Case study

Developing responsible business leaders

As the climate crisis worsens, all universities now have a duty to ensure their courses are teaching students to be responsible and ethical leaders.

Derby Business School has been doing this for several years, by embedding the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into its courses and giving students opportunities to develop a sustainability mindset, through work experience and projects for charities and businesses.

Embedding sustainability into our courses

The United Nations have put the SDGs at the centre of their strategy. The goals aim to tackle societal grand challenges by encouraging bottom-up actions from both private and public actors, including academia. 

Since 2015, our University has been signed up to the UN Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME), which aims to realise the SDGs by transforming management education and developing the responsible decision-makers of tomorrow.

Within the Business School, we have been using the SDGs as an overarching teaching and learning framework.

2021 curriculum audit

A 2021 SDG audit of Business School curriculum showed: 

Developing our curriculum

Our sustainable tourism and hospitality curriculum was recently re-developed to embed sustainable development, aligning to SDG 8.9. However, we have ambitious aims to increase this with heightened emphasis on Climate Action & Net Zero (SDG 13.3) and Education for Sustainable Development and Sustainable Lifestyles (SDG 4).

In 2023 we are launching a brand-new MSc in Sustainable and Ethical Business Management, which is for responsible business leaders who wish to reposition their organisation for a better future. Through a work-based learning approach, it allows business leaders to actively work on their own organisations, so they effect sustainable and responsible change and innovation as they progress through the programme.

Promoting a sustainable mindset

Alongside this practical approach, we recognise the importance of mindset in bringing about change. We have used the sustainable mindset approach developed by Kassel, Rimanoczy & Mitchell as one of the frameworks in the MSc programme. This is now endorsed by the United Nation PRME Working Group on Sustainability Mindset as a preferential tool for evaluating mindset learning action towards the SDGs.

The tool recognises that as well as sustainability knowledge, sustainability competencies and an understanding of the ecosystem, future leaders also need to re-evaluate their own values, behaviours, norms, and beliefs. This enables them to authentically lead sustainable and ethical change. 

Staff from the Business School have recently undertaken research on the sustainability mindset, which sheds further light on how best universities can use this approach.

First in the SDG Teach In campaign 2022

In February and March 2022, we took part in SOS-UK’s ‘SDG Teach In’ campaign, which encourages educators of all kinds to incorporate the SDGs into teaching, learning and assessment for three weeks.

Out of 134 educational institutions, the University of Derby:

Hand holding a piece of paper with Sustainable Development Goal 4 on - Quality Education

Responsible business projects

One of the ways we encourage students to develop their sustainability mindset, is by conducting real responsible business projects.

For example, our first year Business Management students were recently set an assignment to research how the footwear and apparel components manufacturer, Milspeed, currently contributes to the UN’s SDGs, and how they could do more.

Students heard from the Technical Manager at Milspeed, James Stewart, about the company’s sustainability initiatives at that time, which included manufacturing with recycled content, developing a closed-loop recycling process, and a focus on CO2 measurement and reduction.

After weeks of research, students presented their ideas back to a panel of assessors, who were impressed by many of the proposals.

In another business module, students learn how to critique businesses in terms of their ethical and sustainable practice.

Their assignments inspired students from across the globe taking part in the Futures 17 UN PRME project, to prepare a ‘greenwashing toolkit’ for business students. This enables people to check whether a business is greenwashing or authentically trying to transition to better sustainability practice. 

Student-run projects: Enactus

Academics in the Business School also encourage students to become involved in the student society, Enactus. Enactus is an international organisation that urges students across the UK to find innovative solutions to social issues within their communities.

All Enactus projects are linked to at least one of the SDGs and there are two currently underway at Derby:

In a recent research study, which involved surveying all UK Enactus participants, 71% of respondents said there was an increase in their sustainability mindset from being involved in the programme.

Hosna Hassanzadeh, Head of Marketing for Enactus at Derby explains what she thinks the benefits are:
“The kind of experiences Enactus offers to us are unparalleled. Working along the lines of social entrepreneurship, Enactus gives you an insight into running an entrepreneurial venture while doing your bit for society, such as helping underprivileged communities and the environment.”

Hand holding bunch of carrots covered in soil

Our work continues

Overall, we have made a good start on educating our students to be the responsible decision-makers of tomorrow. However, we know we must go further. That’s why we have ambitious goals to:

Our school is part of a cross-college PRME steering group that is driving these and other PRME initiatives forward. This work is now being reinforced by the University’s new Teaching and Learning Strategy, which focuses on Education for Sustainable Development. These and other measures have recently been recognised by SOS-UK, who have awarded our University and its Union of Students the Responsible Futures accreditation.