Expanding Sustainable Business Education Beyond Business Schools

  • Christopher G. BeehnerEmail author
Living reference work entry


Numerous business schools include sustainability as an elective or required curriculum component. Moreover, an increasing number of businesses are implementing sustainability initiatives and programs. However, the success of this top-down approach to sustainable business may be limited by lack of sustainability awareness among entry-level workers and managers. Therefore, sustainable business education should occur at multiple academic levels, specifically community colleges, wherein students prepare for entry-level trade, management, and professional positions at businesses which have implemented or will implement sustainability programs. In this chapter, we will examine sustainable business education efforts at several community colleges. This “bottom-up” sustainable business education approach will be presented as complementary to the “top-down” approach of business schools. Readers will be invited to reflect on their sustainable business education awareness and experience, and engage colleagues at community colleges to embrace sustainable business education, furthering the development of a cosmic sustainability vision.


Sustainable business Business sustainability Community college Sustainable development Sustainable entrepreneurship 


The 1990s witnessed an increased level of inclusion of environmental literacy, civic engagement, and social responsibility requirements in higher education curriculum (Bridges and Wilhelm 2008; Rowe 2002). This trend was followed by an increase in the number of business schools including sustainability as an elective or required curriculum component (Bridges and Wilhelm 2008). Moreover, an increasing number of businesses are implementing sustainability initiatives and programs (Calder and Clugston 2003). However, the success of this top-down approach to sustainable business may be limited by lack of sustainability awareness among entry-level workers and managers. In other words, a gap may exist between middle and senior management, and entry-level workers and managers in terms of the understanding and implementation of sustainable business initiatives. Therefore, sustainable business education should occur at multiple academic levels, specifically community colleges, wherein students prepare for entry-level trade , management, and professional positions at businesses which have implemented, or will implement, sustainability programs and initiatives. This holistic, integrated approach to sustainable business education is necessary to ensure engaged sustainability occurs at all levels of the business – personal, departmental, and organizational level. Achievement of multilevel business sustainability engagement requires fundamental changes at the level of a common person on the street, a task which community colleges are best capable of accomplishing.

In this chapter we will explore the background of the sustainable business education movement, and the history and current state of sustainable business education at higher education institutions. We will then examine the community college system, and the current community college sustainability and sustainable business education efforts, primarily within the United States. While in the United States , community colleges are also known as city colleges, junior colleges, technical colleges, and more recently state colleges, in this chapter, the group of institutions will be referred to collectively as community colleges. A discussion outlining how community colleges might address the sustainable business education gap, including approaches, methods, tools, and best practices, will be followed by conclusions and recommendations for the future of community college sustainable business education. In this chapter, the reader should acquire an understanding and appreciation of the role of community colleges in the education of students who are sustainably engaged within the business environment.


Sustainability education plays an important role in the expansion, promotion, and consistency of sustainable actions in organizations and society (Baccarin et al. 2015). The focus on sustainability in higher education began with the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment in 1972 (Calder and Clugston 2003), gaining momentum with the 1978 United Nations International Environmental Education Programme . In 2002, a report was prepared by UNESCO and the International Work Program on Education, Public Awareness and Sustainability of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg, South Africa. The higher education section of this report identified key lessons for successful implementation of sustainability policies and practices in universities, including:
  • Senior management commitment to strategy

  • Include all components of the triple-bottom line, not just the “green” component

  • Comprehensive sustainability strategy throughout institution

  • Culture change across institution

  • Monitoring, evaluation, and reporting process to ensure effective and continuous implementation (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization 2002)

In 1990, the US Congress passed the National Environmental Education Act , empowering the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with increasing public literacy about environmental issues. Potter (2009) suggested the initiative be expanded to include sectors beyond the field of education. While the act expired in 1996, its programs and mandates continued despite the absence of a formal act. However, the future of these programs and mandates may be uncertain based upon to the Trump administration stance on environmental regulations and issues, and the 2017 appointment of climate change skeptic Scott Pruitt as EPA Director.

Academics have supported the notion of a higher education role in the creation of a sustainable society (Corcoran and Wals 2004; Jabbour 2010). However, barriers to the creation, adoption, and diffusion of sustainability principles in universities exist, including but not limited to: the abstract nature of the sustainability concept; the lack of staff with sustainability expertise; limited financial resources for sustainability programs; and, the perception that sustainability is only an issue for environmentalists (Leal Filho 2000). Sustainability is becoming a more concrete concept as sustainability content becomes more prevalent in academic literature. The increase in sustainability degree offerings, in particular at the graduate level may result in a corresponding increase in sustainability trained faculty. The financial barrier is ever present in academia; however, a growing change in perception that sustainability is an issue for all of society, not just environmentalists may result in additional financial resource availability for sustainability initiatives and degree programs.

Justification for Sustainable Business Education

B ecause the primary activity of business schools is teaching (Jabbour 2010), business school curriculum should include environmental content within the context of the classical disciplines of business management. Moreover, the compatibility of environmental management objectives with business objectives can create strategies for “win–win” opportunities in which both environmental and business performance improves (Jabbour 2010). While business schools are viewed as proponents of modern capitalism , sustainability students should learn to critique the current capitalist paradigm, considering and proposing viable modifications or alternatives (Von Der Heidt and Lamberton 2011). Moreover, while sustainability has become a prominent issue on the global agenda, a few business schools have clearly determined the key competencies required in this area (Adomßent et al. 2014). Further, business schools often do not keep pace with current trends such as sustainability (Bates et al. 2009). Nonetheless, there has been substantial growth of interest in sustainability in business, management, and organizational studies in recent years (Cullen 2016).

The inclusion of sustainability in business curricula is essential for the development of managers and leaders possessing a critical world view (Cezarino 2016). Contemporary business managers must possess an understanding of the critical interrelationship between environmental responsibility and good organizational performance (Aligleri et al. 2009). In order to prepare business students for the contemporary business environment, higher education must demonstrate to students that they can be successful business managers while simultaneously considering environmental facets of managerial decision-making and activities (Hoffman 1999). Jabbour (2010) suggested business schools can contribute to sustainable education through the adoption of environmental management programs on campus, and the development of environmentally knowledgeable faculty, staff, and students. Further, it is relevant that business faculty educate students about achieving high levels of professional and business performance, while simultaneously implementing the necessary actions and strategies for social and environmental problem mitigation (Gonçalves-Dias et al. 2009). Contemporary businesses need managers and employees capable of recognizing sustainability as an opportunity for strategic growth and innovation (Lans et al. 2014). Literature from the period 1994 to 2013 supports the inclusion of sustainability content in business school curricula , revealing evidence of multiple educational approaches used by faculty in providing sustainable business education (Cullen 2016).

