Nurturing the power to make a difference with cases

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Business schools are increasingly called upon to provide education in sustainability and ethics. We explore how they are responding and the role cases can play.

Grasping the context

More than ever before, becoming a successful manager or leader entails thinking about business impact in relation to sustainability. They need to grasp the greater, interconnected, context, across and beyond the activity of their business, and for all stakeholders. This complexity is reflected in growing expectations on business schools about what their students should be learning.

Small trees growing in a garden

“Since the global financial crisis, accreditation bodies have intensively introduced business ethics, corporate social responsibility, and sustainability into their evaluation criteria,” observes Andreas Kaplan at ESCP Business School. “However, in my experience, it is the students who are truly the driving force behind this change. Once you start ‘going green’, it is impossible to turn back; students will continuously challenge you to ‘go even greener’. When we first introduced elective courses on sustainability, students soon asked for entire specialisations on this topic, then for entire study programmes dedicated to sustainability,” he reports. 

A supercharge to this pedagogical imperative came in 2015, when the United Nations (UN) General Assembly defined its ambitious 17, interlinked, global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) designed to become a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all people and the world by 2030”. The 17 SDGs emphasised the interconnected environmental, social and economic aspects of development, and brought massive implications for business worldwide. Learning to think about the fully interwoven impact of commercial activity was now an essential component of management education. Sustainability has found its way into ever more school mission statements and programmes. At INSEAD, Katell Le Goulven explains: “Here, at the Hoffmann Institute, we work to better align business education with the 17 UN SDGs. This reflects the school’s strong commitment to nurture the potential for business to be a transformational force for good.”

Business of everyone

Over the years, business ethics was handled at many schools as a niche area, or add-on to teaching business theory and skills, usually finding expression in elective courses rather than as part of the core curriculum. Today’s strategic planning by school leaders and faculty includes these areas, almost by default. Front and centre of these trends is a commitment by schools to prepare students in ethical and sustainable thinking - and practice - ready for the global context they will spend their future lives working in. Business schools have always aspired to students going on to ‘make a difference’; now, they strive to equip them to make ‘a sustainable’ difference.

Those agencies who professionally evaluate and accredit business schools have underlined this ambition by including in their criteria evidence of an underlying strategic framework as well as what is achieved in terms of sustainability: “A school ... needs to pick a strategy, build activities around it, and demonstrate the results …we really want to see that a school has set clear goals to achieve objective, legitimate, and meaningful impact,” writes Stephanie Bryant at AACSB.

The pedagogical challenge includes finding the right balance between courses addressing sustainability issues for particular business scenarios, and embedding and integrating such thinking throughout the whole programme content. “Sustainability is becoming the ‘business of everyone’, rather than the remit of a few specialists, including in management education,” says Katell Le Goulven. “Mapping out how content, materials, and courses relate to sustainability can create new conversations among faculty, and between their different areas,” she observes.

After business school

For many students, the tangible prize of investing in a high quality business school education is the subsequent opportunity to access an interesting and career-accelerating role at a top employer. Such recruiters have been integrating sustainability thinking and practices into their very being, much like the business schools. The marketplace for top talent is competitive and companies need to attract the students they want. Typically for the consulting sector, and a leading destination of top business students, Accenture now highlights its sustainability proposition: “We are working to embed sustainability into everything we do, with everyone we work with, to create business value and sustainable impact”.

Sustainable development and innovation green business concept

According to Carolyn Miles at the UVA Darden School of Business, “Companies need business school hires with the right thinking and skills - every large American firm now has a chief sustainability officer, and managers throughout the organisation also need these skills and thinking. Students are actively deciding where they might work and want to know the sustainability credentials of a prospective employer, or they won’t apply.”

“We see the marketplace changing,” concurs Rob Klassen at Ivey Business School. “Recruiters want awareness of sustainability and more. Graduates previously had a basic grounding in environmental and social aspects around business. Today, whether recruits will work in finance, human resources, marketing, production or supply chains, companies want them fully conversant with the critical ethical and sustainability issues, and able to think and act holistically. And these more rounded roles will attract the good students.” Rob Klassen reports that Ivey Business School’s recently updated strategy includes new ‘Purpose, Mission, and Values’: “Our purpose now is explicitly ‘Inspiring leaders for a sustainable and prosperous world.’.  As a result, our collective expectations focus on sustainability as a key part of our programs to develop business leaders.” 

