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Lessons in Sustainability: Technology and Operations Management


Hoffmann Institute

Lessons in Sustainability: Technology and Operations Management

Lessons in Sustainability: Technology and Operations Management

Sustainability is the trend in business today. Sustainable development offers a path to manage emerging risks while opening new opportunities. For decades, INSEAD has been a pioneer in business solutions to solve pressing global challenges and deliver a more sustainable future.

When we think of sustainable development transformation, we often think of solar panels, electric vehicles, smart buildings and other innovations that mark progress towards a low-emission future. The world is moving towards new and sustainable models of prosperity. New technologies and new ways of doing business are the driving force behind this transformation. INSEAD provides leaders with the knowledge and skills needed to harness emerging technologies and innovate new and exciting business models.

The Technology and Operations Management academic area has been central to INSEAD thought leadership on sustainability. Since its launch in 2018, the Hoffmann Global Institute for Business and Society has collaborated with professors from this area to advance work on the circular economy, energy transition, global health, humanitarian logistics and more.

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

Pioneering Business Solutions

The INSEAD Technology and Operations Management academic area focuses on value creation on a global scale through innovative product and process design, project management and supply chain management. In today’s interconnected world, responsible leaders can leverage these to create value for both business and society.

Technology and Operations Management professors have a record of success putting sustainability research into practice. Luke Van Wassenhove, now an emeritus professor, is a noted thought leader in innovating business solutions to meet global challenges. Professor Van Wassenhove’s work to align business models and new technologies with the UN Sustainable Development Goals explores closed-loop supply chains, circular economy and disaster and health logistics. He was instrumental in launching the INSEAD Social Innovation Center and the INSEAD Humanitarian Research Group, which has launched a Sustainable Operations Initiative.

Technology and operations management are powerful forces that, when leveraged responsibly, can meet today’s global challenges. In our 21st century economy, new technology and innovative approaches can give a company a competitive edge. They can also be used to improve disaster response, protect critical habitat and promote community health.

An Insightful Interview

To learn more about this powerful potential, the Hoffmann Institute sat down with Professor Manuel Sosa, Chair of the area. The interview covered how Technology and Operations Management integrates sustainability into academics and Professor Sosa’s thoughts on leveraging technology and operations for a sustainable future.

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

Professor Sosa: The ‘why’ of sustainability is the first concern. And understanding why is becoming easier as evidence mounts that we need to find new ways to build long-term prosperity. Leaders are increasingly unable to ignore this evidence and the why has been largely addressed. In Technology and Operations Management, we are looking at “how” to make positive impact a new objective function for business beyond shareholder value.

The “how” is a bit more difficult. It will be different for every sector and every economy. Business leaders need to learn about sustainable development so they can start changing, creating new practices and innovating new models of doing business. And they will bring regulators and consumers and investors and policymakers with them.

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

Professor Sosa: Scholars play a critical role in developing leaders, creating knowledge and convening experts to drive progress and deliver change. Right now, we are integrating sustainability into the MBA programme in ways that ensure our graduates understand the impacts of decisions on business and society. We have to provide the tools and tactics to manage business and the externalities beyond business, such as environmental impacts, the health and well-being of people and more.

In my own work on design and product development, I am looking to expand the concept of design for sustainability. For example, the product design decisions we make now must account for the end of the product’s lifecycle. This is how we can reduce waste and lay the foundation for a more circular supply chain. Our area professors are looking at issues like this through the lens of innovation, looking at design of products and processes with an eye to deliver value to business and society across the lifecycle.

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

Professor Sosa: Our area incorporates sustainable operations as a pillar and it is reflected across research and teaching. We focus on how operations management decisions impact externalities such as the environment or people’s well-being. This informs the Business Sustainability Thinking course that we give across all levels. Our colleague Atalay Atasu is one of the pioneers incorporating more and more Business Sustainability Thinking into the MBA programme.

We are looking to expand on this and engage more widely. In recent years, professors from our area have collaborated on Master Strategist Day and customized the business thinking course for different sectors and economies. We are developing a course on design for sustainability. We are exploring how to leverage AI, machine learning, data and other digital assets in health care, humanitarian aid, supply chains. Now is the time to design the products and processes that create sustainable growth at global scale.

The Pillar of Sustainable Operations

After seeing how the area professors are integrating sustainability into learning in the degree programmes, the Hoffmann Institute reached out to learn more. We discovered that Technology and Operations Management area professors bring sustainability into electives, executive education and engagement.

Electives that address sustainability are driving new ways of thinking and new investment approaches. The Business Sustainability Thinking elective looks at sustainability as a business problem and how leaders can build organizational and operational capabilities to do well while doing good. This elective is available to MBA, MIM and GEMBA students. Other courses also cover sustainability issues. In the Analytics for Real Business Impact: The Art of Why, students evaluate how CSR policies impact firm performance.

Executive education by area professors also incorporates sustainability in both open and customized programmes. Professor Atalay Atasu co-developed a week-long course on business sustainability and is developing a longer programme for executives. The Management Acceleration Programme, a long-running INSEAD course, uses fast fashion to highlight business model innovation. Customized programmes tailor business model innovation to specific sectors with workshops to address different organizational needs.

Technology and Operations Management area professors create knowledge that advances thinking on sustainability and engage widely on innovation in key areas for a sustainable future. For example, Professor Stephen Chick researches health access and quality in underserved populations. His published cases explore scaling up community health clinics in South Africa, lessons learned from a universal health care pilot in Kenya and leveraging tech to improve healthcare. Professor Atalay Atasu researches topics related to renewable energy, recycling and the transition to a circular economy. Professor So Yeon Chun recently co-authored a paper on how loyalty programs in the big data era impact social issues, with focus on privacy, inequality and sustainability.

This research provides insights that can help leaders navigate a world of rapidly evolving technology and a need to move to more sustainable business models. It is a strong foundation to engage widely. Professor Chick’s work with the Healthcare Management Initiative informs the popular Master Strategy Day student competition that works to improve health in the developing world. Professor Atasu joined a panel discussion on renewable energy, scarcity and circularity in the SDG Tent alongside the World Economic Forum 2022 in Davos. His engagement on the circular economy includes high-profile events such as the ChangeNOW Summit, Ecovadis Sustain 2023, the INSEAD Tech Talk series and more. You can learn an overview of circularity in business in this brief YouTube video with Professor Atasu.

Towards a Sustainable Future

The sustainability shift is accelerating, driven forward by consumer demand for responsible goods and services and enabled by new technologies and new ways of doing business. Business leaders who understand how to harness new technologies and innovate new business models will give their organizations a competitive edge.

The INSEAD Technology and Operations Management area continues to push forward the frontier of sustainability thinking. At a moment when sustainability is a value differentiator for business, this can open a new era of growth defined by positive impact.

The Hoffmann Global Institute for Business and Society Lessons in Sustainability series highlights lessons learned from integrating sustainability into all nine INSEAD academic areas. Stay tuned for more Lessons in Sustainability in coming weeks.

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