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A force for good in business and society

Trinity Business School’s ambitious new strategy will place it at the leading edge of good, sustainable, ethical, and humane business practices

Launched last week, the new Trinity Business School Strategy is aimed at harnessing its strengths and values to deliver business education and research that promotes ethical leadership, eco-sustainability, and humane business.

According to Prof Andrew Burke, dean of Trinity Business School, the strategy will leverage the school’s excellence in research, education and thought leadership to address some of the key challenges facing business and society now and in the future.

The Transforming Business for Good strategy builds on a period of outstanding growth and achievement for the school. “The school has gone through a massive transformation over the past number of years,” says Burke. “We have grown in size by 150 per cent, achieved triple accreditation by the leading international bodies, and moved into a state-of-the-art eco-friendly building. We have taken the school to a new level, and it is now ranked in the top echelon of business schools internationally. We want to build on that platform.”

He explains that business schools have a special role to play in addressing issues such as climate change and social inequality. “We need to be conscious of the nature of the world we live in. The climate catastrophe and the heightened focus on ethical business practices present huge challenges for everyone involved, challenges that have never been at the forefront before. Businesses need to uphold the human rights not only of their own employees but workers right through their supply chains as well. They are also responsible for their own impacts on the environment as well as those of their suppliers and customers.”

He describes this is the new frontier of competition. “Organisations that embrace ethical and sustainable business practices tend to outperform those that don’t. In many cases, they will need to transform themselves to compete at that level. They will need graduates with the skills and capabilities to help them do that. We want to produce those graduates.”

Trinity Business School is part of the new wave of business education transformation

As part of the new strategy, the school has set a target of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2030. “We have deliberately gone for the more aggressive target of 2030. We’d rather miss that target narrowly than comfortably meet a 2040 or 2050 deadline by which time it will already be too late to be leading the transformation to save the planet. This means we will build up a lot of experience and expertise over the next eight years on how to achieve carbon neutrality.”

The school is already being called upon to share that expertise. “Now that Trinity Business School is on the world stage and accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business [AACSB International], the Association of MBAs [AMB]), and the European Quality Improvement System [EQUIS], we are regularly called upon to address conferences on what business schools can do to become more sustainable. There are around 16,000 business schools globally. That’s a big industry with a big carbon footprint. It is critically important that it changes what it does to get onto a much more sustainable footing. We can hardly go out and tell other schools and indeed businesses to put their houses in order if we are not doing it ourselves.”

And what happens in the business school has an impact on the rest of the university. “Business schools tend to be the most agile parts of a university,” Burke explains. “They are closer to the market and are very often test beds for what the rest of the university does later. If the business school can’t transform, how can the rest of the university do it?”

Transformation is very much part of the new strategy.

“Trinity Business School is part of the new wave of business education transformation,” Burke points out. “How do we reduce our carbon footprint; how to we unpack our supply chains to gain the visibility to ensure that they are humane; how do we communicate to consumers in a credible way that we are ethical and sustainable businesses and ensure we can’t be accused of greenwashing; how do we make the tough decisions – the ones that may hit sales or increase costs in the short term but are the right things to do in the long run. We look at how to make those strategic decisions and we are producing the people who are able to make them as well as the auditors who are able to do environmental accounting, not just compliance.”

Exploring links between climate change and cryptocurrencies

The biggest barrier to the widespread adoption of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin may turn out to be their carbon footprints, according to Prof Brian Lucey of Trinity Business School. “The best estimates for bitcoin, which is worth half the value of all cryptocurrencies out there, put its carbon footprint at the same size as the Netherlands or Thailand.”

Lucey and a number of researchers in his department have been looking at cryptocurrencies and their links with climate change for some time. The problem, he explains, is the vast, some would say inexcusable, amounts of energy used to produce the currencies. Massive amounts of computing power are required to produce a single bitcoin and to carry out transactions using them.

There are solutions to the problem, but they may become moot over time. “You can green cryptocurrencies in two ways,” he explains. “One is to move to green or renewable energy to power the computers. The second is to change the blockchain underpinning from proof of work to proof of state protocols which are less energy intensive. But central banks are now exploring digital currencies. As we all get used to digital currencies central banks will move in and regulate cryptocurrencies out of existence. They may become a victim of their own success.”

Deploying business skills to create social impact

Helping social enterprises to become better and more effective at what they do, assessing the Irish business community’s commitment to human rights, and investigating funding models for social innovation. These are just some of the areas being addressed by the Trinity Centre for Social Innovation.

“It is a research centre housed in the Business School with links across the University,” says co-director associate professor Mary-Lee Rhodes. “Our fundamental focus is on how to bring management and business theory and practices to non-profit activities. Our mission is to make a positive impact on society and the environment through engagement, research, innovation, and teaching.”

One example of a social enterprise that has benefited from that work is Vantastic, the mobility services provider for people with disabilities. “We have worked with them multiple times. We looked at their service configuration, marketing, and the human resources aspects of the business for example. We carried out another project to measure the impact of the services they provide.”

The centre is also looking at new areas such as circular economy and nature-based enterprises and how they are funded. “It’s probably going to be a hybrid model,” she points out. “An enterprise which is improving biodiversity in an area may need initial grants from government or philanthropy to purchase land. After that they may need to calculate a value for the impact they are having on the environment and ask businesses in the area to pay for that.”