The course corporate sustainability uses both in-class instruction and videos. The teaching is complemented with a training of critical thinking skills and four parallel tracks with group work to explore current challenges of corporate sustainability in the business world.
The lecture “Corporate Sustainability” aims to enable students to become champions for sustainable business practices in their later careers and to inspire their potential for academic research. The lecture takes places annually during the fall semester, and attracts 150-200 students with diverse disciplinary backgrounds (MTEC, USYS and other ETH departments) and different educational levels (BSc, MSc, and MAS).
The lecture begins with introductions to four relevant topics that relate to the sustainability efforts of companies: assessment, strategy, technology, and finance. Interactive videos complement the lecture sessions to explain key concepts and introduce the four tracks. In addition, e-modules allow students to train and develop their critical thinking skills. Students learn to formulate concise and short arguments with the six sentence argument (6SA), a new method that we designed for this course, and to conduct anonymous peer reviews in order to improve as critical readers.
Students become corporate sustainability advocates and develop their skills in one of four tracks (in which they and work in small teams) to prepare mock debates, consulting strategies, economic models, and campaign videos. Their results are presented in a concluding group puzzle session and are debriefed in a final lecture session.
We developed the 6SA (6 Sentence Argument) method specifically for this course to support the ETH critical thinking initiative. The core idea builds on the assumption that writing is thinking. The 6SA method focuses on enhancing critical thinking skills through structured writing and guided peer-review. The method involves several feedback loops that substantially support the development and refinement of critical thinking skills. The didactic potential addresses all three criteria of innovation, effectiveness and sustainability. We explain it in detail in the section on sustainability because the method can be easily transposed and scaled. In the e-modules, students face a decision situation (a micro case based on the lecture content) and argue for their preferred course of action using a logical structure of exactly six sentences. Each sentence fulfills a specific function in the overall argument and has a 20-word limit. A clear grading rubric enables students to assess 6SAs in double-blind peer reviews. Through the peer assessment, they engage critically with their peers’ arguments and receive constructive feedback on their own arguments. The exercise helps students to craft convincing arguments that could be applied in many practical situations, and to reflect on their reasoning. With the 6SA exercise students learn to argue with clarity, and it helps them to reflect on the way they and others think.