In order to facilitate the transition to sustainable business, employees will require sustainability-focused skills which could easily be provided through undergraduate or graduate business education (Von Der Heidt and Lamberton 2011). Hundreds of international higher education institutions have incorporated sustainability into their curriculum, research, and scholarship (Calder and Clugston 2003). While colleges and universities often find it politically difficult to add additional courses for degree requirements, some higher education institutions have overcome this obstacle by integrating sustainability content into existing liberal arts and specialty courses (Rowe 2002). The growing business interest in sustainability suggests a need for an increased focus on sustainable business. However, current training approaches do not appear sufficient for meeting the challenges associated with a shift to sustainability (Hatfield-Dodds et al. 2008). Despite extensive research on organizational social responsibility, corporate social responsibility education is increasing, but still remains limited .

Support for Sustainable Business Education

The notion of sustainable business education is finding increased support outside academia. In order to guide universities and other educational institutions in the areas of management education addressing environmental and social concerns, the United Nations (UN) in partnership with several business schools created the project Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) . Officially launched in 2007 by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon , the PRME initiative currently includes more than 650 business schools and academic institutions from more than 85 countries, including more than one-third of the Financial Times’ top 100 business schools (PRME Secretariat 2017). Of the more than 650 PRME signatories, 110 are located in the United States.

While there are a number of nonprofit and industry organizations devoted to sustainable business, sustainability, and sustainability education , the results of a recent Internet search did not identify any organizations specifically devoted to sustainable business education. However, AACSB International – the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) – is actively engaged in incorporating sustainability in business management education. In addition, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) is the first professional higher education association devoted to the promotion of sustainability in higher education. In addition to colleges and universities, several of which are business schools or provide business degrees, AASHE members include businesses and nonprofits devoted to advancement of the higher education sustainability movement.

In addition to support from PRME , AACSB , and AASHE, the case for sustainable business education is finding increased support among business practitioners. Ninety-three percent of global CEOs surveyed believe sustainable development is important to their company’s future success (Accenture 2010). Corporate sustainability is increasingly being seen as both the right thing and the smart thing to do (Soyka 2013). While the goal of a traditional capitalist entity has traditionally been making money, there is a growing concern about how that money is made (Soyka 2013). Regardless of whether corporate executives altruistically and personally embrace the sustainability concept, many recognize the increased consumer demand for sustainability, and the increasing number of competitors incorporating sustainability into their business models. Numerous US-based multinational corporations (MNCs) have incorporated sustainability into their mission and vision, including household names such as The Walt Disney Company , General Electric , Johnson & Johnson , and Starbucks .

Sustainable Entrepreneurship Education

O ne specific area of sustainable business education still in the infancy stages is sustainable entrepreneurship. This field is related to the broader field of social entrepreneurship in which entrepreneurs develop a business model, often structured as a nonprofit organization wherein cultural, environmental, and social issues are addressed. Sustainable entrepreneurs seek to acquire a competitive business advantage through the promotion of sustainable approaches to business and societal problems. Higher education plays a significant role in the development of the growing number sustainable entrepreneurs who are capable of recognizing opportunities for sustainable development facilitation. However, academic institutions typically focus on either sustainability or entrepreneurship , with sustainable education housed within the environmental science department, and entrepreneurship education housed within the business department (Lans et al. 2014). For more discussion on the topic of sustainable entrepreneurship education, please see the chapter in this handbook entitled “People + Planet + Profit: Training Sustainable Entrepreneurs at the University Level” by Gil Domemech and Berbegal-Mirabent .

Challenges of Sustainable Business Education

T eaching sustainable business in a traditional business program can prove challenging (Beehner 2017). Moore (2005) identified four institutional barriers to the incorporation of sustainability in university curriculum : the disciplinary environment; the competitive environment; misdirected evaluation criteria; and, unclear priorities, decision-making, and power. The disciplinary environment often inhibits interdisciplinary collaboration or students taking courses outside major discipline. Administration and faculty are tasked with incorporating a comprehensive business curriculum within a fixed number of credit or semester hours. The competitive environment consists of student competition for grades, faculty competition for publication and grants, departmental competition for students and funding, and university competition for prestige and power. Evaluation criteria is often misdirected where faculty are hired and promoted based on publication, student are evaluated by jobs and salaries, and a lack of clear evaluation procedures for university policies and plans. Sustainability does not currently offer a broad metric for faculty, student, or institutional evaluation. Finally numerous priorities and unclear decision-making criteria may exist along with confusion concerning where on the hierarchy of power curriculum decisions should be made. While administration and faculty might equally embrace sustainable business curriculum, there may be disagreement concerning from where the curriculum should originate.

Numerous higher education institutions have embarked upon the sustainable business education journey. While some institutions offer dedicated degrees and certificates in sustainable business, others provide at least one course as a core or elective component to an existing business degree. The risk of teaching sustainability as a standalone course is the perception that sustainability is a separate issue, disconnected from core business concepts and curriculum (Stubbs and Cocklin 2008). The solution to successful sustainable business education is the incorporation of sustainability into the core business curriculum, a task deemed to be challenging by some sustainable business education scholars (Stubbs and Cocklin 2008) .

Brief History of Sustainable Business Education

Having established the background of and justification for sustainable business education, a brief historical review of the sustainable business education movement is in order. In addition to a summary of sustainable business education history, the following section includes examples of institutions that have offered or are offering sustainable business courses, certificates , and degrees. The institutions explored in this section will not include community colleges because those institutions will be considered in a subsequent section of this chapter.

Although earlier literature suggests business schools were not developing environmentally knowledgeable managers (Hoffman 1999), sustainable business programs and courses are increasingly being offered at many institutions of higher education (Lozano et al. 2015). While colleges and universities have successfully embedded sustainability curriculum within environmental degree programs (Lozano et al. 2015), the incorporation of sustainability content into business programs has posed a significant challenge (Von Der Heidt and Lamberton 2011). The number of sustainable business elective courses being offered has increased, however, most implementations were compartmentalized (Lozano et al. 2015), with a limited number of programs in which sustainable business has been incorporated into key, functional business courses such as accounting, finance, or strategic management.

Sustainable Business Education Movement

The term education for sustainable development (ESD) , originating from the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, is a more broadly defined term than environmental education, encompassing the issues of cultural diversity, global development, and environmental and social equity (Calder and Clugston 2003). One of the initiatives of ESD is to provide training to all sectors of the workforce so that all public and private employees have access to the necessary knowledge and skills to make sustainable work decisions (UNESCO 2012). While there have been many United Nations declarations concerning sustainability education , two best provide support for the sustainable business education movement. The Tibilisi Declaration , sponsored by UNESCO and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), suggested that environmental education should be provided to people of all academic aptitudes. The Thessaloniki Declaration all subject disciplines must address environmental and sustainability issues. The previously discussed initiatives emphasize the promotion of sustainability throughout academia, including partnerships between universities and governments, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and businesses, and the moral obligation of higher education to promote a sustainable future (Wright 2002).

