Two years ago, a first-year student at Kozminski University (KU) in Warsaw, Poland approached his family’s business in the south of the country with the intent of cutting expenses by reducing wasted electricity – an idea that was initially met with scepticism because it involved tackling a low-end cost. Fortunately, however, the student persisted and the family began switching off all unneeded lights and equipment in the company. What happened next was astonishing. Electricity consumption plunged 77%, thereby saving the business an estimated €28,800 per year and reducing its carbon emissions by 139,000 kilos. Not surprisingly, company managers immediately instigated an energy-saving program that began by investing in motion detectors to ensure that the business’s lights remain on only when needed. Further north, another Kozminski student showed her father how natural light could replace artificial light in his business as well as how the efficiency of the heating and cooling system could be improved. In addition she recommended replacing old electronic equipment with energy efficient alternatives, unplugging electric equipment when not in use, and changing work hours to be more compatible with day-light hours.

At Kozminski University, this is nothing new. Over the past two years, students at this Poland’s number one business school have shown more than 100 businesses in eleven countries how they can save an estimated total of over $2 million by minimizing waste – a first step toward sustainability (defined as the capacity to continue into the long-term). The driving force behind this achievement is a new introductory course about sustainability, which requires students to think about the problems and costs associated with waste, the spiralling cost of raw materials, problems associated with resource deficits, costs created or exacerbated by poorly designed products and production processes, the costs of climate change (including property damage and crop failure), the costs of unemployment and underemployment, and, in general, the negative financial implications of short-term thinking (for example, imagine if long-term thinking had been applied in the financial industry before the 2008 economic meltdown). When the course ends, students are required to go out and apply the concepts they learned in class (in the form of a written report) as opposed to simply taking an exam or writing an essay.

KU Student Business-Assessment Results (examples)

  • In northern Belarus, a group of Kozminski exchange students worked with an earth-moving equipment company and explained how it could save €10,460 annually by maximizing fuel use.
  • A Ukrainian shoe manufacturer was shown how it could eliminate €19,875 in costs (and 280,000 kilos of carbon emissions in the process) by three transfer students who attended Kozminski University for one semester.
  • In Slovenia, three Kozminski exchange students showed a heavy truck manufacturer how it could save €8,356 every year by minimizing waste.
  • In Warsaw, three Kozminski undergraduates explained to a printing firm how it could cut €20,000 in costs by minimizing office waste.
  • a similar waste assessment conducted by Kozminski students showed a kitchen equipment wholesaler how it could reduce its annual costs by €29,042

Although this program is looked upon favourably by quite a few administrators, it still faces formidable obstacles from mid-range managers that sometimes threaten to shut it down. These obstacles include the same types of arrogance, apathy, and short-term thinking found in businesses. Simply put, to many academics (and managers) remain unimpressed with the subject of sustainability, deeming it too vocational, not academic enough, a fad, or too entrenched in the domain of environmentalism to merit serious inclusion in an academic curriculum. Yet surely, any institute that calls itself a business school must be obliged to examine every aspect of business, not just the traditional subjects it considers worthy of study Hunter Lovins, a recognized giant in the field of sustainable business development, and president of Natural Capitalism Solutions in Eldorado Springs, Colorado (USA), says that only around 150 business schools in the world acknowledge sustainability and waste reduction in their curriculums, rarely going further ‘unless it’s demanded by students’ – which is happening more frequently.

To understand sustainability it is essential to begin by comprehending the big picture – to acknowledge that sustainability is about longevity and to develop an awareness of what that means before analytic thought does its (necessary) reductive work. Studying research based on a limited set of empirical experiences is not enough. The problem with this method is that once a few facts become clear it is tempting to believe they represent an independence all their own and to rest in them and think that they are the foundation of what is being sought. For this reason it is important to note that sustainability embraces the legal, financial, economic, industrial, social, behavioural and environmental arenas – which suggests that there is plenty of room for long-term thinking to play a major role in virtually every business subject currently being taught in business schools. First, however, it is crucial to note that sustainable business activity cannot be accomplished without first understanding the importance of waste minimization.

Just as marketing can be broken down into an alliteration (price, product, promotion, etc) to explain its multiple facets (often described as the marketing mix), the same can also be done with sustainability. Obviously, alliterations are never perfect, but the 7-P sustainability model has proven to be effective enough in explaining waste minimization as a first step toward sustainable activity. Briefly, the 7-P’s of sustainability are as follows:

  • Preparation – setting the stage for change (both physically and psychologically) and understanding what the reformer is up against when trying to implement profitable, long-term business practices while accepting the breadth and depth of this subject (e.g.: the financial implications of sustainability and the fact that it is not about being independent).
  • Preservation – encompasses two areas: internal (collecting and displaying real-time measurement) and external (keeping ahead of laws, pending legislation, trends, and developments).
  • Processes – sustainable belief systems, philosophies, business models, and thought patterns that help match a business with customer demands, core capabilities, and best practices.
  • People – accepting the importance of training and education and working diligently to avoid the wasting of people, specifically: employees (who seek security and motivation), stakeholders (who want a return on their investment), customers (who want safe, value-laden products), and the world community – including the two-thirds of humanity who are currently left out of the global economic loop (who desire jobs and inclusion) and who represent an economic force all their own.
  • Place – the buildings and places where work is performed and/or products are sold.
  • Product – ensuring that goods and services are free from unnecessary waste (‘non-product’) and toxins – and designed so that the materials, energy, and manpower that comprise them (and their packaging) are treated as investments and continuously reused.
  • Production – the physical, mechanical, biological, and chemical processes used to transform raw materials into products or services – and transport them

So what does all this mean? From a business angle it can be argued that sustainability is about reducing expenses – including future expenses – in every conceivable form so as to facilitate longevity and competitiveness. Obviously, sustainability is too broad a subject to explain in one article, however, to learn more, the European Foundation of Management Development is publishing a free book titled The Sustainable Business, which will be available as a free PDF download. For readers desiring a printed hard copy, the book can also be ordered online. Both formats will be released in June 2010 to help promote wealth creation, facilitate job growth, and promote resource efficiency (i.e.: reduce environmental degradation). Please contact Business in Society Gateway team for more details. More uner: