the Higher Education Sustainability Initiative which calls on higher education institutions to commit to the development of sustainable practices by signing a Declaration. In addition to engaging in and supporting sustainable development, participating schools commit to teaching sustainable development practices, "ensuring that they form a part of the core curriculum across all disciplines so that future higher education graduates develop skills necessary to enter sustainable development workforces and have an explicit understanding of how to achieve a society that values people, the planet and profits in a manner that respects the finite resource boundaries of the earth."

An accelerated response to this initiative should include partnerships with the business community. Business leaders need to step up and be involved in training the CSR leaders of tomorrow. Guest lecturers from the business community would go a long way toward closing the gap in CSR and sustainability education and their real-world experience would be a boon for eager students. Every faculty could benefit from introducing CSR and sustainability concepts in their curricula. There’s room for it everywhere.

Change for the Better

Young people want to work for companies who are committed to a sustainable future. Corporations that demonstrate a strong commitment to responsible practices will have an edge as employers-of-choice for top talent.

And with consumers nipping at corporate heels, demanding change, it will become imperative to equip all employees with the skills and tools they need to advance CSR and sustainability practices. Current students, the very people who will be driving these practices forward in the future, are eager to both learn and practice CSR and sustainability principles.

Who do you think are the institutional leaders out there? What can others learn from them? Tell us about it in the comments!

Image via Flickr user Mays Business School