University of Edinburgh Business School
Nurturing sustainability knowledge together: Learning outside the classroom
September 14, 2017

Visiting Lecturer, Dr Veselina Stoyanova, teaching the MSc Corporate Responsibility and Governance class, provides insights into the MSc students’ hands-on experiences of governance and sustainability from field trips to Standard Life and RBS.

Conducting research as well as teaching sustainability is an exciting but challenging process, which often requires interdisciplinary knowledge mainly because of the variety of societal issues it covers and its integrative, “triple bottom line” nature, namely its social, environmental and economic dimensions. Although sustainability and corporate social responsibility topics are becoming increasingly a part of the traditional curricula, teaching students how to become responsible future managers is by far a straightforward task.

Nevertheless, providing students only with pre-digested, theory-informed explanations endangers the cultivation of innovative and creative solutions to real-life sustainability problems. Building knowledge that lasts requires an integrative blend of pedagogical approaches – but most importantly, being exposed to real-life dilemmas in real time, getting one’s hands ‘dirty’.

During the 2016-17 academic year, for the first time, the Sustainable Business Initiative was able to provide MSc students who took Corporate Governance and Social Responsibility with the unique experience to meet and discuss the role of sustainability practices in business strategy with top sustainability managers in this area. These student treks were led by visiting lecturer Dr Veselina Stoyanova.

After five intensive weeks of learning about sustainability related theories and concepts in class, the MSc students spent the rest of the semester learning outside the typical classroom, at the premises of the Royal Bank of Scotland in Gogarburn, Standard Life Investment premises on George Street, as well as Standard Life* Headquarters, Lothian Road.

At the Royal Bank of Scotland, fruitful discussions with the head of sustainability, Sefton Laing, included the role of sustainability in the business strategy of the company group, and how practices and mind-sets have changed since the financial crisis in 2008. At Standard Life Investment, the students had an opportunity to engage with the topic and the technicalities around socially responsible investments.

Our visit to the Sustainability department at Standard Life was a mutually beneficial experience and an opportunity for the students to contribute to the business decision-making.

The students were able to explore the ‘secret’ life of Standard Life through a tour around the premises as well as nurture their sustainability knowledge during a workshop with Sandy Macdonald, the head of sustainability for the group. Sandy discussed the current priorities and principles of Standard Life in regards to sustainability with the students. The students then worked cooperatively to discuss the challenges of stakeholder management and prioritising. After some time brainstorming and discussing, solutions and action plans were proposed.

During the workshop the challenges and opportunities associated with stakeholder management and sustainability were discussed. ‘How do you balance across stakeholder demands?’ was among the hot-topic debates of the day.

*Now Standard Life Aberdeen.