A melting pot of ideas

Drawing on her passions and experiences, alumna Giselle Weybrecht is working with business schools around the world to be more sustainable


There’s an early memory that Giselle Weybrecht cherishes: sitting on the terrace at the family home in the Dominican Republic – the sun rising, the birds making a racket in the trees nearby – alongside her mother, aunt and grandmother: three strong women whom she says she “respects tremendously”. She was just a child at the time, but Giselle would listen to the adults nattering, drinking coffee – whilst she would sip a cup of freshly made hot chocolate, milk mixed with local chocolate, infused with ginger. It’s a ritual that has continued into her adult life. 

She didn’t know it then, but this formative experience would go on to gently shape Giselle’s life – influencing her educational path and career in the world of sustainability. 

Giselle now lives in Perth, Australia. After working at the UN, she completed an MBA at London Business School in 2007, before carving out a career as an author, advisor, speaker and entrepreneur – exploring what a sustainable future could look like and what individuals and businesses can do to make that happen. She now uses her passion for chocolate – she has drunk it in more than fifty-five countries and runs a blog dedicated to it – to connect with people on issues surrounding sustainability. Last year, she was invited to be a judge for the World Chocolate Awards.

“As I got older,” Giselle explains, “I started having hot chocolates in other places I’d visit, intrigued at how each one was different and created a different emotion and memory.” Back then, she didn’t think much about the sustainability story of the hot chocolates she was drinking. But the longer she worked in sustainability, the more interested she became in the stories of the products she was buying and consuming. “I’d spend a long time exploring the choices I was making and soon enough I started wondering about the hot chocolates and the stories behind the different ingredients.” 

“I loved exploring how chocolate has unique characteristics that producers and makers work together to bring out. That’s why a quality chocolate bar costs $10. If it costs $1 you should be asking yourself why. It’s because someone else – people or the environment – has paid the price.”

“Few people stop to realise,” she adds, “how complex and fascinating chocolate is – or even that its main ingredient, cacao, grows on a tree.” The more Giselle learnt, the more she wanted to learn. As a side hustle to her main work on sustainability, she ended up “training as a chocolatier, chocolate maker, chocolate taster, attending events with policy makers, spending time with producers, anything I could do, to learn more about cacao and its story”. She found that she could talk to people about sustainability through chocolate – and they’d listen.

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“I knew that, to do it right and to be taken seriously, I needed to do the best MBA programme I could find, and I decided that was at London Business School.”

Going with the flow

Giselle’s awareness of environmental inequalities started early. She grew up between Canada, Italy and the Dominican Republic – countries, she admits, that are very different. At an early age, she noticed a disparity in water supplies: “In the Dominican Republic, water wasn’t drinkable. We had to collect it from a common tap, boil it and do all sorts of things to it in order to use it.” This observation, and watching her grandfather and his engagement in his community in the Dominican Republic, inspired Giselle and nudged her towards a degree, then career, in sustainability.

Before studying for a degree in Political Science and International Development at Queen’s University in Canada, Giselle spent four years working with the UN and as a youth delegate to the Canadian government delegation on UN sustainability negotiations. Upon graduation, Giselle contacted the World Water Assessment Programme at UNESCO for a summer job. After it ended, she had to make the decision to either go to law school, which had been her original plan, or stay on. She opted for the UN. “I was already very aware of the change one could bring about using the UN system and was keen to explore that further.”

But it was while she was at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in South Africa, that Giselle witnessed first-hand the failure of the private sector to provide access to drinking water. “After that, I came to realise how much money the private sector had, but also that they didn’t have the knowledge of how best to use that money. I thought: ‘Imagine how much impact we could have if that money was directed in the right way’.” She decided to learn the language of money and business – which brought her to London Business School. “I knew that, to do it right and to be taken seriously, I needed to do the best MBA programme I could find, and I decided that was at London Business School.”

Drive to succeed

Giselle was drawn to London Business School because of its international student base, the nature and quality of its programmes and its reputation. “The School gave me exactly what I was looking for: a sound business background. Even today, I can walk into a room and say I’m a London Business School MBA graduate and people listen.”

Everyone on the programme thought “very differently from everyone I’d met in my career before”, Giselle admits. And the element that had a profound impact on her career was how much the faculty had an impact on engagement. “I took two accounting courses, even though I had absolutely no interest in accounting,” she confesses, “just because the faculty member teaching it was so engaging. Because of that, I became very interested in sustainability reporting, an interest that remains today. I’ve been studying sustainability reports written by universities for well over a decade now.”

Sadly, Giselle acknowledges, what London Business School didn’t have at the time was “what I already had – the environmental and social framework”. She noticed that when business cases were presented, there was no discussion of other outside forces, social and environmental, for example – which at first surprised, then shocked her. “The whole world of sustainability that I’d come from made no mention whatsoever in the course.” And this galvanised her to create her own. “The MBA, when done well, has the potential to be an incredible tool to push sustainability issues forward,” she says.

In the second year, Giselle’s cohorts had to complete an independent consulting project. “I asked for permission to explore how we could embed sustainability into the core curriculum, from Marketing to Finance and HR. It took some convincing as to what the merits were of such a project,” she adds. 

