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SDG conference 2020 - Interview with Andreas Kaplan

Prof. Dr. Andreas Kaplan, Rector of ESCP Business School Berlin, about the importance of sustainability to the School’s campus.

Which keywords do you associate with sustainability at ESCP Berlin?

Sustainability is a key force in so many of the Berlin campus’ activities.
At our core, the importance of sustainability shines through as it is one of our campus’ key academic areas along with digitalisation and entrepreneurship.
Sustainability has been incorporated into curriculums and plays a major role in two of our specialised master programmes: The Master in Sustainability Entrepreneurship & Innovation and the Master in International Sustainability Management.
Finally, since 2019, ESCP Berlin is participating in the Green Office initiative. The initiative aims to foster sustainability on campus. I’m proud to say that we have students who are highly engaged in the Green Office programme and one of our goals now is to even further shift to buying more sustainable products, for example for catering at big events.
And for the sake of stating the obvious, our annual Conference for Sustainable Innovation, taking place right at the heart of Berlin next to the Brandenburg Gate, of course comes into my mind.

Are there planned sustainability measures which will be implemented in 2020?

Yes, there are. A good example would be the change in the curriculum of the Master in Management programme. Courses on sustainability are not only electives course anymore. It is now a mandatory course for all Master in Management students.
We also plan to advertise a new professorship in the field of sustainability. Including this professorship, the field of sustainability will make up for more than ten percent of our faculty.
Another great development is our new cooperation with a network called HOCHN. We currently work together very closely in order to write a sustainability report for ESCP Berlin. The next step would be to cooperate with other schools and universities from the network.

What do you think is a key in sustainable education to prepare future managers for sustainable business?

Nowadays, sustainable education is on demand from students. In general, students are much more conscious about sustainability compared to twenty years ago when I studied. In those days, no one would raise the question if a supply chain is sustainable or not. Many students want to partake in internships now to get their foot in the door for this field.
The majority of our graduates of our sustainability master programmes also want a job in this field. There comes an inevitable difficulty for our students who strive to be change-makers as there are simply not enough sustainability jobs out there to supply the increasing demand. This is why we always explain to our students from the get-go that a good position in marketing and finance could be still a good, maybe even a better opportunity because their sustainable background could lead to fundamental changes. On the other hand, we also tell students from other study programmes that a conventional career, at for instance an investment bank or in consulting is not always the best path for everybody. A career in the field of sustainability or in not-for-profit organizations could be better suited and more in line with the individual career wishes.
In essence, we want our students to understand that yes, it is important for businesses to make profit. It is however also vital that these businesses need to be responsible and sustainable in doing so. In my opinion this is the future-oriented approach that we are trying to teach.

Are there any specific sustainability topics which ESCP Berlin should focus on in research that come to mind?

Yes, I think there are some. One important topic is the question of how digitalisation and sustainability affect each other. This is especially important because they are both key academic areas of ESCP Berlin.
Furthermore, since we are a European business school it would be interesting to focus on cultural differences which hinder sustainability initiatives. For example, Germany has a highly functioning disposal system. I am not sure, if the exact same system would work, for example, in France.
Not only content-wise, but also with respect to presenting the respective research, we have some work ahead of us: Tools such as Skype could be used more often for conference presentations, instead of faculty flying around the world to deliver speeches on their research results.
Concerning the new professorship, I’m looking forward to seeing in which area of sustainability s/he will be an expert.

There is a new report of the German Advisory Council on Global Change with the title: “Towards Our Common Digital Future”. The report issues the effects between digitalisation and sustainability. In which way are both mainly interwoven?

In this context, I consider aspects of social sustainability as most important. Digitalisation causes socio-ecological changes, for example that many people will lose their jobs. Artificial intelligence and automation are the main drivers here. For this reason we need alternatives. We have to create a new job market where everyone has a long-term perspective.
Energy use is another challenge when it comes to digitalisation and sustainability. To give a picture, I will provide the example of a digital heating system. While it can definitely be more energy efficient than a conventional heating system, one also has to count in the energy consumption of the system itself.