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April Atwood, PhD (Seattle University)

Rising to the Challenge of Addressing Climate Change in a ‘Regular’ Business Class

“…if you are not talking to your students about climate change, you are doing them a disservice.” ~Gael Giraud, keynote speaker, IAJBS conference, 2017, Namur, Belgium This challenge came through loud and clear at last year’s meeting of the IAJBS. While I have been teaching some classes that focus on sustainable business as a whole, or on specific aspects of sustainable business (e.g., sustainable marketing), I heard Dr. Giraud’s challenge and considered how the topic of climate change could be incorporated into a class that, on the surface, is not closely related to climate change. I teach an upper-level, undergraduate class focused on buyer behavior; a long-standing assignment in this class is a project, conducted in small groups, that focuses on applying the concepts from the course to a ‘behavior change’ plan, aimed at getting a ‘target audience’ to change a specific behavior. In the past, these projects focused on student-generated topics ranging from encouraging international students to participate more in class to encouraging members of the university community to attend university basketball games to encouraging university students to make healthier meal choices or to drink more water daily. In response to Dr. Giraud’s challenge, I embarked on an experimental assignment for the sections of the buyer behavior class that I have been responsible for this year. For each quarter’s class, I assigned some background reading and video-viewing on the topic of climate change. Then, I spent a class day sharing a presentation on climate change based on training from the Climate Reality Project (Al Gore’s group). Student project groups were then asked to identify behavior changes that could result in reducing the climate impact of their target audience in some way. Once each group settled on the climate-related behavior change they wanted to focus on, they dove into the project and generated a plan for changing their focus behavior, based on the consumer decision-making and influence concepts and frameworks we covered in the course. Presentations of their proposed behavior-change strategies took place at the end of the quarter. My hope in pursuing this experimental assignment was that by requiring students to think about consumer behaviors and their potential impacts on climate change, students’ thoughts and feelings related to climate change would be changed. To that end, I administered a ‘climate change survey’ at both the beginning and end of each quarter. This ‘survey’ included assessments of beliefs related to climate change and its impacts, as well as opinions about the responsibilities of business and other institutions in addressing climate change. As part of the ‘reflection’ that is part of the required learning process in my class, I also asked at the end of each quarter for any overarching comments or feedback they could offer about any changes in their own thoughts and behaviors related to climate change and personal impacts. By the time the conference takes place in summer, 2018, the data from all 3 of the quarters of this experimental assignment will be collected and analyzed, and impacts on student thinking and behavior will be summarized and assessed. Specific project topics and recommendations will also be highlighted and described. This early pedagogical work is not ready for publication at present, but I would be happy to share my work and results in a poster session at the conference.