In 2020-2021, ESCP Business School developed a 16h mandatory course on Sustainability for the 800 students of the 1st-year Masters in Management. That course designed under the leadership of Aurélien Acquier and Valentina Carbone is an introduction to extensive sustainability knowledge: planetary limits, climate change, biodiversity loss, Anthropocene, governance, etc.
Considering the central role of energy and its core link with both climate change and the development of our societies, the Energy, Business, Climate & Geopolitics course was designed as a complementary elective 30-hour course for Masters 2 business students by Pierre Peyretou, Alexandre Joly, Aurélien Acquier and Charles Sirot.
Since January 2021, the course has been dispensed in multiple editions and has continued to evolve rapidly. The teachers continuously improve the pedagogical materials to provide courses and workshops as dynamic, interactive and efficient as possible.
This approach has been strengthened with the arrival of Hughes-Marie Aulanier, Auriane Clostre, Eliott Rabin, Sami Labat Tahri, Clara Giraldou and Juliette Leboda.
This website opening the course to the public has been designed and edited by Pierre Peyretou with the support of the ESCP Communication Team.
The Energy, Business, Climate & Geopolitics course intends to be compact enough to provide business students with a clear understanding of the systemic dimension of the phenomena and potential action from a business perspective.
The course is structured as follows:
Right from the start in January 2021, demand from students was very strong with 60 applications for 30 places for "Season 1" (first edition), 80 for Season 2 and 100 for Season 3, leading to the opening of a second class. From September 2022, the cours will be deployed on the Berlin and London campuses.
Overall, student feedback has been very positive. They especially underline the importance of integrating this knowledge & these skills much sooner, as they will determine the business environment, their career and their life.
Going beyond the course, they highlight the need to transform traditional management domains based on this knowledge: strategy, management, finance, HR, marketing, etc. The publication of the course tends to help professors in these domains to acquire the necessary knowledge to adapt their course in the light of these major transformations.
The Paris Agreement objectives involve an urgent reduction in the amount of energy mobilized by our societies. These topics are only marginally and superficially covered in higher education, especially in business schools ("Student Manifesto for Ecological Wakeup" - Pour un Réveil Ecologique, "Mobilize higher education for climate" - The Shift Project)
In France, experts such as Jean-Marc Jancovici and the Shift Project have brought them to a broader audience. While these contents are essential for understanding the fundamental terms of the energy and climate equation, their huge business implications remain largely uncovered. From the perspective of a business leader:
On a planetary scale, Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions have grown fast in recent decades, except for several months at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
On an organization scale, companies decreasing their absolute GHG emissions are the exceptions rather than the norm. Companies often use relative metrics such as CO2/€ or CO2/kWh to communicate emission reductions, hiding an absolute growth of those emissions, driven by increasing revenues and energy consumption. Furthermore, CO2 emissions are often restricted to scopes 1 & 2, thereby excluding upstream and/or downstream indirect emissions.
At the same time, misleading communication claiming "carbon neutrality", amongst other greenwashing messages, has skyrocketed, as carbon neutrality is impossible at a company scale.
Designing low-carbon societies and economic systems implies wide-scale and systemic changes: reducing emissions by at least 85% makes a proportional homothetic transformation of the society impossible: the structure and nature of society would have to change as well as the importance of each sector in the economy.
For instance, mass tourism based on air travel would be incompatible with 2tCO2e per person per year (currently 10t CO2e in France); as the emissions associated with one single economy seat on a Paris <-> New York return flight exceeds 2tCO2e. The same goes for the private car industry as the CO2 emissions over of an average thermal car lifespan exceed 40t CO2e.
A lack of systemic thinking is often apparent as actors seem to reflect in silos, instead of tackling the “bigger picture”, acting as if their economic and organizational sector were aboveground and autonomous from the rest of the society.
Quantitatively, CO2 emission trajectories to align withthe Paris Agreement can be calculated based on the remaining carbon budget, like the Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSPs).
But these abstract figures remain poorly translated into daily life experience, collective imaginary and behavioral change. We found very few initiatives addressing the question: “What does it mean to live in a world where emissions have been divided by 6 or more compared to now?” This gap is a major obstacle for the teaching team, as it seems even more difficult to set transformation targets and reach them, if they cannot be envisioned clearly.
Amongst these attempts to do so, one of the most interesting is definitely the ADEME "4 scenarios to reach carbon neutrality", along with the "Transformation Plan of the French Economy" of the Shift Project.
The consequences of climate change make media headlines almost everyday: droughts in France, mega-fires in California, Siberia, Australia & Brazil, heat bubble in India & Pakistan, record temperatures in the Arctic, etc.
