Elon STARS: Susan Manring
Professor’s class challenges future business leaders to examine sustainability.
For Susan Manring, associate professor of management in the Love School of Business, a personal belief led to an educational mission. As a sustainable business advocate, she is leading Elon University students to a greater understanding of environmental standards in business by studying organizational behavior, both in individual and large systems.
“We need our students to understand that as leaders of the next generation, it’s really going to require alternative ways of thinking and problem solving and collaborating,” she said.
She strives to teach her students to examine sustainable business from a systems perspective by considering what is best not only for business performance, but also for community stakeholders, the economy and the environment. One of the relationships she studied involves the Albemarle-Pamlico estuary, where she investigated the ways communities, businesses, government agencies, universities, and environmental organizations can work collaboratively to create social-ecological system perspectives.
“It’s one of the most fragile ecosystems in the world, she said. “Rising sea level is creating huge questions. It impacts communities, businesses, farmers, environmentalists, all who are concerned about what the rising sea level is doing to the populations, the land, fresh water, and the economy.”
Manring’s interest in sustainable business connects lessons from the field to the classroom. This semester she teaches a course on sustainable enterprise management. The class studies sustainability strategies for profit and nonprofit companies, and helps students examine the social, environmental and economic contexts of business.
And she knows sustainable business from experience. Manring began her career as a consultant before coming to Elon in 1996. Because many of her clients made products that weren’t particularly sustainable, Manring had to deal with a personal values conflict. These values that led her to begin teaching are what still guide her today.
“A major concern which underlies my research but also my teaching, is that we may be exceeding key planetary boundaries that sustain human life,” she said.
Though her outlook has remained the same, the curriculum is different. Manring said when she started teaching, sustainable business wasn’t discussed in the classroom. When it did enter conversation, it started as “greenwashing,” a public relations strategy to make companies look good. According to her, this has changed.
“More and more companies’ leadership are recognizing that there are serious shortages of resources for water, for energy,” she said. “They know that it really is going to take different kinds of short-term and long-range strategic plans.”
It All Adds Up
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About Elon STARS: Sometimes we see stars, sometimes we don’t, but they are always there. So it is with daily opportunities for contributing to sustainability. This series highlights actions of Elon community members doing their part to integrate sustainable practices at Elon. STARS also stands for the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System used by Elon and other higher education institutions to measure and monitor sustainability in all aspects of higher education. This faculty member’s research is featured in Elon’s STARS report.