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Hoffmann Institute


Lessons in Sustainability: Strategy

Lessons in Sustainability: Strategy

Hoffmann Institute

Lessons in Sustainability: Strategy

Lessons in Sustainability: Strategy

Today’s business leaders need to understand strategy to deliver value in a changing 21st century economy. INSEAD strives to prepare our students to step up and lead in a world where sustainability strategies are sound business.

Since the launch of the Hoffmann Global Institute for Business and Society in 2018, the Institute has collaborated with Strategy academic area professors to help students understand the need for more sustainable business approaches. With leadership by forward thinkers, the Institute supports teaching sustainability as a business strategy most visibly through the Master Strategist Day, a student competition that now delivers strategies for success to social enterprises. With every MBA student engaged in finding strategic business solutions for social enterprises, sustainability is a core component of the INSEAD learning journey.

This is the latest in the Lessons in Sustainability series, which features stories and interviews that explore sustainability in each of the nine INSEAD academic areas.

Strategy in the Sustainability Era

Today’s leaders need new strategies to address new risks and gain an advantage in dynamic markets. Business models should align with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to create value for shareholders and stakeholders alike. INSEAD professors are thought leaders in this area, leveraging the school’s founding value of diversity to explore the cutting-edge strategies that business leaders need.

The INSEAD Strategy academic area focuses on the multi-disciplinary study of factors contributing to superior long-term performance of organisations across economic, social, and human dimensions. Research and teaching are aimed at changing the ways of thinking and doing in both academic and practitioner communities.

Insights from the Interview

To understand how the Strategy area incorporates sustainability into academics, the Hoffmann Institute connected with Professor Andrew Shipilov, Strategy Area Chair and The John H. Loudon Chaired Professor of International Management. He gave us some insights into how and why sustainability is taught as strategy.

Why is it important for future business leaders to learn about sustainable development practices?

Andrew Shipilov: Sustainability practices represent an important toolkit that future business leaders will have to be comfortable with. Failure to do so is an existential risk. Without this toolkit, we will exhaust the resources of our planet very soon and then there would be no future business or leaders to speak of.

Innovative strategies are needed to ensure we can deliver value while striking a balanced and integrated view on economic, environmental, and social performance. We build on the definition of economic sustainability as efficient and effective use of resources to create value by incorporating societal and environmental externalities into business decisions. In this area, we seek to develop an understanding of business models and processes that provide solutions to societal and environmental problems.

What does sustainability mean to you in the context of business education?

Andrew Shipilov: Sustainability means educating leaders about business models that incorporate long term time horizons as a source of accounting for value. For example, we need to educate executives that business models that help their company earn a dollar today at the expense of five dollars lost opportunity for their children and grandchildren should be replaced. Innovative models can help a company earn responsibly today without passing along expenses to future generations.

In the context of business education, it is important to understand how business strategies can achieve desired outcomes, including sustainable outcomes.

How do you teach sustainability in your academic area and what are the main topics?

Andrew Shipilov: Sustainability is featured as an integral part of the core MBA Strategy curriculum. In the Introduction to General Management course, the first course MBA students attend when they join INSEAD, we show a video with an alumnus CEO of a major airline on how ESG affects the industry and his company. We also created a survey to test student sustainability literacy when they join INSEAD and then select the students with the highest ratings to share their background and interest in sustainability as a Hoffmann Institute Story.

Sustainability is also a feature of the popular Master Strategist Day, a student-led strategy competition that features teams competing to deliver the top solution to real-world problems. Each year, social impact organisations partner with INSEAD to provide the challenges for our students. This year, students explored solutions to roll out an app for diabetic care to prevent blindness in low-income communities in developing countries and proposed business solutions to improve women's health access in the Middle East. Students compete for the Hugo van Berckel Award and have the opportunity to visit the social enterprises and implement the winning strategies.

Four of our eleven core Strategy sessions now include ESG and cover topics such as balancing economic value with externalities, environmental and social responsibilities, climate change and circularity.

Sustainability Across the Academic Area

Following the interview and discussion how sustainability is integrated into the core MBA curriculum, the Hoffmann Institute engaged with Strategy area professors to understand how they are embracing sustainability in electives, executive education and engagement.

Sustainability-focused electives give students options to learn about different ways strategy and sustainability intersect and chart their own learning journey. The Integrating Performance and Progress elective shows the benefits of an integrated approach. The Technology and Innovation Strategy elective features two mini-cases on green innovation and expert speakers. The Global Strategy elective includes a session on global open innovation and sustainability, and Strategy and Investing for Impact explores sustainable investment strategies and ESG.

Sustainability is also discussed in executive education programmes that cover Strategy. Much of this learning overlaps with MBA electives on global strategy and performance and progress. Executives can choose to visit STATION F, the world’s largest start-up campus, and learn about the role of strategic innovation in sustainability. Digital and sustainability are presented as twin transformations, and social and environmental dimensions are integrated into learning.

This commitment to embed sustainability in Strategy academics is reflected in the engagement by Strategy professors, and the cases they write. The Global Strategy elective and executive coursework is underpinned by a case on ENEL Innovability, which was recognised with an award for Ethics and Social Responsibility at The Case Centre Awards and Competitions 2021. Co-authored by Strategy-area professor Felipe Monteiro, this case explores an Italian power company’s embrace of green energy transformation. Professor Ilze Kivleniece co-authored a case on the Unjani Clinics, a women-led social enterprise featured in the popular Master Strategist Day. Professor Jasjit Singh is a prolific case author on issues ranging from social impact to inequality and corporate responsibility, with other professors publishing Strategy cases on issues such as the future of food and public health.

These cases form a foundation for engagement. The ENEL Innovability case was launched at SDG Week to show students what is possible. Professor Chengyi Lin delivered a TED Talk based on his work on technology and the future of food. From alumni chats to webinars and academic presentations, INSEAD Strategy area professors are leading voices in the sustainability conversation. A more comprehensive brief overview of their latest and most impactful work on sustainability can be found in this Sustainability Summary.

The Path Forward

This new era of business requires a rethink of business strategies. Digital transformation and recognition of the need for sustainable and responsible new approaches shows that we need agile leaders. Business and community leaders need sound strategies to champion both prosperity and positive social impact.

The INSEAD Strategy area is leading the way in developing innovative strategies that create value for business and society. This work can empower leaders to deliver policies, practices and products that do not come at the expense of people or the planet. Business education must prepare leaders for the challenges and opportunities we face in these turbulent times. Through sound strategy, we can grow and develop as one connected global economy.


The Hoffmann Global Institute for Business and Society Lessons in Sustainability series highlights lessons learned from integrating sustainability into all nine INSEAD academic areas. Look for more Lessons in Sustainability stories in the weeks ahead.

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