T he Higher Education for Sustainable Development (HESD) movement received significant support from students, scholars, and administrators in Holland and Canada in the 1990s, with a focus on the sustainability of higher education institutions, and the implementation of sustainability curriculum (Calder and Clugston 2003). Interest expanded throughout Europe and to a lesser extent, the United States . Recognizing that colleges and universities are obligated by society to impart knowledge and skills in order to prepare responsible, discerning citizens who will make a positive contribution to the world (Corcoran and Wals 2004), these institutions have a further obligation to provide the moral vision and technical knowledge necessary to ensure high quality of life for future generations (Calder and Clugston 2003). Sustainable development is the current framework through which higher education must serve the greater society (Calder and Clugston 2003) .

Sustainable Business Education Institutions (US)

E arly sustainability courses were not housed within business schools, but rather within the fields of engineering, environmental science, and public policy. Brown University, Brandeis University, and Harvard University were among the early universities that began redesigning existing courses, and designing new courses to educate students about sustainability and environmental stewardship. A small sampling of current nonbusiness sustainability degrees includes: Master in Design Studies in sustainable design at Boston Architectural College; a Master of Architecture in sustainability at California State Polytechnic University-Pomona; both a Master and Doctorate in sustainable construction at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry; and, a doctoral degree in sustainable development at Columbia University.

A recent review of the Degree Prospects (2017) website identified 67 institutions listed as offering sustainable business certificates , and undergraduate and graduate degrees. A summary of institutions delivering sustainable business education (which is by no means comprehensive) is provided in the following paragraphs to provide a perspective of the historic and current state of the curricula .

Early pioneers of sustainable business education include the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina and Green Mountain College in Vermont. In 2001, the Kenan-Flagler Business School founded the Sustainable Enterprise Initiative, offering a Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a concentration in Sustainable Enterprise Enrichment, and undergraduate electives in sustainable business. Green Mountain College in Vermont, delivering environmental, social, and economic sustainability-focused curriculum for more than 20 years, launched the first online Sustainable MBA program in 2006. The Sustainable MBA format is unique in that sustainable business principles are incorporated in all courses.

Other institutions offering sustainability-focused MBAs include: Antioch University New England in New Hampshire; Bard College in New York; Humboldt State University in California; Maharishi University of Management on Iowa; Marylhurst University in Oregon; San Francisco State University; and, Presidio Graduate School in California with both an MBA and a Master of Public Administration (MPA) in Sustainable Management. Duquesne University in Pennsylvania and University of Oregon both offer MBAs in Sustainable Business Practices.

Sustainable business-related graduate degrees include: American University in Washington, DC, with a Master’s in Sustainability Management; Arizona State University with an Executive Master of Sustainability Leadership; Brandeis University in Massachusetts with a Sustainable Development MBA; Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire with an MBA in Energy and Sustainability; Rochester Institute of technology with an MBA in Environmentally Sustainable Management; St. Louis University with an MS in Sustainability/MBA dual degree program; University of Colorado Denver with an MS in Management, Managing for Sustainability; and, University of South Florida with an MBA in Building Sustainable Enterprise.

While the majority of sustainable business education degrees are offered at the graduate level (Bates et al. 2009; Bridges and Wilhelm 2008), a growing number of higher education institutions have developed undergraduate degree programs in sustainable development . In 2003, Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, became the first US higher education institution to offer an undergraduate course in sustainable business. A sampling of US colleges and universities offering undergraduate sustainable business degrees includes: Arizona State University with a Bachelor of Arts in Business, sustainability focus; Stony Brook University in New York with a Bachelor of Science in Business Management, Sustainable Business; University of Wisconsin Extension with a Bachelor of Science in Sustainable Management; and, University of Wisconsin Superior with a Bachelor of Science in Sustainable Management. SUNY Empire State College offers an undergraduate certificate in Business and Environmental Sustainability.

Sustainable entrepreneurship is a topic within the sustainable business field which is gaining popularity. Sustainable entrepreneurs identify and solve environmental and social problems, in turn creating shared value – social and business value. The University of Vermont offers a Sustainable Entrepreneurship MBA, and Colorado State University offers a Global Social & Sustainable Enterprise MBA. Sustainable entrepreneurship is related to the field of social entrepreneurship in which entrepreneurs solve a pressing social problem, not necessarily environmental or sustainability-related. Roosevelt University offers a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in social entrepreneurship MBA, and Pepperdine University offers a Master of Arts in Social Entrepreneurship .

Sustainable Business Education Institutions (Europe, Asia, and Pacific)

T here continues to be a stronger interest in incorporating sustainability curriculum in higher education institutions in Europe than in the United States (Lozano et al. 2015). Unlike the United States, higher education sustainability initiatives in many developed nations receive substantial government assistance and offer curriculum supporting the triple-bottom line dimensions of sustainable development (Calder and Clugston 2003). However, the majority of governments, including the United States, have not formally embraced sustainable development as foundational to economic development or education (Calder and Clugston 2003).

European business schools offering Masters and MBA programs in sustainable business or management include: ESLSCA Business School in Paris; Business School Lausanne and Sustainability Management School (SUMAS) in Switzerland; Utrecht University in the Netherland; Bologna Business School in Italy; and, Coventry University and the University of Bath in the United Kingdom. Other European colleges and universities offering sustainability and sustainable development degrees include University of St. Andrews in Scotland; Bangor University in Wales; University of Nottingham and Aston Business School in the United Kingdom; and Ipaq Business School in France .

While sustainable business has made significant progress in becoming a common subject in Asia and the Pacific region business schools, the topic is frequently not prioritized, with a lack of systematic approaches to the incorporation of sustainability into business curricula (Ryan et al. 2010). Monash University in Australia offers a major or minor in sustainability in the Bachelor of Commerce business degree, a postgraduate certificate in sustainability, and a doctorate through the Monash Sustainable Development Institute (MSDI). Also in Australia, Charles Sturt University offers an MBA with a concentration in Sustainability. University of Waikato in New Zealand offers a Master of Management Studies in Management and Sustainability. TERI University (The Energy and Resources Institute) is a pioneer in sustainable and green management in India , offering an MBA in Business Sustainability . In addition, Amity School of Natural Resources and Sustainable Development in India offers an MBA in Natural Resources and Sustainable Development.

