Questions about Sustainability Mindset – and Answers

Isabel Rimanoczy of LEAP – joined us our Humanistic Professionals Network to talk about Sustainability Mindset She was kind enough to answer questions we weren’t able to get to during the live discussion.

If you have not yet viewed the discussion – or her presentation – you may do so here:

The questions below came from the participants and individuals registered at the Webinar. 

How can we work with school administration to support more sustainability training for students?

There is a paradox here. While research shows that the real motivation stems from a transformative experience that is profound and has a lasting impact, it is difficult to start a conversation in an organizational setting without talking “business” and providing a quick glimpse of the strategic importance of sustainability. Some powerful ways are to talk about
• what competitors are doing (appealing to the need to be competitive, to be as good as or better than),
• the liability risks of not being aware of the ‘unsustainable practices” in the organization,
• the potential loss of customers or students who seek more progressive organizations,
• the potential brand damage as a result of social media commenting on unsustainable practices,
• the savings from identifying unsustainable practices that cost money wasting resources,
• the potential profit that can be generated with new ideas/products/services/courses related to sustainability

Which universities, colleges, or schools have these characteristics in their DNA? Christian-based universities? Can you provide a list of the top 5 or so that would represent these qualities or closely align to the framework you outline in your talk?

Some institutions definitely have it in their DNA – like the Schumacher College, in UK; Naropa University in Colorado, US; Maharishi University in Iowa, USA; Bainbridge Univ was such a case, now it is part of Presidio University; Business School Lausanne, in Switzerland; Oberlin College, in US. Increasingly institutions are including sustainability courses and contents, in some cases embedded throughout the programs. This not always addresses specifically the mindset, although it may result from working on BoP projects, like the case of Univ of Vermont, or promoting social entrepreneurship, international travel to developing countries, service learning, etc. In the book Stop Teaching I provide other examples.

What makes a leader champion Sustainability compared to the “non-sustainable” leader?

Awareness of the state of the planet, the interconnectedness of what happens, the personal contribution to the problems are some important factors fueling the desire to champion sustainability as a personal ‘cause’. Certainly there are leaders who champion sustainability initiatives for motives such as competitive advantage or savings’ opportunities, but those motivations tend to be more fragile and can change as circumstances change. Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess makes the distinction between shallow ecology and deep ecology.

For our students living/studying/travelling outside of North America for the first time, what are some
best practices recommendations you’d have for them about how to develop their sustainability mindset abroad? Context: our students take courses in sustainability and social responsibility, but often comment that they’re unsure how to put theory into practice in their personal and career development

Like with other assignments, we can build relevance by inviting the students to answer questions such as: Why are you doing this? What do you want to get out? What do you want to learn about cultures, values, about yourself? Then keeping a personal journal, and having them share their reflections with their peers and commenting on them is an easy way to prompt reflection and connect what they are living/learning with their ‘real’ world and their lives. Traditional professors imparting the lectures may not have time or interest in doing this, so organizers may assign a mentor or coordinator to help students harvest the ‘meta-meanings’.

What are some metrics you have found to be effective to help an organization shift to a sustainability mindset?

A sustainability mindset is a construct that includes a number of factors, and as a consequence the impact also can be seen at multiple levels. It can be classified into the Less bad and More Good

Less Bad More Good

Less Bad More Good
Lower stress, lower health related absenteeism Happier atmosphere. More productivity, increased individual and team satisfaction with their work
Lower turnover Retention. Life-work balance: understanding priorities leads to better life-quality decisions
Identifying waste of resources and redesigning processes to avoid them Savings you can feel proud of

Fostering innovation and creativity

Lowering risk: liabilities related to social, employee and environmental unsustainable practices Community relations: better integration with the community, impacting brand and client relations


Avoid PR crisis prompted by social media coverage of unsustainable practices Brand: communicating sustainability initiatives improves the brand attraction/loyalty
Avoid regulatory mishaps, errors, non-compliance, also costs of adaptation to new regulations Competitive advantage relative to un-sustainable competitors


Lower turnover, lower recruitment/hiring costs, training and development loss of investment Talent attraction: sustainability  champions attract millennials, talented young individuals eager to make a difference and shape a better world


Avoid lawsuits, being reported for indirect un-sustainable practices such as vendors even outside the country that have unsustainable practices Value alignment: Organizational culture based on values every employee/vendor can relate to and feel proud of. Development of trust and authenticity


Reducing the environmental/social footprint of the organization Actively shaping a better world by connecting the SDGs 2030 agenda with the business
‘Me too’ motivation to look for small changes to avoiding looking bad Industry leadership: by pioneering initiatives , sustainability champions can influence professional associations, regulations, new standards, while staying ahead of the game.


Remaking some product features to be less bad, i.e. lower sugar contents, smaller packaging New profit centers: by innovating in the creation of new sustainable products/services
Creativity and innovation as part of the org. culture

What differences have you found with Fortune 500 versus tech startups?

