BY FABIOLA CARLETTI
This article was originally published in The Ubyssey
When Jennifer Matchett says things need to change, she means business.
Matchett is the co-director of the Commerce Undergraduate Society’s committee on sustainability. She is one of several students at the Sauder School of Business who want their curriculum to include more dialogue about environmental sustainability.
“We feel that the major players in any environmental movement are corporations,” said Matchett. “If they don’t change, nothing’s really going to change.”
Business students gathered on November 6 at the Liu Institute for Global Issues for the second annual Chasing Sustainability Conference. Along with guest speakers, they discussed strategies for going beyond “green-washing” and striving toward ecologically responsible businesses practices.
Brian Grant, an attendee and fourth-year accounting student, said he started thinking about ethical business practices after watching a hard-hitting documentary called The Corporation, which compares corporations to psychopaths.
“Nowadays, people are reacting to the fact that businesses have a bad rap,” said Grant.
Despite the crisp collars, neat ties and professional footwear, the event did not look like a usual conference.
Students were not offered routine nametags—instead, they sipped on personalized mugs. Guest speakers were given small saplings as tokens of appreciation, and the large windows of the seminar room provided views of the surrounding forest.
But John Robinson, a professor from the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability, challenged the students to go beyond appearances.
Robinson said Vancouver is full of environmentally-focused but disintegrated plans, policies, programs and strategies, which he referred to as “islands of sustainability in a swamp of standard operating procedures and ‘business as usual.’”
“As long as they remain little isolated examples that we can feel good about, we fail,” he said. “We don’t have time to be modest…we need to be as transformative as quickly as possible, because the consequences of not doing so are dire.”
Much of the discussion centered on creating long-term visions.
“There’s no shortcut to sustainability,” said Sandy Treagus, the CFO of Mountain Equipment Co-op.
Treagus offered lessons learned from his company, which grew from a small collective started by UBC students in the 70s to the national chain it is today.
“You can box well above your weight if people trust your brand,” said Treagus, who stressed the value of authenticity and accountability.
Katie Laufenberg, a technical analyst for the Pembina Institute, encouraged students to be more assertive. “Be really critical of your future employers. Interview them,” she said. “If you don’t feel a moral connection to what that business is doing, then maybe that isn’t where you should be.”
Indeed, the youth involved with CUS sustainability have managed to make some big differences at their own business school.
The group has been working with faculty and the undergraduate office to integrate sustainability studies within the Bachelor of Commerce degree. A new academic concentration in Business and Sustainability now allows Sauder students to earn up to 12 credits from a variety of both Commerce and non-Commerce electives.
Before this year, Business and Sustainability Development (COMM 495) was the only environmentally focused Commerce course. The committee has successfully pushed for a new course, Corporate Social Responsibility and Business Ethics (COMM 486C), which begins this January.
“Our main goal is to eventually have sustainability incorporated into all options at Sauder,” said Matchett. “Eventually it should just be what we learn. It should just be the norm.”