Opportunity of cases

Can such complex thinking even be ‘taught’, and how? Those instructors we interviewed identified the learning opportunities that cases offer the field. Discussing sustainability inevitably involves layers of ambiguity, conflicting interests, seemingly incompatible perspectives, and few easy ‘right’ answers. The cultural background of participants can affect how they respond. With such complex and often sensitive ethical issues at stake, the case discussion can be an effective - and importantly a ‘safe’ - setting for instructors to facilitate such group explorations.

“While a traditional lecture imparts information, cases get students to think more widely and consider additional real world factors,” observes Rob Klassen. “They enable the analysis of how different stakeholders might be affected, or react, and they allow for a multi-dimensional take on problems. Issues can be seen in more integrated ways. We have experimented with co-teaching, by bringing in a sustainability colleague to teach alongside the main subject area faculty, and this expression of contrasting perspectives has led to some really powerful class sessions.” He continues, “Young people are very sensitised to sustainability issues but may not grasp the underlying business complexity - such as simply whether a business is investable. Writing a recent case - Flashfood: Reducing Food Waste and Feeding Families - on food wastage and feeding families affordably, I made sure to plan for the points of view of diverse stakeholders to emerge alongside covering the necessary business objectives and theory.”

Teaching sustainability thinking still usually involves explorations rather than tried and tested theory, as Carolyn Miles points out: “The field of sustainability and especially how it relates to business, is evolving so fast, there are no hard and fast paradigms to work from yet. Trying to put together a corporate sustainability strategy can throw up lots of issues at odds with one another, and objectives are not always going to be aligned in the real world. One of the key challenges for an instructor is getting students to think through how they might evaluate the importance of conflicting interests and to evolve balanced solutions. A case class can provide the flexibility to do this. The experience of participants who have already worked in diverse organisations confronting such issues adds greatly to the class discussion and, as an instructor, I frequently learn from their interventions.”

At Rotterdam School of Management (RSM) Tao Yue has also observed how faculty are learning from their students. “Some traditional cases have very ‘contained’ problems at their heart and deal with short term decisions. Cases in sustainability need to be realistic and dilemmas considered in a broader and longer term perspective. The discussion needs to question any ‘solution’ in terms of whether it will hold, and for whom. We want to help participants develop out of their experience towards a holistic and longer term way of thinking, and give them a tangible approach as a takeaway,” she says.

At INSEAD, Pierre Chandon regularly uses cases to teach senior executives topics around ethics and sustainability. “CEOs are getting pressure from their shareholders and they are looking for help. Companies are increasingly judged on their sustainability performance, and corporate leaders may not feel up-to-date in approaching the issues,” he observes. “One benefit of cases is that the discussion can integrate the considerable experience such senior executives bring with them to class. They attend with the aim of learning from best practice, but cases that involve failure can also be highly instructive, offering the opportunity to explore what alternatives there could have been. Field researched cases, in which real companies have collaborated, are particularly interesting for negotiating these often contentious and complex issues.”

 

PAGE 2 

Finding a case

Sustainability as a topic has evolved so fast and most of those we interviewed agreed that there is a shortage of suitable cases to teach with. Trying to find a relevant case easily becomes a key-word lottery in a library search, not least because it can be difficult to adequately categorise a case. In response, case collections have begun the process of widening search possibilities. Ivey Publishing, for example, has begun by tagging 150 cases with specific UN SDGs. Meanwhile, several schools we spoke to are setting ambitious targets for their faculty to produce new cases and to update existing cases and teaching notes to respond to the new curriculum requirements. The Case Centre also offers a tagging facility for cases that cover SDGs topics.

Sustainable Development Goals in a forest with a globe

Case Awards and Competitions can be helpful places to seek recognition and publicity for cases. Most such initiatives now include sections or sub-competitions aimed specifically at attracting entries on sustainability, and ethical topics. Searching out winning cases can be a good place for instructors to look for quality materials. Other initiatives are springing up too. The UK Financial Times made its inaugural Responsible Business Education Awards in 2022. The Awards included a showcase of the best recent teaching cases on climate change and sustainability. The shortlist and winners were selected by a group of senior representatives of the private, public and non-profit sectors alongside FT journalists.

