Sustainability heart

Many business leaders recognize that sustainable practices increase their company’s competitive advantage and enable it to attract and retain the best employees. However, they constantly face a major challenge: overcoming the misconception that it’s almost impossible for a business to improve its environmental and social impact while still increasing its bottom line.

In the Sustainable Change Leadership: Turning Business into a Force for Good course, students work with local businesses in the B Lab community who are in various stages of B Lab certification to better help their clients become more sustainable and profitable.

What is B Lab?

B Lab is a nonprofit organization “that serves a global movement of people using business as a force for good.” Their vision is to see all companies strive to make the world a better place.

The “B” stands for beneficial and over 2,400 companies have gained this certification by completing the online B Impact Assessment and receiving the minimum score.

The assessment ensures the company meets standards of transparency, accountability, sustainability, and performance. The idea is that the firm creates value for all of society, not just shareholders.

This movement has gained traction and big brands like Ben and Jerry’s, Patagonia, and Kickstarter have all become certified to show their commitment to sustainability. This month Danone joined the ranks by completing their certification to become the largest Certified B Corp in the world.

Students learn about sustainability firsthand

 “By blending change leadership and management with concepts of sustainable change, students get to experience the ‘messy’ part of a business and learn that it’s okay that it’s not black and white.” – Oxana Trotsenko

Working alongside local businesses, students gain real-world experience by learning the ins-and-outs of business operations.

Undergraduate students develop a case history for the business. They identify how the business can be used as a force for good, pinpoint their experience with B Lab assessment, and develop a plan for tangible steps towards measuring and changing what matters.

Taking it a step further, graduate students consult directly with the companies. They provide recommendations to the owners on which areas of the B Lab assessment the company should focus on. Areas of focus include governance, employees, community, and environment. Students also develop a plan on how to improve impact in the chosen area of focus.

“By blending change leadership and management with concepts of sustainable change, students get to experience the ‘messy’ part of a business and learn that it’s okay that it’s not black and white,” shared Oxana Trotsenko, lecturer of Managing for Sustainability and Innovation and Sustainability Coordinator with the City of Denver, who earned her Professional MBA with a specialization in Managing for Sustainability at the CU Denver Business School.

A student shares her takeaways

Audrey Cruz
Audrey Siegfried Cruz, Professional MBA student

Audrey Siegfried Cruz, earning her Professional MBA with specializations in both business strategy and change management, shared, “This project has given me the opportunity to practice relationship cultivation, apply project management processes, conduct and analyze research, and develop recommendations that can feasibly be implemented.”

Her biggest takeaways from the class included a number of lessons. She now understands that financial profit and contributing to the greater good are not mutually exclusive. Through her consulting, she’s seen how to implement these changes in a way that’s good for the bottom line as well as for society.

She also shared how her view on what sustainability means has shifted. Before the class, she saw the term as a buzzword that is often used interchangeably with environmental impact. With that definition, it is easy for companies to dismiss the concept as unrelated to the work they do.

Now, she understands that sustainability is inclusive of all practices that will help to create longevity for the business including governance, employee relations, and interactions with the community. That means sustainability is relevant to every company, regardless of industry, size, or budget.

Sustainability is relevant to every company, regardless of industry, size, or budget.

Another big takeaway Cruz shared is “business does not have to be a zero-sum game. Through the sustainability lens, each business is part of a larger ecosystem. The balance of that ecosystem is critical for survival, and businesses work collaboratively to support the ecosystem.”

“Business does not have to be a zero-sum game.” – Audrey Cruz

In relation to her change management specialization, she’s learned that people often think of organizational change as infrequent and episodic. Through this class, she has a real-life example of how change is inevitable and perpetual. She believes that “change leadership and the implementation of intentional change management processes are critical for business survival.”

The challenges and benefits of a career in sustainability

“Building a career in sustainability can be challenging, and I wanted to share with students that it is possible to have one as long as you are persistent and somewhat creative,” Trotsenko shared. This class was created to let students learn that lesson first hand.

“Building a career in sustainability can be challenging, and I wanted to share with students that it is possible to have one as long as you are persistent and somewhat creative.” – Oxana Trotsenko

“I have always felt a compelling drive to contribute to something greater than myself and believe deeply that the world can be a better place if we make it a better place,” Cruz shared in regards to motivation for completing her Professional MBA.

Working with mission-driven nonprofits and government agencies for the past fifteen years, Cruz realized that in order to fix societal problems, you need adequate resources and appropriate business knowledge. “I realized that pursuing my MBA would provide more opportunities to have the impact I want to have while allowing me to use my skills in a more meaningful way,” Cruz stated.

“I realized that pursuing my MBA would provide more opportunities to have the impact I want to have while allowing me to use my skills in a more meaningful way.” – Audrey Cruz

“In taking classes focused on sustainability and change management, I believe I am finally combining my skills and passions. Not only can business be used as a force for good, I think it’s the only real solution that we have for combatting our greatest challenges,” Cruz elaborated.

“Not only can business be used as a force for good, I think it’s the only real solution that we have for combatting our greatest challenges.” – Audrey Cruz

A business school dedicated to sustainability

The CU Denver Business School has been in the sustainability game for a long time. The Managing for Sustainability program is celebrating 10 years this year and alumni from the program have gone on to great success.

One alumna, Jennifer Leitsch, is currently the Director of Corporate Responsibility at CBRE. Since graduating, she was named to Denver Business Journal’s 40 under 40 in 2014. She is a part of the Managing for Sustainability Advisory Council and has established a scholarship to support outstanding students in the Managing for Sustainability program.

Since companies are increasingly expected to reduce their negative impact on the environment while still earning an adequate bottom line, sustainability is beneficial for every company.

Other Advisory Council members include Jerry Tinianow, Chief Sustainability Officer for the City of Denver, and Angela Fisher, Co-Founder and Director of Aspire Sustainability in Breckenridge.

The Business School believes that every aspiring business leader requires a solid grounding in the principles of sustainable business and is one of the few in the country that is educating students on sustainable management in all aspects of business.

There are a plethora of sustainability courses to choose from at the Business School, and this course, Sustainable Change Leadership: Turning Business into a Force for Good, will be offered again next spring semester.

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