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Business in Society: Sustainability strategies (19CI05306)

General information






S semester

ECTS Credits:


Teaching Staff:

Group Teacher Department Language
Sec: A Marc Vilanova Pichot Ciencias Sociales ENG

Group Teacher Department Language
Sec: B Marc Vilanova Pichot Ciencias Sociales ENG


No pre-requisites

Workload distribution

The distribution of the workload will be similar to the evaluation system. We expect participants to dedicate almost in equal parts their time to (a) prepare each session and actively contribute to the dialogue to discuss the issues; and (b) produce weekly reflections on readings as well as more philosophical questions;


The goal of this course is to train participants on how business in society issues will play a relevant role in their future job responsibilities, as well as to identify ways in which they can turn these challenges into opportunities. Our departing assumption is that learning to effectively manage business in society issues can produce positive results for the executive as well as for the company. Thus, the central objective of this course is to present students with tools to understand and manage social and environmental issues produced by business activities, and to turn these issues into competitiveness factors for the company through the development of innovative solutions.

Different companies use different names and acronyms to refer to the management of these issues, such as sustainability, compliance, corporate citizenship, corporate social responsibility or social impact, to name but a few. We do not care about the terminology used, we care about the ideas behind all of these terms: the duties and responsibilities companies have to address social and environmental issues generated as a direct result of their activities, which in classic economic theory are often considered externalities, but which modern management and economic models integrate into strategic and competitiveness models. In this regard, it should be clear from the start that for the purpose of this course all these terms are synonymous, all of them referring to the management of social and environmental issues.

Course Learning Objectives

This course is not designed to train people on how to become sustainability or CSR managers, but rather to understand what are some of the central issues in sustainability and CSR, what sort of challenges and opportunities they present, and how these issues are relevant to different companies, departments and business units. In this regard, the course will focus on issues such as:

- Identify and map relevant social and environmental issues: : learn to step out of the firm, understand key sustainability challenges and connect them to the firm
- Identify and manage key stakeholders: looking for long-term value creation through the stakeholder view of the firm
- Integrate key sustainability issues in the organization: connect these issues to corporate identity, corporate values, mission and business model
- Innovate: understand sustainability as a key source of innovation, and how we need to change our innovation mindset to create new sustainable solutions
- Become social intrapreneurs: design creative solutions to sustainability challenges
- Managing sustainability: designing and implementing shared value or responsible competitiveness strategies
- Changing the nature of the firm: looking at how all the preceding issues effectively change or re-frame key business assumptions

Therefore, in this course we will look at all these different issues from a general management perspective, but we will not go deeply into technical development of any of these solutions. In other words, given our time constraints our aim will be to acquire a general overview so that we may understand the different topics and issues relevant to this field. Thus, our goal will NOT be to learn how to develop a detailed technical solution in any of the particular areas described above, but rather to equip students with a general understanding so that as future managers they know what the relevant issues are, they are acquainted with the types of tools and best practices in use, and they can therefore interpret and integrate potential social and environmental challenges into their management practices.


1. Sustainability frameworks

Before we discuss any specifics, we need to come to a consensus on what it is we are talking about. Hence, the departure point will be to mirror the current debate around sustainability and how it relates to the private sector. Furthermore we will start to discuss how companies approach this issue by looking at how a firm can develop an issue map using a specific case, and how we can explore a benchmark for an issue map for an industry. We will jump start the debate by reading a very interesting article entitled ¿What is a business for?¿

2. Theories of evil

In this session we will focus on the systemic nature of the ethical challenges business face, and how these are the basis for developing a business model, defining a value proposition and designing a sustainability strategy. We will start the reflection by reading a provocative text entitled ¿Big Organizations are Unhealthy Environments for Human Beings¿ which presents some of the key questions and challenges big companies face connected to organizational culture and identity.

3. Ethical frameworks

In this session we will focus on the ethical frameworks that have been proposed to face some of the challenges we encounter as managers, and we will use these to discuss how companies can use these to develop and implement an ethical framework of their own, and some of the complexities that this process entails. To take this discussion more in depth we will use a case study called ¿The Analyst Dilemma¿.

4. The stakeholder view of the corporation

In this session we will discuss the shift companies have undergone from focusing solely on agency theory and the shareholder as the sole and main stakeholder of the corporation, to stakeholder theory, and the objective of generating value for all stakeholders. In this session we will look at who are the stakeholders of the company and how we can define and execute stakeholder engagement strategies

5. Innovation and social innovation

In this session we will look at the issue of innovation and how it may be different from the issue of social innovation. We will look at some examples from Nudge, as well as some classic examples to debate what social innovation is and how can a company foster and manage social innovation. Finally, we will explore whether there is a positive correlation between business in society and innovation, and if so how it unfolds.