Cases

At the UVA Darden School of Business, Michael Lenox has helped steer the school’s strategic direction in recent years. “We have a long history of providing our students with opportunities to learn about business ethics and sustainability and our MBA core ethics course has existed for more than 50 years.” Stakeholder thinking underpins conversations about sustainability, and Darden’s R Edward Freeman is known for his groundbreaking work on business ethics and stakeholder theory, notably his book Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach (Cambridge 2010), originally published in 1984. “Our teaching philosophy has always had cases at its core and case discussion forces participants to think more broadly about any business decision,” says Michael Lenox. “We have embarked on an ambitious new initiative to increase the number of new cases, and courses in the area of ethics and sustainability. The case method creates unique opportunities to achieve learning objectives across the curriculum, while at the same time exposing students to the importance of sustainability and values.”

At RSM, Tao Yue has been involved in developing a school case series, and other materials such as videos, around sustainability. The series consciously encompasses many sectors and regions of the world. In further recognition of the global significance of the issue, the school is offering instructors worldwide royalty-free use of these cases. She explains: “Ethics and sustainability issues have long been important at the school; RSM had a Business in Society department from 1998. But in 2017, acknowledging the importance of the UN SDGs, we decided to go further, including redefining our mission as ‘a force for positive change in the world’. This has had an impact right across the school on research agendas, the development of new cases, publications in our RSM Positive Change Series, and the curriculum.” These initiatives have been informed and inspired by the work and engagement over many years in the area of corporate social responsibility of RSM faculty member Rob van Tulder, himself a case author, who acknowledges the energising and facilitating role played by the UN SDGs in the renewal of the school’s mission, and has created a concrete strategic framework that companies can apply if they (too) seek to take seriously the SDGs.

Sustainable cases?

But, do you always need a brand new case? Many of those we spoke to felt that the inherent flexibility of great cases gives instructors the possibility to adapt them for relevant sustainability issues. Pierre Chandon continues to develop new marketing cases and courses that incorporate fundamental ethical and sustainable elements. But he also advocates the use of tried and tested cases in an expanded way; building them into new courses to encompass such thinking, can be a viable, even inevitable, option. “As faculty, we have to integrate the critical issues into our own area’s teaching because they have become too important to exist detached, just in an ethics elective. Even when you use a really good older case, what becomes interesting is how the discussion is changing to reflect new societal norms. For example, these days, when I teach my case L’Oréal in China the discussion has evolved beyond whether the particular type of beauty of a model is the right fit for the brand, to a broader consideration of the ethics of photoshopping. Now the discussion is more nuanced because peoples’ attitudes have changed and this can bring a new focus to almost any case.” Pierre Chandon recognises the challenge of teaching someone else’s case, especially when adapting content to respond to fast moving class and societal expectations. To assist other educators, he makes available supplementary materials, including online videos of himself teaching his cases in class at INSEAD.

Fingers holding wooden cube with sustainability, environment, green economy, renewable energy, CO2 emission and recycle icon

In general, all case authors are now encouraged to regularly update their teaching notes to enable a wider and more flexible (e.g. hybrid teaching) use, and The Case Centre now has this ongoing updating facility in place accessible through its online case submission process.

Walking the talk

We have perused in this article an astonishing breadth of commitment, creativity and generosity occurring at business schools across the world, aimed ultimately at supporting students to make strong future ethical and sustainability contributions, and those of existing corporate executives too. For such initiatives to flourish, schools also need to consider their own context and commitment to sustainability.

Andreas Kaplan comments: “Beyond course and programme content, higher education institutions will be held accountable and asked to ‘practice what they teach’. This means implementing ethical and sustainable initiatives, including developing eco-friendlier campuses. I can confirm from experience that some parts of truly walking the talk will be easier than others. Introducing recycling on campus is relatively simple, whereas, for example, offering more sustainable campus food options, such as removing beef, or all meat, will create heated discussion and some discontent. But, it is at exactly these moments that school administrations must take a strong stand and make the powerful choices that uphold the credibility of everything else we do, especially in the classroom.”

