MMU has a clear commitment to address sustainability issues in the curriculum. As part of the Quinquennial Review the Business School is also adopting AACSB related criteria – which include ethical and sustainability awareness - to underpin programme and unit learning outcomes. The information provided here has arisen out of a recent SEEG (Sustainable and Ethical Enterprise Group) curriculum workshop. Participants considered what guidelines might be useful to unit leaders who are planning to (or think they will be asked to) include ethical/sustainability content in their units and who are now writing new unit specifications and/or designing unit assessment.
In MMU’s 2011 EQAL documents it was envisaged that sustainability content would be evident in at least one core unit at each level in every programme across the university. In terms of the AACSB Learning Outcome 3 – namely, ‘Our graduates will demonstrate ethical and sustainable awareness (links to CSR theme) – this will only be audited at level 6 in the undergraduate curriculum. But clearly the understanding of this topic area will begin and be developed at levels 4 and 5 in addition to being evident at level 6. Indeed the relevant level 6 assessment may take the form of some type of reflective piece that explicitly requires students to draw on their knowledge and learning from content at levels 4 and 5 in their programme.
This guidance will address background principles, some key syllabus areas and concepts and pointers on where to go for further information, as follows:
Sustainability is a broad and contested concept. UNESCO (2007) as part of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, 2005 – 2014, presents 4 key learning concepts of education for sustainable development (ESD) as follows:
It is suggested that all units aiming to include some ethical or sustainability content should address what these terms mean. In the case of the sustainability concept, this could focus on differences between sustainability, sustainable development and corporate social responsibility (CSR). Here are some definitions to start with:
Sustainability: is the state we are aiming for, where we are only using resources at a rate that allows them to be replenished to ensure their long-term survival, and that does not exceed the environment’s ability to absorb pollution (Peattie 1992). Currently the inhabitants of planet earth are not living sustainably.
Sustainable development: is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (WCED, 1987). So sustainable development is ‘the journey’ and sustainability is ‘the destination’.
CSR/ Corporate Responsibility: is what companies do with regard to making a positive contribution to society above and beyond that which constitutes their legal obligations (Blowfield & Murray, 2011). It is often couched in terms of responsibilities to stakeholders. The crucial difference between CSR and sustainability can be identified as the fact that CSR does not make reference to the core principles of ecological limits.
Ethics: is about identifying the ethical dimensions to decisions and actions in the business context. In other words it is about developing a moral imagination.
Key questions and issues that need to be explored in this field are: what is ethics ?; concepts of the right and the good; Why be ethical?; the challenges to moral universalism – moral relativism, moral nihilism; the justification of normative ethical theories, a variety of normative ethical theories, moral reasoning; and the nature of responsibility.
A variety of business ethics dilemmas and issues then can be explored depending upon the focus of the unit: Is the firm a moral agent? Is there such a thing as Corporate Social Responsibility? What is the nature and scope of individual responsibility? Employee and human rights in business. Are marketing and advertising morally justifiable? The ethics of climate change. The role of business in the developing world. The morals of the market system. Better business ethics?
Introductory units should use a common sense vocabulary and avoid complex jargon, and richly illustrate concepts and issues with practical examples and dilemmas. Higher level units should introduce more philosophical language and more abstract concepts and logical reasoning when discussing business ethics dilemmas and issues.
Concepts, Challenges and Solutions: below are lists which have been gleaned from narratives provided by colleagues from around the business school. These narratives have come from across the school with contributors from every department. It is uplifting to see how ethics and sustainability topics are already well established in our curriculum and it seems highly likely that there are more that have yet to come to light. You will doubtless note that some words appear in more than one list, this is not an error. Words like globalization, for example, can be discussed as a concept, seen as a challenge or even seen as a solution to problems. This just makes them all the more inviting and richer as a teaching resource. Hopefully these lists will help unit and programme leaders identify opportunities in their own curriculum which can be used to enhance our students’ understanding of ethical and sustainable issues.
Arnold C (2009) ‘Ethical marketing and the new consumer’, Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley; Chichester: John Wiley available as an ebook
Blowfield M & Murray A. (2011) ‘Corporate Responsibility’ Oxford University Press
Crane A & Matten D (2010) Business Ethics, Oxford University Press.
Crane A (2002) ‘Marketing, morality and the natural environment’ London Routledge; available as an ebook
DesJardins,J.R. (2007) ‘Business, Ethics, and the Environment: Imagining a Sustainable Future’ Pearson Prentice Hall
Driver J (2007) Ethics: the Fundamentals, Blackwell.
McPhail K & Walters D (2009) Accounting and Business Ethics, Routledge
Unerman J, Bebbington J & O’Dwyer B (2007) Sustainability Accounting and Accountability, Routledge
If you have any queries, or would like to discuss aspects relating to your programme or unit, you are welcome to contact us:
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