Survey Says Business Leaders Need Sustainability Refresher

A recent national survey shows that 82 percent of Americans believe that in order to remain globally competitive, U.S. business leaders must understand how to manage business in an environmentally sustainable manner. Yet only 13 percent of U.S. adults are confident that corporate America has the knowledge to make decisions that consider long-term impacts on the environment.

As a result, university leaders say academia must provide greater access to environmental education for adult returning students, and business must tap into new programs so that emerging leaders get what they need to succeed.

The Sustainable Leadership Census was conducted by telephone within the United States by Harris Interactive on behalf of the University of Wisconsin-Extension May 19 - 23, 2010 among 1,006 U.S. adults. Eighty-two percent of U.S. adults participating agree that company leaders need to learn more about the environment in order to make better decisions.

"It’s becoming increasingly apparent that sustainable management is not confined to a limited segment of ‘green sector‘ jobs. Every job confronts sustainability issues," said David Schejbal, dean of the University of Wisconsin-Extension Continuing Education, Outreach and E-Learning division. "All current and future managers across every business discipline will have to be environmentally-literate."

As sustainability becomes a requirement of businesses due to intensifying regulation, increasingly limited resources, advances in green technologies, and heightened public demand, the survey results point to a knowledge gap. Thirty-two percent of the employed respondents reported that their managers have had some training on the subject of sustainable management business practices. Furthermore, when asked which of the following courses would help businesses make decisions that take the environment into consideration, 70 percent of the respondents selected courses in renewable energy, natural resource management, and Triple Bottom Line accounting that measures the business’ impact on people, profit and the planet. The Council of Environmental Deans and Directors (CEDD) sees the survey as a call to increase the diversity of environmental programs as much as possible to prepare students for the wide range of jobs that require this knowledge to succeed.

CEDD President Bill Sullivan said "This is relevant for today's managers across all industries. As expectations rise, so does the need to retool. To compete as this new economy surges forward, today’s corporate leaders must be environmentally agile, eco-literate, and able to respond quickly. We must educate executives already on the job. But when juggling the demand of work, family and life in general, even the most environmentally sensitive executives may wonder how they’ll gain the new skills and mindset needed to lead their businesses and this country forward."

Sullivan, a professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said: "Our job as educators now is to focus on increased access and flexibility for the curriculum foundation we’ve built to deliver relevant environmental and sustainability programs to returning adult students."

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