In an era where sustainability is more than just a buzzword, the insights of experts like Dr. Sarah Cherki El Idrissi are invaluable. As an assistant professor at the University of Toronto Mississauga’s (UTM) Institute of Communication, Culture, Information and Technology, her work in the realms of responsible innovation, green information technology, and sustainability education is pioneering a new path in the academic and corporate worlds.
Discussing the evolution of sustainability in academia, Dr. El Idrissi emphasized the journey from skepticism to acceptance. She remarked, “Initially, society in general was not accepting that sustainable development was a real need, it was more seen as a luxury.” This recognition marks a critical shift in the academic world, leading to a more focused and comprehensive approach to sustainability.
She further highlighted the impact of the 1987 Brundtland Report, noting its foundational role in defining sustainability. “For the first time ever, we actually agreed on one definition of sustainability: […] that development should meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This shift in perception, as Dr. El Idrissi notes, was pivotal in fostering an academic environment conducive to sustainability-focused research and education.
In her field, Dr. El Idrissi has observed a significant increase in research and discourse around green information systems, noting the evolution from an environmental focus to a more holistic approach where economic and social aspects are included. “Green information systems […] attract the attention of organizations to sustainability because they enable less energy consumption. […] We are looking at the environment and economic sustainability,” she explained. This multidimensional approach underscores the complexity and interconnectedness of sustainability challenges in the modern world.
Dr. El Idrissi is at the forefront of integrating real-world sustainability challenges into her curriculum. She believes in empowering students to become agents of change, stating, “We are engaging the students […] to become change agents […] but this is not happening everywhere.” This approach is crucial for preparing future professionals to tackle sustainability issues effectively and innovatively.
Dr. El Idrissi identified individual motivation and organizational culture as key factors in implementing sustainability strategies. “A big impact or a big change factor is the person itself […] if the individual has these high values and motivation to implement sustainability,” she noted, emphasizing the power of individual action in driving organizational change. This insight underscores the need for a shift in corporate values and practices to truly embrace sustainability.
Looking toward the future, Dr. El Idrissi expressed optimism about the increasing integration of sustainability in both education and corporate practice. She noted a growing interest in sustainability across university departments and conferences, indicating a shift towards a more sustainable future. She observed, “I see a positive trend […] [where] more and more universities are incorporating sustainability into their programs.” However, she also highlighted the challenges, particularly in corporate settings, where companies’ sustainability efforts tend to be limited.
This year at UTM, Dr. El Idrissi is leading a Research Opportunity Program (CCT399) revolving around sustainability education in the business and technology field. This program is a beacon of interdisciplinary learning, bridging the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical application in sustainability. It offers students a unique chance to delve into research that intersects business acumen with technological innovation, all through the lens of sustainability.
Dr. El Idrissi’s insights shed light on the dynamic nature of sustainability education and its critical role in shaping future leaders and business practices. Her emphasis on multidimensional approaches, real-world application, and the importance of individual action provides a roadmap for navigating the complex landscape of sustainability in the modern world.