The focus of this chapter to this point has been with the background and history of sustainable business education in colleges and universities. The following sections will introduce the US community college system, present the case for a community college role in the delivery of sustainable business education, and provide examples of community colleges currently providing such curricula.

The US Community College System

A community college is an educational institution that typically offers adult high school, vocational training , college credit certificates , and 2-year Associate in Arts (AA) , Associate in Science (AS) , and Associate in Applied Science (AAS) degrees. In the United States , community colleges are also known as city colleges, junior colleges, technical colleges, and more recently state colleges. The term community college became commonplace because this class of higher education institution typically attracts and accepts students from the local community. Many community colleges also offer a university pathway wherein students graduating with an AA degree can transfer to, and in some cases are automatically accepted as juniors at State Universities. Many community colleges partner with 4-year colleges and universities to provide a limited offering of baccalaureate courses and degrees on campus.

M ost community college missions have basic commitments to:
  • Serve all segments of society through an open-access admissions policy that offers equal and fair treatment to all students

  • A comprehensive educational program

  • Serve its community as a community-based institution of higher education

  • Teaching

  • Lifelong learning (AACC 2012)

Recently, community colleges in several states have begun offering Bachelor of Science (BS), and Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS) degrees, primarily in workforce majors. The number and type of baccalaureate degrees offered by community colleges appears to be limited to specific industries and vocations not served by the traditional state university systems. While not a comprehensive list, a brief Internet searched identified community colleges in the following states currently offering one or more baccalaureate degrees: California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, Texas, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia.

Community College History

T he genesis of the US community college system occurred in 1895 when William Rainey Harper , first president of the University of Chicago, conceived a concept of local colleges providing the first 2 years of academic education, prior to attending university (Tillery and Deegan 1985). In 1901, Joliet Community College became the first public 2-year community college in the United States, founded by Harper and J. Stanley Brown, the superintendent of Joliet Township High School (Sullivan 2005). Community colleges began offering job-training in the 1930s during the Great Depression. In 1944, the US Congress passed the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944 , also known as the “GI Bill ” to provide soldiers returning from World War II with a wide range of benefits, including education and housing. In the post-war era, the conversion of military manufacturing to consumer goods manufacturing required a skilled workforce. The community college system greatly benefited from the post-war boom in higher education resulting from industry transition from military to consumer manufacturing, and veteran utilization of the GI Bill.

US Community colleges greatly expanded during the 1960s with the number of campuses doubling during that decade, and steadily increasing in the following decades (AACC 2012). The community college concept has experienced several generational changes, beginning as secondary high schools, junior colleges, community colleges, comprehensive community colleges (Tillery and Deegan 1985), and the current generation described as the learning community college (O’Banion 1997). The characteristics of a learning college include: creating substantive change in individual learners; engaging learners as partners in the learning process, who are responsible for their learning choices; creating and offering multiple learning options; assisting learners to form and participate in collaborative activities; defining the role of learning facilitators according to learner needs; and, success measured by the occurrence of improved, expanded learning occurs (O’Banion 1997) .

Community College Characteristics

C ommunity colleges vary in size and footprint, from small rural colleges to large multicampus, urban colleges (AACC 2012). The majority of Americans live within a 1-hr drive of a community college campus or extension center. Community colleges are distinct educational institutions, each with a community-specific mission, generally connected to each other by their common characteristics (AACC 2012). There are several common characteristics of community colleges, including offering open admission, affordable tuition, and occupational training.

The majority of community colleges in the United States offer open admission (Geller 2001), based upon the unique role of providing equal academic opportunity to all Americans with high school diplomas or the equivalent (Carnegie Commission on Higher Education 1970). While standardized testing may be a requirement of admission, applicants with a high school diploma or equivalent are admitted, with developmental coursework recommended or required for lower scoring students.

The community college system is more responsive to local community and workforce needs than any other higher educational segment. Community colleges have a successful history of providing occupational training (Geller 2001) through work-based, experiential, and applied learning designed to prepare students for entry-level technical work (Sullivan 2005). The Carnegie Commission on Higher Education (1970) observed that community college occupational programs are continually increasing in variety and scope, based upon the size and complexity of the labor market. This observation continues to be valid today. While offering AA degrees enabling transfer to a university for baccalaureate completion, many of the AS and AAS degrees offered by community colleges prepare students for entry-level employment in technical and occupational fields such as automotive technology, construction, healthcare, interior design, and legal studies (paralegal).

The primary sources of community college revenue are: tuition and fees; federal, state, and local funding; and grants, gifts, endowments, and contracts with local stakeholders. The diversity of revenue sources necessitate community colleges maintain responsiveness to the demands of local industry, legislature, and student population. Community colleges are most commonly recognized for providing an affordable tuition option to traditional 4-year institutions. In addition, the occupational programs and certificates usually require less credits or hours compared to AA , AAS , and AS degrees. As a result of low attendance costs, community college students typically incur lower student loan debt than students at public and private 4-year institutions .

Community College Student Characteristics

In 2012, there were 1,132 community colleges in the USA , with a total enrollment of 12.8 million students, 7.7 million of which were enrolled in college credit programs, 4.6 million of which were enrolled part-time, and 3.1 million were enrolled full-time (AACC 2012). In the 116-year history of US community colleges, more than 100 million people have attended community colleges (AACC 2012). When compared to university students, community college students are typically older, with an average age of 29, work more hours, attend part-time, and often have families to support (Kane and Rouse 1999). Community colleges serve approximately one-half of the US undergraduate population, and the majority of African-American and Hispanic undergraduate students (AACC 2012). Community colleges are the most common postsecondary education pathway for low income, minority, and first-generation college students.

Community college students are often less connected to their colleges than university students because community colleges are not residential, with students frequently attend part-time, and spending little nonclassroom time on campus (Kane and Rouse 1999). However, as local residents, community college students usually have closer ties to the local community than students of traditional colleges and universities. Community college students consist of local residents and commuters who frequently work for, or upon graduation seek employment with, local businesses and organizations. As such, students are in a position to see, experience, and have an impact upon the actions of corporations conducting business within their communities.

Nondegree seeking community college students may enroll in one or two courses for personal enrichment or a hobby.

From humble beginnings, the US community college system has expanded to become a significant provider of adult high school, vocational training , college credit certificates , and 2-year degrees offering open admission, affordable tuition, and occupational training. Community college students are typically older, work more hours, attend part-time, and may have families to support. The community college system is the most common postsecondary education pathway for low income, minority, and first-generation college students. Having introduced the background, history, and characteristics of community colleges and community college students, the subject of the next section will be the posited community college role in providing sustainable business education.

