The 2019 Conference for Sustainable Innovation organized by ESCP took place in January right in the heart of Berlin with businesses, government institutions and civil society joining forces to push the SDG agenda and face the challenges together.

Business plays a major role in shaping today’s economic and social life all over the world. Therefore, it is crucial that managers understand their responsibility and the impact of their decisions on people’s daily lives and the physical environment. This is why ESCP committed to the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda and integrated its global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into the curriculum of future managers’ education.
The conference is part of the mandatory Career Development Programme at the ESCP in Berlin and was largely organised by students of the MSc in International Sustainability Management, one of the world’s first business degrees in the field. “None of you needs to be the next Mahatma Ghandi or Nelson Mandela but you all have more influence than you think – on your environment, family, friends, fellow students,” stressed ESCP Berlin Rector Prof. Andreas Kaplan in his opening speech. Research has shown that even exceedingly introverted people have a direct influence on around 10,000 people around them. Most of the ESCP students will go on to become very successful managers or company founders. Their influence is therefore likely to be significantly greater.

With the 2018 Conference on Sustainable Innovation, the school already provided an actual space to enhance the collaboration between the three key stakeholders for sustainable development: business, government and society. In 2019, ESCP wanted to take this initiative to the next level: the conference for sustainable development intended to be the first step in forming a lasting and effective interdisciplinary, collaborative platform where businesses, government institutions and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) can share and discuss challenges from different perspectives in order to learn from one another, find new partners for implementation and involve future talents, as well as find new ways and approaches for collaboration and projects.

On 9th January 2019, the event kicked off at the Allianz Forum next to the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin for the third year. During two days, students of the Master in Management programme discussed sustainability in business with Prof. Dr Andreas Kaplan, Corporate Sustainability Chairholder Florian Lüdeke-Freund as well as several other ESCP Professors, delegates from established businesses, start-ups, politics, administration and NGOs. Together, they developed their own ideas for a world where social, ecological and business goals are reconciled. According to Professor Aurélien Acquier, the Head of Sustainability Transition at ESCP and scientific co-director of the Deloitte ESCP Chair in Circular Economy & Sustainable Business Models, this event is a perfect illustration of the school’s strategic signature, “Designing Tomorrow”: "As a leading European business school, it is our responsibility and pride to connect different stakeholders to envision new forms of business and innovation, likely to answer the fundamental social and ecological challenges of our times."

Concrete projects for a sustainable world

This year, 70 experts delivered best practice examples from business, including consumer goods company Proctor & Gamble, Berlin's public cleaning service (Berliner Stadtreinigung), textile manufacturer Uniqlo, technology company DNV GL Business Assurance and consultancy firm Accenture. There was an additional focus on the issue of food waste. Querfeld and Biocompany, two members of businesses and organisations 'United Against Waste', also took part in the workshop. “We want to work with young people to address the challenges of the future. Our example projects have shown to the upcoming generation of managers that sustainable innovations are possible, said Sven Edgren, Head of Digital Transformation at DNV GL Business Assurance. Innovation and sustainability have to work hand in hand and they are taking place here and now.”

WorkshopThe 300 international students who participated developed ideas and projects in 20 workshops co-organised on the school’s campus on the second day of the conference by the oikos student society and the students of the MSc in International Sustainability Management. Some of their ideas may be put into practice. The example of Andrea Bragagna shows just how fruitful the dialogue and collaborative work during the conference was: the Italian business student took part in last year’s sustainability conference and although he joined a workshop “with no great expectations”, a project idea came into being during the course of the session.
At this year’s conference, Bragagna ran his own workshop on the topic of “Sustainability in Mass Events”, his goal being to get started with the development of a circular waste management system for large events.

As well as avoiding waste, the students discussed food waste, sustainable financing models, smart living and liveable city design. It made it clear that sustainability has become an interdisciplinary issue that cuts across all business sectors. ESCP practises this philosophy by integrating sustainability as an integral element into its Master in Management degree’s courses. With the relevant professorships, chairs and research centres, ESCP has a strong focus on the link between management and sustainability. ESCP offers two Master programmes, numerous elective courses and opportunities to specialise, as well as professional development for managers.