Sustainability Education Program

“Today, with little sustained attention to critical sustainability issues like poverty, climate change, species extinction, social unrest, equity, and fairness in a rapidly globalized world, some have begun to question whether business schools are falling out of step and irrelevant to the world of practice and whether the modern business school must fundamentally alter its teaching and research in order to respond to the environmental and social challenges of the twenty-first century.” 

-Andrew Hoffman, Holcim (US) Professor of Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan and Education Director of the Graham Sustainability Institute

Humanity today is facing increasingly interconnected challenges, and thus educating future leaders about sustainable solutions to these challenges is ever more critical. Through our Sustainability Education Program, the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation continues our long-term commitment to sustainability science, a field that offers a fresh way of addressing some of the most intractable social and environmental challenges of our time. 

The sustainability science approach to solving complex environmental and social problems aims to bring together scholarship and practice, global and local perspectives, and disciplines across natural and social sciences. A critical first step in escalating the use of sustainability science is to educate a new generation of future leaders about the concept and its application. This new approach to problem-solving also requires increased public awareness and acceptance in order to positively influence decision makers and community leaders.

Since 2012, CGMF has worked with The University of Texas at Austin to integrate sustainability into three facets of the university—education, research, and facilities. The project for this year increased efforts related to course development, course implementation, creation of new degree plans/options, and gaining buy-in from faculty and administrators. As a step in that direction, a new major in sustainability studies is being formed in the Geography department, and faculty and administrators are still looking at ways to create a stand-alone Bachelor of Arts in Sustainability Studies (BASS) degree. A new focus was also placed on the energy components of the program, including course development, research, and a strategic plan for the campus-wide energy institute. 

CGMF further demonstrated our commitment to sustainability education by sponsoring the Power Across Texas 2015 Texas Energy Innovation Challenge (TEIC), a competition in which graduate students from interdisciplinary academic programs at the major universities in Texas are challenged to bring research and imagination to help solve an existing energy problem for Texans. This year’s topic challenged the students to research, evaluate, and develop the most creative and economic use for water produced from the hydraulic fracturing of wells. Whether that solution included recycling, disposal, or discharge was up to the participants. 

On September 17, the Mitchell Foundation, in conjunction with the Energy Institute and the Kay Bailey Hutchison Center for Energy, Law, and Business at the University of Texas, hosted a faculty symposium featuring Andrew Hoffman, the Holcim (US) Professor of Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan. The symposium focused on Hoffman’s innovative and thought-provoking work, The Fourth Wave: Management Science and Practice in the Age of the Anthropocene. This paper presents a model for understanding the progression of punctuated socialchange within the market that has taken us to the present reality, moving through three waves from 1970 to the present. Hoffman then presents an assessment of where we may be going in the fourth wave, a shift that is predicated on the notion that we are now living in the Anthropocene, a new geologic epoch in which human activities have a significant impact on the earth’s ecosystems.  


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