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Sustainability with Nick Pisalyaput

Please notice this was first posted in the period 2012-2014 and can be outdated

The final course of the first year of the Sasin MBA program is sustainability, and the structure of this course was remarkably different from all the other courses we have done so far. For example the course is spread out over several hexamesters; a beginning is made in Q1.2 with a one-day workshop, in Q2.1 we had 5 lectures, Q2.2 was filled with a couple of panel discussions, and in both Q3.1 and Q3.2 we worked on a project and a presentation. All together it sounds a lot less structured than other courses, and that is also how I experienced it. Maybe the reason for the lack of structure was the fact we were the first class to do this course.

Building a pyramid that will not last thousands of years.

To be honest I do not remember much of the one-day workshop besides what you can see in the picture above: we build some sort of basis for a pyramid but I cannot remember why, nor why we did not build more of that pyramid. It could have been because of a lack of time, or more likely the structure was so weak from the start that the whole thing would collapse if we continued any further. And what message would that convey?

Nick Pisalyaput and Stephen Young teaching at Sasin

In Q2.1 we were treated on a week of lectures by professor Young. During these lectures numerous slides flew by in such a high speed that it reminded me of what an old Sasin alumni, of 15+ years ago, once remarked: the quicker someone goes to the slides the more suspicious you should become because it normally means something is wrong with them.

At the end of each day we had to hand in, by email, in one sentence, a summary of the lecture in the form of a tweet, meaning the maximum amount of characters was 140. It must be hard to grade based on one sentence but to my surprise I scored a total of 24.94 points on this part; apparently they came up with grades with at least one decimal.

Stephen Young at Sasin

Two quarters later, during Q2.2, it was time for a couple of panel discussions where guests were invited to brag about their company and how they made it more sustainable. While it was interesting to hear how they incorporated “sustainability” into their daily business, it also became clear that some of the companies had just done it to get some positive public relations and did not truly believe in what they were doing. Even though I don’t think that would matter much for the people receiving the help, it did make me itchy.

Panel discussion about sustainability at Sasin.

And finally, during both Q3.1 and Q3.2, we all had to group up and pick a project out of a long list of companies that were willing to cooperate with Sasin to do something sustainable. Since all projects had to be divided between the groups before we could contact the companies it became quite tricky to pick a company that was really willing to help you along and give valuable feedback. Some groups had bad luck with that part and were stuck with project representatives that were nasty, unavailable, or had no clue themselves. It took my group some time to pick the perfect project, and because we wanted to see the outcomes of our project we picked the one closest by: Sasin.

All projects and the scores they got from our team voting

At Sasin there is still some room for improvement on the sustainability area as we soon found out. After talking to some representatives from Sasin it became clear that more people had noticed the problems but for some reason nobody had really made any difference yet. So that would be our task.

To go from parking lot floor 5 to main building floor 6 you first need to take the elevator down to be able to take another elevator up. What a waste of time and energy.

As a group we made a list of initiatives that could be easily implemented by Sasin to stop some of the waste. Unexpectedly we put in quite some time to find out the details of all the things going on, had a lot of meetings with stakeholders, and mostly just used our common sense and observation skills to see what could be done. While we get graded on our project and our presentation, the real test of course is to see if Sasin will implement our initiatives. So if you are in the class of 2013 and you still get all books in hardcopy, you still see old light bulbs in lecture rooms, and you do not get a nice Sasin refillable water bottle during your introduction, then we FAILED.

To investigate why people do not refill their water bottles more often at Sasin we soon found one of the reasons…

All together it is clear to me that sustainability can be an important course for MBA students at Sasin, but there is still some work to be done to build a better foundation and structure; for now it is mostly a course for vegetarians as in that there is not much meat in it. During other courses we did get some glimpses of the direction this course could be taken to, for example during the course Business Strategy it was pointed out that sustainability does not have to mean you spend some money on getting positive PR; it can set your company apart from other companies and give you a real competitive advantage earning you millions. See for example Toyota who created a more sustainable car, the Prius, and found itself at the forefront of hybrid cars. Or during the course Managing HR in a global environment we had guest speaker Curtis Chin who pointed out that it is not so much about how a company spends its money, but it is more about how they made their money. These kinds of insights can make you think of sustainability in a different way than before; at least they changed my perspective.