Business school lacks environmental education

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Ken Bennett/Wake Forest University

Ryan Johnston

The Wake Forest University School of Business is failing to provide its students with a comprehensive education on sustainability and business-applied environmental studies, despite those issues being arguably the most pressing in the world today, as evidenced by the COP21 Climate Change summit held in Paris from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 last year.

Although the business school recently placed No. 11 in the country Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s “Best Undergraduate B-Schools 2014,” it does not emphasize environmental education as any more than an afterthought, according to its students.

“The business school does not do much in terms of environmental issues,” said senior BEM marketing major Tommy Henderson. “Students will leave the business school with the knowledge that environmental concerns are a polarizing issue, little more.”

With climate change and environmental degradation among the worst societal problems in the world today, it comes as a shock to many that a leading university like Wake Forest lacks the insight to prepare its business students to face environmental challenges head-on. Such a shock, in fact, that one professor left the business school to serve as director of Wake Forest’s master’s in sustainability program.

Dan Fogel, executive professor of strategy and director of the master’s in sustainability program, taught in the business school as a graduate research professor with a focus on global management and strategy. Fogel understood that the interdisciplinary liberal arts education that Wake Forest is famous for was not being extended to include environmental education in the business school. So he left.

“Environmental practices are not widespread in our business school,” Fogel said. “I felt like I was the only one incorporating them, and that’s why I left.”

Fogel is supremely confident that environmental education could benefit the students in the business school. Although he maintains that the business school has gone in a different direction from sustainability education, there is potential for enormous growth in terms of future employment opportunities, as well as on a purely educational basis, if the business school was to partner with the master’s in sustainability program.

“Taking environment into account can be a competitive advantage,” Fogel said. “Companies that have made a commitment to sustainability, like Wal-Mart, are not going to recruit at the Wake Forest University School of Business, because our students have no background in environmental education and don’t fit the mold that a company like that is looking for. They’re much more likely to go to Duke or UNC.”

The blame for lack of environmental education and preparation should not fall on the students, however.

“The business school has a real opportunity to do a lot more,” Fogel said. “Students are interested for sure.”

The business school hasn’t been completely silent on the front of environmental education, though. The business school is currently “exploring new ways to connect our undergraduate and pre-experience graduate program populations to advocacy-based sustainability activities in the co- and extra-curricular,” according to a business school administrator.

Students in the master’s in sustainability program have the opportunity to work on real projects involving sustainability, and the business school has followed suit by implementing some programs and events with sustainability as a focus. The master’s in management students participated in the annual multi-day C.R.U.C.I.B.L.E Challenge, which “centered around a number of activities with a focus on sustainable practices, including a large-scale community/poverty simulation and … on economically sustainable solutions for combating childhood hunger,” said the administrator.

While these types of programs are valuable, they are not realizing the full potential that the university has to succeed in environmental education. Wake Forest has the right mix of resources, faculty and eager students to become a leading environmental-business university, but the business school and the administration must do better than simply “good intentions,” according to Fogel.

That sentiment rings true with students as well, who see the need to discuss sustainability if they are truly being prepared to be the leaders of tomorrow.

“As for sustainability, it’s not discussed in any of my accounting classes,” said Austin Beltz, senior accounting major.

“I think strategy classes could incorporate it, as well as business psychology.”

Even though accounting is primarily a technical major, focusing on the numbers side of business, Beltz has never had a business professor bring up sustainability as a focus throughout his two years in the business school.

“The liberal arts part of Wake Forest does a much better job of discussing things that are important outside of the bottom line, which is something that needs to be talked much more about in the business school,” Beltz said.

Wake Forest will eventually need to incorporate sustainability education into the business school or risk falling behind its competitors. It appears, however, that the university is currently following the trend of many national governments and corporations; that is, wait until it’s too late.

“They give us critical thinking skills,” Beltz said. “But they don’t encourage us to be concerned about the environment or sustainability.”