Dr. Kate White and Dr. Justin Bull are leading efforts at the UBC Sauder School of Business to move from climate awareness to climate action. The school is rapidly shifting key aspects of teaching, research, and operations towards climate solutions. Kate and Justin sat down for a conversation on how the school is embracing the vision of responsible business with a focus on mitigating and adapting to the climate crisis.


Climate change: collective impacts, collective responsibility


Kate: The climate crisis is complex and multifaceted and requires an ‘all-hands-on deck’ approach to both mitigate and adapt. We only need to look in our own backyards to see this. In British Columbia over the past couple of years, we have experienced unprecedented heat domes, forest fires, extreme cold, devastating flooding, and even a small tornado on UBC campus.

Justin: Clearly, climate change is an immediate threat. There is now a widespread sense of understanding and urgency, where the people who previously said, ‘Climate change is a big deal, but it's not my responsibility’, are ready to contribute and actively work towards climate solutions.

I believe that Covid-19 has taught us a lot about how interdependent and interconnected our economies, our societies, our politics, and our countries are. It also reinforced the fact that there are no more bystanders, there are no more platitudes, there are no more inspirational quotes – there's just the hard work of measuring climate impacts and designing and scaling climate solutions.


Accelerating climate solutions


Justin: UBC Sauder is an expert in knowledge translation, or to put it in more business terms: commercialisation. We understand what it takes to go from a compelling new idea to a compelling, financially sustainable venture. The market has incredible influence in the world, and what UBC Sauder is able to do is harness and leverage the power of the market to scale climate solutions. I believe our role is to be a conduit for all of the wonderful thinking, research, and inventiveness at UBC, and make it translatable to the broader commercial world. Simply put, inventions that can’t attract capital won’t have a significant impact.

Kate: UBC Sauder is addressing climate from three perspectives: teaching, research, and our actions. The first is what we're doing in terms of our teaching and experiential learning for students. We are embedding climate-related content into our undergraduate and graduate curricula and co-curricular activities in a variety of ways.

The second perspective is research: we already have world-class faculty and thought leaders in the domain of climate and sustainability at UBC Sauder, but we are thinking about how we can incentivise more of this research and recruit more expertise in this domain.

Third, we need to consider how we're operating as an organization. We are taking strategic actions to enhance our focus on climate, including having a senior associate dean with sustainability in their portfolio, creating programs and policies to tackle the climate crisis, and considering what example we can set in terms of our own carbon footprint, which means operating as a carbon neutral business school.


New programmes for UBC Sauder students


Justin: We are developing a wide range of new content and curriculum for both our graduate and undergraduate programs. We think that our MBA programme is a natural home for students to concentrate on climate solutions. We have three new courses, as well as modified versions of an additional three courses to create a whole new offering that will be compelling in the global MBA landscape. We're also launching new undergraduate programming in this space: we have a pilot course just approved that will help students understand climate accounting and climate finance. We are also looking at evolving our undergraduate options to create a standalone option in climate and sustainability that will allow business students to signal to employers and the outside world that they are ready to work at the intersection of the private sector and climate.


New career opportunities coming in the climate space


Justin: There's this huge move for climate literacy across the employment market. Understanding how to navigate this crisis is going to become a skill set required in a wide range of jobs: operations, supply chain management, finance, accounting, even human resources. Where there are dedicated climate related job descriptions, those tend to be manifesting in the world of finance, accounting, and then in energy transition. So that is jobs related to energy, the built environment, or consumer product goods, where climate is a significant part of the value proposition. But the bulk of employment opportunities are actually going to be for people who have climate as a complementary skill set in addition to other specializations they already have. We're confident that there's going to be a huge demand for students who are going to be able to show that they understand how to inject climate literacy and action into their day-to-day jobs.


Looking forward


Kate: We are very excited to be in the early planning stages for a new institute for business and climate solutions. We’ve received seed funding already and are in the process of recruiting an executive director. The goal of the institute will be to work with stakeholders in our UBC community to use business solutions in transformative ways to address the climate crisis with scale and urgency.

Justin: The idea is that it will be an inspirational gathering space for leading researchers across UBC to think about not just how to publish on climate, but how to get our ideas out in the open and how to inspire the next generation of climate leaders. Leaders who can bring the power of markets, industry, and the private sector to campus to help them understand how UBC can be a point of connection for the next wave of innovation and disruption necessary to address the climate crisis.

Incremental action is necessary, but deeply insufficient in that we have to be asking ourselves, ‘What's our impact in the next eight years?’