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Business decisions don’t always have a one-time effect. There are often ramifications down the pipeline. Industrial-related companies must be aware of environmental impacts of their work. Businesses must also be cognizant of their practices toward employees regarding wages and hours. They must also have disaster plans in place.
Steve Swidler, J. Stanley Mackin Distinguished Professor in Finance at the Harbert College of Business, now teaches Sustainable Business: A Risk Management Approach (FINC 4970), which is open to all junior and senior-level students at Auburn University. This elective emphasizes the importance of risk management in a sustainable business.
The elective, which Swidler hopes can be offered at least once per year, exposes students to ideas that they wouldn’t have been exposed to in almost any other course at Harbert College. Topics discussed include corporate citizenship, risk vs. uncertainty, quantifying risk, risk modeling and derivative markets, carbon emissions and climate change, sustainable investing, and more.
“These are important issues. It also gives students an opportunity to feel good about what it is they are doing,” he said. “Sometimes, big business -- whether it’s in banking, manufacturing, or some other industry -- are often deemed as bad corporations. People believe that all they are interested in is maximizing profits for their shareholders. This gives you the opportunity to realize that there is a lot more to it than that and that corporations do a lot of good things. Not just for the environment, but for the people who work for the firm to the suppliers that provide inputs.
“There’s a school of thought, and I’m sympathetic to this school of thought, that doing good is good business. In other words, it’s in a firm’s best interest to take into account other things besides short-run profit maximization. It’s in the long-run interest of the firm to do things that are environmentally-friendly, that are good for their workforce and that contribute to the community, so while some of these are costly, the benefits might outweigh the costs.
“I view it as a ripple effect. When you throw a pebble in a pond, it’s not just the plunking of the pebble in the water, it’s the ripples that go out from that, effecting the pond as a whole. That’s the way we need to think about sustainability.”
Swidler said students should be drawn to sustainability as related courses can be valuable on their résumés.
“Within the corporate world, there’s a growing awareness that sustainability is important,” he said. “I think corporations will be looking for students who are attuned to whatever else it is that the firm could do and does do with respect to sustainability. The AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) believes that every program should have some sustainable training in their business curriculum. These days there are jobs specifically in the area of sustainability. Some firms have a chief sustainability officer and soon sustainable strategies will be integrated into the firm’s everyday operations.”