By Andy Borchers

As a business school professor deeply concerned with environmental sustainability, I remain befuddled as to why many of my colleagues have been slow to bring sustainability to the classroom and their research.  Why are business schools so slow to address sustainability and, in particular, climate change?

Recent journal articles shed some light on this question.  Writing in 2011, Patenaude’s article “Climate Change Diffusion: While the World Tips, Business Schools Lag” identifies the influence business schools have on business leaders and identifies some likely causes of a delay in business scholarship on the subject.  These include corporate values and a lack of incentives to work in an interdisciplinary way.  More recently in 2014 Rickards examined the role of business and government SDMs (Senior Decision Makers) in responding to climate change.  Rickards found that many SDMs are so focused on their local context and immediate pressures that they do not look beyond a narrow perspective of “here and now”.  In 2016 Wright and Nyberg published a major study that shows the phases (framing, localizing and normalizing) firms go through as they get past “business as usual” and engage in working on climate change.

Why is this so important?  Business schools educate many of the leading executives of corporations and these organizations control a sizable part of the world economy.  Indeed, many large multinational corporations have revenue that exceeds the GDP of most nations.  Further, if one looks at a collection of 500 global firms one will find their C02 emissions match those of the US and the 15 largest European nations combined.  In essence, business leaders control many of the levers that drive and can be used to limit climate change.  Further, business schools serve the role of “drivers education” for business leaders in the formative years of their business careers.

Change is possible, but the diffusion of climate change thinking takes time. Business schools lag in this area and it is imperative that we move past “business as usual” and bring the challenge of climate change to our students and our scholarship. Faith based schools, such as the College of Business at Lipscomb, bear a special burden in this regard as we ponder the stewardship role God gave us over His creation.

  • Patenaude, G. (2011). Climate change diffusion: While the world tips, business schools lag. Global Environmental Change, 21(1), 259-271.
  • Rickards, L., Wiseman, J., & Kashima, Y. (2014). Barriers to effective climate change mitigation: the case of senior government and business decision makers. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 5(6), 753-773.
  • Wright, C., & Nyberg, D. (2016). An Inconvenient Truth: How Organizations Translate Climate Change into Business As Usual. Academy of Management Journal, amj-2015.

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