“I thought, if we’re going to move forward with sustainability, we need to change the way students learn about sustainability, to embed it, so they could make changes in any job across their careers.”

Around the same time, a teacher on one of the School’s short-term skills programmes heard about Giselle’s work on sustainability around MBAs. “Before I knew it, I was having to make the choice between accepting positions at various consulting companies in London or writing a book.” She spent a year interviewing leaders to put together a toolkit that introduced sustainability as it related to all business disciplines. The book, The Sustainable MBA: A Business Guide to Sustainability was published in 2013, is still used in business schools and businesses around the world. London Business School gave the book to all incoming students two years in a row, as did other schools and businesses, she adds.

“I did a lot of research on what different business schools around the world were doing – which really wasn’t much. This led me to think about how to engage faculty in core topics to engage in sustainability.” She started speaking at conferences with faculty and staff at business schools as well as with Deans, and accreditation events. “Soon after, I was given the title of Special Advisor to a UN initiative called the Principles of Responsible Management (PRME).” Giselle spent over ten years working closely with the initiative and with over 800 business schools around the world. In that time, she hosted a TED talk, titled How to Make Anything More Sustainable and wrote a newsletter, called PRiMEtime that featured best practices from around the world on how to embed and teach sustainability. “I figured that would be the best way to inspire faculty to get engaged.”

Her more recent newsletter, started last year, is called List and is a weekly list of five initiatives, around a particular theme, that I’ve found particularly interesting. “The idea again is to keep sharing what schools are doing and inspire more faculty and staff to engage.”

“If your institution, or business, isn’t doing enough [sustainably], then ask them to, or propose ideas yourself.”

Principles to live by

Giselle is now working with business schools to make them more sustainable. Recently, more than 800 schools signed up to the UN Global Compact’s Principles for Responsible Management Education, which were drawn up in 2007 and require them to submit progress reports. Just as she found during her MBA, the big question is what more can students do individually and collectively? 

Business students are key to the future of sustainability, Giselle says. “Question everything. Don’t wait for faculty to bring up these topics. Explore what these issues mean to you, to others, to your future career. Think about how these issues, in particular those outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals, impact the topics you’re learning and the projects you’re working on. Bring these up in classroom discussions, write about them and think about where you might take them throughout your career. Don’t see this as something separate. Think about how these issues are at the base of everything you’re learning about and in business itself. If your institution, or business, isn’t doing enough in your opinion, then ask them to, or propose ideas yourself.”

Giselle says she’s still waiting for businesses and business schools to stop approaching sustainability as a separate topic, but as business as usual. “There’s still too much confusion within the business sector as to what that means, which is why it’s even more important to make sure that our education system, at all levels, prepares future employees to be able to see the big picture, now.”

As a result, Giselle wrote The Future MBA: 100 Ideas for Making Sustainability the Business of Business Education. “I wondered what I would like the MBA of the future to look like, one that embedded sustainability throughout. Many of the ideas were adopted by business schools around the world. It is used as inspiration for business schools to think about these issues.”

Looking to the future

Once again, Giselle found chocolate to be a helpful tool in her discussion of sustainability. “I was always exploring the best ways to communicate the messages to audiences within the business schools, depending on their interest, backgrounds.” She found chocolate to be a good entry point. “Not only does everyone like to talk about chocolate – more so than climate change – but chocolate has within it every single sustainability issue, every SDG, she explains. “I started using chocolate to explore sustainability issues, and sustainability to explore better quality chocolate.”

After the pandemic, Giselle had the chance to pitch for a new book, which will be published in 2024. It blends both her passions: its aim is to raise awareness of quality chocolate to consumers, with a focus on sustainability. “I’ll use the book to continue engaging business schools, business and consumers in these topics – through this specific and very tasty lens,” she says.

Creating your own career is challenging, she explains. “But it can be incredibly rewarding.” Giselle received the UN Pioneer Award a few years back for her work influencing and mainstreaming sustainability into management education. “If you have good ideas and something other people need and want, you can make it work.” Every day for her is different, but at the heart of all Giselle’s work is the hope of bringing about change. “Sometimes I’m writing books, other times consulting or advising. I do faculty training, research projects, especially around sustainability reporting, strategy development, and am on several advisory boards to Deans. I also work with business directly with training and employee engagement in these topics. I’ve written academic papers, articles for newspapers, including the Financial Times. I speak to CEOs and world leaders but also to kindergarten students. They each make an impact in their own way.”

And looking to the future? Giselle has two young children and she’s carefully watching the world they’re growing up in and what they’re being taught in school and by society. “It makes me more aware than ever that while some things may have changed, others haven’t – such as gender parity, our engagement and understanding of the planet and of people. They may seem like small things, but these messages, primarily written by business, are influencing the next generation and their expectations as adults and business students which will influence sustainability moving forwards.” 

As for the bigger picture? Giselle feels cautiously optimistic about COP28 this year. It’s about how to use these events to get people talking, to inspire action from the bottom up, she says. Change doesn’t magically happen. “It’s people that make things happen. London Business School graduates make things happen in the decisions they make everyday. Those decisions bring about change on the inside of organisations, which are increasingly felt on the outside. Of course we need policy and laws and an environment that encourages and supports that, but everyone plays multiple roles.” And the melting pot of chocolate and sustainability is a great place to work from.


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