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Sustainability is an increasingly important part of international business

Companies can work as change agents, Assistant Professor Tiina Ritvala says.
Sustainability in International Business -kurssilla piti vierailijaluennon mm. Nesteen yritysvastuujohtaja Kaisa Hietala.
'Sustainability and profit are not mutually exclusive' , Neste’s Executive Vice President of Renewable Products Kaisa Hietala explained when she gave a guest lecture in the course. Photo: Roope Kiviranta / Aalto University

The Sustainability in International Business course of the School of Business focuses on how international companies, both large and small, can place sustainability in the heart of their business strategy, and thus make a difference. A responsible company operates as sustainably as possible, and coordinates the objectives and expectations of the company and its stakeholders. The course covers sustainability in an extensive manner, both from the perspective of environmental sustainability as well as social and economic sustainability.

‘We dealt mostly with economic and environmental sustainability, but we also considered social responsibility, which businesses now increasingly take into account, too. Social sustainability means all of the effects which the company's activities have on different groups of people and communities. Dialogue with the stakeholders is essential; this way, the company receives information on the expectations of different communities in relation to the company's operations. The dialogue also gives access to the stakeholders’ expertise”, teacher in charge of the course, Assistant Professor of International Business Tiina Ritvala says.

Sustainability and profit are not mutually exclusive

According to Ritvala, case studies completed on the course were challenging, but at the same time, the students were able to see how many issues can actually be solved despite the difficulties. The course’s business and organisational partners were Fazer, Finnair, Neste and UNICEF. Course participants were also able to visit the main offices of Finnair and Fazer. Finnair and Fazer have already been involved for several years, while Neste and UNICEF participated for the first time. A non-profit organisational case from UNICEF examined, in particular, children's rights in global supply chains, while in previous years, the focus has been on foundations doing work related to the Baltic Sea.  

‘To me, it was particularly interesting to learn both in theory and in practice, how sustainability can create value for both society and the company. For example, Neste’s Executive Vice President of Renewable Products Kaisa Hietala explained very well, how sustainability and profit are not mutually exclusive. The huge growth in sales of Neste’s renewable products is an excellent example of this’, commented Noora Huttula, first-year student in the Global Management Master’s Programme and CEMS MIM (Master's in International Management).

Another student of the same Global Management and CEMS MIM, Italian Giacomo Giagnoli explains how the course opened his eyes to see how sustainability concerns him both as a consumer and as a business student. ‘As a consumer, I learned how I can support responsible companies and sustainable activities, while as a business student I learned how I can become an effective and responsible manager.’

The lectures included a lot of inclusive discussion

‘I do not want to mull over ‘doomsday scenarios’ on this course or examine corporate scandals. Instead, we will look forward and focus on case studies on how businesses can become change agents. The first hour of my lectures typically consists of theory, followed by two hours of case studies and discussion’, Tiina Ritvala says.

This autumn’s course participants were quite a heterogeneous group, which brought various different perspectives to the discussion. The course was attended by more than thirty students, and most of the participants were students from the School of Business. In addition, there were a few students from the Creative Sustainability and the IDBM programmes of the School of Arts, Design and Architecture, as well as some technology students. Three Open University students with significant experience from, for example, banking and financing, also took part.

‘New perspectives and new ideas are needed for the promotion of sustainable development and for finding new solutions to sustainability challenges. It is a good idea to look for these new ideas from outside your company’, says, in turn, Fazer’s Corporate Responsibility Director Nina Elomaa regarding the company's motives to get involved in the course.

The Sustainability in International Business course will be offered next in autumn 2019. If there are as many, or even more, people interested as there were this year, it is worth enrolling as soon as possible.

Kurssilaiset vierailulla Fazerilassa Vantaalla.
Students were also able to visit the Fazer Experience Visitor Centre in Vantaa.

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