Cabrera moderates UN forum on sustainable business practices

The definitions in this graphic were adapted from the PRME website.

The Principles for Responsible Management Education. The definitions in this graphic were adapted from the PRME website. Credit: Megan Zendek

While the practices of big business have been questioned in both the courts and the public forum, one group is targeting business leaders at the university level. This summer marked the 6th Annual Assembly of the Global Forum for Responsible Management Education, moderated by Mason President Ángel Cabrera.

The forum, held this June in New York, was just one part of the U.N. initiative Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME), which promotes sustainable and responsible business practices through education. The forum boasted 400+ participants and brought together educators, administrators and business leaders looking promote ethical business practices.

Dean of Mason’s School of Business Sarah Nutter also attended the event.

“The purpose of the meeting in New York was really to gather together faculty and administrators and interested parties that were signatories to the PRME and to really talk about issues that they were dealing with in their own schools,” Nutter said.

President Cabrera’s involvement with the program began in 2007, prior to his tenure at Mason, when he served as chair of a U.N. international task force responsible for developing the PRME. Though the program is less than a decade old, it claims over 500 business schools as signatories and 14 supporting organizations whose work promote ethical business practices. Mason officially joined in February 2014.

“It was a fascinating process through which business school leaders around the world agreed to challenge themselves and their institutions and make a public commitment to develop responsible leaders,” Cabrera said about creating the principles.

The PRME is a list of six principles to which each participating school becomes a signatory. Each of the principles builds on the premise that students and educators are integral to shaping the future business environment. Schools agree to such statements as “We will develop the capabilities of students to be future generators of sustainable value for business and society at large” and “We will interact with managers of business corporations to extend our knowledge.”

The PRME address internal business ethics as well as external impact.

“[Businesses] must be led by managers who are ethical and responsible, who understand the scope and impact of their decisions on society at large, and who are committed to creating sustainable value without causing collateral damage,” Cabrera said.

Nutter said not everyone is on board with the PRME at the school level.

“I think there is resistance to sustainability when it is viewed as a political agenda, rather than a principled approach to thinking more broadly about how can business and corporations be a force for good,” she said.

Nutter grew up near a Dow Chemicals plant in Ohio and recalls seeing the state’s Cuyahoga River burn as a result of improper chemical waste management among factories. The balance between business in the black and consequences in the red informs Nutter’s approach when it comes to looking at a sustainable future.

Though Mason is still in the early stages of implementing the principles, the School of Business has already developed courses on the issue of sustainability and looks to the issue of curriculum reform as a topic of discussion.

“I would ask folks to take the broader view which is, how do we think about business education in a way that isn’t just focused on short-term decision making, that leads to perhaps an incremental positive on the firm, but consider the long-term consequences of decisions that we make today,” Nutter said.