UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources


A wholesome debate on the paradoxes, possibilities, and risks of business sustainability

11 October 2023

A blog written by one of our Businesses and Sustainability MSc students

MSc Business and Sustainability first class 2023 cohort

A blog by Harland Evans

The Grand Challenge of sustainability is how to secure the social foundation for humanity everywhere, now and in the future, while remaining within planetary boundaries.

This was the opening concept of our first week on the new UCL Business and Sustainability MSc, delivered by Dr. Samuel Tang as a reframing of the past seventy years of discourse around the principles and paradoxes of business and sustainability. It also served as the intro to our own discussions with representatives from Hariom Newport of the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (a major government infrastructure body), Paul Ekins of the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources, and Bina Mehta, Chair of KPMG, one of the UK’s leading consultancies.

We quizzed our guests on several important areas - themes that I expect will run through the year:

  • How do we support societies that are dependent on extractive industries in transition to a sustainable future?
  • What trade-offs do we accept between business growth and our societal foundations?
  • How do we encourage business to recognise the need for change in the status quo?
  • Given the sensitive nature of some of these topics, how do we avoid them being politically charged and thereby losing progress?

Thanks to their presence in the room, we could engage fully with our panellists - far more than we could have through interrogating academic literature, annual reports, and newspaper headlines. As the confidence of the room grew, it felt like we were making real, if gradual, progress towards addressing some of the fundamental questions of today.

Two things stood out for me, which distinguish this experience from my work life and time as an undergrad.

First - everyone very clearly wanted to be in the room - our guests wanted our opinions, respected our engagement, and provided robust and thoughtful answers. For our part we all chose this programme, and you could feel it in the sense of energy and excitement in participants.

Second - we are all invested; this is a group of people that is committed to addressing our Grand Challenge, in one way or another - we are on the programme because we want to answer big, difficult, and complicated questions, and we used the panel as a vehicle to do that.

This is the first week - the introductory class - and judging by the level of excitement and enthusiasm, the prospect of future panels, and the questions we are looking to answer, it’s just the beginning of what should prove to be an excellent year.


Image credit: Jessica Treeby