Three Compelling Reasons to Study Sustainability

Why Every Student Should Take an Environmental Management Course

By Gary Survis*

When I graduated Wharton in 1986, sustainability wasn’t even on my radar screen.  Sure the concept existed (it had been introduced in the early 1970s), but the idea of combining business and environment were as unlikely a combination as Barak Obama and Newt Gingrich.  It took me many years, and the evolution of business, to learn that sustainable business in not an oxymoron and represents instead a core knowledge base for virtually every student.  Today, students have the opportunity to gain this understanding while at Penn and, I believe should do so, for three compelling reasons.

1) Sustainability is Ubiquitous. We have moved beyond the hype of the first ten years of the new millennium (think Leonardo DiCaprio attending the Academy Awards in a Prius to demonstrate his dedication to sustainability).  Today, in every facet of our daily existence, whether it is agriculture, energy, computing, or just about anything we touch, sustainable practices are becoming the norm.  I believe, currently, that there are sustainable ways to do things and un-sustainable ways.  In the future, there will just be one “way” which will be the norm… And that will be the sustainable one.

2) A “Well-Rounded” Education includes Environmental Management. To some, the idea of a “well-rounded” education is a quaint concept of a bygone era.  The truth is that a broad knowledge base prepares you to remain relevant regardless of the changes in our world… And there will be many in your lifetime.  It is during this amazing educational period that you must seize the opportunity to broaden your understanding of new subject areas.  So, I would argue that whether you are pursing business, liberal arts, pre-law, pre-med, or a multitude of other studies, the need to acquire an understanding of how organizations balance the 3p’s (Planet, People, and Profits) through effective environmental management is a core learning goal.

3) Every Career Demands Knowledge of the Environment. Just because your job title doesn’t include the word “sustainability” or “environment” doesn’t mean that you do not need to know about environmental management.  One of the amazing developments of sustainability over the last decade has been that environmental management has been freed from the confines of compliance and allowed to spread throughout the organization.  The concepts of green IT, logistics, manufacturing, marketing, cleantech investment, and so many other disciplines are engrained in business.  I can say with confidence that your next job will demand that you understand some aspect of sustainability or environmental management.

While, for self-interest, I want you to enroll in the course LGST 215/815, Environmental Management:  Law and Policy that I am teaching in the Spring 2013 semester, I hope that at a minimum you will be compelled to take any one of the great environmental/sustainability themed classes offered at Penn.  The knowledge that you gain will serve you well.

*Gary Survis is a Wharton IGEL Fellow and Wharton Adjunct Professor for course LGST 215/815, Environmental Management: Law and Policy.

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