MIT Sloan’s Deputy Dean Locke Talks Sustainability


Laura Oppenheimer of The Oregonian wrote up a great Q&A late last week with deputy dean Richard Locke of MIT Sloan School of Management. Locke specializes in sustainable business practices and has spent several years studying Nike’s labor issues.

Below are some snippets from Oppenheimer’s interview. You can read the entire piece here.

What inspired you and your colleagues to launch the Laboratory for Sustainable Business?

We realized that each of us had incredible concern and passion for this issue, but we were treating it as if it was our hobby. So my day job was teaching global entrepreneurship and somebody else was teaching corporate strategy and someone else was teaching system dynamics. We decided to come together and form a class that would have this lab approach.

What we realized is, we needed to do three things.

We needed to give some basic literacy about sustainability.

Once you begin to learn the facts, it’s pretty overwhelming. We’re not going to focus on the problems, we’re going to focus on the solutions. We decided to look, for example, at what are companies doing within their own operations?

Then we went to the next level: What are they doing in their supply chains? And what are they doing in their markets? What are they doing in product development?

The third thing we wanted to do is get the students to roll up their sleeves and do something. So we recruited a number of companies — Nike being one — to host a team of students. We wanted startup companies, established companies, private sector, public sector, U.S., non-U.S. that were trying to either redefine existing business practices to make them more sustainable, or maybe launch a new business model or practice.

Are students thinking about sustainable business practices?

Business school students often are offered kind of a false choice about their education and career management. It’s presented like, “Well, you can either do stuff so you can make money, or you can do good things.” What we want to do is tell students, “Of course you want to manage your career so you can support your family, but you don’t have to leave your values at the door.”

Regardless of what you do, whether you go work for a bank or a manufacturing company, you don’t have to end up being a chief sustainability officer. You can be anything. But you bring these concerns around sustainability into your practices, into whatever operation or department you’re working in.

When we frame it that way — sustainability as opportunity, not constraint; sustainability as something you can do and have a mainstream, traditional job; sustainability in the broader sense of the term — then it has a much broader appeal.

(photo credit: MIT Sloan School of Management)


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