Fortune 500 corporations are increasingly pressured into compliance and sustainability practices. Transparency coming from the open access to information at a global level gives them high visibility, more than many would like. This social pressure drives change and has over the last decade been a main factor in corporations acting more sustainably (or less unsustainably). The majority of them may still be on the “less bad” side of the table (see Table above), in a reactive mode, but we will see big changes also here in the next five years.

Tech startups are mostly led by young entrepreneurs. Age is an important factor that makes individuals more sensitive to sustainability, particularly to environmental aspects. The reason is simple: they have heard about the challenges and new conditions of weather or health- related factors that they will experience increasingly in the next 10-20 years, and beyond. At the same time short-sightedness is a cultural malaise of our civilization, which only adds to the natural tendency of young people to think that they are immortal, and 20 years is beyond their horizon of imagination. 20 years ago, for young people, is when they were not even born, or were children. It is thus perceived as an extremely long time, and so the projections into the future seem equally distant.

Questioning life-balance, priorities, or purpose of work are however very important factors for millennials, and these aspects can drive their actions. Many have reflected on the economic paradigm that brought us here, and want to actively make a difference, contributing to a shift.

This said, technology innovation is fueled by the mantra “anything we can invent”, and the lack of thoughtful pondering of impacts and consequences is already proving unwanted situations with the growing presence of AI in our life. Critical thinking, pause and ethical discussions are urgently needed in all realms.

What are the best ways you’ve found to educate undergraduate business students about sustainability?

I am glad to see this question about focusing on ways to educate, because most of the time we focus on contents, and the pedagogical approach is as important, if not more, than the contents. I facilitate learning based using the 10 principles of the Scandinavian learning methodology called Action Reflection Learning. One of those principles is Relevance: how can we make a content relevant for the students? So for example working on projects that they select and feel excited about. Another principle is Paradigm Shift: using unfamiliar settings that enhance the learning experience; Holistic learning: engaging head, heart and hands. You can find more about pedagogical approaches in my book Stop Teaching.

I’ll be interested in your approach to basic Sustainability education in MBA programs. What’s a core S-curriculum look like in a general MBA?

Prof Stuart Hart (U. Vermont) refers to two ways of including sustainability: the saddle approach, or the embedded approach. The saddle approach is when we ‘add’ a sustainability chapter to a textbook, or a sustainability course into the MBA program. My research and work in developing the concept of the Sustainability Mindset is about the lens through which we interpret data, analyze and make decisions. The ‘mindset’ for sustainability then becomes a ‘built in’ feature, and so we automatically think in a different way. For example, when we are about to use the automated ‘check out’ system in a supermarket, we ask ourselves: I wonder how I am contributing to cashiers losing their jobs…?

How do you define sustainability?

My definition of sustainability is ‘a goal that calls us to restore the resources of our planet, review and reshape our needs, and do more with less, for more people.’ It has an economic, environmental, social and spiritual dimension.

What is the applicability of it [the sustainability mindset] in our life?

The applicability actually touches all areas of our life. Imagine we could design the planet as we want it, solving all the challenges and correcting all the wrong-doings. We probably would come up with most of the categories listed in the UN Sustainability Goals: Peace, gender equality, no poverty, healthy soils and forests, wellbeing, quality education, healthy consumption, creative and beautiful living spaces…. Now if we could do something to make that world come true, it would be by revising what we buy, what we actually need, how we entertain ourselves, how we move around, how we connect with others, and so on. We would soon realize that we have within our reach all we need to play our part in starting to shape this better world.

The mindset for sustainability is precisely that: a way to think and be in the world, that is based in understanding the ecosystem of which we are a part of and its interconnections, and an introspective understanding of our values, the anchors of our identity and our purpose. Who am I and what is my purpose? This intimate question, which only we can answer for ourselves, becomes the place to anchor who we are, and what we want to do. The mindset manifests in actions, which naturally evolve from this personal journey.

How can you work to change a collective mindset towards sustainability or humanistic management?

Starting where you are, using your skills and unique gifts, focusing on something that you feel passionate about.

I would like to read more about her [Dr.Rimanoczy’s] work, would you mind sharing some relevant references from empirical pieces?


  • Kassel K. & Rimanoczy, I. (Eds.) (2018). Developing a sustainability mindset in management education. Routledge & Taylor.
  • Rimanoczy, I. (2016) Stop Teaching: Principles and Practices for Responsible Management Education. Business Experts Press.
  • Rimanoczy, I. (2013). Big Bang Being: Developing the sustainability mindset. Sheffield: Greenleaf Publishing.
  • Rimanoczy, I., Turner, E. (2008). Action Reflection Learning: Solving real business problems by connecting learning with earning. Palo Alto: Davies-Black Publishing.


