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Reshaping Core Courses for Sustainability

Reshaping Core Courses for Sustainability
Sustainable Development
Published on:

HEC Paris undergoes a transformative shift in its curriculum. Building on its legacy of sustainability initiatives, the institution now prioritizes planetary boundaries and societal impact. The updated curriculum emphasizes sustainability integration and student empowerment for real-world impact. This reflects HEC's dedication to nurturing leaders prepared to address modern challenges.

HEC students on tables_cover

HEC transforms its curriculum to include environmental and societal advancements 

HEC Paris has carried out a transformative overhaul of its pre-experience Grande Ecole programs to focus on ecological transition and societal challenges. To change the curriculum, core courses and electives, Yann Algan spent 18 months mobilizing the school’s entire ecosystem consulting industry leaders, public figures, experts, and student representatives.

This transformation follows two decades of pioneering sustainability initiatives, starting with the Sustainability & Social Innovation (SASI) Master, first-ever Master in sustainability in a French business school. Following these efforts, the Sustainability & Organizations (S&O) Institute has launched 25 in-house programs since its creation in 2009. They all aim at promoting sustainable business practices.

And in 2023, S&O introduced a “Commitment track” for first-year students, pushing forward the Grande Ecole's curriculum review. This initiative propels students on a transformative journey, beginning with a three-day seminar on purpose and sustainability in Chamonix, generously supported since 2020 by donations from the Joly Family Chair on Purposeful Leadership and numerous individual contributors. Then, students engage in a 30-hour mission with a humanitarian NGO, followed by an internship in a conventional company, all the while undertaking a "Planetary Boundaries" course which culminates in a dissertation. The objective is to provide students with direct exposure to social and environmental issues while helping them reflect on the purpose of work and corporate missions.

Learn more about the Commitment track in this filmed interview of Yann Algan (in French): 

 

François Gemenne wants to mainstream sustainability at HEC with the “Planetary Boundaries” course and the SASI Master

Central to this transformation is the expanded "Planetary Boundaries" course, created three years ago and now led by François Gemenne, an authority on climate change and co-author of the IPCC. In this course, extended to 30 hours, HEC faculty and guest lecturers teach how to integrate planetary boundaries into economic activities while addressing social and political issues such as inequality and migration.

Gemenne is convinced that a low-carbon economy will dominate the 21st century. Taking over as the head of the SASI Master, Gemenne shares in an interview that at the Master’s creation, companies saw sustainability issues as a niche topic. Today, sustainability has become mainstream, and companies failing to adopt sustainable practices risk seeing their profits plummet. The SASI Master’s aim is threefold: to teach how to integrate sustainability into business models, to empower students to drive transformation within companies or by starting their own ventures, and to provide them with technical skills designed for real change. 

Watch the full interview of François Gemenne: 

 

A continuous transformation process

This advancement is faculty driven. At HEC Paris, the faculty primarily consists of two mutually reinforcing groups: 125 Tenure Track Faculty (TTF) and 42 Education Track Faculty (ETF). While both groups excel in teaching and promoting pedagogical innovation across all programs, Tenure Track Faculty push the boundaries of knowledge by developing ground-breaking fundamental research, along with 56 Ph.D. students under their supervision. Education Track Faculty contribute to the production of applied knowledge in practitioner-oriented outlets. Both groups often draw on their own research to design and deliver their courses, providing new and unique perspectives to their students. 

ESG considerations are often integrated into teaching. These initiatives have led to a significant increase in ESG-focused courses from 10% to more than 20% across the Grande Ecole programs and disciplines. For example, in Accounting and Management Control, Luc Paugam integrates his research on ESG accounting into his new courses. Similarly, Hélène Löning started a Sustainability track in the Accounting, Finance & Management Grande Ecole MSc in 2018 and now offers a fully dedicated course on Environmental Accounting in various programs.

In Operations Management, Sam Aflaki and Julien Grand-Clément (fellow of the Hi! PARIS Center) revised their courses to teach sustainable supply chains with the help of cutting-edge data analytics techniques.

Daniel Halbheer, professor of Marketing, and Igor Shishlov, Climate Economics and Policy expert, launched the Climate & Business Certificate to prepare students for navigating the complexities of climate change and decarbonization from a business and societal perspective. Before these new courses, Jean-Michel Gauthier, energy and geopolitics expert, pioneered lectures on the link between businesses and climate policies in the HEC Summer School and the Energy & Finance Certificate.

In Economics, Brian Hill and Stefania Minardi have introduced a course on the Economics of Climate Change, while Ai Ting Goh has introduced a Transforming Business for Sustainability specialization for the Executive MBA. In the MBA full-time program, the Sustainable & Disruptive Innovation specialization by Jeremy Ghez has become one of the most popular among students.

Executive Education also has seen significant developments, with flagship programs like the Change & Sustainability Major of the Global Executive Master in Management (GEMM), and the Sustainable Transition Management Certificate, aiming to help executives transform their organization to create economic, social and environmental value while respecting our planetary boundaries.

As part of the GEMM, the Lead Campus Certificate, created in 2019 by HEC Paris, the University Mohamed VI and the University of Cape Town, and directed by Bénédicte Faivre-Tavignot and Christelle Bitouzet, focuses on the key areas of leadership and general management in the dynamic context of the African continent.

For several years, Christelle Bitouzet has directed an innovative and popular two-day course on CSR in which simulation plays a role: her Master and Executive students play CEOs who must handle accusations from civil society and journalists (acted out by HEC staff members) regarding environmental and social harm.

Professors also create hands-on experiences through cases and partnerships with practitioners. Hélène Musikas and Laurence Lehman-Ortega have pioneered case studies on sustainable development and circularity at HEC. All the business cases that were created in 2023 were focused on ESG topics. These include cases developed in collaboration with the organizations that sponsor chairs at HEC. To cite just a few, Sebastian Becker developed a teaching case on the Nexans’ business transformation and its innovative steering approach, while Jessica Jeffers and Ferdinand Petra each teach courses on ESG integration in business and finance, with the intervention of finance industry experts from Rothschild & Co.

These courses are complemented by initiatives where students engage in conferences with scientific personalities, such as Emma Aziza, Philippe Bihouix, and Arthur Keller, and in the HEC Talks series with industry leaders, such as Alan Jope, Christopher Guérin, and Emmanuel Faber, explaining their strategies and challenges. They also interview thought leaders—Mohammed Yunus, Ether Duflo and Mathieu Ricard, to name but a few—on their philosophy and global outlooks.

In summary, HEC Paris is fostering a dynamic ecosystem where faculty research, innovative teaching methods, and real-world engagements converge to address pressing societal and environmental challenges while preparing students for impactful leadership roles.

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