The impact of teaching interventions in education for sustainable development – an experimental case study

  • Johannes (Joost) Platje WSB University in Wroclaw, Poland
  • Aniela Styś WSB University in Wroclaw, Poland
  • Markus Will University of Applied Sciences Zittau/Goerlitz, Germany
  • Wim Lambrechts Open University of the Netherlands, The Netherlands
Keywords: Keywords: education for sustainable development, fragilities, Black Swans, innovation for sustainable development


Aim: Questionnaire research can be used as a teaching instrument and to measure the impacts of education for sustainable development. This paper presents a case study of a teaching intervention regarding students’ perception of operations and (supply) management fragilities, such as dependency on few customers or suppliers; difficult to find employees; and low probability, high impact events for business sustainability. The teaching intervention focused on side effects of innovations, leading to vulnerabilities that can threaten the existence of an enterprise. This research was carried out in the context of the capacity for creating an Early Warning System for small probability, high impact events. The following issues are addressed in the paper: 1). The impact of the teaching intervention on students’ perceptions; 2). Differences in perception between non-attending (N = 128) and attending students (pre-test N = 139; post-test N = 119).

Design / Research methods: This paper discusses whether teaching interventions can influence the awareness of fragility issues as well as low probability, high impact events. The case-study is based on an experiment in a marketing course for management students of a large private business school in Wrocław (Poland) in April–May 2019. Before start of classes students filled out a questionnaire (Attending Students). A teaching intervention slide was used in every lecture. At the end of the course, all students (also the students absent during the first classes) filled out the repeat questionnaire. Statistical analysis was carried out whether there were differences between Attending Students filling out both questionnaires, and students only filling out the repeat questionnaire (Non Attending Students).

Conclusions / findings: The findings show that students struggle to grasp the complexities and uncertainties surrounding sustainability and fragility issues in relation to the business context. The teaching interventions had limited impact on the ability of students to engage in these issues, albeit significant differences between attending and non-attending students were observed. A limitation of the results is that this study only concerned a case study of a specific group of students. An implication requiring deeper research is that while teachers can do in-depth exercises and provide lectures, a part of the students, being less motivated to obtain knowledge, is unlikely to grasp sustainability issues, when not included in assignments, examination preparation, or compulsory rather than elective courses.

JEL: I21, O31, Q01



Amyotte P., Margeson A., Chiasson A., Khan F. (2014), There is no such a thing as a Black Swan process incident, Hazards 24 Institution of Chemical Engineers Symposium Series, 7–9 May 2014, Edinburgh, pp. 12–21 [non refereed conference paper].

Alvesson M., Spicer A. (2012), A stupidity-based theory or organizations, “Journal of Management Studies”, vol. 49 no. 7, pp. 1186–1220.

Beck H. (2017), Irren ist nützlich, Carl Hausner Verlag, München.

Becker G.S. (2009), Human capital: a theoretical and empirical analysis, with special reference to education, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Bertoncel T., Erenda I., Pejić Bach M., Roblek V., Meško M. (2018), A managerial early warning system at a smart factory: an intuitive decision-making perspective, “Systems Research and Behavioral Sciences”, vol. 35 no. 4, pp. 406–416.

Bessant S.E., Robinson Z.P., Ormerod R.M. (2015), Neoliberalism, new public management and the sustainable development agenda of higher education: history, contradictions and synergies, “Environmental Education Research”, vol. 21 no. 3, pp. 417–432.

Caniëls M.C., Lambrechts W., Platje J., Motylska-Kuźma A., Fortuński B. (2021), 50 shades of green: insights into personal values and worldviews as drivers of green purchasing intention, behaviour, and experience, “Sustainability”, vol. 13 no. 8, art. 4140.

Carson K. (2002), The Iron Fist behind the Invisible Hand: corporate capitalism as a system of state-guaranteed privilege, Red Lion Press, Nanaimo, BC.

Casti J.L. (2013), X-Events – complexity overload and the collapse of everything, Harper Collins Publishers, New York.

Craven G. (2010), What’s the worst that could happen? A rational response to the climate change debate, Perigee Book by Penguin Group, New York.

Elkington J. (2018), 25 years ago I coined the phrase “triple bottom line”. Here’s why it’s time to rethink it, Harvard Business Review, vol. 25, pp. 2–5.

Gladwin T.N., Kennelly J.J., Krause T.S. (1995), Shifting paradigms for sustainable development: implementations for management theory and research, “Academy of Management Review”, vol. 20 no. 4, pp. 874–907.

Harari Y.N. (2015), Sapiens: a brief history of humankind, Harper, New York.

Jacobs J. (1986), Cities and the Wealth of Nations – principles of economic life, Pelican Books, New York.

Jevons W.S. (1906), The coal question: an inquiry concerning the progress of the nation, and the probable exhaustion of our coal-mines, Macmillan, London.

Kahneman D. (2011), Thinking, fast and slow, Penguin Books, London.