Case for Sustainable Business Education at Community Colleges

This author posits that in order for engaged sustainability to occur within business organizations, the strategies and initiatives developed by college and university-educated middle and upper management require support of entry-level trade , management, and professional employees, frequently educated at the community college level. This proposed framework consists of sustainable business education delivery at multiple academic levels, to students who may become employees and managers at multiple levels within business organizations. While sustainable business education is increasingly occurring at 4-year and graduate colleges and universities, sustainable business education still only occurs on a limited basis within the community college system.

In this section, the case for sustainable business education at the community college level will be explored. The community college role will be presented as an integral component of a higher education system in which employees and managers at all levels acquire an understanding of the sustainable business. Two common characteristics of community colleges support the case for providing sustainable business education at community colleges: the community focus of community colleges; and, the delivery of entry-level occupational training.

The “Community” in Community Colleges

T he community aspect of community colleges may present both advantages and disadvantages in terms of teaching business sustainability . Two advantages include possible student connection with the local community and the associated environmental issues and concerns, and the possibility that students attending for personal enrichment might enroll in a sustainable business course, thereby developing a passion for the topic. One disadvantage is that community college students may be less likely to embrace sustainability if the adverse effects of these environmental issues are not clearly present within their own communities.

Because students attending community colleges typically do so within their own community, these students may have an attachment to the local community, and may also be witness to the effects of environmental actions within their communities. For example, a student of a community college near an industrial area might be concerned about air pollution or have read about local EPA brownfield sites. In this case, having students who are members of the community would be an advantage because those students might be more likely to embrace business sustainability as a method of mitigating adverse environmental activities and conditions. In addition, a number of community college students attend for personal enrichment or hobby purposes; therefore, the possibility that a student might enroll in a sustainable business course out of curiosity, and develop an interest in the topic.

The community aspect of community colleges might also present a disadvantage in that community college students might be less likely to embrace sustainability if the adverse effects of these environmental issues are not clearly present within their own communities, if the nature of these environmental issues seems geographically distant, or if the sociopolitical demographic of the community is not supportive of environmental topics such as climate change . For example, a student attending a campus in a more affluent suburban might seem isolated and insulated from adverse environmental circumstances. Further, students in rural areas may feel further disconnected from the effects of environmental actions that are occurring elsewhere (the Arctic Ocean , Antarctica , or a vanishing South Pacific island).

While the collective academic community is frequently labeled as more liberal, progressive, or open-minded, and as such, may be more likely to embrace topics such as environmentalism and sustainability, community college administration, faculty, and students may be more likely to mimic the political and ideological views of the local community. For example, in predominantly conservative Republican regions, students may be less likely to take interest in, or embrace environmental sustainability based upon the belief of a significant segment of that demographic group that climate change does not exist, or is not influenced by human activity .

Entry-Level Occupational Training

T he business community requires and will only support curriculum that produces students with the necessary skills to ensure businesses remain competitive (O’Banion 1997). The role of community colleges in providing entry-level occupational and vocational training has been established. Community colleges are best able to respond to business community needs by demonstrating how those needs are met within the context of the curriculum (Geller 2001). The case for sustainable business education within the community college system is supported by the fact that community colleges provide the skills necessary for employees to become and remain competitive in the workforce (Sullivan 2005). While business practitioners have questioned the relevance of topics such as sustainable business to the community college focus and mission (Beehner 2017), business interest in and demand for sustainable business education exists, and continues to increase. Moreover, the entry-level career focus of community colleges provides a unique opportunity for entry-level sustainable business education, with no other higher educational segment addressing this gap. Unfortunately, the community college system is frequently overlooked in environmental and sustainable education discussions (Potter 2009). There are long-term consequences for academia ignoring business community requests (Geller 2001). For example, when community colleges do not provide future employees with required business skills, that role will be filled by another provider (Geller 2001), such as the for-profit college sector, which is currently addressing other academic needs not being met by traditional colleges (Ruch 2001).

There are two important reasons for providing sustainable business education to entry-level business employees and supervisors. First, while entry-level employees and supervisors may not be in a position to influence corporate strategy, they are frequently the actors who ensure sustainable behavior, performance, and policies are implemented (Soyka 2013). While the individual influence of employees depends on factors such as culture, leadership style, and union influence, an organization benefits by listening to and empowering employees, and conversely, may suffer by ignoring them (Soyka 2013). Second, these employees are the company’s representatives in the local community (Soyka 2013). Therefore, it is important for these employees to understand and embrace the concept of sustainability. Moreover, these employees may bring practical ideas to the workplace because they may live and work on the frontline of environmental and sustainability impacts and concerns.

The increasingly diverse US student body and workforce might enable and further sustainable business education for two reasons: students from diverse countries and cultures may have learned about or experienced adverse environmental impacts in their home countries; and, demographic diversity has been demonstrated to have a significant positive impact on environmental issue attitudes (Dunlap 2008). In addition, the Millennial Generation and Generation Z are the generations most willing to pay higher prices for products and services from businesses demonstrating a positive commitment to environmental and social issues and problems (Nielsen Company 2015) .

Community Colleges with Sustainable Business and Sustainability Curriculum

A s the field of sustainability began to develop during the 1980s, postsecondary education institutions began implementing sustainability policies and practices, and later, curriculum (Vaughter et al. 2013). However, community colleges have been slower to embrace sustainability in their policies, procedures, and curriculum (Feldbaum 2009). An increasing number of community colleges have sustainability courses and programs, including offerings within the fields of environmental science, engineering, energy, agriculture, and more recently business. A summary of several of the nonbusiness courses and programs will be briefly enumerated in order to establish the history and direction of sustainability education within the community college system. However, the primary focus of this section will be with community colleges offering sustainable business courses, certificates , and degrees.

Sustainability Education in Community Colleges

The majority of community college sustainability courses, certificates, and degrees are offered in nonbusiness fields. A brief summary of nonbusiness community college sustainability activity is introduced in this section in order to establish a background on the movement. Kapi’olani Community College in Hawaii offers sustainability courses within a hospitality degree, in addition to having established sustainability plans, and a Service and Sustainability pathways program. Cascadia College in Bothell, WA, offers a Bachelor of Applied Science in Sustainable Practices which includes an interdisciplinary offering of courses. Gulf Coast State College in Florida offers an AS in building construction technology with a specialization in sustainable design. Monroe Community College in New York offers a Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Sustainability certificate that includes economics courses, but not business courses.

