I am taking a class right now about developing sustainable products and methods in business. This goes from management to organizational design. On the face, it is an extremely interesting topic and I applaud the SCU Business School for having a course dedicated just to this topic.
Unfortunately, it’s a terribly-designed course.
First, while it is a 1 unit course and many students take a few of these just to get an extra unit here or there rather than a full 3 unit class with all the work that entails, I would venture that most students in this class have a pre-existing interest in sustainability. We were drawn to the course by its title, but the concept of thinking about this topic as we move forward with our careers, etc. The students in this class are there because we are interested in this topic.
Of course, any course that one takes as an elective is, to some extent, preaching to the choir. We elect to take the course because the topic interests us, and therefore the professor is telling us stuff we want to hear and with which we largely agree. Maybe we want to be stimulated about the topic and will put up a bit of an instinctive fight, but I would be shocked if someone took an elective and he or she flat out hated the topic.
However, in this case all the preaching to this particular choir has many of us not wanting to go to church anymore. It’s not that all the issues about the environment and how companies and organizations and even just people in general aren’t important – of course they are. And nothing will shake my own personal beliefs about the importance of change today. But for a 1 unit course, this is making being interested in the environment off-putting, to be honest, and that’s a terrible shame. I know that there are a billion reasons to care about the environment, and thousands of ways of analyzing a person’s or company’s environmental “footprint.” But if one tried to assimilate all of those reasons at once, and is then given an assignment that could easily become a dissertation in terms of research and detail, it can kill motivation. Simply saying “but don’t go into more depth than you have to for the topic” doesn’t counter “contact your vendor, find out what process they use, from where they get their supplies, then contact those suppliers and…” You get the idea.
There are other aspects of the course that really discourage me, but those are about the professor and I will get to that in one of my reviews later. But the point is that we’re there to have discussions about what we can do, as humans, as employees at companies, and as ambitious students who are pursuing an MBA and hope to move up in our careers, to develop sustainable methods. I think we’re there to look at things we can do. Talking about what a CEO did to change his entire company and then saying that we have to go that deep on our own projects, when most of us are middle-management at best, is ludicrous in my opinion. It’s like asking a line-level worker to implement Six Sigma. There has to be buy-in from all levels.
My point, to be clear, is that to basically assault students with this much information, to ask them to analyze everything from 300 different perspectives, to give examples of what we “could” do that potentially involves weeks and weeks of research, for 1 unit and 9 total hours of class time is simply overwhelming.
And one of the last topics about which one should become overwhelmed and perhaps frustrated to this point is the environment. We are dangerously close to thinking of trying to develop sustainable practices as too hard.