Transformation towards Sustainability

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These competencies are explicitly fostered and described in Competence View.
These competencies are fostered in this course but are not explicitly described in Competence View. Please contact the responsible person for further information. Competencies in grey are fostered in this course but are generally not the focus of Competence View, which focusses on cross-disciplinary competencies.

In this flagship course os SusTec, students acquire essential knowledge about corporate sustainability and develop transferable competencies for implementation in real-world scenarios, preparing them for making well-informed sustainability decisions in their future careers. The course offers an immersive learning experience, including a 360-degree case study where students examine a company from various angles, learning to navigate tensions and trade-offs in corporate sustainability.

Overarching goal

Central to the course is the opportunity for students to reflect about the involved trade-offs in sustainability and how to transform companies towards sustainable practices. Furthermore, the course seeks to empower students to actively participate in driving this transformative process.

How is it done?

The course design aims to take students on a transformative learning journey focused on corporate sustainability. It comprises several distinct phases geared towards fostering transferable competencies essential for future roles. Here’s an overview:

Introduction Phase: Students begin by acquiring foundational knowledge of corporate sustainability through traditional lectures, laying the groundwork for subsequent stages.

Team Phase: Participants are organized into teams and tasked with delving deep into one of ten sustainability challenges, spanning areas such as biodiversity, carbon removal, and sustainability culture. They collaboratively analyze challenges within their chosen topic and develop innovative solutions. One solution is then refined into a comprehensive Board Proposal.

Board Session Phase: Transitioning from the content expertise gained in the previous phase, participants assume the role of decision-makers in a simulated Board Session. Facilitated by SusBot, a chatbot designed for analysis and evaluation, participants critically assess the proposed solutions.

Reflection Phase: The journey culminates in a reflective phase where participants engage with an external guest to contextualize and ponder their learning experiences, fostering deeper understanding and insight.

Throughout the course, blended learning techniques, including video resources and quizzes, enrich the learning process, providing opportunities for immediate knowledge assessment. Evaluation encompasses performance assessments via assignments throughout the semester and a comprehensive end-of-semester exam.

By engaging in this structured learning journey, students not only gain expertise in corporate sustainability but also cultivate essential competencies—such as critical thinking, cooperation and teamwork, problem-solving, negotiation, and decision-making—that will serve them well in their future careers.

Results, outlook and next steps

The highlight of this course is the 360-degree case study, which is an integral and essential part of the course. Over several weeks, students work in groups to develop solutions for a major Swiss supermarket chain. The defined goal is to improve and expand the supermarket’s pioneering role in the area of sustainability by finding feasible, innovative and effective solutions and projects. In the final fictitious board meeting, 10 proposals are weighed up against each other and the chosen sustainability portfolio is justified.

This 360° case allows students to:

  • Grasp the diversity of sustainability challenges that companies are facing and recognize key concepts of corporate sustainability, such as tensions and trade-offs
  • Generate realistic, yet innovative solutions for existing sustainability challenges a large retailer faces
  • Learn to evaluate sustainability proposal along several dimensions
  • Experience the challenges of negotiating different pathways for companies to become more sustainable

What makes this specific case so suitable?

The choice of a large Swiss supermarket as subject of the case study has proven to be very favorable. Students can easily relate to the case company and are already aware of the challenges in the area of sustainability. However, they lack simple solutions. The ability of the case to bridge the gap between theoretical understanding and practical application at different levels of expertise and experience is a great advantage.

What are the challenges of this format?

One of the major difficulties was to capture and handle the diversity in class across different dimensions: a diversity of challenges, a diversity of solutions, and a diversity of students with different experiences and expertise. But ultimately diversity is also one of its strengths: Students discovered that, amidst their unique strengths, effective collaboration and listening to peers emerged as essential success factors in developing and evaluating solutions to sustainability challenges.

Outlook

In the future, our focus will be on further empowering students to understand and contribute to sustainability transition in industry. Specifically, we aim to nurture their creative thinking skills to facilitate the generation of more innovative (radical) solutions, enhance their analytical abilities through comprehensive industry analyses, and refine their communication skills by providing opportunities to pitch their solutions. These initiatives stem from the recognition that current sustainability endeavors in the retail sector, and indeed across many industries, fall short of aligning corporate practices with the environmental and societal boundaries of our planet. Additionally, we firmly believe that the skills and competencies imparted through our lectures are crucial for driving sustainable change within the organizations where our students will eventually contribute after their time at ETH.

SusBot:

A Chatbot developed for the lecture in order to train students to critically analyse a board proposal.

Course Description

Name:
Corporate Sustainability
Description:
The lecture explores current challenges of corporate sustainability and prepares students to become champions for sustainable business practices in their careers. Using a mix of online self-study and in-class teaching, students learn central concepts about corporate sustainability. In the group work phase, they work in teams on solving sustainability challenges.
Objective:
After completing this course, students will be able to:
- critically evaluate the sustainability framework conditions of a specific company. They analyze proposed solutions to sustainability challenges and demonstrate problem-solving skills by designing and presenting concrete, actionable solutions.
- recognize and realize opportunities through team work for corporate sustainability in a business environment
- present strategic recommendations in teams
VVZ:
363-0387-00L
Department:
D-MTEC
Level:
BSc, MSc, MAS
Size:
200
Teaching Power:
4 lecturers, 1 coordinator, more than a dozen support staff
Assessment:
online examination written on campus and 4 deliverables during the semester

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