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Introducing sustainability early allows students to think strategically about a company’s mission and values, says MacEwan University professor Leo Wong.

In business, the bottom line has traditionally been the ultimate indicator. Want to know whether a company is successful? Look to its profits and margins. Is a business owner or CEO doing a good job? Check the balance sheet.

But today, the measures of success often reach beyond dollars and cents to include whether businesses are having a positive impact on their communities, the environment or social issues.

"The question in business schools 20 years ago was 'is doing good work in the world good for business?'" says assistant professor Leo Wong, School of Business, MacEwan University. "Then, it was an academic debate with little evidence, but now there is a lot of research that shows when businesses invest in socially and environmentally responsible practices, they financially outperform businesses that don't."

While many business schools integrate an element of social responsibility, sustainability and ethics into their programs, Wong says that it tends to be done late in the game – often as fourth-year electives.

"At MacEwan, we integrate sustainability into our approach, and we've started doing it strategically in a student's very first year," explains Wong, who is beginning to research the impact that a focus on sustainability has on students.

In the first mandatory business course, BUSN 201: Introduction to Sustainable Business, students not only learn about sustainability, they hear about it first-hand from guest speakers in every single class. And the guest speakers who make up the course's NextUp series don't stand behind lecterns spouting business advice. Instead, they sit talk-show style in comfy chairs at the front of the class, telling stories that are often touching, inspiring and occasionally downright raw.

"A lot of business schools have speakers in their courses, but not like this," says Wong. "Students see speakers three times a week, and those personal stories bring our teaching materials to life."

Introducing sustainability early, however, doesn't mean there is buy-in from everyone – and Wong says that's fine. "Whether or not they leave inspired to make a social or environmental impact, graduates will be equipped to think strategically about a company's mission and values, and how those align with the values of their customers and other stakeholders."

This content was produced by Randall Anthony Communications, in partnership with The Globe and Mail's advertising department. The Globe's editorial department was not involved in its creation.