The Darden School has also pursued an ambitious programme to harmonise ‘how we live, learn and teach’. Michael Lenox reports: “We set strategic goals for our own sustainability and in 2019 became net zero. This included working with our local utility provider for our campus to become 100% solar powered. Now we are moving to eliminating targeted Scope 3 carbon emissions by 2030. We try to emphasise, and actively demonstrate, to our students that good leadership needs to be purpose driven and is ultimately about values.” He explains: “Teaching ethics and embedding it across the school helps people understand what they personally bring to the table in terms of their own values. It is a natural transition to broaden out this thinking to sustainability, and cases help students grasp how every decision always has further implications. In the end however, it is not for me to tell others what their values should be. The important part of the process is to recognise values and how they impact action.”

Everywhere one looks, schools are looking to develop their students’ awareness and abilities to evaluate holistically, act purposefully, and give business the tools to work for the good of the world. It’s an unpractised challenge, underpinned by a sense of urgency, responsibility and opportunity. As Katell Le Goulven puts it: “With sustainability, we are all on a learning journey; not perfect yet, but definitely moving in the right direction.”

This article was published in Connect, July 2022.

Picture representing 'Business ethics: Greta Thunberg challenges young people'
Business ethics: Greta Thunberg challenges young people

Glastonbury Festival, 24 June 2022, audience of thousands, and millions watching worldwide.

Greta criticised world leaders for "creating loopholes" to protect firms whose emissions cause climate change. "That is a moral decision ... that will put the entire living planet at risk". But she ended on a message of hope, telling festival-goers they had the power to make a difference.”

Business ethics: Greta Thunberg challenges young people

Glastonbury Festival, 24 June 2022, audience of thousands, and millions watching worldwide.

Greta criticised world leaders for "creating loopholes" to protect firms whose emissions cause climate change. "That is a moral decision ... that will put the entire living planet at risk". But she ended on a message of hope, telling festival-goers they had the power to make a difference.”

Page 1

Grasping the context

More than ever before, becoming a successful manager or leader entails thinking about business impact in relation to sustainability. They need to grasp the greater, interconnected, context, across and beyond the activity of their business, and for all stakeholders. This complexity is reflected in growing expectations on business schools about what their students should be learning.

Small trees growing in a garden

“Since the global financial crisis, accreditation bodies have intensively introduced business ethics, corporate social responsibility, and sustainability into their evaluation criteria,” observes Andreas Kaplan at ESCP Business School. “However, in my experience, it is the students who are truly the driving force behind this change. Once you start ‘going green’, it is impossible to turn back; students will continuously challenge you to ‘go even greener’. When we first introduced elective courses on sustainability, students soon asked for entire specialisations on this topic, then for entire study programmes dedicated to sustainability,” he reports. 

A supercharge to this pedagogical imperative came in 2015, when the United Nations (UN) General Assembly defined its ambitious 17, interlinked, global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) designed to become a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all people and the world by 2030”. The 17 SDGs emphasised the interconnected environmental, social and economic aspects of development, and brought massive implications for business worldwide. Learning to think about the fully interwoven impact of commercial activity was now an essential component of management education. Sustainability has found its way into ever more school mission statements and programmes. At INSEAD, Katell Le Goulven explains: “Here, at the Hoffmann Institute, we work to better align business education with the 17 UN SDGs. This reflects the school’s strong commitment to nurture the potential for business to be a transformational force for good.”

Business of everyone

Over the years, business ethics was handled at many schools as a niche area, or add-on to teaching business theory and skills, usually finding expression in elective courses rather than as part of the core curriculum. Today’s strategic planning by school leaders and faculty includes these areas, almost by default. Front and centre of these trends is a commitment by schools to prepare students in ethical and sustainable thinking - and practice - ready for the global context they will spend their future lives working in. Business schools have always aspired to students going on to ‘make a difference’; now, they strive to equip them to make ‘a sustainable’ difference.

Those agencies who professionally evaluate and accredit business schools have underlined this ambition by including in their criteria evidence of an underlying strategic framework as well as what is achieved in terms of sustainability: “A school ... needs to pick a strategy, build activities around it, and demonstrate the results …we really want to see that a school has set clear goals to achieve objective, legitimate, and meaningful impact,” writes Stephanie Bryant at AACSB.

The pedagogical challenge includes finding the right balance between courses addressing sustainability issues for particular business scenarios, and embedding and integrating such thinking throughout the whole programme content. “Sustainability is becoming the ‘business of everyone’, rather than the remit of a few specialists, including in management education,” says Katell Le Goulven. “Mapping out how content, materials, and courses relate to sustainability can create new conversations among faculty, and between their different areas,” she observes.

