November 17, 2011

Jamie Hendry, associate professor of management

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LEWISBURG, Pa. — Jamie Hendry, associate professor of management, discusses the new Managing for Sustainability major, which joins three other new majors — Accounting and Financial Management, Global Management, and Markets, Innovation and Design — in the School of Management.

Q: Why choose sustainability as one of the main focuses of the School of Management?

A: When we use the word sustainability in discussing management, we're talking about the need for organization members — particularly managers, but not solely managers — to assure the financial viability of the organization while considering their organization's effects on the broader economy, on human society and on the natural environment.

People in the field of sustainability often talk about the "triple bottom line." Most of us think of the bottom line as meaning simply profit. The triple bottom line addresses the need to consider not only organizational financial performance but also social performance and environmental performance. The number of for-profit organizations that have compiled annual reports on all three types of performance has grown substantially to the point that virtually all of the largest corporations in the world produce reports like this. Initially, environmental organizations and social investment firms pushed for this sort of reporting in response to concerns raised in the wake of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. As a result, many think of sustainability reporting as being about the environment. It has gone well beyond that now, though, with concerns about sweatshops, workplace safety and economic development bringing social concerns to the fore.

In terms of "sustainability," we've seen that there are ties between economic activity, social wellbeing and environmental impacts. Thoughtful leaders of organizations pretty quickly, after starting to feel some pressure from the outside, started to make moves to be more environmentally responsible and found out that they could be more profitable, too. Lo and behold, here's this really cool tie between doing things that are good for the environment and doing things that are good for your financial bottom line. That made more companies start to think about the environmental part of sustainability as an opportunity.

More recently we've seen companies recognizing that disadvantaged human populations are really important to sustainability efforts. For one thing, until we begin to solve poverty issues, we're going to continue to have the destruction of the environment as people do whatever they must to survive. The folks at the "bottom of the pyramid" also matter because they are potential consumers, employees and beneficiaries of an organization's services. Companies have begun to ask, 'How do we take the talents that we have and use them to benefit people that we've never really ever considered before?' There is now a movement toward doing good for society and at the same time, being profitable. We are even seeing what are known as social businesses — for-profit enterprises that are focused on addressing social issues.

Q: What are students going to learn through the new program?

A: For all of our majors, we're really dedicated to educating students to think critically and broadly, to develop their abilities to empathize so they can grasp multiple perspectives on a given situation. We're trying to help them become more creative at tackling really thorny societal or environmental challenges, whether those challenges are within an organization or are challenges that an organization might help to address. It's true not just for our Managing for Sustainability students but for all our students, who need to learn to work collaboratively to enable their organizations to accomplish multiple goals all at the same time. The days of thinking solely about making a profit for shareholders to get a return are long past.

In our program, students are focused on learning what sustainability means. What are the environmental underpinnings of sustainability? What are the social underpinnings of sustainability? How do we understand poverty as being a threat to the long-term sustainability of our way of life? What effect will the world's growing population have?

Sustainability is all about adapting to a long-term view on what's possible, about how we benefit in multiple ways. How, by taking a different perspective, by using a different lens to look at a challenge that we're facing, do we find ways not only to address a social challenge and an environmental challenge that's associated with it that we might not even have understood before?

How do we use that lens to address our own need for greater profitability so that we can continue to invest in innovative things? We need to make more money so that we have more money to invest in the kinds of things we think are going to be able to move our organization forward.

Students in our major will take three core courses in Managing for Sustainability and six courses outside the School of Management from across the University. Students can't just take courses in the School of Management; they've got to go to places like biology, environmental studies, geology, English, philosophy, history, where there are courses offered that are completely pertinent to the notion of managing for sustainability. The whole idea is tremendously interdisciplinary; there's no way you can teach Managing for Sustainability and have it taught within a silo of management.

Q: What will students be able to do with a degree in Managing for Sustainability?

A: They'll be able to do all that management graduates have traditionally been able to do and more.

They'll be able to take the same kinds of jobs they would have taken before, but they'll be better prepared to deal with today's challenges. Companies are looking for students to come in understanding what sustainability is, how they can help companies think about innovation in line with sustainability goals.

The final class students take in the Managing for Sustainability curriculum requires that they apply the various things they've learned about sustainability to a real-world situation. Perhaps they will choose a project that involves addressing a local environmental threat, one that takes them to a developing country to tackle economic development, or one for a major corporation that is seeking to apply its resources to dealing with a social issue. In the process, they will apply skills in interviewing, surveying, legal and governmental research, cultural understanding, organizing, collaboration, negotiation, project management, budgeting, funding acquisition and so on. They will bring their academic preparation to bear on authentic challenges that organized activities can address. But because their academic preparation has included interdisciplinary exploration of sustainability topics, they will be better prepared to comprehend the complexity of the situations they face and to design targeted activities efficiently and for maximum effectiveness.

For example, governments are struggling with concerns about economics, environment and social concerns, and have been for some time. How do we determine the appropriate level of regulation for the activities that are going on? How do we balance the needs of individual citizens with the needs of corporations? Individual citizens want a healthy environment and clean water to drink, but they also want jobs.

So how do we balance all that if we're within the government and we're acting as the sort of traffic cop? Our students are going to be well prepared to step into those sorts of roles, better prepared than they would be if they're were just getting a degree in management, marketing, accounting, economics or political science.

Interviewed by Kathryn Kopchik

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