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At the end of this term, eight of our top management and business students take their interest in environmental concerns to the next level. As part of the Department of Organisation, Work and Technology taught course – Management and the Natural Environment (OWT.230), eight undergraduates from the Management School have been selected to attend the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) meetings as part of COP21 in Paris this year.
The opportunity for these students to attend COP21 has been given by the Director of Pentland Centre, Professor Gail Whiteman and could not be made possible without the help and support of Peter Bakker, President and CEO of WBCSD and Dr Alison Stowell, as well as the constant support and financial help of the Management School, the Department, LUSU and many other university staff and additional sponsors.
COP21 is an annual conference comprised of the 195 nations that constitute the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and is one of the largest climate conferences ever organised. This means 40,000 participants will be heading to Paris at the end of this month, including government and world leaders, CEOs and senior executives of corporate businesses, national, regional and city leaders, financers, investors and industry experts as well as, no doubt, thousands of protestors keen to show their interest in the debate. This year, they come with the aim of creating a legally binding agreement between the countries to keep global warming rates below 2°C, with eight excited Lancaster students there to witness it.
“I hope it can have an impact – for the first time there is quite a lot of pressure in the media to reach an agreement” says Celia Iordache, European BBA management.
Coming from all corners of the world, the students have said they are really interested in seeing how different countries approach these issues and interact with each other over such important and pressing problems. Jan-Oliver Distler, general secretary of Model United Nations Society, tells SCAN, “climate doesn’t stop at boarders, nor do companies. We need international agreements because these issues will have an impact on the international community”.
As the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21), there have been many efforts in reducing carbon footprint prior to this one, so I asked students, “what makes this one different?”
“There are a lot of different companies and stakeholders involved which makes the process of discussions a long one and can make it hard to succeed but this time, everyone is aware of the importance of the agreement” Veronika Wiesner, BBA European Management.
“The last summit in Copenhagen didn’t go as well but I think this one can really bring some protocols to the table” says Celia. “It’s got to the point where they really need to take a step forward and make some changes”.
The urgency of this situation is pushing people into action; if this conference is successful, it could be the first step of many to make lasting, long-term changes to the way we view our climate on an international scale, through the decisions made.
Each of these students are already politically engaged with a passion for sustainable development, having attended protests, model UN conferences and working for various companies involved in climate change, but what does it mean to them to attend a real UN conference?
“It means I can connect my knowledge with practice listening to different international ideas and cultures and collect first-hand information from CEOs of big companies” says Xiaoyu Chen, BA Management and Organization with HRM.
Ferdinand Weiler, a BBA European Management student told me that “there is a huge potential for entrepreneurship ideas listening to how business CEOs face challenges; every challenge is a business opportunity.”
“We might even meet someone who becomes our future employer” Victoria Wood, Bachelor of Law, and Bachelor of Business (Human Resource Management).
This is an amazing and life-changing prospect for each of the students, participating in a conference with the likes of world leaders including David Cameron and Barack Obama to tackle the problem of climate issues head on and on such a vast scale. Not only has Peter Bakker, CEO of WBCSD, given them the opportunity to act as hosts, attend sessions and take notes where required, it is also a fantastic networking opportunity that could be invaluable in the future. The fact that this opportunity is fully supported by the University, particularly with the help of our own Professor Gail Whiteman, will only increase future prospects for these students regarding career opportunities by gaining transferable employability skills.
It is not simply a chance to meet executives of large companies, however, but a chance to see them making steps towards changing the way that we treat the world. Jan-Oliver explains that due to their tax contributions and impact on the global economy, large businesses may even have more power than politicians in this conference. “Once businesses have made a decision, they are going to make change” states Xiaoyu. “People think we have to choose between profit and sustainability” says Ferdinand, executive committee member of the Entrepreneurship Society, “but I am interested in how the companies plan to invest profit into sustainable developments to turn more profit and combine the two.”
Miriam Luft, who is studying European BBA Management, and Jan-Oliver, both explain that it is so interesting to hear how top businesses talk when they are not addressing the media or other politicians, ‘behind closed doors’ as it were. This is an incredible opportunity to get real, first-hand information on how some of the biggest companies and world leaders address the ongoing concern of climate change.
I think we are all agreed that climate change and environmental concerns are huge and ongoing issues in our world today, as Alexia Louise Petricu, European Management BBA states “if we really want to see action, we need to change the way we think”. It is not simply down to the large companies but the way we, as individuals, think about our world and it is inspiring to know that students from here at Lancaster get to be a part of this exciting event. “It affects all of our future as it makes the planet liveable for all of us”, Ferdinand Weiler adds.