  • Rimanoczy, I., & Sridaran, K. (2018) Sustainability and the Being Dimension: The heart of the matter. In: K.
  • Kassel and I. Rimanoczy (Eds.) Developing a sustainability mindset in management education. Routledge & Taylor.
  • Kassel K., Rimanoczy, I. & Mitchell, S. (2018) The sustainability mindset: Connecting being, thinking and doing in management education. In: K. Kassel and I. Rimanoczy (Eds.) Developing a sustainability mindset in management education. Routledge & Taylor.
  • Rimanoczy, I. (2017). Developing the sustainability mindset. In: Jorge A. Arevalo, and Shelley Mitchell, Eds.) Handbook of Sustainability in Management Education: In Search of a Multidisciplinary, Innovative and Integrated Approach. Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham, UK and Northampton, MA. USA.
  • Rimanoczy, I. (2016). A holistic learning approach for responsible management education. In: Roz Sunley & Jennifer Leigh (Eds.), Educating for Responsible Management: Putting Theory into Practice (pp. 159-184). Sheffield: Greenleaf Publishing.
  • Rimanoczy, I. (2015) How to become a Big Bang Being. In: Oliver Laasch and Roger N. Conaway (Eds.) Principles for Responsible Management: Global Sustainability, Responsibility, and Ethics, 1st Edition. Manchester, UK: Cengage Learning.
  • Rimanoczy, I. (2014). Motivations for social and environmental responsibility. In: Corporate Social Responsibility and leadership: Legal, ethical and practical considerations for the global business leader. Frank Cavico, Ed. (129-137). Davie, Florida: ILEAD Academy.
  • Rimanoczy, I. (2013). Management education: How can we develop a generation of business leaders to act for the common good?. In: Uncertainty, Diversity and the Common Good. Stefan Groeschl (Ed.) Surrey, UK: Gower Publishing Limited.
  • Roberts, P., Rimanoczy, I., & Lassaga, G. (2011). A critical examination of the assumptions, beliefs and ethical considerations that underlie business models of global poverty reduction. In: Ethical Models and Applications of Globalization, Charles Wankel and Shaul Malleck (Eds.). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.
  • Rimanoczy, I (2002) Action Reflection Learning in Latin America. In: Boshyk, Y. (Ed.), Action learning worldwide. NY: Palgrave Macmillan. P. 152-162
  • Rimanoczy, I. (2002) Action Reflection Learning in Thailand: Defying Cultural Differences. In Sankaran, S. (Ed.) Action Learning and Action Research. Lismore: Southern Cross University Press. P.229-235
  • Rimanoczy, I. (1999) Serving as a Set Advisor/Learning Coach. In Marquardt, M. Action Learning in Action, Palo Alto, CA: Davies Black. p. 209-213.


  • Rimanoczy, I. (2018). Pedagogía para el desarrollo de nuevos modelos mentales de sostenibilidad. Runae: Revista científica de investigación educativa, [S.l.], v. 1, n. 1, p. 109-127, Feb. 2018. ISSN 2550-6854. Available at <>. Accessed: Feb 28, 2018.
  • Kassel, K., Rimanoczy, I., and Mitchell, S. (2016). The Sustainable Mindset: Connecting Being, Thinking, and Doing in Management Education, PDW 2016 Academy of Management Conference.
  • Cavico, F. J., Mujtaba, B. G., Nonet, G., Rimanoczy, I., and Samuel, M. (2015). Developing a legal, Ethical, and Socially Responsible Mindset for Business Leadership. Advances in Social Sciences Research Journal, 2(6), 09-26. Available at:
  • Rimanoczy, I. (2014). A Matter of Being: Developing Sustainability-minded Leaders. Journal of Management for Global Sustainability, 2(1), 95-122
  • Rimanoczy, I., & Pearson, T. (2010). Role of HR in the new world of sustainability. Industrial and Commercial Training. Vol. 42, No.1, pp. 11-17.
  • Marsick, V., Coghlan, D., Vince, R., Maltbia, T., Rimanoczy, I., Ferguson, J. (2009).Engaging
    Action Learning and Its Scholarship to Make a Difference for Social Sustainability. Proceedings AoM 2009
  • Rimanoczy, I. and Brown, C. (2008)’Bringing Action Reflection Learning into action learning’,
    Action Learning: Research and Practice, 5:2,185 — 192
  • Rimanoczy, I. and Turner,E. (2008). Developing High Performing Teams. T+D August, 2008,30-33
  • Rimanoczy, I. (2007). Action Reflection Learning: Exploring a learning methodology. Academy of Human Resource Development International Conference. Indianapolis, IN: February.
  • Roberts, P., Rimanoczy, I., and Drizin, B. (2007). Principles and Elements of Action Reflection Learning. MiL Concepts 1/2007
  • Rimanoczy, I. (2007). Action Reflection Learning: A learning methodology based on common sense. Industrial and Commercial Training. Vol. 39, No. 1
  • Rimanoczy, I. (2007) Action Learning and Action Reflection Learning: Are they different? Industrial and Commercial Training, Vol. 39, No. 3 and 4