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July-August 2010


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A New Generation of Business Leaders

Students are increasingly blending social awareness and social entrepreneurship.

Business schools may attract more students if they offer more courses on corporate responsibility and environmentally friendly business practices.

More than 80% of undergraduate students surveyed jointly by nonprofits Net Impact and the Aspen Institute said that they want more sustainability and corporate responsibility material in their curricula. Only 23% said they were satisfied with the quantity of material that their schools currently offer.

“Students in college today are pretty aware of environmental issues in a way that my generation was not,” says Amanda Nicholson, an assistant professor of retail management at Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management. “They grew up with recycling bins outside their dorm rooms. They’re already believers.”

Nicholson led a group of students in a Converting Organic Waste project. The students built a septic system that breaks down food waste from the dining hall into biogas and fertilizer; the biogas powers the tank system, and the fertilizer can be bagged and sold commercially.

Not only does the project benefit the environment, according to Nicholson, but it also makes great business sense in that it cuts costs while also making marketable products.

The Whitman School offers a Certificate of Advanced Studies in Sustainable Enterprise, which students earn by completing five courses in the challenges facing businesses that strive to practice social and environmental responsibility.

The school also partners with the State University of New York to teach a course called “Managing Sustainability,” which explores sustainable enterprise. Syracuse and SUNY faculty jointly teach it, and students from schools in both universities enroll in it.

“Ethics and environmental sustainability — those two things seem to come up in every class now across the board,” Nicholson says.

Whitman law and public policy professor Eletta Callahan sees the trend echoing in college campus administrations. Colleges are measuring their own carbon footprints, for example, and reducing their buildings’ emissions.

“Attention to sustainability has become an expectation in colleges,” says Callahan.

However, college curricula have been slower to adopt the sustainability ethos, as course material is much harder to change than campus administrative policies. But if student populations have their way, course content, too, may change over time, Callahan concludes. — Rick Docksai

Sources: Amanda Nicholson and Eletta Callahan, Syracuse University, www.syr.edu.

Net Impact, www.netimpact.org.


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