After business school

For many students, the tangible prize of investing in a high quality business school education is the subsequent opportunity to access an interesting and career-accelerating role at a top employer. Such recruiters have been integrating sustainability thinking and practices into their very being, much like the business schools. The marketplace for top talent is competitive and companies need to attract the students they want. Typically for the consulting sector, and a leading destination of top business students, Accenture now highlights its sustainability proposition: “We are working to embed sustainability into everything we do, with everyone we work with, to create business value and sustainable impact”.

Sustainable development and innovation green business concept

According to Carolyn Miles at the UVA Darden School of Business, “Companies need business school hires with the right thinking and skills - every large American firm now has a chief sustainability officer, and managers throughout the organisation also need these skills and thinking. Students are actively deciding where they might work and want to know the sustainability credentials of a prospective employer, or they won’t apply.”

“We see the marketplace changing,” concurs Rob Klassen at Ivey Business School. “Recruiters want awareness of sustainability and more. Graduates previously had a basic grounding in environmental and social aspects around business. Today, whether recruits will work in finance, human resources, marketing, production or supply chains, companies want them fully conversant with the critical ethical and sustainability issues, and able to think and act holistically. And these more rounded roles will attract the good students.” Rob Klassen reports that Ivey Business School’s recently updated strategy includes new ‘Purpose, Mission, and Values’: “Our purpose now is explicitly ‘Inspiring leaders for a sustainable and prosperous world.’.  As a result, our collective expectations focus on sustainability as a key part of our programs to develop business leaders.” 

Opportunity of cases

Can such complex thinking even be ‘taught’, and how? Those instructors we interviewed identified the learning opportunities that cases offer the field. Discussing sustainability inevitably involves layers of ambiguity, conflicting interests, seemingly incompatible perspectives, and few easy ‘right’ answers. The cultural background of participants can affect how they respond. With such complex and often sensitive ethical issues at stake, the case discussion can be an effective - and importantly a ‘safe’ - setting for instructors to facilitate such group explorations.

“While a traditional lecture imparts information, cases get students to think more widely and consider additional real world factors,” observes Rob Klassen. “They enable the analysis of how different stakeholders might be affected, or react, and they allow for a multi-dimensional take on problems. Issues can be seen in more integrated ways. We have experimented with co-teaching, by bringing in a sustainability colleague to teach alongside the main subject area faculty, and this expression of contrasting perspectives has led to some really powerful class sessions.” He continues, “Young people are very sensitised to sustainability issues but may not grasp the underlying business complexity - such as simply whether a business is investable. Writing a recent case - Flashfood: Reducing Food Waste and Feeding Families - on food wastage and feeding families affordably, I made sure to plan for the points of view of diverse stakeholders to emerge alongside covering the necessary business objectives and theory.”

Teaching sustainability thinking still usually involves explorations rather than tried and tested theory, as Carolyn Miles points out: “The field of sustainability and especially how it relates to business, is evolving so fast, there are no hard and fast paradigms to work from yet. Trying to put together a corporate sustainability strategy can throw up lots of issues at odds with one another, and objectives are not always going to be aligned in the real world. One of the key challenges for an instructor is getting students to think through how they might evaluate the importance of conflicting interests and to evolve balanced solutions. A case class can provide the flexibility to do this. The experience of participants who have already worked in diverse organisations confronting such issues adds greatly to the class discussion and, as an instructor, I frequently learn from their interventions.”

At Rotterdam School of Management (RSM) Tao Yue has also observed how faculty are learning from their students. “Some traditional cases have very ‘contained’ problems at their heart and deal with short term decisions. Cases in sustainability need to be realistic and dilemmas considered in a broader and longer term perspective. The discussion needs to question any ‘solution’ in terms of whether it will hold, and for whom. We want to help participants develop out of their experience towards a holistic and longer term way of thinking, and give them a tangible approach as a takeaway,” she says.