6. Nudging for good

In this session we will continue with the discussion around innovation, focusing on the power of changing the way we look at customers, employees and other key actors in our organizational models. We will start the debate by reading a chapter from the book Nudge, and we will do an in class team exercise to come up with specific Nudges for good that can be potentially implemented.

7. BoP and frugal innovation

In this session we will focus on how companies are approaching sustainable innovation in emerging and developing markets. This session we will have a bit longer readings to start the debate before class, where we will read three articles by Prahalad and Karnani which mirror the debate around social innovation in developing countries. We will also discuss how an increasing number of companies are finding opportunities for innovation here.

8. The age of cooperation and dialogue

In this session we will discuss how true sustainable innovation can only depart from collaboration and cooperation. We will discuss how there is an essential challenge to collaboration which is the incapacity to have real and transparent dialogue among key stakeholders. Furthermore we will look at some of the challenges and tools for collaboration. We will start the discussion by reading two articles entitled ¿Code¿ and ¿The Ecosystem of Shared Value¿.

9. Social entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship

In this session we will focus on how the classical distinction between private companies, public organizations and the third sector are becoming blurred and how more and more organizations are finding that they need to think simultaneously as a firm, a government and an NGO. We will look in particular at how many organizations are working in this hybrid space and how social entreprises, from both intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs, are one of the most efficient ways to work on sustainable innovations. We will start the debate reading a text called ¿Creating Succesful Business Models¿.

10. Circular economy and the future of management

Relation between Activities and Contents

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Participation and attendance                    
Individual work: weekly threads                    


Business in society issues are very strongly affected by contextual issues such as cultural, social and economic conditions, geography and timing. In this regard, one of the most challenging parts of developing a business in society strategy is to define what the central issues are for a given organization. This means that each of us has to develop its own definition and issue map based on its context, values, identity, beliefs, and goals. In this scenario, the key methodologies we will use in this course are dialogue and introspection. In other words, we must come up with our personal definition of what business in society is, as well as a list of key issues that we will need to address as future managers through debating with others around us on these topics and exploring within ourselves.

Our goal is threefold: (1) to foster an atmosphere of openness and dialogue; (2) to challenge participants to give the best of themselves; and (3) to look at issues from different angles and perspectives. Students will also be asked to take stance of either business or society (not by choice, but alternatively) to force putting ourselves in the other's shoes.

In terms of class structure, we want to be open and flexible to change things as we move along. That is, we want students to be able to participate not only in fulfilling the class requirements, but also in improving the course itself. Therefore we will be open to add or eliminate sections, go deeper into topics, look at materials recommended by students, or discuss any other suggestion that aims to make business in society a better course. However, in order to guide the course we have devised a class structure to establish a weekly pattern (except for the first and last sessions. In the first session we will have an in-depth introduction to the course, and in the last session we will have the final project presentations):

1. Lecture from professor
2. Viewing short video or other materials and class discussion
3. Break
4. In class exercise in teams



Description %
Participation and attendance 50
Individual work: weekly threads 50

Assessment criteria

Your performance will be evaluated based on individual participation (based on quality and frequency of contributions during the course), ans weekly reflections on readings


The course includes some required and optional readings, which will be detailed in the course syllabus and website, but which will include some of the following:

- Beinhocker, E. and Hanauer, N. (2014). "Redefining Capitalism?. McQuinsey Quarterly
- Crane, A; Palazzo, G; Spence, L; Matten, D. (2014) "Contesting the Value of "Creating Shared Value??. University of California Berkeley . 56 (2) 130-153
- Handy, Ch. (2002). "What's a business for?? Harvard Business Review.
- Karnani, A.G. (2007). "The Mirage of Marketing to the Bottom of the Pyramid:how the private sector can help alleviate poverty?. California Management Review 49(4):90-111
- Kramer, M. and Pfitzer, M. "The Ecosystem of Shared Value?. Harvard Business Review, October 2016
- Leavitt, H.J. (2007). "Big Organizations Are Unhealthy Environments for Human Beings?. Academy of Management Learning & Education. 62(2): 253-263
- Martin, M. (2014). "Corporate Impact Venturing: A New Path to Sustainability?. Stanford Social Innovation Review.
- Prahalad, C.K. & Hammond A. (2002). "Serving the world's poor, profitably?. Harvard Business Review. 80(9):48-58
- Pfitzer, M; Bockstette, V; and Stamp, M. "Innovating for Shared Value?. Harvard Business Review, September 2013
- Porter, M. and Kramer, M. "Creating Shared Value?. Harvard Business Review 2011
- Prahalad, C.K. (2007). Letter of response to A.Karnani
- Sennet, R. (2012). Code, from the book Together: the Rituals, Pleasures and Politics of Co-operation. Yale University Press.

Timetable and sections

Group Teacher Department
Sec: A Marc Vilanova Pichot Ciencias Sociales

Timetable Sec: A

Group Teacher Department
Sec: B Marc Vilanova Pichot Ciencias Sociales

Timetable Sec: B