Sustainable Agriculture or Farming certificates are offered by Johnson Community College in Kansas, Lorain County Community College in Ohio, Wayne Community College in North Carolina, and Mendocino College in California. Associate degree in Sustainable Agriculture or Farming is offered by Lorain County Community College in Ohio, Tompkins Cortland Community College in New York, and Wayne Community College in North Carolina. Holyoke Community College in Massachusetts offers an AS degree and a certificate in Sustainability Studies with specializations in agriculture and energy. Certificates in Sustainable or Renewable Energy are offered by Manchester Community College in Connecticut, and Dallas County Community College District in Texas. Three Rivers Community College in Connecticut offers Sustainable Landscape Ecology and Conservation Technician, and Sustainable Facilities Management certificates .

Sustainable Business Education in Community Colleges

While the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) is a member of the Higher Education Associations Sustainability Consortium (HEASC) of Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) , only one member is currently listed as offering a sustainable business degree (AASHE 2017). St. Petersburg College in Florida has offered a Bachelor of Science degree in Sustainability Management for several years. Moreover, while 32 of the 38 sustainable and sustainability-related Associate’s degrees offered by AASHE members are delivered by community colleges, no community college members are currently offering an Associate’s degree in sustainable business.

However, an increasing number of community colleges are offering courses and college credit certificates in sustainable business, especially in Washington State. Whatcom Community College and Shoreline Community College both offer certificates in sustainable or sustainability business leadership. Bellevue College previously offered a number of certificate level programs, including Sustainability Coordinator, Sustainable Business Accounting, Sustainable Systems Best Practices, and Sustainable Business Best Practices, but currently only offers a nonbusiness sustainability concentration. North Seattle College offers a Green Real Estate Certificate. Edmonds Community College in Washington State currently offers one sustainable business course Sustainable Business Practices.

Beyond Washington State, City College of San Francisco has a number of certificate level programs including college credit certificates in Green and Sustainable Business, and Green and Sustainable Travel, and a noncredit certificate in Green and Sustainable Small Business. Chemeketa Community College in Oregon offers a Sustainability in Management Certificate. Bunker Hill Community College in Massachusetts offers a course entitled Introduction to Sustainable Business. Chandler-Gilbert Community College in Arizona offers an academic certificate in sustainability in the biological sciences department with a business and entrepreneurship specialization.

Florida State College Jacksonville offers the course Sustainable Business Strategies as a component of entrepreneurship concentration and general business administration concentration within a BS in Business Administration degree. Mesa Community College offers an academic certificate in Sustainability which, while not containing business courses, is promoted as being ideal for business professionals who wish to become change agents for sustainability within their respective organizations, or for students who already have a sound business foundation. SUNY Broome Community College offers one course entitled The Sustainable Business examining how large and small businesses can gain competitive advantage through incorporating sustainability.

In the Fall 2014 Semester, Seminole State College of Florida began offering a junior-level course, Sustainable Business Strategies as an elective within the Business and Information Management baccalaureate degree. During the first semester, the course filled to within two students of the 30-student classroom capacity. The course was subsequently modified for online delivery, after which enrollment per semester doubled to 60 students. In the Fall 2016 semester, the course was incorporated into the required coursework for a Supply Chain Management specialization offered within that same degree. For several years prior to the introduction of this course, Seminole State offered a technical certificate in Sustainable Engineering. Upon receipt of a National Science Foundation (NSF) EMERGE grant in 2015, the certificate was modified to be more interdisciplinary in focus, in order to be attractive to students with nonengineering majors. Along with sustainability courses in public policy and environmental policy, a sophomore-level Sustainable Business course was developed as an elective for the newly modified Sustainability certificate. Having developed both courses for Seminole State, this author will discuss the curriculum and pedagogy of the courses in the “Discussion” section of this chapter.

While community college participation in sustainable business education has been limited, an increasing number of institutions have embraced the necessity for entry-level employee and management training on the subject. The geographic areas currently represented by courses, certificates , and degrees, while limited suggests a growing acceptance of the need for sustainable business education at a level lower than, but certainly not less relevant than offerings at traditional colleges and universities .


The following discussion outlines how community colleges might further address the gap in entry-level sustainable business education, and includes approaches, methods, and tools, based upon the literature and author experience. Best practices, and the role and influence of the Millennial and Z generations, and cultural diversity will be examined. While there are currently a limited number of community college courses and programs from which to extract best practices, this section will examine the limited literature on sustainable business education exist along with the sustainable business course development experience of this author. The challenges experienced by this author in the course development process, and the methods used to overcome those challenges will be discussed. The intent is to stimulate discussion and thought concerning how to operationalize the delivery of sustainable business education within the community college system.

Approaches for Teaching Sustainable Business

The various perspectives on sustainability exist on a continuum, categorized into three broad paradigms (Gladwin et al. 1995): ecocentrism, ecological modernization, and neoclassical economics. Each of these paradigms offers a lens through which sustainability may be examined, and assumptions drawn (Stubbs and Cocklin 2008). Ecocentrism is a philosophical paradigm that is nature-centered, and not human-centered. Ecological modernization is an increasingly popular social science paradigm based upon the view environmentalism is beneficial to the economy. Neoclassical economics is based upon the laws of supply and demand, individual rationality, and profit and utility maximization. While traditional MBA students have been primarily exposed to the neoclassical economic paradigm, sustainability necessitates a view from multiple perspectives in order to develop critical thought and reflection (Stubbs and Cocklin 2008).

Research findings suggest active learning to be a successful sustainable business education tool, by placing greater emphasis on personal responsibility, and less emphasis on faculty influence (MacVaugh and Norton 2012). Active learning is a teaching method wherein students actively participate in the learning process, instead of passively receiving instruction. Methods of active learning include role-playing, case studies, and experiential learning. Quality management has been also successfully used as method of conjoining environmental sustainability into business school curriculum (Rusinko 2005). The quality management goal of the minimization of defects in the production of goods and services resonates well with the sustainability goal of natural resource waste minimization.

Sustainable business courses should include a critical theory approach in addition to the curriculum content. Despite limited research on the suitability of critical theory in business education, this theory has been proven successful in promotion of radical change agendas, such as ecojustice and sustainability (Kearins and Springett 2003). Using critical theory , students can explore the benefits and limitations of current business practices, and consider alternative practices. With a focus beyond traditional management control, learners can focus on the underlying influences of business, and how they impact our collective lives (Kearins and Springett 2003).

In addition, a transdisciplinary approach , collaborative and transformative learning, and participatory evaluation are recommended pathways to achieving organizational change regarding sustainable business education (Moore 2005). A transdisciplinary or interdisciplinary approach would include, among other components: systems thinking as a method of understanding and reflecting upon the interdependency of systems and the effects and feedback loops; foresighted thinking, in order to analyze, evaluate, and develop a vision of the future and the corresponding impact of business decisions on the long term, collective future; and, strategic management, consisting of the ability to collectively design and implement projects, interventions, and strategies for sustainable development (Lans et al. 2014). The focus of collaborative and transformative learning… Participatory evaluation…is the creation of a participative, cooperative environment, instead of the traditional transfer of knowledge from faculty to students. The students exchange ideas and insights with an emphasis on listening and understanding alternative perspectives. The focus of participatory evaluation is the creation of transparent evaluation of academic projects and programs by all stakeholders (faculty, administration, and students).

