Why a Business + Science Approach to Sustainability is Critical for your Organization

A Business + Science Approach to Sustainability

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Imagine a business is trying to reduce its carbon footprint. It will require experts who understand the science behind its operations and supply chain to identify how to go about making this change. Concurrently, the organization needs employees who can calculate the value to the organization and understand the implications these changes have on other business policies and procedures, and of course, on the bottom line.

But what if this organization had managers who speak the languages of both science and business to more efficiently address how to make the business case for sustainability and then implement it?

At Georgetown University, we have identified this very issue — understanding how to make the business case for sustainability — and created both a new M.S. in Environment and Sustainability Management and a Business of Sustainability Initiative to help organizations improve their environmental impact while also continuing to be profitable.

These new programs are a direct response to feedback from the business community that companies competing in today’s socioeconomic context increasingly face urgent new environmental, societal, and governance (ESG) challenges that materially affect their operations and business models. And, while the corporate world tends to focus on risks and challenges, we believe organizations can find opportunities to create new revenue, growth, partnerships, and entrepreneurial possibilities. 

As your organization explores how to address sustainability challenges, we suggest considering the following:

  • How can your organization create value by incorporating sustainability approaches into your competitive strategy?
  • Have you considered the natural and social environment in which you operate, how that affects your company, and how your company impacts the surrounding environment?
  • Do you have the right balance of expertise in the environmental issues you are trying to solve, both in terms of the science behind it and the impact to your business?
  • Do you need a dedicated executive who oversees sustainability throughout your organization, or should you embed sustainability issues into the responsibilities of functional managers? 
  • Have you considered the many ways in which sustainability can affect your business? For example, there is a potential for reducing costs or long-term risks, developing marketing opportunities, differentiating your company, creating new revenue streams or business models, or ensuring the right to operate. 
  • Are you prepared to address both short-term and long-term sustainability issues and impacts?

As you consider your own sustainability strategy, we are here to help you. Our faculty are seeking organizations with real-world issues for our students to tackle, our research and events follow emerging issues and opportunities in the business of sustainability, and our Business of Sustainability Initiative regularly works with industry leaders to partner with us as we develop these programs. To engage with us further, visit Georgetown’s Business of Sustainability Initiative website. To learn more about helping your employees acquire or improve on their environment and sustainability management skills and knowledge, or to learn more about hiring new, well-trained people, reach out to our M.S. in Environment and Sustainability Management program. 

By taking the time to develop a business strategy for sustainability now, you will ensure your organization adapts to the ever-changing demands of the business world and be prepared for long-term success — for your business and the planet.

Vishal Agrawal and Maria Petrova are the co-academic directors of Georgetown University’s M.S. in Environment and Sustainability Management, which is offered jointly by the Georgetown Earth Commons Institute, the McDonough School of Business, and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Agrawal also is Provost’s Distinguished Associate Professor and the director of the Business of Sustainability Initiative at the McDonough School of Business, and Petrova is the assistant director for Georgetown Environment Initiative education at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.