Kochanowicz J. (2004), Trust, confidence, and social capital in Poland: a historical perspective, in: Trust and democratic transition in post-communist Europe, Markova I. (ed.), British Academy, Oxford, pp. 63–84.

Lambrechts W., Van Petegem P. (2016), The interrelations between competences for sustainable development and research competences, “International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education”, vol. 17 no. 6, pp. 776–795.

Lambrechts W., Van Liedekerke L., Van Petegem P. (2018a), Higher education for sustainable development in Flanders: balancing between normative and transformative approaches, “Environmental Education Research”, vol. 24 no. 9, pp. 1284–1300.

Lambrechts W., Ghijsen P.W.T., Jacques A., Walravens H., Van Liedekerke L., Van Petegem P. (2018b), Sustainability segmentation of business students: toward self-regulated development of critical and interpretational competences in a post-truth era, “Journal of Cleaner Production”, vol. 202, pp. 561–570.

Levin K., Cashore B., Bernstein S., Auld G. (2012), Overcoming the tragedy of super wicked problems: constraining our future selves to ameliorate global climate change, “Policy Sciences”, vol. 45 no. 2, pp. 123–152.

Linton T., Vakil B. (2020), Coronavirus is proving we need more resilient supply chains, “Harvard Business Review”, 5 March 5, [22.09.2022].

Watson M.K., Lozano R., Noyes C., Rodgers M. (2013), Assessing curricula contribution to sustainability more holistically: Experiences from the integration of curricula assessment and students’ perceptions at the Georgia Institute of Technology, “Journal of Cleaner Production”, vol. 61, pp. 106–116.

Mandelbrot M., Hudson R.L. (2008), The (mis)behaviour of markets, Profile Books, London.

Mitchell A.S., Lemon M., Lambrechts W. (2020), Learning from the Anthropocene: adaptive epistemology and complexity in strategic managerial thinking, “Sustainability”, vol. 12 no. 11, art. 4427.

Molho I. (1997), The economics of information – lying and cheating in markets and organizations, Blackwell Publishers, Oxford.

Ng E.S., Burke R.J. (2010), Predictor of business students’ attitudes toward sustainable business practice, “Journal of Business Ethics”, vol. 95 no. 4, pp. 603–615.

Novo-Corti I., Badea L., Mihaela Tirca D., Aceleanu M.I. (2018), A pilot study on education for sustainable development in the Romanian economic higher education, “International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education”, vol. 19 no. 4, pp. 817–838.

Meadows D. (1999), Leverage points – places to intervene in a system, The Sustainability Institute, Hartland.

Nussbaum M.C. (2010), Not for profit: why democracy needs the humanities, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.

Platje J. (2019), The capacity of companies to create an early warning system for unexpected events – an explorative study, in: Lecture notes in computer science, Nguyen N.T. et al. (eds.), TCCI XXXIV, LNCS 11890, Springer, Heidelberg, pp. 1–16.

Platje J., Will M., Van Dam Y. (2019), A fragility approach to sustainability – researching effects of education, “International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education”, vol. 20 no. 7, pp. 1220–1239.

Platje J., Zepeda Quintana D.S. (2019), Business sustainability and early warning systems, in: Encyclopedia of sustainability in higher education, Leal Filho W. (ed.), Springer Nature Switzerland.

Raiser M. (1997), Informal institutions, social capital and economic transition: reflections on a neglected dimension, EBRD Working Paper 25, London.

Raiser M. (1999), Trust in transition, EBRD Working Paper 39, London.

Rao P.K. (2000), Sustainable development – economics and policy, Blackwell Publishers, Oxford.

Rittel H.W.J., Webber M.M. (1973), Dilemmas in a general theory of planning, “Policy Sciences”, vol. 4, pp. 155–169.

Schumpeter J.A. (1942), Socialism, capitalism and democracy, Harper and Brothers, New York.

Smith A. [1776] (1998), An inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations, reprint edited with an introduction by Kathryn Sutherlands, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Sterman J.D. (2000), Business dynamics: system thinking and modelling for a complex world, Irwin / McGraw Hill, Boston.

Taleb N.N. (2007), The Black Swan – the impact of the highly improbable, Penguin Books, London.

Taleb N.N. (2012), Antifragile – things that gain from disorder, Penguin Books, London.

Taleb N.N., Read R., Douady R., Norman J., Bar-Yam Y. (2014), The Precautionary Principle: fragility and black swans from policy actions, Extreme risk initiative – NYU School of Engineering Working Paper Series, [22.09.2022].

Trzeciak S., Rivers E.P. (2003), Emergency department overcrowding in the United States: an emerging threat to patient safety and public health, “Emergency Medicine Journal”, vol. 20 no. 5, pp. 402–405.

Wright T.S.A. (2007), Developing research priorities with a cohort of higher education for sustainability experts, “International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education”, vol. 8 no. 1, pp. 34–43.