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Opinion: Climate-related courses should be mandated across TRSM programs

By Jillian Neufeldt

As a 2020 marketing management graduate of the Ted Rogers School of Management (TRSM), I felt my education was lacking when it came to climate education and its applications to a business context. 

I was taught about various growth metrics such as return on investment (ROI). My classmates and I, however, never engaged in critical thought about these growth metrics in our courses. We never discussed whether unlimited growth, as presented in courses and encouraged through growth metrics, is sustainable. Ethics was not the focus of any required courses throughout my degree.

Increasingly relevant concepts in marketing, such as de-marketing (a strategy whereby a brand encourages consumers to buy less from the company for the sake of the environment) and greenwashing (a symbolic communication gesture to create a misleading pro-environmental or pro-social image) were not taught in any courses I took. I only learned about these terms by doing my own research. 

Many industries where TRSM graduates will go on to work—such as transportation, tourism and energy production—are some of the largest global emitters of fossil fuels.

In 2019, the oil and gas sector alone accounted for 26 per cent of Canada’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, followed closely by the transportation sector at 25 per cent. Other Canadian economic sectors each accounted for between seven to 12 per cent of Canada’s total GHG emissions. 

“Today’s business students are the leaders of tomorrow, and they need to be equipped with knowledge on climate change”

The disastrous effects of climate change—severe tropical storms, droughts, wildfires, sea-level rise, biodiversity extinction, infectious diseases, famine, conflict over resources and refugees and more—are already being felt and will only worsen if nothing is done.

For example, the extreme heat wave experienced in the Pacific Northwest during the summer of 2021 was the “most anomalous” extreme heat event that scientists have ever recorded on earth. Hundreds of people died as a result of the heat, and shoreline habitats exceeded temperatures of 50°C, cooking over a billion seashore animals.

Extreme wildfires also present an increasingly dire problem. Eight of the world’s worst fire seasons happened in the past decade. Three of B.C.’s worst fire seasons occurred in the past five years: 2017, 2018 and 2021. Scientists have confirmed that weather patterns caused by climate change, such as lower humidity and higher temperatures, drive extreme wildfires.

Climate change also impacts the economy, an intersection that is crucial for TRSM students to be familiar with. It was estimated that climate disasters cost the world $650 billion from 2016 to 2018. 

TRSM is already doing some work in the area of sustainability. The faculty generates reports on corporate social responsibility, sustainability and ethics education. 

Faculty members are publishing research related to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), such as “Measuring the Choice of Environmental Sustainability Strategies in Creating a Competitive Advantage” and “A probabilistic weighting model for setting priorities in assessing sustainability performance.” 

There are some electives offered that touch on the topic of sustainability, like GMS 530: Managing Sustainability Internationally. Corporate Knights, a publication that self-describes as the voice for clean capitalism, recently ranked Ryerson first in their sustainability rankings for undergraduate business programs. 

While these are great first steps, TRSM needs to do more.

Today’s business students are the leaders of tomorrow, and they need to be equipped with knowledge on climate change. 

Climate change is impacting the business community, and it will only worsen as we continue along our current warming trajectory of at least 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. Climate change impacts supply chains, insurance, labour and many other areas of business. We cannot continue to take a business-as-usual approach to business education by teaching profit-centric models that come at the expense of the environment. 

We need to cultivate a new generation of business leaders who are aware of the magnitude and scope of climate change, have an understanding of the role business plays in both contributing to and fighting the climate crisis and are empowered to be agents of positive change upon entering the workforce. 

At a minimum, I would like to see TRSM implement at least one mandatory climate education course across all programs. Ideally, the course would introduce the basic science of climate change; how business is responding to climate change; the role of business in sustainable development; and issues of corporate greening. 

Ryerson already prides itself on being bold, equitable, inclusive and sustainable. Let’s ensure we’re at the forefront, with forward-looking business education that will create a legion of positive change-makers.

Jillian Neufeldt recently graduated from the Ted Rogers School of Management with a specialization in marketing. She is passionate about climate change, and is particularly interested in the role corporations play in the fight against climate change.

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