Jed Lindholm, PhD, WPI Teaching Faculty and team member at Wachusett Earthday https://www.wachusettearthday.org/
The foundation of management education is sustainability. The earth is becoming how we are managing it. Earth Day 2021 is a day to stop, reflect, and assess what we need to do to protect and improve the health of the earth and each other. Earth Day 2021 gives us a moment to recognize our past ways of living can be suddenly stopped and changed forever.
One way of seeing, framing, the Covid-19 pandemic, is by recognizing that our past ways of living, traveling, consuming, and managing our lives and our natural resources is unsustainable. Our climate is warmer, and our biodiversity is declining. Climate change is a fact supported by science. Multiple levels of the Earth’s declining health are described by NASA as the following: Increasing Global Temperature, Warming Ocean, Shrinking Ice Sheets, Glacial Retreat, Decreased Snow Cover, Sea Level Rise, Declining Arctic Sea Ice, Increasing Extreme Events, and Ocean Acidification. The causes of climate change are complex, but the common element among the global warming trend since the mid-20thcentury is human activities. (NASA, 2021)
The good news is that over the past twelve months work against the pandemic has shown us how we can create global change through using science, real-time data, and a global community working towards a common goal of improved personal health. This same approach is needed to address our world’s environmental health. Recent research on changes in environmental health during the Covid-19 lock down, presented at the Goddard Space Flight Center, found “that the environment is quickly changing, and the timing of those changes seems to indicate that the pandemic may be a reason. Deforestation rates are changing in some places, air pollution is diminishing, water quality is improving, and snow is becoming more reflective in some areas since the pandemic began earlier this year.” (Bates, 2020, para. 1)
The pandemic is giving us new data and a new opportunity to use our current experiences to begin new approaches and behaviors that will help improve our world’s environmental health. The figure below helps visualize the framework for sustainability. Originally presented in 2006, the diagram brings the intersectional focus of social, economic, and environmental concerns (the three pillars) as sustainability. These concerns are reflective of the pillars used in WPI’s Sustainability Ecosystem.
Foisie Business School is using April 22, 2021, our 51st Earth Day, to refocus our vision of sustainability that sees all teaching, research, and outreach activities with the goal of promoting environmental sustainability. The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) defines sustainability in an inclusive way, encompassing human and ecological health, social justice, secure livelihoods, and a better world for all generations. At WPI we apply this definition across all aspects of the university: teaching and learning, research, facilities operations, and community engagement. (WPI, 2015. PRME Report)
WPI has an active history in project-based learning for environmental sustainability. WPI’s Office of Sustainability, directed by Paul Matheson, and the new sustainability plan provides a current map of how WPI is creating a sustainable ecosystem of living and learning laboratory to build a sustainability culture. In the coming year, Foisie’s management education approach will embolden its commitment to WPI’s Sustainability Plan by creating a new management education mindset for sustainability that works toward promoting, protecting, and improving the earth’s environmental well-being within multiple scopes of business needs.
Foisie School of Business remembers Earth day’s history, in 1970, of building an inclusive movement that aligned political parties, rich and poor, urban, and rural communities, business and labor leaders that resulted in passage of the United States Environmental Protection Act (EPA) and laws governing the National Environmental At, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), and the Clean Air Act. Today, at Foisie, we build from Earth Day’s original spirit of concern for the earth and broad citizen support in action by using STEM disciplines to teach a sustainability mindset. A sustainability mindset builds business and leadership practices by using:
Science for Sustainability: Manager will ask: How do we use, or what is the best use of, science in creating a sustainable product or service for this business need?
Technology for Teaming: Managers will ask: Who are the people to involve in creating our sustainable solution, and how do we get them involved in addressing this business need?
Engineering for Environment: Managers will ask: How do we create a sustainable solution that is in balance with the natural world and what is the lifecycle plan and impact on our world?
Mathematics for Measures: Managers will ask: How do we measure the environmental impact of all organizational activities in the production, use, and disposal of our products or services?
Foisie Business School, as a member of the United Nations Principles of Responsible Management (PRME) group, is recommitting to full engagement with other PRME members in using the UN’s Covid-19 Response to the six climate positive actions as integrated elements of curriculum topics.
- Green transition: Investments must accelerate the decarbonization of all aspects of our economy.
- Green jobs and sustainable and inclusive growth.
- Green economy: making societies and people more resilient through a transition that is fair to all and leaves no one behind.
- Invest in sustainable solutions: fossil fuel subsidies must end, and polluters must pay for their pollution.
- Confront all climate risks.
- Cooperation – no country can succeed alone.
The six climate positive actions will be used as teaching, research, and outreach elements in Foisie’s activities within WPI’s Sustainability Ecosystem. The Sustainability Ecosystem represents a framework that illustrates how WPI’s efforts and initiatives are directed from within the campus (our campus laboratory) outward across the regions and the globe (our global laboratory). What this means is that the Foisie Business School is launching a comprehensive discussion with all departments at WPI to collaborate on ways to integrate environmental sustainability into local and global initiatives for teaching, research, and outreach activities.
WPI’s Sustainability Ecosystem
We are in exciting times. We see innovation happening in the development and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines, we see renewed, broad-based, and deepening concern for social and economic justice, and we see industry leaders becoming more vocal and active in addressing the economic, social, and environmental issues for sustainable change. Tobias Hahn, professor of sustainability at ESADE Business School, highlights the significant period for environmental change we are in by saying “Let us use this period of confinement to think about how we can convert the collective and solidary action to tackle the pandemic into robust collective action for sustainability.” (para. 4) Foisie’ is an active member of Earth Day change for sustainability. Our new commitment to changing business management education by creating a new sustainability mindset will change management education and improve the earth’s health one decision at a time.
Bates, S. (12/8/2020). Environmental impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, as observed from space. Retrieved April 11, 2021. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/12/201208162957.htm)
Earth Day. The History of Earth Day. Retrieved April 4, 2021.
Hahn, T. (March 26 2021). The COVID-19 Pandemic, Paradox, and Sustainability. Retrieved April 4, 2021. https://one.aom.org/covid-19-insights-from-business-sustainability-scholars/hahn
NASA. (2021). FACTS: Climate Change: How Do We Know. Retrieved April 12, 2021.
Worcester Polytechnic Institute. (2015) Principles of Responsible Management (PRME) Report.
Worcester Polytechnic Institute. (2021) Sustainability. https://www.wpi.edu/offices/sustainability