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Business sector welcomes NZ’s new sustainability degree

Business leaders are welcoming Aotearoa New Zealand’s first undergraduate sustainability degree, saying the sector is crying out for more expertise as it faces new targets and competing goals.

Lead creator of the University of Canterbury’s new multi-disciplinary Bachelor of Social and Environmental Sustainability, Professor Bronwyn Hayward says she enjoyed working with colleagues from Arts, Business, Law and Aotahi School of Māori & Indigenous Studies to co-design the qualification. The three-year degree will prepare students to understand the ethical, social, business and environmental justice issues that impact sustainability decision-making, in the context of Treaty of Waitangi principles in Aotearoa.

As a lead author on Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, Professor Hayward’s experience extends from international forums to local youth and climate change projects.

“I’m excited about this degree because it is an opportunity for students who want to make a difference, from their local community to the world stage, to create a more just, fair and creative future,” she says.

Employers and business leaders consulted about the degree said they are looking for understanding of mātauranga Māori, social justice, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), regenerative change, transformation, and sustainability evaluations and adaptation.

“Many, if not most, companies are eager to become ‘sustainable’ but often don’t know where to start,” Chloe and Florence van Dyke, Co-Directors of Chia Sisters, a solar-powered, zero carbon, living wage, B Corp certified juicery in Nelson, wrote in their submission.

“New Zealand could be a leader in sustainability if we have a cohort of university students graduating who are knowledgeable and skilled in the leading edge of sustainability and who have a deeper understanding of Te ao Māori.”

Businesses are realising that authenticity is essential to their sustainability journey as consumers become more informed. While some businesses have already embraced sustainable methods, others are waiting for regulations to guide them, says UC Business School academic Associate Professor Ann-Marie Kennedy, who contributed to the business aspect of the qualification.

“I think business is held to very high standards with regards to sustainability, whether that be regarding their environmental actions or social actions and their consequences,” she says.

“This degree will create graduates who can help organisations authentically apply their understanding of social and environmental sustainability; and avoid being labelled as ‘greenwashing’ or ‘woke-washing’.”

UC School of Business colleague Associate Professor Diane Mollenkopf, who also had input into the new qualification, agrees “the business community plays a vital role in contributing to the sustainability of our nation and society”.

“But the issues are complex and unwieldy. Students graduating with this degree will be able to help organisations navigate to better ensure business success and positive contributions towards a sustainable future.”

Employees with knowledge of social and environmental sustainability and low-carbon transitions will be needed in diverse fields, from tourism to manufacturing and human services, event management, the creative sector and health, according to the consultation feedback.

‘Sustainable Business, Enterprise and Economics’ is one of four majors in the new degree; the others are ‘Environmental Policy, Governance and Social Justice’, ‘Indigenous Knowledge and Sustainable Partnerships’, and ‘Social Action, Community and Global Development’.

The Bachelor of Social and Environmental Sustainability is informed by and supports mātauranga Māori - Māori and Indigenous knowledge systems – based in an ethos that respects land, water and relationships with Tangata Tiriti (people of the Treaty, such as non-indigenous New Zealanders).

The qualification will begin in February 2022 (subject to CUAP approval). Read more here.

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