Educating the Next Generation of Sustainable Supply Chain Leaders

Building sustainability into the curriculum at Arizona State University's W.P. Carey School of Business

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By Editorial Staff

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Economic, social and regulatory pressures are converging to drive an increasing number of companies to pursue sustainability strategies that target a reduction in their total supply chain "footprint," or overall impact on natural resources and the environment, while at the same time reducing their costs and improving the overall efficiency and effectiveness of their supply chains. As more enterprises embark on their "green" journeys, demand is increasing for supply chain staff and executives with skills and knowledge around sustainability to manage and execute these strategies. In response, business schools are beginning to incorporate green into their curricula in a way that provides students with a background in sustainability backed up by solid business fundamentals. Case in point: The W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.

Growing Demand

Recent research supports the notion that, the current post-recessionary economic environment aside, companies increasingly are looking to add talent with knowledge around sustainability. In a report from Kevin J. Dooley and Andrew Atzert with the W. P. Carey School, "Job Opportunities in Sustainable Supply Chain Management," based on a survey of 200 business managers and executives, the authors highlight that the overwhelming majority of executives (97.5 percent) in large businesses said they would value sustainability-related skills in a hiring decision.

Kevin Dooley, a professor of supply chain management and a Dean's Council of 100 Distinguished Scholar at the Carey School, notes that an analysis of the content of about 100 job announcements for sustainability-related positions in business revealed that companies were looking for candidates who would pursue sustainability through their traditional job functions. "The vast majority of the opportunity is for a person in logistics to get a job in logistics and then pursue green-related projects within the company, or for someone in supply chain to get a job through the regular supply chain channels and then work on projects involving green purchasing," Dooley says.

It is a natural evolution, Dooley adds, for companies to begin their sustainability journeys by initially focusing within their four walls. Retailer Wal-Mart had considerable success improving its sustainability and lowering its operational costs internally through such initiatives as changing lighting in stores and putting in electrical power generators near its docks so that trucks don't have to idle when loading or unloading. But Wal-Mart also understood that a very small portion of its overall footprint was due to the company's own operations. "They realized that if they could bring those same sorts of improvements to their supply chain, they could not only reduce their overall footprint but also reduce their supply chain costs," Dooley says.

However, companies looking to drive sustainability into their supply base are encountering a marked shortage of supply chain staff and executives with the necessary skills to improve supplier performance around sustainability. "We need a huge amount of capability development deep in our supply chains, and that challenge gets coupled with the human resource challenge — we just don't have a lot of people trained in sustainability," Dooley says.

Building the Supply

The W. P. Carey School responded to growing corporate demand for sustainability skills and knowledge two years ago when it established a new Bachelor of Arts in Business degree with a concentration in sustainability. ASU's School of Sustainability — the first school of its kind — provides many of the classes required for the new concentration.

The Carey School, of course, is home to one of the leading U.S. supply chain programs, and this year the supply chain faculty has begun adding courses specifically directed toward providing business students with the necessary background in corporate sustainability. Dooley, who is teaching the SCM 394 "Business and Sustainability" course, says that the classes have focused, in part, on issues like how to make a business case for sustainability — how to talk to internal and external constituents, including suppliers and customers, about the case for adopting sustainability practices. The class has looked, for example, at the frequently positive correlation between cost performance and sustainability, and at opportunities for bringing in additional revenue through sustainability efforts. Students also will learn how to do carbon footprinting and look at other measurements, assessments and strategies for improving environmental and social impacts.

An SCM 494 course planned for next year will provide more specialized knowledge for supply chain students, such as the ability to analyze and forecast sustainability-related technologies and perform lifecycle analyses on products to identify opportunities for improvement. The school also is adding a master's level course focused around sustainability.

Clinical Associate Professor Michele Pfund, who is the undergraduate program director for the Supply Chain Management Department, says that the courses and the overall concentration in sustainability have been structured to ensure that graduating students have a strong grounding in business basics in addition to knowledge around sustainability issues. "Companies are looking for student recruits who have knowledge about sustainability but also students who have analytical, project management, leadership and other fundamental business skills," says Pfund.

William Verdini, chair of the Supply Chain Management Department at the Carey School, says that the new program has met an enthusiastic response from students at the school. "The demand level from students coming into the Carey School for knowledge in this area is very high," he says, adding, "We were amazed at how many hundreds of people signed up for the B. A. in Business with a concentration in sustainability."

A Natural Home for Sustainability

Verdini notes that ASU is a natural home for a program in sustainability. The Princeton Review named Arizona State as one of the "greenest" universities in the country, and ASU's own procurement function has an ambitious program in place around sustainable practices, leveraging the expertise from within the supply chain program around sustainability to help drive these practices. The supply chain faculty participates in a number of the university's other initiatives around sustainability, including the Decision Center for Desert Cities and an initiative around sustainability within the Morrison School of Management and Agribusiness, part of the W. P. Carey School of Business.

Arizona State also is co-administering, with the University of Arkansas, the Sustainability Consortium, an initiative begun with $6 million in seed money provided by Wal-Mart and intended to develop transparent methodologies, tools and strategies to drive a new generation of products and supply networks that address environmental, social and economic imperatives. Jay S. Golden, with the School of Sustainability at ASU, is co-director of the consortium, and Professor Dooley sits on the group's Academic Planning Committee. Corporate members include some 50 manufacturers, suppliers and retailers, along with the Environmental Protection Agency and non-governmental organizations such as the Environmental Defense Fund and the U.K.'s Carbon Trust. One project of the consortium involves Dell, HP, Intel, Toshiba, Best Buy and Wal-Mart, and is aimed at helping to establish a system that will let consumers identify "green" electronics.

With research suggesting that the so-called "Millennial" generation of young people currently entering the workforce is more attuned to environmental sustainability, Pfund is not surprised that student interest in the sustainability concentration has been high. "Students today are very interested in leaving the Earth as a better place," she says, "and they're looking for the opportunity to go work for a company that is involved in sustainability." ¦