Methods and Tools for Teaching Sustainable Business

S tudents pursuing community college business degrees usually follow one of the two paths: transfer to a university for bachelor degree completion; or, obtain entry-level employment in business. Because of the workforce training mission of community colleges, students attending these institutions may have taken limited coursework in the field of environmental science, and may have little or no interest in the environmental field. Therefore, sustainable business curriculum should be presented in a practical, nontechnical manner. The addition of sustainability content in business curriculum should demonstrate more of a business case than a social or philosophical case for embracing sustainability. Because community college students are frequently permanent residents of the local community, sustainable business case studies and success stories should be drawn from the local community, or at least from industries existing in the local community.

Sustainable business must be taught using the language of business. Because business students are taught within a capitalist framework, it is understandable that skepticism might exist regarding the relevance and role of sustainability in a capitalist business organization. Sustainability should be introduced as both a model of responsible business, as well as a method of managing waste and inefficiency for profit maximization. Sustainability may lead to cost-reduction through the reduction and mitigation of waste and inefficiency, and profit-maximization through marketing the business as being a sustainable, responsible member of society.

In reviewing the previously discussed sustainable business degree programs, two sustainable business teaching models emerge. With the more prominent model, sustainable business is taught as a separate, standalone course, either as a required or elective component of a degree. In the less prominent model, sustainability permeates multiple courses. As stated in a previous section, the isolated course model suggests sustainability is a separate issue, disconnected from core business concepts. Therefore, in order for sustainable business education to be successful within the community college system, the sustainability message should be present through the certificate or degree curriculum , in addition to courses specific to the topic of sustainable business.

Because the topic of sustainability is frequently new and foreign to many business organizations, introduction and implementation of sustainability initiatives represent change. Resistance to change is common, frequently motivated by anxiety, miscommunication, or misunderstanding concerning the proposed change. Change management content could be incorporated into the curriculum in order to prepare students for managing change and becoming change agents. Genuine and significant sustainability programs often require change at all levels, frequently requiring a significant shift in organizational culture. While middle and upper-management might be capable and prepared to create change, entry-level employees and managers must also be prepared to introduce change upward from their level .

Curriculum Development and Delivery Best Practices and Challenges

T his author successfully developed curriculum for both a sophomore and a junior level sustainable business course by making the content practical and politically neutral. The sophomore-level course was intended to be an elective within a Sustainability certificate . The junior-level course was initially intended to be an elective within a BS degree in Business and Information Management degree, and was subsequently incorporated as a required course in a supply chain management specialization within the BS degree. Sustainability was presented from two perspectives: the need for a business model to be sustainable in the long-term if the enterprise is to remain economically competitive (Soyka 2013), and the relevance of environmental sustainability to contemporary consumer demands. This author suggests academics may bridge the perceived gap between sustainability and profitability by focusing on the symbiotic relationship of the two concepts. The two forms of sustainability were labeled the “two greens” (dollars and ecological), and presented as symbiotic components of a contemporary business model. This model was patterned after the structure of a sustainable business course offered by McGill University in Montreal, in which students were exposed to sustainability through a merger of the concepts of ecoeffectiveness and stakeholder effectiveness, including real examples of profitable sustainable business. Because the supply chain provides numerous opportunities for organizations to achieve both types of sustainability, and was the prior career field of this author, many of the case studies and examples used in the two courses were drawn from the supply chain management field.

Enterprise thinking , life cycle thinking (LCT) , and life cycle analysis (LCA) were course content components, both of which are viable business concepts that also mirror environmental thought. These topics are representative of a circular economy, which is a regenerative system in which resource use and waste are limited through recycling, refurbishment, remanufacturing, and repair. In the contemporary capitalist business environment, consideration of the circular economic model is a credible model for cost reduction and profit maximization. For further discussion, see the chapter in this handbook entitled “Discussing Practical and Educational Challenges in Teaching Circular Economy” by Kopnina.

The challenges faced by this author in the development and delivery of the two sustainable business courses included: stakeholder concern about the need for or relevance of a business course in sustainability; and, the identification of appropriate curriculum and methodology for course development and delivery. Stakeholder concern about the need for or relevance of a sustainable business course was based upon two factors: the career-specific focus of a community college; and, the reluctance of many local business representatives to accept and embrace the business role in issues such as climate change and environmental responsibility. The course development challenge was based upon the limited availability of undergraduate level texts and course material (Beehner 2017). The majority of publishers offering sustainable business texts did not offer instructor resources, necessitating that this author develop test banks and Power Point presentations for both courses.

Because one of the purposes of business is to create and maximize value, it would be appropriate to approach the topic of sustainable business from a value creation and maximization perspective (Soyka 2013). The sustainable business value proposition is satisfied by the perceived increase in the value of a product or service that performs as intended, while minimizing environmental impact (Beehner 2017). In addition to value creation and maximization, sustainable marketing is encouraged as a method of reaching the consumer base desiring sustainable products and services. Sustainable marketing is encouraged as a means of business differentiation and value maximization. Because many consumers are seeking green and sustainable products and services, students should understand methods of marketing the sustainable aspects of businesses .

Generational and Cultural Role and Influence

A s with any movement, hope is placed on the next generation to respond favorably to the notion of sustainable business. With the average age of a community college student being 29 (Kane and Rouse 1999), and community colleges currently serving approximately one-half of US undergraduate students (AACC 2012), community colleges are clearly positioned to serve the younger generations of current and future employees. It was previously noted that the Millennial Generation and Generation Z are more willing to pay higher prices for products and services from businesses with a positive commitment to environmental and social impact (Nielsen Company 2015), so it would follow that those generations would be more receptive to sustainability content within business curriculum . For more discussion on the engagement of younger students on sustainability, please see the chapter in this handbook entitled “Education in Human Values: Planting the Seed of Sustainability in Young Minds” by Ulluwishewa. For more discussion on the engagement of younger students on the topic of business sustainability , please see the chapter in this handbook entitled “Business Youth for Engaged Sustainability: Achieving the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)” by De Feis.

