In the last decade, sustainability remained a secondary topic for most organizations: it was seen as either a very technical topic, or a communication and lobbying topic. Organizations looking for sustainability answers hired specialized expert firms with engineering knowledge for technical assessments. From business schools, they mainly sought out communication & lobbying talent to join their CSR teams.

By Alexis De La Tour Du Pin
ESSEC Sustainability Chair (Transition Écologique)

At ESSEC Business School, we now believe the business world has reached a tipping point: organizations have entered an era of transformation around sustainability, which is reminiscent of the era of digital transformation that started out in the early 2010s. The risk not to transform has become immense: risk from employees threatening to leave, risk from the commercial side with suppliers adapting to sustainability regulation and clients looking for meaning and ethics, and finally financial risk, as finance is increasingly shifting its focus to sustainable projects and endeavors. This constellation of “transition risks”, as dubbed by many, has pushed organizations to empower CSR teams and consultants to influence their overall strategy, adapt their business models and upskill their employees. This is a massive change! CSR teams are morphing from nascent, communication teams to larger, fully empowered teams, often renamed “Impact”, with a Chief Impact Officer sitting at the board, and looking to massively hire. And for organizations who cannot afford an Impact team, specialized consultancies are growing and getting more clout over these companies’ strategies.

The result is a shortage of all-around talent with a systemic vision of sustainability challenges and a large array of skills, from understanding technical implications to gauging strategic and financial impacts, and crafting communication tactics. This is when business schools come into play: with that new era of sustainability transformation opening up, they need to train “sustainability transformers”, able to influence or lead the entire transformation of an organization. It is a challenge because sustainability, which has social, environmental, and economic components, is a very complex topic. The playbooks are relatively new, when they exist. Training students to gather deep enough knowledge of all the stakes, to understand the technical languages at hand (from e.g. the carbon footprint method to the Social ROI method), to grow the soft skills to accompany resistance to change, is a massive endeavor.

Training future “sustainability transformers” would involve to:

  1. Get students on a level playing field regarding all sustainability stakes and management domains, with courses like Responsible Marketing, Sustainable Finance, Sustainability reporting, Sustainability Economics or Sustainability Regulation and justice.
  2. Grow their knowledge of impact assessment: organizations can only go sustainable if their social and environmental impact can be measured
  3. Develop their systemic vision of sustainability transformation on 3 levels: strategy, operational change management, and individual soft skills
  4. Invite them on the ground for visits and learning expeditions, in order to get a concrete feel of the challenges at stake, anchor knowledge and convictions, and prepare them to embody sustainability transformation.

The sustainability-related job market has rapidly evolved, now leading to more job supply than demand! A wide array of careers related to sustainability thus awaits business school students, across numerous fields of activity in multiple industries:

  • Consultant in specialized consultancies or within new sustainability departments of larger consulting firms
  • CSR / Impact Manager within local or international businesses, NGOs, social enterprises or public administration
  • Specialized Project Manager on topics such as carbon emissions, circular economy, the design of eco-products, and so on
  • More traditional roles such as marketing manager or financial analyst, with an extra layer of knowledge around sustainability – we believe all jobs on the market, regardless of the industry or service, will progressively be “augmented” with sustainability
  • Green or social entrepreneurship

For years, ESSEC Business School has harbored numerous researchers, professors and learning Chairs around different, specific sustainability topics – from social entrepreneurship to philanthropy, from diversity and inclusiveness to ESG finance. That new era of sustainability transformation has pushed us to gather and deepen these expertises into one all-around program: this is why we launched the MSc in Sustainability Transformation. The program aims to train all-around generalists with a diverse set of sustainability skills, while allowing them to specialize through a major: students attend one of the 6 leading learning Chairs of ESSEC Business Schools, around Climate & Biodiversity, Circular Economy, Social entrepreneurship, Sustainable Finance, Food Transition, or Inclusiveness and Diversity.


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