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Teaching Impact in Hong Kong and Canada

In Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), impact occurs across three areas: research, teaching, and operations. In this article, we will focus on the teaching of impact, especially alongside business themes such as ethics. We examine two different institutions from across the globe – the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) and British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) in Canada.

Impact within the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

At HKUST, sustainability and impact are managed by the Sustainability/Net-Zero Office. This unit not only focuses on campus planning and measurement of the university’s environmental management, but is also the go-to resource across campus for all sustainability and impact matters, with its leader an academic and recognized practitioner in these fields.

The office also set up the Sustainable Smart Campus as a Living Lab, which enables experiential learning for both faculty members and students. Through this initiative the canvas becomes a microcosm of global cities, helping recognize ‘the urgency of developing smart, sustainable policies and technologies to guide their transition into the future.’

This program allows everyone on campus to test, revise, and improve their ideas, which include a miniaturized wastewater treatment plant designed to improve the reclamation of greywater from domestic sewages, as well as a smart mini-grid project that collects data with the aim of powering cities through 100% renewable energy.

Asian student in cap and gown

Enabling Impact within HKUST

In 2017, the university established a Sustainability Education Community within the campus to gather all faculties and staff who were teaching sustainability-related courses. This was the first time I came to know the 50 other faculty and staff across various disciplines that were teaching or incorporating sustainability principles and concepts. From the first meeting onwards, the university worked closely with faculty and staff to help us teach sustainability across disciplines — sharing knowledge, resources, and pedagogy.

In addition, the university organized the first ever workshop in Hong Kong, which brought together faculty and staff from other local universities to explore sustainability-related skills and competencies for learning within the Hong Kong context.

The Sustainability/Net-Zero Office continues to engage with faculty and staff through various activities and events to explore topics like the development of lesson plans that help build and embed sustainability/impact related skills, integrating intangible attributes such as empathy, appreciation, and respect in the context of understanding sustainability.

The university has been addressing the SDGs since 2015 with its first sustainability master plan. The sustainability master plan focused on creating impact along its value chain — operations, education, community, and demonstration.

Of the 17 SDGs, the university addresses nine, and showcases its goals and performance over the years.

Teaching Business and Impact

I first joined HKUST Business School to teach Business Ethics for business undergraduate students in 2014. It was the first local business school in Hong Kong to make business ethics courses compulsory.

Business undergraduate students were required to take 2 two-credits business ethics courses. The first one is Business Ethics & Individual which is taken in the 2nd year of their program, and the second one, Business Ethics & Social Responsibility, in the 3rd or 4th year of their studies. These courses were naturally aligned to sustainability and evolved to help equip students with a wider understanding of the issues as they move into business.

Teaching business ethics is never an easy task. It is a course that teaches philosophical concepts and intangible attributes such as empathy, integrity, compassion, and understanding professional and ethical responsibility.

The faculty team integrated experiential learning activities in the courses to allow the students better understand how their decision-making (whether individually or as business leaders) will have an impact on the environment and society (stakeholders).

For example, in Business Ethics & Social Responsibility, we partnered with local businesses and engaged students to brainstorm innovative ideas on how these organizations could create value or have a positive impact on the environment and society. Students work with the businesses to understand their purposes and missions, what they want to achieve and what kind of impact they want to create — then come up with ideas and present to the business leaders.

The experiential learning opportunity was not perfect, but it provided students with a better understanding of how local businesses contribute to the sustainability of Hong Kong and the region, and globally. It also examined how businesses are going beyond the single bottom line to the triple bottom line.

For the local businesses, it provided the opportunities to engage with future business leaders and improve their understanding of the perspectives of the younger generations as well as their expectations of business responsibilities.

Impact in British Columbia Institute of Technology

Impact is part of BCIT’s Strategic Plan 2019-2023. The institution’s visions focus on 3 areas: Relevance, Reach, and Renewal.

The aim is to be “a people-focused organization that delivers a future-proof applied education – and to amplify our impact through globally relevant connections”.

Since joining the institution in January 2021, I came to appreciate the focus on contributions to the local community and economy. While it may not be as ambitious as a global university like HKUST, it is nevertheless focused, practical, and relevant.

It allows students to have a direct experience of participating in co-creating a sustainable world and understanding the impact we are creating to the economy, environment, and society.

I am involved in teaching two BBA courses, Applied Strategic Management — Design, Risks and Ethics, and Social Purpose Business: Uniting Strategy, Communications, and Impact.

Female student in graduation attire

BCIT, Impact and the SDGs

At an institutional level, BCIT also addresses 9 SDGs, focusing on its creation of impact and how this contributes to progress towards the 2030 deadline. The university also focuses on its value chain: education, operations, and community.

I am honored to be part of the team teaching ‘Social Purpose Business’ this term. It is a course that focuses on the growing field of the social purpose business and the role of marketing professionals in driving change.

We also adopt an experiential approach, introducing the SDGs to students not simply by rote and repetition but through an engaging game known as the 2030 SDGs Game. This is a multi-player card-based game that simulates taking the ‘real world’ into the year 2030.

It allows students to have a direct experience of participating in co-creating a sustainable world and understanding the impact we are creating to the economy, environment, and society, promoting a holistic view of the various complementary or conflicting factors involved. For instance, an overbearing inclination towards financial matters can have disastrous consequences on the environment.

In addition, as a component of the course, students can analyze and shape how companies can meaningfully align their strategies and operations with the 17 SDGs and effectively communicate their alignment to all stakeholders.

This is not the only course that is related to sustainability and impact in the BBA program. Within the program, under each option or field of study, students are required to take at least one sustainability-related course. The other two courses are ‘Ecological Economics: Social and Environmental Policy’ and ‘Life Cycle Assessment for Business’.

Impact and sustainability tend to be more applied than theoretical in nature and require the consideration of a multitude of complex and changeable factors.

Differing Approaches to Teaching Impact

The major difference between the way both institutions teach impact and business is around the focus — for HKUST, as a global university, students are encouraged to consider their stakeholders first, wherever in the world they might be. By contrast, BCIT looks more at creating an impact in the local community and economy.

Fundamentally, both adopt an experiential approach to impact education. This style is also effective when introducing impact skills to practicing academics, primarily because impact and sustainability tend to be more applied than theoretical in nature and require the consideration of a multitude of complex and changeable factors.

What both institutions are looking to achieve is the development of a deep and underlying focus on sustainability and impact in our future business leaders.

The Future of Impact Students

What both institutions are looking to achieve is the development of a deep and underlying focus on sustainability and impact in our future business leaders. Where CSR and ESG have struggled at times to achieve their potential for disruption on existing and established business practices. By contrast, the next generation is being taught to see them as complementary frameworks for sustainable business.

As an educator, the most significant achievement is to see graduates integrating what they have learned from school at their workplace and creating positive impact (or shared value) for their own and future generations.

Mary Ho is an Impact Officer and SDG specialist, who currently teaches strategic management and sustainable business-related courses at British Columbia Institute of Technology in Canada. Her career has taken her around the world, previously teaching undergraduate courses including Business Ethics at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

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