Some of the challenge to business sustainability within the United States may be cultural in origin. The US culture is more individualistic than many European and Asian cultures which may explain why residents of these regions have been more receptive to the message of sustainability. The US culture of individualism dates back to the founding of the original colonies which were established by early settlers in an effort to be governed independently from the European institutions left behind. This culture was reinforced by the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the Manifest Destiny movement that followed, and various political and ideological influences including the current populist, protectionist movement which supported the election of Donald Trump as President in 2016. In order for more of the US population to embrace sustainability, a cultural shift, or transition from individualism to collectivism might be required. For more discussion on the transition from an individualist to a collectivist approach to sustainability, please see the chapter in this handbook entitled “Higher Education Teaching Approaches to Move from the Individual to the Collective Approach to Sustainability” by Krogman.

In this section, several methodologies and approaches for successful sustainable business education have been suggested, including active learning, quality management , change management , a transdisciplinary or interdisciplinary approach , collaborative or transformational learning, and participatory evaluation. While traditional business students are primarily exposed to the neoclassical economic paradigm, sustainable business education necessitates a view from multiple lenses in order to develop critical thought and reflection. Moving beyond traditional management theory, sustainability courses should be modified to include a critical theory approach in addition to the curriculum content.

Sustainable business content should be taught using the language of business, recognizing that community college business students might have limited environmental science background. In emphasizing the community focus of community colleges, attention should be focused on the local (in addition to the global) impacts of sustainability. Engaging and empowering the younger generation of students is essential given the greater likelihood that the Millennial and Z generations will embrace sustainable business. The practical business benefits of the circular economy model should be emphasized as credible methods of cost reduction and profit maximization. Cultural challenges (individualism versus collectivism) should be acknowledged and accounted for in the teaching focus .

Recommendations and Conclusion

While addressing future environmental issues will require environmentally literate managers, many business students currently graduate with an undergraduate degree absent environmental content (Rowe 2002). While an increasing number of colleges and universities are offering undergraduate and graduate coursework, certificates , and degrees in sustainable business, the success of this top-down approach to sustainable business may be limited by lack of sustainability awareness among entry-level workers and managers. Therefore, sustainable business education should occur at multiple academic levels, specifically community colleges, wherein students prepare for entry-level trade, management, and professional positions at businesses which have implemented, or will implement, sustainability programs. Community colleges provide an affordable higher education option, have a successful history of providing occupational training (Geller 2001) to prepare students for entry-level technical work (Sullivan 2005), and are able to respond to business community needs by demonstrating how those needs are met within the context of the curriculum (Geller 2001). Unfortunately, the community college system is frequently overlooked in environmental and sustainable education discussions (Potter 2009), and has been lagging in sustainable business curriculum offerings (Feldbaum 2009).

Based upon the identified gap in sustainable business education, community college faculty and administrators should consider implementing sustainable business courses, certificates, and degrees, incorporating the approaches, methods, tools, and best practices outlined in the previous section. As more community colleges participate in the sustainable business education movement, additional approaches, methods, tools, and best practices may emerge. Business may benefit by having sustainability initiatives originating at the top of the organization better understood at lower levels. The greater society may benefit from the increased awareness of sustainability, and the increased role business may play in promoting sustainability.

Future Research

Several areas for future sustainable business education research have been identified. The following are most relevant to the better understanding the role and effectiveness of community college education. The community college system clearly plays a significant role in providing education to a broad population segment. However, while higher education studies of environmental attitudes, behavior or antecedents of environmental behavior are lacking, studies focusing on those areas in community college campuses are nearly nonexistent (Hutcherson 2013). The lack of consistent assessment of sustainable business programs is a concern, necessitating the collection of valid assessment data by educational researchers in order to encourage curriculum reform and define best practices (Venkataraman 2009).

Future research in the area of sustainable business education has been recommended in the following areas: learning outcome measurement; consideration of geographical, political, and cultural contexts; and, prioritization of sustainable organizational change strategies (Adomßent et al. 2014). Sustainable business education learning outcomes should be measured in order to determine whether students are developing the intended sustainable business competencies. Because existing HESD research has originated in the USA, Western Europe, and the developed nations of Asia, it is essential to understand sustainable business education viewpoints based upon the geographical, political, and cultural characteristics of the underrepresented nations and regions. Finally, organizational aspects such as unit interaction with the overall organization, and internal and external stakeholder management should be better understood in order to develop curriculum for sustainable organizational change.

In addition to research focusing on curriculum and institutions, further research is needed about sustainable business education students. Limited research exists about the learning experiences of sustainable business education recipients (Cullen 2016), suggesting the need for future research on this topic. Future empirical research is also needed concerning how and why business students engage with sustainability principles (Cullen 2016). It would be helpful to understand the outcomes of sustainable business education with students who embrace the topic as compared to students who do not embrace sustainability. An understanding of what teaching methods and curricula are most successful in changing the viewpoints of sustainability skeptics might improve the success of sustainable business education curricula.

At time of press, there is no existing research examining community college sustainable business education programs, students, or outcomes. Future research could examine the successfulness of community college sustainable business programs, and whether graduates of these programs enhance sustainability initiatives within businesses as entry-level employees and managers, as posited by the author of this chapter.


The community college system plays a key role as benefactors of sustainable business education to a constituency essential for the development of a sustainability paradigm within the greater business community. While traditional colleges and universities prepare middle and senior management for the implementation of sustainable business strategies, the success of those strategies may be limited without the buy-in and support of up-and-coming entry-level employees and managers. This chapter presented the background of sustainability education and sustainable business education, and examples of higher education institutions participating in the sustainable business education initiative. The history and function of the community college system was examined, including the case for community college participation in sustainable business education, and examples of US community colleges currently participating in sustainable business education. Approaches, methods, tools, and best practices for successful community college sustainable business education strategies were explored along with conclusions and recommendations for the future. Best practices, and the role and influence of the Millennial and Z generations, and cultural diversity were examined.

It is the hope of this author that the reader concludes this chapter with a better understanding of the crucial role of community colleges in the delivery of a holistic platform of sustainable business education. The intent of this chapter was the stimulation of discussion and thought concerning operationalization of sustainable business education delivery within the community college system. If the “cosmic vision” of sustainability is to extend from neighborhoods to communities, states, countries, and the globe, community colleges play a fundamental role in expanding “big-picture awareness” of sustainable business at the neighborhood and community level.

In this chapter, a case has been presented for increased community college participation in sustainable business education. However, the community college role in sustainable business education is currently limited, with few models and examples to analyze or mimic. Further, because a large percentage of community college students earn their AA degree and transfer to 4-year colleges and universities, many of the students participating in sustainable business education may likely advance beyond entry-level positions, further mitigating the effects of the proposed gap community colleges would address. Finally, the inclusion of sustainability content in business curricula does not guarantee students will implement those concepts in the classroom or the workplace (Thomas 2005).



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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Business, Legal and EntrepreneurshipSeminole State College of FloridaHeathrowUSA

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