Business Schools: It is (beyond) time to talk seriously about climate.

Let’s start with some numbers — all business comes down to numbers. Earlier this month (October 2020), Calel, R., Chapman, S.C., Stainforth, D.A. et al. published a piece in Nature Communications titled Temperature variability implies greater economic damages from climate change. I’ll skip most of the article — you can read it here — but the message is this: ignoring climate change will cost the financial system trillions. $426 Trillion USD or more to be precise. As the journalist and author David Wallace-Wells put it on Twitter, that’s about twice the wealth in the world.

It’s not the environment versus the economy. It cannot be.

We are not talking about saving the bees here — we are talking about saving future generations of the human population. We are killing ourselves and ignoring that fact through uncontrolled consumerism. The planet? The planet will be fine. The planet will survive without us. Should we, as humans, pack it in? Not a chance.

Enough is enough. Corporations are almost solely responsible for climate change. 100 corporations have been responsible for >70% of greenhouse gases (GHGs), those nasty little molecules that are making our planet’s temperature rise much faster than any time period previously. It’s a scientific fact, illustrated by this scary graph, which is based off a study published in Nature (Neukom, R., Steiger, N., Gómez-Navarro, J.J. et al., 2019):

Graph that shows the speed at which global warming is taking place, increasing exponentially in the past few decades.This graph shows warming and cooling rates over the last 2,000 years. (University of Bern)

Wait — no. The leaders of those corporations are almost solely responsible for climate change. As business schools, you are supposed to be training the leaders of tomorrow. Based on anecdotal experience, you are doing nothing. Maybe it is because a lot of your funding comes from those corporations that are polluting (CBC, CFAP). Maybe it is because you do not know how to teach climate. Maybe it is because you think you are already doing enough – you are not.

Over this past few weeks, I have sat through various presentations, namely in a Business Strategy class, where climate is relegated to being a part of the last ‘E’ in the PESTEL analysis (Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental, Legal — some institutions use the PESTELE form, which includes an extra ‘E’ for ethical. That should be standard.). It says something to students that not only is it a small portion of a small analysis, it is one of the last elements of that. But frankly, I don’t care whether it’s the first ‘E’ or the second. Climate needs to be a part of every single class. In the past few weeks, no strategy groups have thought deeply about the impact their organization of choice has had on, or could have on climate change. This is a 400-level, ‘fourth’ year class — we need to do better — all of us. Faculty, students, and administrators. (And to my peers — your presentations have been fantastic. It is not your fault that the system you are in has woefully unprepared you to analyze said challenges. My group’s presentation barely touches on climate — my thoughts extend much further than this class-but feel free to question me about it next week, I’m prepared!)

Let’s try some (crude) examples:

Introduction to Business: How is climate change impacting businesses on a macro level?

Market(ing) Analysis: How are the populations of certain regions of the world going to change as individuals flee climate-torn areas? (Note: Climate Refugees are not only from the global south. They could, as this NY Times piece illustrates, be right in your backyard.)

Financial Markets: How do/are regulators accounting for environmental impacts? Is there a risk associated with investing in a company because of stranded assets, exposure to markets that will become non-existent, etc.? (Note: Climate Change Poses ‘Systemic Threat’ to the Economy, Big Investors Warn)

Operations/Supply Chain/Product Development: How can we look at our products to not only make them more sustainable in terms of inputs, but how we get them to our end customer? (Note: I’m a supply chain/international business student in Canada. It took me having to study abroad in Sweden to have any lecturers mention climate change in a supply chain logistics class).

Human Resources: How can we recruit people from war-torn, climate impacted areas? How do we deal with climate stress and mental well-being in our organization? How can we retain young people that are concerned about our climate impact, as touched on in this Guardian piece, and alluded to in this HBR article?

Better yet — mandate a class on it! Teach the science. Help students understand what to look for, and how to lead. Show students how globalization and free trade agreements have led to increased (and cheaper) consumerism, but also a greater exploitation of resources.

Life is changing fast these days — almost too fast it seems. Business schools always seem to advertise that they are leading the cusp of change, yet fail to educate the future leaders on tomorrow on what is arguably the biggest challenge in the world.

And look, I cannot say that I am not without faults either — I have definitely contributed my fair share to climate change, whether through the products I have bought, the services I have used (flights), or decisions I have made. Heck, I did a school-sanctioned internship that conflicted with my values at an oil company (*ahem, ENERGY company*). But we need to all, collectively, aim to be better. No matter the side of the aisle, the discipline, culture, religions — every single one of us can be better leaders, taught by our educational institutions.

Enough talking about how to make the most money. Let’s talk about how we can keep humankind alive for the next centuries, and how we can make it better for those that are already suffering. At the same time, let us change our teaching systems and curricula with the urgency that this climate crises requires. No single person, whether natural or corporate, is immune from the impacts of climate change.

The ‘future leaders’ that you are so concerned with educating are the ones that are (hopefully) going to be at the helm of corporations during a time of immense change, and it is your responsibility to prepare all of us for it, not just the select few who are privileged enough to have the resources to do it independently.

Not enough convincing? Why not look at this Business Because piece, or this AACSB piece which is fantastic. Hey, @Edwards School of Business, are we not AACSB accredited? We should take their advice.

Maybe it’s because I read a lot. Maybe it’s because I understand proactive policies (teaching) and reactive responses (policing) based on my family member’s occupations. Maybe it’s just because I think we can all be better, and that we should aspire to do so through education.