Building Sustainable Legacies

The need for a global common vision

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Changes in the context in which business schools operate amplify the need for management education to re-evaluate its purpose fundamentally, questioning the route which it has embarked on since the middle of last century[1].

The environmental context is significantly different than 50 years ago. Environmental measures – e.g. carbon dioxide emissions have gone up by a factor of 11 between 1961 and 2011 – clearly indicate that our planet has boundaries[2] and that many of our natural resources are finite. While in 1961, the human race annually consumed natural resources of 60% of the planet’s capacity, in 2007, global consumption exceeded the planet’s capacity by a factor of 1.6. Were the entire world consuming at the European level, we would need resources of three planets. American consumption on a global scale would require six planets. The forecast for the coming decades shows an acceleration of this trend. We are challenged to fundamentally rethink both consumer and production behavior and business leaders are considered important players to make the necessary changes happen.

Yet, this is only one of the changing dynamics that business faces today. Societal changes related to demographic shifts, migration and globalization triggers questions to what degree government vs. business can or must assume the emerging new demands and costs of an aging population. OECD countries are unable to provide work to 30% of its youth. A continued acceleration of the rate of technology-driven innovation and in particular the emergence of mobile internet turns us into witnesses of a world where non-democratic regimes are overturned by an internet savvy youth quasi overnight.

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) proposes a common vision for global citizens: the Vision 2050: “9 billion people living well and within the natural resources of the planet”. A vision we can start working towards right now. We – that is all of us: governments, citizens, parents, business, activists, NGO’s, educators. As business educators, we need to understand to what degree business needs to change in order to become a positive force in achieving this vision.


[1]        The reports published by the Carnegie and Ford foundations in the late 1950’s have traced a path which enabled business schools to legitimize themselves again other disciplines, namely economics, by developing distinct research in all subject domains. While this objective has been achieved, the chosen path has in the meantime led business schools increasingly astray, generating highly specialized research for a very small audience and education which lacks efficiencies in nearly every parameter studied.

[2]         W. Steffen, J. Rockström, R. Costanza: „How defining planetary boundaries can transform our approach to growth“ (Solutions, May 2011)

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Author: Dr. Katrin Muff

Dr. Katrin Muff is a thought leader in the transformative space of sustainability and responsibility at Business School Lausanne, where she acted as Dean from 2008-2015 until self-organization made such a title redundant. Under her leadership, the school focused its vision on entrepreneurship, responsibility and sustainability in education and research. Her business experience includes 10 years at ALCOA (GM in Russia, Industry Analyst for Global M&A in the U.S. and Business Analyst Europe), 3 years as Director, Strategic Planning EMEA at IAMS Europe (Procter&Gamble), and 3 years as a co-founder of Yupango, a coaching consultancy dedicated to start-ups and training management teams.

One thought on “The need for a global common vision

  1. The need for a common vision is clear enough. Articulating the vision and adopting the vision are very different however. As we have seen with Kyoto, etc adoption is the issue, isn’t it?

    Greg Damian