Education – A driving force for greater sustainability

London business school Ioannis Ioannou was recently invited to give a keynote address on the role of education in sustainable development at an event organized by CSR HELLAS.

Titled “Education 4 Sustainability”, Dr Ioannou framed his speech around what he described as the “shadow” of Bill and Melinda Gates’ sixth annual goalkeeping report, Dr Ioannou noted that almost all indicators of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are halfway to achieving its stated goals by 2030.

Sustainability as a positive force of disruption and the role education can play in driving sustainability

Businesses are facing unprecedented pressure for a new model of corporate leadership, Dr. Ioannou acknowledged in this lecture. “Companies face pressures and expectations to integrate environmental and social impacts, as well as broader sustainability considerations into everything they do. For example, customers are demanding more environmentally and socially responsible products and services, investors are integrating ESG considerations into their investment decisions, employees are attracted to companies with which they align in terms of purpose and values, civil society and NGOs are increasing their level of engagement. corporate activism as governments and regulators adopt and implement more laws and regulations related to environmental and social issues. On top of all this, science tells us that we have already passed a number of tipping points and that the stability of the planetary ecosystem is under threat.

“Becoming sustainable is easier said than done,” said Dr Ioannou. “Most companies currently lack the knowledge, skills, experience and often the human capital they need to successfully meet all of these demands and expectations. In other words, businesses face a huge disruption to the status quo. Disruptions are usually very difficult to manage. This is precisely why the corporate graveyard is full of once-iconic brands that have failed to weather such disruptions. Sears, Polaroid, Kodak, Blockbuster, to name a few.

Transformation and adaptation

One could describe sustainability as primarily a challenge of transformation and adaptation to a rapidly changing competitive landscape. And, observes Dr Ioannou, this is a very fundamental transformation because every aspect of an organization must change, from finance to strategy and from the vision and mission of the organization to its operations, every aspect must be aligned. Transformation requires new capabilities, knowledge and innovative business models at the enterprise level. In addition to changes in the industry, changes at the systems level through new ways to engage in co-creation with supply chain partners could be considered. All of this is extremely difficult to achieve. “We’ve only seen a handful of companies succeed, and even those are far from being considered fully sustainable,” says Dr Ioannou.

Disruption Creates Opportunity

There are different reasons for companies to engage in activities aimed at a more sustainable economy. The requirements of laws and regulations will of course be a driver, but many companies have identified promising business growth opportunities and are looking to exploit them for business advantage.

The disruption in sustainability also creates opportunities for new market entries. Dr. Ioannou gives the examples of Tesla in the automobile industry, Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods in the meat industry, and Oatly in the field of alternative milks. “All of these and more are young, entrepreneurial-led companies who understand changing customer preferences, who understand the underlying sustainability problem that needed to be solved, and who have innovated new products, services or even business models to seize and rapidly scale the opportunity. As a result, large companies not only face the challenge of becoming sustainable themselves, but they also increasingly face stiffer competition from of start-ups that are “born” sustainable.

Navigating the “Sustainability Disruption”

So what does it take to navigate the sustainability disruption? For businesses, as well as societies, to achieve the required level of transformation, address the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities that arise due to the disruption of sustainability, the role of education is absolutely fundamental. Why? There are several main reasons:

  • Education on frameworks and initiatives such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Planetary Boundaries, Environment, Social and Governance (ESG), to name a few, increases take global awareness of the depth and breadth of the problems we collectively face today. They underline the urgency of the crisis. But also, awareness is important to inspire and motivate people to act, to innovate, and it empowers them to aspire to have a positive impact on the world through their lives, their lifestyles, their career choices. and their electoral behavior.
  • Education builds a common ground and a common understanding of the challenges we face. In a deeply polarized world, establishing common ground is crucial. Think about what is happening in the United States right now. Consider how a corrupt Republican Party and the political right are viciously attacking ESG mainstreaming as “wokes” and how they have historically undermined climate science by promoting climate change denial. Also consider how some irresponsible and dangerous Republican governors, like those in Texas and Florida, are attacking financial institutions for considering ESG risks and, in doing so, harming retirees in those states via a higher cost of capital. Education can play a huge role against the politicization of these issues and it establishes a solid, scientific and apolitical common ground to begin to address them.
  • Education provides the skills, knowledge and frameworks people need to develop a systematic, rigorous and effective approach to meeting challenges. This does not mean that we already have all the answers, far from it. However, as educators, we can offer a structured way to approach sustainability challenges, a systematic way to analyze them, and as a result, we can increase the quality and speed of decisions that leaders make and, in an ideal world, we can help redirect their purpose towards more socially and ecologically responsible results.

Dr Ioannou concluded by mentioning some of the activities we pursue at London Business School:

“We aspire to integrate sustainability issues into our core courses and across disciplines, and we are developing and offering elective courses on these issues. We also pursue collaborations with other business schools and institutions (this is mainly our Wheeler Institute climate initiative and its leadership role with Business School’s for Climate Leadership), we support and encourage our students, through their student clubs and aim to serve as a platform that brings together managers, regulators, future and current business leaders and NGOs, and in doing so foster broader collaborations. Finally, as scholars, through our research, we bring rigor and evidence to inform policy and practice on sustainability issues.

“Ultimately, we too have an important responsibility: to educate and inspire future captains of industry to lead organizations with purpose, to lead successful organizations capable of positively impacting society as a whole. And that, I think, is a terrific goal for any business school.

About Ioannis Ioannou

Through his award-winning academic work, advisory roles, teaching, and interactions with leaders, Dr. Ioannou is dedicated to understanding if, how, and to what extent business and financial markets can lead the way to a sustainable future. Based on his ongoing research and engagement with practice, his keynote addresses focus on the challenges and opportunities that a transition to sustainability leadership generates for businesses and investors.

Dr. Ioannou is Co-Chair of the Sustainability Advisory Board of Merck, KGaA, member of the ESG Advisory Board of DWS Group, one of the world’s leading asset managers with approximately $900 billion in assets under management, member of the Advisory Board of the Sustainable Risk Assessment Framework (SRAF), Board of Directors of the Alliance for Corporate Sustainability Research (ARCS) and he is an advisor to TreeApp. He is also a member of the World Economic Forum’s Expert Network with expertise in the field of sustainability and a member of the expert network of KKS Advisors, a leading sustainability consulting firm.


Founded in 2000, CSR HELLAS was established with the promotion and implementation of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in corporate strategies and operations.

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