Where might the corporate leaders of the future learn to fight climate change today? 

ClimateWorks’ Holly Dillabough knows a place.

She’s the course coordinator for a unit called ‘Climate change and carbon management strategies’, that ClimateWorks delivers to masters degree students in the Faculty of Business and Economics at Monash University.

‘It’s suitable for those with a limited understanding of the issue, but also for those with a keen interest,’ she says, ‘and it takes them through what it would be like to be working in a business and having to consider its role in the transition to a net zero emissions economy.’

ClimateWorks became involved with the unit back in 2015. Holly feels it meets a real need.

‘Many students say they haven’t actually delved much into climate change, even though they’re generally final semester masters students. So they’ve gone through their undergraduate degree and their masters without really considering this massive thing that’s going to disrupt pretty much every business.’

Holly Dillabough

The unit provides an introduction to business, regulatory and economic perspectives of climate change and its mitigation. It begins by explaining the science and then sets the students thinking about what a warming planet might mean for business: the physical risks but also the dangers and opportunities associated with a transitioning economy. They learn how to assess the issues facing a particular company and then create their own carbon management strategy for a company that, while fictitious, resembles many real world businesses. The lectures put them in the shoes of a sustainability manager, a CEO or other decision maker, learning what needs to be taken into account in discussions of decarbonisation.

As an undergraduate in Canada, Holly studied ecology, before coming to Australia and completing a Masters of Environment, specialising in policy. She worked on climate mitigation strategies in local government and then found her way to ClimateWorks.

‘Delivering the subject’s been so good for me. I need to understand it really deeply to be able to help the students, and so I feel like, by tutoring, I’m learning at the same time.’

She feels that the direct involvement of industry experts makes the material immediately relevant to participants.

‘Many ClimateWorks’ staff help in its delivery through lecturing or tutoring, but it’s not just us telling them what businesses have to consider,’ she says. ‘We invite business leaders to speak to the class and they say, these are the biggest drivers and trends, the issues to which industry needs to respond. That’s really valuable for students – hearing that coming from a business mindset.’

As a result, many become increasingly engaged with the global warming issue.

‘We’re a little bit over halfway through the semester, and we’ve heard students say, I didn’t think I’d be this interested! I want to pursue this more. What else can I do?’

Holly Dillabough

Today’s graduates will be, after all, the generation confronting climate change in every aspect of their work.

‘They’re very much mainstream business students,’ Holly says. ‘About 95 percent of them are from overseas. The biggest cohorts come from China and India but we have had students from all over the world. They’re going to pursue careers either in Australia or in their home country, and when they’re working in a corporation, they’ll have some knowledge and tools from the unit to be able to draw on to help it transition to a low-carbon economy. It’s really heartening: those moments when students go out of their way to tell you that the course has changed their ideas or how they’re thinking about their careers. That’s pretty big. That’s pretty meaningful and impactful, I think.’