Students share ‘eye-opening’ experiences of WBCSD meeting in Montreux

Students in Montreux

11 April 2017

Returning from their week-long trip to the WBCSD annual meeting, ten undergraduate students shed light on what they learnt from the experience.

On the 26th March, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) held its annual liaison delegate meetings in Montreux to discuss matters of long-term development and students from Lancaster University Management School were lucky enough to attend. 

With over 200 members, the WBCSD is a CEO-led organisation that provides and facilitates sustainable business strategies for companies across the world.  It acts between an exchange platform, where members can share and learn sustainability solutions from each other, and a think-tank providing innovative methods to accelerate corporate sustainable growth. Prominent members include Apple, Unilever, BP, and the BMW Group.  

Montreux’s famous 2m2c Music and Convention Centre once again played host to this year’s meeting. Through the week, the students served as auxiliaries to the staff and mostly managed the attendance and security for the various meetings and workshops. Between their shifts, the students were given permission to attend the open sessions, and listened in on the momentous conversations that occurred.  

Stanley Li (BSc Management and IT) said: “The meetings provided a window on how policies are debated and introduced at the highest level of business. The conversations were raw, and unadulterated, and the CEOs were approachable and candid. It was an eye-opening experience!” 

Tuesday was the busiest day of the trip. In the opening plenary, the CEO of the WBCSD, Peter Bakker, welcomed the guests with an impassioned speech detailing the copious crises of the world, and outlined the objectives of the summit. He addressed environmental concerns, the necessity for moderate behavioral change, and the consumers’ lack of trust with corporations before reaffirming the WBCSD’s commitment to the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These 17 targets ranged from eliminating poverty to providing quality education for all. In the near future, the WBCSD aims to inspire companies into action to expedite the delivery of the social development goals.

Following Mr Bakker, many CEOs and prominent industry figures joined the podium and introduced their own respective projects that were enacted in the name of sustainable development. Some talked of their efforts to create green cities and improve city-planning processes while others talked of initiatives to stop food waste.  

At lunch, the students met with Professor Gail Whiteman from the Pentland Centre for Sustainability in Business and discussed the need for sustainability to be further embedded in educational curriculum.

Bethan Thompson (BSc Business Studies) said: "For me, attending the WBCSD meeting highlighted the importance of sustainability knowledge, and the lack of it within our current education system. I believe that this key knowledge should be integrated into all business-related degrees, in order to fully understand the sector and, more importantly, our planet."

That evening, the students attended the gala dinner and networked with the delegates. At dinner, the WBCSD held a magnificent banquet to honour the influential women among its member companies. The first annual Leading Women Awards recognized 10 executives from around the world for their contributions in their corporate communities and their efforts towards the fulfillment of the SDGs.  

On the last day of the meeting, the students attended an awards ceremony and received certificates of participation from Professor Rodney Irwin, Managing Director at the WBCSD and Honorary Teaching Fellow for the Pentland Centre for Sustainability.

Kristen Freile (BBA International Business Management) thanked the committee and shared her thoughts about the trip, saying: "The chance to attend the WBCSD Liaison Delegate meeting was an amazing opportunity. I was truly inspired by the talks and presentations at the event, and I will continue to make my lifestyle more sustainable along with my career aspirations."

Edward Meadowcroft (BBA Management) looked back at the experience and said:  “The trip to Montreux gave us an amazing chance to network with individuals from major companies all over the world. However, I believe the best network we built was with each other and I hope we all stay in contact as we progress further into our careers.” 

Annika Kelsen (BBA International Business Management) aptly concluded:  “The WBCSD was a great experience and I'm thankful to have been chosen to represent LUMS in Montreux! The facts of how companies can use sustainability to generate profits and improve their businesses on various levels was fascinating. To be part of this global network and to see companies not only talking about sustainability, but actually making an impact was amazing! It’s companies who can make a change and everyone should be aware of that. Thank you LUMS for this unique opportunity and I am looking forward to learning more and engaging with sustainable businesses!” 

The students won their places on the trip by entering a video competition organised by Dr Alison Stowell, Jo Hobbs and Matthew Howard.  The trip was also supported by LUMS Associate Dean for International, Dr David Simm and facilitated by Professor Gail Whiteman who said: “I am proud of our students, they work hard and are extremely professional.” 

Article by Stanley Li