At the cornerstone of a United Nations Sustainable Development agenda that encompasses environment, gender, poverty, inequality, health and more, is a set of 17 goals. Released in 2015, these UN Sustainable Development Goals are intended to guide plans and processes of governments and private businesses.
Two years later, in 2017, an EU directive was announced requiring all public interest entities in the EU to report on the environmental and social impacts of their business models. In other territories around the globe, organisations and governments have largely agreed to make the UN’s guidelines their own, while not necessarily enshrining them in law.
In Australia, most companies have publicly stated that they are taking into account the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in order to help solve the most important global challenges of the day. However, research currently shows a gap between what they say and what they do.
Without the right tools to measure and prove that effective plans and processes have been put in place, both strategically and operationally, and without people who have the knowledge and skills to operate those tools, some businesses will languish as sustainable companies enjoy their many advantages.
On the flipside, individuals who have the knowledge to develop sustainable business models will find themselves in global demand as governments and organisations increasingly insist on using the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals as an essential ingredient in the recipe for success.
That’s why James Cook University’s (JCU) MBA Global weaves the UN Sustainable Development Goals into subjects throughout its curriculum.
“JCU aspires to develop graduates who have the knowledge, skills and disposition to succeed in a global workforce through our focus and commitment to the principles of sustainability, authentic learning experiences and global citizenship,” says Dr Josephine Pryce, Course Coordinator of the MBA Global.
“The MBA Global achieves this vision of economic and social accountability through the integration of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in its curriculum and learning opportunities.”
What are the UN Sustainable Development Goals?
A series of 17 goals that have the collective intention of ending poverty, protecting the planet and ensuring prosperity for all, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals cover a broad range of topic areas and include specific targets within each area for the next 15 years.
While the goals themselves are mighty, the UN also includes simple tips for individuals, such as saving electricity, stamping out bullying and buying only from companies and suppliers that prove their sustainable practices and do not harm the environment.
No single organisation or government department is ever going to solve these issues on its own. The UN is instead recognising and enlisting the help of collective behaviours in order to create healthier, happier and more peaceful communities.
Of course, businesses themselves benefit by becoming more sustainable in their own practices and more attractive to clients.
JCU’s MBA Global and the UN Sustainable Development Goals
Through a comprehensive case study that is used throughout the MBA Global program, students are introduced to the consideration and implementation of initiatives related to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, from a strategic and operational point of view.
“An overarching model case study, Cunningham Holdings, identifies the key UN Sustainable Development Goals and incorporates their intent,” Dr Pryce explains.
“This case study underpins every subject and presents a unique experiential environment for students to explore, understand, develop and practice sustainable, ethical and global initiatives.”
This provides a powerful theoretical and practical grounding in a broad set of analytical skills required to navigate the vital area of sustainability in business today. More importantly, it gives participants the tools with which they can measure the success of their sustainability efforts, meaning they can continue to monitor, fine-tune and build on the work they are doing in business or government.
“The alignment with the UN Sustainable Development Goals culminates in the capstone subject where opportunity is afforded to engage in an issue that relates to one of the 17 Goals,” Dr Pryce continues. “Each teaching period, the respective cohort of participants is brought together, either online or in one of JCU’s unique locations, to work collaboratively in addressing an issue relating to one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.”
Scenario-based learning of sustainability
While it is increasingly vital for those in business to have strong knowledge in the area of sustainability, the workplace itself is not always a safe environment in which to develop this expertise.
When real-world outcomes result from particular policies and processes, and when those outcomes are not as positive as the organisation might have hoped, the individual and business can be left feeling as though the entire exercise was simply not worth it. And even if the outcome is excellent, if the right framework is not in place to measure performance then benefits may not be recognised and continuous improvement becomes more difficult.
Instead, JCU’s MBA Global accelerates expertise by utilising scenario-based learning, providing feedback on consequences of all types of decisions around sustainability.
This allows participants to become familiar with effects and outcomes of various decisions but in a supported environment. That way, when it comes time to make those decisions in the business or government environment, they are armed with the knowledge to set and implement effective sustainability goals.
Best of all, when a business gets their sustainability goals right, it’s good for all of society. With sustainable practices and processes, the business likely sees a bottom line boost. It also experiences an increase in interest from talented individuals, thanks to its improved reputation.
The environment benefits as the company changes its own processes and chooses more sustainable suppliers. Society improves as better levels of equality, innovation, consumption and more lead to happier and healthier communities.
Finally, the individual with the expertise finds their career enhanced as employers-of-choice around the globe increasingly search for staff able to make sustainability strategies a reality. With strong sustainability goals, everybody wins.