At INSEAD, Pierre Chandon regularly uses cases to teach senior executives topics around ethics and sustainability. “CEOs are getting pressure from their shareholders and they are looking for help. Companies are increasingly judged on their sustainability performance, and corporate leaders may not feel up-to-date in approaching the issues,” he observes. “One benefit of cases is that the discussion can integrate the considerable experience such senior executives bring with them to class. They attend with the aim of learning from best practice, but cases that involve failure can also be highly instructive, offering the opportunity to explore what alternatives there could have been. Field researched cases, in which real companies have collaborated, are particularly interesting for negotiating these often contentious and complex issues.”

 

PAGE 2 

Page 2

Finding a case

Sustainability as a topic has evolved so fast and most of those we interviewed agreed that there is a shortage of suitable cases to teach with. Trying to find a relevant case easily becomes a key-word lottery in a library search, not least because it can be difficult to adequately categorise a case. In response, case collections have begun the process of widening search possibilities. Ivey Publishing, for example, has begun by tagging 150 cases with specific UN SDGs. Meanwhile, several schools we spoke to are setting ambitious targets for their faculty to produce new cases and to update existing cases and teaching notes to respond to the new curriculum requirements. The Case Centre also offers a tagging facility for cases that cover SDGs topics.

Sustainable Development Goals in a forest with a globe

Case Awards and Competitions can be helpful places to seek recognition and publicity for cases. Most such initiatives now include sections or sub-competitions aimed specifically at attracting entries on sustainability, and ethical topics. Searching out winning cases can be a good place for instructors to look for quality materials. Other initiatives are springing up too. The UK Financial Times made its inaugural Responsible Business Education Awards in 2022. The Awards included a showcase of the best recent teaching cases on climate change and sustainability. The shortlist and winners were selected by a group of senior representatives of the private, public and non-profit sectors alongside FT journalists.

Cases

At the UVA Darden School of Business, Michael Lenox has helped steer the school’s strategic direction in recent years. “We have a long history of providing our students with opportunities to learn about business ethics and sustainability and our MBA core ethics course has existed for more than 50 years.” Stakeholder thinking underpins conversations about sustainability, and Darden’s R Edward Freeman is known for his groundbreaking work on business ethics and stakeholder theory, notably his book Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach (Cambridge 2010), originally published in 1984. “Our teaching philosophy has always had cases at its core and case discussion forces participants to think more broadly about any business decision,” says Michael Lenox. “We have embarked on an ambitious new initiative to increase the number of new cases, and courses in the area of ethics and sustainability. The case method creates unique opportunities to achieve learning objectives across the curriculum, while at the same time exposing students to the importance of sustainability and values.”

At RSM, Tao Yue has been involved in developing a school case series, and other materials such as videos, around sustainability. The series consciously encompasses many sectors and regions of the world. In further recognition of the global significance of the issue, the school is offering instructors worldwide royalty-free use of these cases. She explains: “Ethics and sustainability issues have long been important at the school; RSM had a Business in Society department from 1998. But in 2017, acknowledging the importance of the UN SDGs, we decided to go further, including redefining our mission as ‘a force for positive change in the world’. This has had an impact right across the school on research agendas, the development of new cases, publications in our RSM Positive Change Series, and the curriculum.” These initiatives have been informed and inspired by the work and engagement over many years in the area of corporate social responsibility of RSM faculty member Rob van Tulder, himself a case author, who acknowledges the energising and facilitating role played by the UN SDGs in the renewal of the school’s mission, and has created a concrete strategic framework that companies can apply if they (too) seek to take seriously the SDGs.

Sustainable cases?

But, do you always need a brand new case? Many of those we spoke to felt that the inherent flexibility of great cases gives instructors the possibility to adapt them for relevant sustainability issues. Pierre Chandon continues to develop new marketing cases and courses that incorporate fundamental ethical and sustainable elements. But he also advocates the use of tried and tested cases in an expanded way; building them into new courses to encompass such thinking, can be a viable, even inevitable, option. “As faculty, we have to integrate the critical issues into our own area’s teaching because they have become too important to exist detached, just in an ethics elective. Even when you use a really good older case, what becomes interesting is how the discussion is changing to reflect new societal norms. For example, these days, when I teach my case L’Oréal in China the discussion has evolved beyond whether the particular type of beauty of a model is the right fit for the brand, to a broader consideration of the ethics of photoshopping. Now the discussion is more nuanced because peoples’ attitudes have changed and this can bring a new focus to almost any case.” Pierre Chandon recognises the challenge of teaching someone else’s case, especially when adapting content to respond to fast moving class and societal expectations. To assist other educators, he makes available supplementary materials, including online videos of himself teaching his cases in class at INSEAD.

