Solvay Brussels School – Where Sustainability is an Everyday Affair
Sustainability is the future, and today’s students must be equipped to build this future. That’s why Solvay Brussels School is integrating sustainability into all of its programmes.
“Our goal is to ensure that every student graduates with the knowledge, skills, and confidence they need to successfully manage the transition towards more sustainable business practices,” says Bernard Mathieu, Executive Director of Solvay Brussels School’s Sustainable Development Initiative.
According to Mathieu, managing this transition requires three key skills:
- the ability to understand how different issues are related
- the ability to consider different perspectives
- and the ability to see oneself as an actor for change.
Using these three skills as benchmarks, Mathieu has been reviewing each and every course and working with professors to transform the way sustainability is taught.
“It’s not about adding additional sustainability-specific courses,” he says. “It’s about ensuring that sustainability and all of its components – climate, energy, diversity, the circular economy – are an integral part of everything we teach.”
Spotlight on Sustainable Finance
So, what does this look like in practice?
To illustrate, we can look at the school’s Advanced Master’s in Financial Markets programme.
“One of the goals of this programme is to show why sustainability matters and what financing sustainability entails for public and private equity investing, bond investing, and banking,” says programme director and professor of finance Bernard Nicolay.
One of the programme’s most popular features is its use of guest lecturers. These guests include business executives and financial leaders working at major banks, venture capital firms, and multinational corporations. Each guest is invited to share their thoughts on sustainable finance and how they incorporate sustainability into their day-to-day decision making.
“These discussions are a one-of-a-kind opportunity for students to engage with actual decision makers and to see first-hand how sustainability is a non-negotiable factor in financial decision making,” explains Nicolay. “It also gives students a wide-ranging perspective on how multi-faceted sustainability is and how it impacts different roles and different stakeholders.”
Sustainability is also fully ingrained into a student’s skill development.
“Three of the key skills we teach all our finance students are asset allocation, risk pricing, and governance,” notes Nicolay. “Today, when we teach these skills, we do so using an Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance, or ESG, perspective.”
In addition to the courses themselves, sustainability is also at the heart of a student’s Capstone Project, which must be completed at the end of one’s programme.
“Whether the project is directly related to sustainability or on something more general, like strategic management or innovative business models, sustainability must be a factor in the decision-making process,” explains Mathieu. “Using the skills they acquired during their coursework, students are expected to have a keen understanding of how their decision will affect not only profitability – but the planet and people too.”
Embedding Sustainability Everywhere
While Solvay Brussels School isn’t the only business school to embrace sustainability, it is one of the few making a concerted effort to build a curriculum around sustainability.
“Many schools have added sustainability courses or require students to earn so many credits in sustainability,” notes Mathieu.
But sustainability doesn’t happen in a vacuum or on a dedicated day, it’s an everyday affair. “That’s why we’ve decided to take the more challenging route and embed sustainability into everything we do”, says Mathieu. “This is a key differentiator for us.”
It’s also a key differentiator for the students.
“Sustainability is here to stay, and by giving our students a solid foundation in the subject, they standout in their ability to understand the key concepts and be able to contribute starting from day one,” adds Nicolay.
“No matter what they end up doing, our students are change actors.”
The Process Starts Today
Twenty years ago, when Mathieu was just starting his career, he vividly remembers giving a presentation about climate change to company leaders and being laughed at.
“This is exactly what our Sustainable Development Initiative aims to change,” he says. “We want to ensure that managers and business leaders have the high level of awareness about the challenges society faces and, most importantly, be able to integrate these challenges into their decision making.”
To put this need into perspective, Mathieu points to the European challenge of achieving climate neutrality by 2050.
“This means that over the course of the next 30 years, business leaders will be expected to achieve change of an unprecedented scale,” he adds.
Mathieu goes on to say that even though 30 years isn’t a lot of time, it’s more than enough time to make sure tomorrow’s leaders are equipped with the skills they need to lead this change.
He concludes :
“At Solvay Brussels School, that process starts today”