Dean CHEN Fangruo: Business Schools Can Greatly Contribute to Sustainable Development 2023-10-01

In today's challenging global environment, sustainable development has emerged as one of the most crucial issues. From economics to society, from the environment to ethics, the concept of sustainability has permeated various fields, shaping our future.

How is the concept of sustainable development manifested in the field of intelligent manufacturing? What is the connection between business education and sustainable development? Chen Fangruo, Dean of Antai College of Economics and Management at Shanghai Jiao Tong University and Dean of Shanghai Jiao Tong University's Industry Research Institute, during an exclusive interview at the "Circular · Leading Sustainable Development - Shanghai Jiao Tong University's First Sustainable Development Forum," stated that the path to sustainable development is both "long and wide." By integrating the wisdom of all parties, we can think more rationally about the issues of sustainable development.


Sustainable Development and Intelligent Manufacturing


NBD: Sustainable development is a multi-dimensional concept that can be viewed from economic, social, and environmental perspectives. How do you define sustainable development, and how is this concept reflected in the field of intelligent manufacturing?


Chen Fangruo: Sustainable development is a multi-dimensional concept and a long-term notion that is both "long and wide."


From the perspective of businesses, sustainable development focuses on longer-term development compared to the pursuit of relatively short-term economic goals. It also implies social responsibility, including support for impoverished areas, care, and protection of employees, among other aspects.


The manufacturing sector is an essential component of the national economy. The "long and wide" concept of sustainable development will profoundly impact enterprise management reform, cost reduction, efficiency enhancement, and strategic formulation. For instance, businesses can improve sustainability through intelligent means; enhance management efficiency to reduce waste and emissions; and rationally use energy to increase the proportion of green energy in production processes.


Overall, the market is continually evolving, and consumer awareness of sustainable development is increasing. The challenge and opportunity for businesses in this dynamic environment lie in designing and producing greener products that cater to consumer needs while ensuring sustainable development of the enterprise. This is the new demand placed on businesses in the era of high-quality development.


For example, in 2020, Antai, in collaboration with Unilever and Alibaba, released the "Plastic Sustainability White Paper," which analyzes issues like plastic waste throughout the entire product lifecycle, starting from design and recycling. The paper also promotes public environmental awareness and circular economy through digital empowerment.

Today, as concepts, technology, and environments change, the market presents both opportunities and challenges. More and more businesses are actively utilizing these opportunities to conduct ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) analysis and embark on the path of sustainable development.


NBD: You emphasized the importance of "transformation." What new opportunities do you think sustainable development will bring to intelligent manufacturing enterprises?


Chen Fangruo: The concept of sustainable development will provide more opportunities for intelligent manufacturing enterprises in product design, production processes, and business management.


Firstly, managing enterprises from a sustainable perspective offers broader insights into corporate governance and development for managers. Many companies have found that while striving to reduce emissions, their management efficiency is also improving.


In the past, enterprise management focused solely on the completion of the production process. However, as the concept of sustainable development gains traction, managers are truly integrating ESG principles into production and life, incorporating "carbon footprint" into corporate development considerations. In this process, businesses use digital means to record equipment life, carbon emissions, and production efficiency, thereby improving equipment utilization and arranging production more rationally.


This approach not only reduces carbon emissions but also lowers management costs and enhances efficiency, opening up more opportunities for business development.


Secondly, from the perspective of product design, the concept of sustainable development can not only improve product functionality and reduce carbon emissions but also make product usage more intelligent. For instance, turning off lights may seem trivial, but it is significant in reducing carbon emissions. If such actions become more intelligent, sustainable development can progress further.


NBD: How do you think society as a whole can come together to effectively pursue sustainable development?


Chen Fangruo: Sustainable development should be approached as a scientific issue. It requires us to think and solve problems using objective data and methods. The absence of real data and scientific theories can lead to a lack of rigor in information dissemination and even emotionalize viewpoints.


To successfully navigate the path of sustainable development, it is imperative for all sectors of society, especially scientists, to objectively analyze and make long-term predictions about issues such as the impact of sustainable development on the environment, oceans, atmosphere, and even human health. Rational analysis using objective voices can prevent the politicization of scientific issues. Therefore, scientists should play a more significant role.


Sustainable development is challenging due to its longer time span, broader scope, and impact on the environment, society, and humanity. Predicting such issues is fraught with challenges. If we can integrate the wisdom of all parties and discuss issues collectively, we will be able to think more rationally. This will become increasingly important in the process of sustainable development.


Sustainable Development and Business Education


NBD: Sustainable development has become a global focus. What role do you think business schools play in this field?


Chen Fangruo: The goal of business schools is to cultivate business leaders whose knowledge structure, skills, thoughts, and goals are highly aligned with the development of the times. Therefore, business schools have much to offer in promoting sustainable development.


First, business schools can help managers shift their mindset through classroom education and post-class advocacy. Many companies currently prioritize short-term goals, but sustainable development requires businesses to take a long-term view, considering environmental, social responsibilities, and governance aspects of development. Thus, business schools should promote values that businesses are responsible for society and the planet.


Additionally, from a business perspective, many course theories in business schools can be better integrated with sustainable development. For example, green finance, sustainable supply chain management, etc. Sustainable development is a highly practical topic, and mere theoretical discussions will diminish its essence. Establishing values and integrating them with practice is crucial, so our courses need continuous reform.


Furthermore, we should constantly communicate and collaborate with businesses, understand their real issues, bring these issues into the classroom, and collectively learn to find more suitable solutions.


NBD: Sustainable development has become one of the main trends in the business sector. In the process of transformation and reform, how has Antai closely integrated sustainable development theories with business education practices?


Chen Fangruo: Currently, many business schools globally emphasize sustainable development.


One aspect that differentiates Antai from other business schools is our desire to innovate in the core area of faculty research. Antai emphasizes the integration of academic research with industry research. I hope our faculty, while pondering issues and conducting research, will combine theory with practice, step out of the classroom to investigate businesses, and thus strengthen the connection between sustainable development theory and practice, laying a solid foundation for research on sustainable development issues.


Additionally, Antai offers various ESG-related courses. For instance, our industry community classes provide a platform for exchange among students and alumni from various fields. Communication and clash of viewpoints between businesses help uncover new development opportunities.


On the path of sustainable development, in addition to research and teaching, the entire Antai community is taking concrete actions. Having calculated that Antai's annual carbon emissions exceed a thousand tons, we hope to achieve carbon peak soon and then continue to reduce emissions. We should start by changing our mindset and management style, as well as increasing investment, from paperless meetings to investing in equipment, gradually reducing carbon emissions to achieve sustainable development.