Array (  => August  => 18,  => 2021 )18August
“Sustainability Management in Corporations” – How do we Educate Sustainability Leaders of the Future?
In recent years, the general attitude towards sustainability management has changed significantly. For corporations across all industries, incorporating sustainability management into their business strategies is no longer optional; it is now essential to a company’s competitiveness. Approaching the topic, businesses have to cope with environmental, economic and social issues and adapt their strategies to achieve real long-term benefits. Therefore, educating future sustainability leaders is becoming more and more important, with regard to solving the most pressing problems now and in the future. To dive deep into the topic and get to know the key features of sustainability education at TUM, we spoke to Christoph Ratay, a doctoral researcher at TUM who teaches the seminar “Sustainability Management in Corporations”, featured in our latest PRME report.
Why is it so crucial for corporations to invest in sustainability management?
Christoph Ratay: Sustainability has evolved from a non-financial topic to a financial one. A few decades ago, sustainability initiatives were mostly taken up to improve a company’s image, but tended to be isolated from the core business and the financial performance of the company. We definitely see a shift here, with sustainability issues turning into topics of financial relevance.
Nowadays, financial risks and opportunities are directly associated with sustainability-related issues, for example when it comes to attracting new talent, selling products to environmentally conscious younger generations, or when sustainability concerns trigger the transformation of companies’ processes or entire business models.
What has your experience been like in corporate sustainability management?
Christoph Ratay: I am a doctoral researcher at Professor Alwine Mohnen’s Chair of Corporate Management, conducting research on consumer behavior in the circular economy. Before I started working at TUM, I spent close to four years as a corporate sustainability consultant in the Sustainability Services division at KPMG.
Joining TUM, it was important to me to teach a subject I am passionate about and that allows me to share my practical insights, both in terms of content and the network I built in my previous job. For example, we try to invite industry experts as guest speakers who share their insights into sustainability management in corporations.
What is the aim of the seminar?
Christoph Ratay: The main goal of the seminar is to introduce students to key topics in sustainability management in corporations and let them explore sustainability issues they are truly excited about as part of a seminar paper. Throughout the seminar, our participants work in project teams of two. My colleague Theresa Kaiser and I coach the teams and provide guidance, for example to come up with relevant research questions, identify existing literature, and select and apply suitable methods.
What has been the most memorable feedback you have received from your students?
Christoph Ratay: In our experience, students really enjoy finding and exploring their own research topics. We have always received positive feedback for offering them the freedom to choose a topic they are truly interested in. Popular topics include measuring sustainability performance, setting incentives for corporations to become more sustainable, or how to promote sustainable behavior among consumers. As another example, we also introduced a special topic on the link between the pandemic and sustainability issues in the last two semesters.
In addition, we usually receive very positive feedback for our individual coaching sessions. Based on past semesters’ evaluations, these are highly appreciated, as they help our students prepare for their master’s theses later on.
In the end, we always encourage our seminar participants to stay in touch. Almost every semester there are quite a few students who make use of this opportunity and reach out to us for help with their thesis, for general advice, or to get introduced to one of our contacts. Altogether, we definitely have the impression that there is a high level of interest in working in sustainability management after the students complete our seminar.
Why is it important to combine methods from research and practice in the seminar?
Christoph Ratay: Since the seminar is aimed at master’s students, most of them are approaching the end of their time at university. Most likely, after graduating from TUM, they will soon be business leaders themselves. It is therefore important that, in addition to the academic relevance of the topic, we also establish a link to practice in order to train our future leaders on sustainability issues. This way, I think we can have a big impact on future sustainability management in corporations.
What will be the most pressing sustainability issues going forward?
Christoph Ratay: This is a tricky question. The obvious answer – at least for now – would be climate change. However, the sustainability landscape is constantly evolving. For example, as a result of the pandemic, a lot of employee-related social sustainability issues such as physical and mental health receive much more attention now than they did 18 months ago – and rightfully so. When we talk about sustainability, we talk about people, planet, and profit. It’s key for corporations to prepare for and contribute to the constantly evolving sustainability agenda in order to be true sustainability leaders.