Human societies have proved incapable of reacting appropriately to the threat by massively cutting their GHG emissions.
Media exposure makes these subjects very difficult to ignore, with more and more people declaring themselves « aware of the problem ».
But most participants whether students or business leaders, turn out to be ignorant of even very basic facts and knowledge when they are tested with short quizzes at the beginning of each session. This has major consequences for the misunderstanding of the gravity of the situation, with a confusion for instance between +5°C temperature change in weather versus the same change in climate, or in the actions undertaken, with declarations such as "We took actions at the office: we sort our waste for better recycling..."
A huge quantity of great pedagogical content has already been available online for several years: the IPCC scientific reports, videos & conferences (Jean-Marc Jancovici Mines course, Le Réveilleur in France), articles & blogs (Wikipedia, Our World in Data, etc.).
Still these domains remain largely unknown in business schools, and more broadly in the business world despite a recent acceleration in their inclusions among considerations.
Furthermore, very little research has been done on "What should we do now?" and "What would you do in the position of that manager?", taking into account business constraints from the standpoint of a decision-maker: profitability, organizational impediments to change, etc.
To overcome these shortcomings, the team attaches great importance to creating or using existing interactive workshops and lectures, like the Climate Fresk, and lists the constraints for multiple company stakeholders in order to recommend appropriate actions.
At the end of the first edition, one student told us that he particularly appreciated the factual and action-orientated approach of the course, which makes it "Neither moralizing, nor demoralizing", in contrast to the lectures he had followed previously on CSR, ecology and the environment. Student and business leader feedback shows that overall climate change & energy challenges are approached through the lens of ethical values or political opinion.
One consequence is that the implementation of actions in favor of GHG reduction are viewed as self-inflicted constraints in an economic environment of "business as usual" where looser constraints apply, leading to competitive disadvantages and additional unnecessary burden. Scientific knowledge, historical data and facts are thus not considered with the vital strategic importance they should be.
Giving a sense of the simple orders of magnitude of the sources of emissions and the associated behaviors is essential to hierarchize relevant actions and implement them at the scales of individuals, organizations and society. For instance, what emissions are avoided by recycling employee waste? By switching a domestic flight into a train journey?
Essential methods & tools such as Company Carbon Accounting, Individual Footprint and the average national GHG footprint are provided. The limits of such tools are also detailed. They are estimations and not in situ measurements: they are based on simple calculations that can be easily manipulated through the choice of perimeters, for instance the extent of indirect emissions calculated in scope 3 is arbitrary, as the emission factors are generic, the activity volumes are approximate, etc.
The difficulty for companies to reduce their GHG emissions is due to many factors. Some are so core to the business activities that they could be considered "mechanical".
A very large majority of business activities are structured in such a way that business interests and priorities drive increases in GHG emissions: "more revenue, more CO2" (car manufacturers, airline companies, building sector, etc.). The contraposition "Less CO2, less revenue" applies as well, explaining the reluctance of most companies to address climate change.
This is what we call Business & Climate Antagonisms. Identifying them gives usa clearer understanding of the business situation, points tobusiness taboos, and allow us to address them at the appropriate strategic level: this often means completely rethinking the activity and business model of the company. Such an approach, far from being "anti-business", intends to diagnose more objectively the business situation and requires a lot of ambition and innovative spirit from business leaders to overcome them.
In most management domains, the company is placed at the center: strategy, accounting, finance, etc. This approach, very pertinent in certain domains, leads to inappropriate, marginal and sometime counterproductive measures to address climate change and energy issues.
On the contrary, the course opens up a twofold approach and decentralizes the company to reposition it inside a bigger picture starting from the global scale and drawing the implications of scientific knowledge, gradually narrowing things down progressively to the national, sectorial, organizational and individual level.
The 6th Assessment Report of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) resolution IPCC WGI Interactive Atlas. Due to climate inertia and considering the increase in CO2 emissions, worsening consequences of the climate change will lead to certain damage: droughts, fires, heatwaves, heat bubbles, floods, just to mention to the physical damage.
So, in addition to reducing GHG emissions rapidly, the adaptation strategy must prepare our society and organization for the yet-to come consequences of past causes. These adaptations are shifting.
Business schools need to invest a lot of resources and time in order to scale multidisciplinary research and education on planetary boundaries.
There are many reasons why ESCP Business School has published the course in open access as Creative Commons:
Many initiatives are being developed across the higher education and business ecosystem:
We have identified numerous projects to accelerate research and create pedagogical content, new course modules, collective initiatives, etc. that will be published soon in order to mobilize teams to develop them.