Sustainable model adds new shades of green to business outlook
March 14, 2017   //   By:   //   Achievements, Campus and Community

It’s no longer business as usual.

Though the bottom line is still green, we’re not talking dollars.

Business now and moving forward is about global sustainability. Consumers are more aware than ever about responsible business practices, environmental impact and natural resource management. Increasingly, they put their money where they see accountability.

Today’s commerce is focused on a “triple ‘P’ bottom line – profit, people, planet,” said Hossein Varamini, the Elizabethtown College Turnbull-Jamieson Professor of Finance and International Business.  Varamini recently spent a sabbatical semester learning how to better inform his students about the forward-facing business mindset of sustainability.

This past fall, Varamini attended the Cambridge (U.K.) Institute for Sustainability Leadership, where, he said, he participated in workshops, field trips, and presentations and “met faculty members, business leaders and consultants from throughout Europe and the United States.” The workshops were taught by professionals with extensive experience in various fields of sustainability. “They were practitioners in the trenches.”

After attending the Institute, Varamini spent time at the Cambridge Judge Business School and in Amsterdam Business School. He wrapped up his sabbatical in California, learning about social entrepreneurship and impact financing.

What can we do academically to serve our students and the society better?”

Sabbaticals, he said, give faculty members the opportunity to continue their own education and research and stay on the cutting edge of new movements and concepts in their fields.

Though they reap a lot of knowledge from these off-campus times, “students are the ultimate beneficiaries of sabbaticals,” Varamini said, pointing out that he’s already incorporating several sustainability teaching units into the spring semester. He’s sharing articles from Harvard Business Review, discussing cases and incorporating the concepts into project work for his students.

The old business model, said Varamini, was linear — take resources, make something and create the product along with waste. Today’s sustainable model is circular, using the ideas of reduce, reuse, recycle. The new models keep in mind the environmental impact and conserve resources for future generations, Varamini said.

The inspiration to teach the new model comes partly from the students, themselves, he said. “The current generation is concerned more about the environment than 20 years ago. They ask more questions about this topic; they care about what is happening. These are our future business leaders.”

Though the majority of businesses didn’t really think about the climate or sustainability 20 to 30 years ago, “today’s architects design buildings and machinery right from the beginning with this circular model in mind,” Varamini said. All along the stages of the supply chain, businesses are finding more efficient and green ways to manufacture, distribute and re-use resources.

Varamini, who serves on the College’s sustainability committee, looks at the College’s Strategic Plan to see where the new model fits in. Examining it from the vantage point of the classroom he asks, “What can we do academically to serve our students and the society better?”

He said he would like to explore the feasibility of addressing sustainability more directly. “Maybe offer a certification to adult learners” or create a sustainable business minor or pulling in courses from various departments—philosophy, business, engineering, literature—to make it truly interdisciplinary, he said. Varamini said he has talked to interested faculty members in other departments and hopes to put together a proposal for a minor with other colleagues.

“To best of my knowledge, not many small colleges our size have a sustainability minor,” he said. As a matter of fact, “not many educational institutions are revising their education programs to study the new model, but I think the trend is changing” he said.

“By offering an academic program in sustainability, we make a strong statement of how we can impact our students and their perspectives. It’s also consistent with the E-town message– to educate students to care about people and the planet.”

About the Author :

E.A. (Elizabeth) Harvey is the communications manager and news editor at Elizabethtown College. She has worked in the Office of Marketing and Communications since 2008, after more than two decades as a newspaper feature writer. She holds a bachelor's degree in corporate communication from Elizabethtown College.