Sustainability and the AACSB

The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) accredits business schools around the world. As of December 2013, 687 schools were AACSB accredited in 45 countries and territories (or less than 5% of the estimated number of schools offering business degrees worldwide).

Recently I was perusing the AACSB’s Business Standards, which are the basis for business school accreditation, and was surprised at the extent to which sustainability and related themes (e.g., corporate social responsibility) are an integral to the revisions adopted in 2013, from the opening paragraph of the document, through to the AACSB’s three core values and guiding principles, and into its expectations regarding undergraduate educational content. Below are some excerpts:

From the Preamble:

The business environment is undergoing profound changes, spurred by powerful demographic shifts, global economic forces, and emerging technologies. At the same time, society is increasingly demanding that companies become more accountable for their actions, exhibit a greater sense of social responsibility, and embrace more sustainable practices. These trends send a strong signal that what business needs today is much different from what it needed yesterday or will need tomorrow.

From Part 1: Core Values and Guiding Principles:

The following three criteria represent core values of AACSB. There is no uniform measure for deciding whether each criterion has been met. Rather, the school must demonstrate that it has an ongoing commitment to pursue the spirit and intent of each criterion consistent with its mission and context.

A. The school must encourage and support ethical behavior by students, faculty, administrators, and professional staff. [ETHICAL BEHAVIOR]

B. The school maintains a collegiate environment in which students, faculty, administrators, professional staff, and practitioners interact and collaborate in support of learning, scholarship, and community engagement. [COLLEGIATE ENVIRONMENT]

C. The school must demonstrate a commitment to address, engage, and respond to current and emerging corporate social responsibility issues (e.g., diversity,  sustainable development, environmental sustainability, and globalization of economic activity across cultures) through its policies, procedures, curricula, research, and/or outreach activities. [COMMITMENT TO CORPORATE AND SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY]

 Diversity, sustainable development, environmental sustainability, and other emerging corporate and social responsibility issues are important and require responses from business schools and business students.

 The school fosters sensitivity to, as well as awareness and understanding of, diverse viewpoints among participants related to current and emerging corporate social responsibility issues.

Guidance for Documentation

 Demonstrate that the school addresses current and emerging corporate social responsibility issues through its own activities, through collaborations with other units within its institution, and/or through partnerships with external constituencies

From Standard 9: Curriculum content is appropriate to general expectations for the degree program type and learning goals. [CURRICULUM CONTENT]

Curriculum content refers to theories, ideas, concepts, skills, knowledge, etc., that make up a degree program. Content is not the same as learning goals. Learning goals describe the knowledge and skills students should develop in a program and set expectations for what students should do with the knowledge and skills after completing a program. Not all content areas need to be included as learning goals.

Bachelor’s Degree Programs and Higher

General Business and Management Knowledge Areas

 Economic, political, regulatory, legal, technological, and social contexts of organizations in a global society

 Social responsibility, including sustainability, and ethical behavior and approaches to management

In sum, sustainability and related themes are now apparently integral to the AACSB business school accreditation process. Given the disciplinary power of ratings agencies, it will be interesting to see whether and how business schools respond.

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