Business and the Social Side of Sustainablity

This course is not currently being taught at the University.

Business exists within human society. Since it does, it is both influenced by societal problems (including environmental problems) and itself influences those problems. Many businesses are coming to the conclusion that it is in their best interest (meaning their bottom line can be improved) if they strategically respond to societal problems.

The environment is one of the societal problems that business is responding to. But, there is another larger area of societal problems that business is just now struggling to come to grips with. These are issues involving people, communities and social justice/human rights. Businesses are just in the beginning stages of thinking about what, if any, responsibilities they might have, and what benefits there might be to companies that start responding to these challenges.

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The concept of social rights and responsibilities for the business community must take into account the unprecedented interdependence that now exists in the world. This class will highlight important innovations – both technical and social – occurring around the world as people and business organizations start to work together in unprecedented ways. We will look at the business response to sweatshops and the emergence of fair trade efforts. We will look at the role of business in community development, especially in developing countries. We will look at climate change as a social issue – who wins and loses – and we will look at business’s response to the emergence of a new customer: one that lives on less than $3/day.

The class will meet once a week, and guest lecturers (experts in the field) will be brought in to teach individual units. Students will be expected to write short papers, and teams of students will be asked to develop units on the above topics that could be presented in a Madison area public school science/social studies class, and then actually to present those units as their final project. The class will carry a moderately heavy reading load and is intended to qualify as a service learning class.

At the conclusion, students should understand how broadly society is influencing business decision making and be able to bring this understanding to a potential employer. Along the way, they will gain experience in writing persuasively and in organizing their ideas so that they can be presented to an audience that has not thought about these issues. In short, I hope to give students the opportunity to learn, and the experience of teaching others.

Fall 2010

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Fall 2009

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Spring 2009

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Spring 2008

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