Fingers holding wooden cube with sustainability, environment, green economy, renewable energy, CO2 emission and recycle icon

In general, all case authors are now encouraged to regularly update their teaching notes to enable a wider and more flexible (e.g. hybrid teaching) use, and The Case Centre now has this ongoing updating facility in place accessible through its online case submission process.

Walking the talk

We have perused in this article an astonishing breadth of commitment, creativity and generosity occurring at business schools across the world, aimed ultimately at supporting students to make strong future ethical and sustainability contributions, and those of existing corporate executives too. For such initiatives to flourish, schools also need to consider their own context and commitment to sustainability.

Andreas Kaplan comments: “Beyond course and programme content, higher education institutions will be held accountable and asked to ‘practice what they teach’. This means implementing ethical and sustainable initiatives, including developing eco-friendlier campuses. I can confirm from experience that some parts of truly walking the talk will be easier than others. Introducing recycling on campus is relatively simple, whereas, for example, offering more sustainable campus food options, such as removing beef, or all meat, will create heated discussion and some discontent. But, it is at exactly these moments that school administrations must take a strong stand and make the powerful choices that uphold the credibility of everything else we do, especially in the classroom.”

The Darden School has also pursued an ambitious programme to harmonise ‘how we live, learn and teach’. Michael Lenox reports: “We set strategic goals for our own sustainability and in 2019 became net zero. This included working with our local utility provider for our campus to become 100% solar powered. Now we are moving to eliminating targeted Scope 3 carbon emissions by 2030. We try to emphasise, and actively demonstrate, to our students that good leadership needs to be purpose driven and is ultimately about values.” He explains: “Teaching ethics and embedding it across the school helps people understand what they personally bring to the table in terms of their own values. It is a natural transition to broaden out this thinking to sustainability, and cases help students grasp how every decision always has further implications. In the end however, it is not for me to tell others what their values should be. The important part of the process is to recognise values and how they impact action.”

Everywhere one looks, schools are looking to develop their students’ awareness and abilities to evaluate holistically, act purposefully, and give business the tools to work for the good of the world. It’s an unpractised challenge, underpinned by a sense of urgency, responsibility and opportunity. As Katell Le Goulven puts it: “With sustainability, we are all on a learning journey; not perfect yet, but definitely moving in the right direction.”

This article was published in Connect, July 2022.

Picture representing 'Business ethics: Greta Thunberg challenges young people'
Business ethics: Greta Thunberg challenges young people

Glastonbury Festival, 24 June 2022, audience of thousands, and millions watching worldwide.

Greta criticised world leaders for "creating loopholes" to protect firms whose emissions cause climate change. "That is a moral decision ... that will put the entire living planet at risk". But she ended on a message of hope, telling festival-goers they had the power to make a difference.”

Business ethics: Greta Thunberg challenges young people

Glastonbury Festival, 24 June 2022, audience of thousands, and millions watching worldwide.

Greta criticised world leaders for "creating loopholes" to protect firms whose emissions cause climate change. "That is a moral decision ... that will put the entire living planet at risk". But she ended on a message of hope, telling festival-goers they had the power to make a difference.”

Contributing insights

Andreas Kaplan
Professor of Marketing; Dean and Rector aD
Carolyn Miles
Special Advisor and Executive Fellow
Katell Le Goulven
Executive Director of the Hoffmann Global Institute for Business and Society
Michael Lenox
Tayloe Murphy Professor of Business Administration, Senior Associate Dean and Chief Strategy Officer
Pierre Chandon
The L'Oréal Chaired Professor of Marketing - Innovation and Creativity
Rob Klassen
Professor of Operations Management
Back to the future with ethics and cases at Harvard Business School
A guide to case teaching

In this introductory guide to teaching with cases we ask why teach with cases, explore how to preparing for case teaching, and introduce some tools and techniques. 

Picture representing 'A guide to case teaching'
Picture representing 'A guide to case teaching'
A guide to case teaching

In this introductory guide to teaching with cases we ask why teach with cases, explore how to preparing for case teaching, and introduce some tools and techniques. 

Discover more