ESCP, ESSEC and HEC Paris joined forces for a unique, collaborative event addressing “Ecology in times of societal polarisation”

120 students from three of France’s leading business schools gathered together to debate and dismantle the extreme polarisation around ecological issues today

On April 26, ESCP Business School students joined fellow ESSEC Business School and HEC Paris students at the Académie du Climat in Paris for an enriching and historic event to discuss and dismantle the issues surrounding the ecological transition.

With ecological issues a source of division in many spheres of our society, the students’ goal was to work together to analyse the situation and propose potential solutions to depolarise the debates around ecology. 40 students from each school participated in the event. Blending schools, backgrounds, ages and experiences, the students were divided into groups and assigned a particular “universe” or area of focus: Academia, Corporate, Family, Media, and Politics. In groups, the students participated in workshops and masterclasses that allowed them to familiarise themselves with the dynamics of polarisation and explore how to tackle it.

Online masterclasses to grasp the dynamics of polarisation

Leading up to the event on April 26th, the students participated in a series of online masterclasses led by professors from each business school. These sessions, spanning politics, social sciences, ecology philosophy, and change management, provided a comprehensive exploration of the theme of polarisation through an interdisciplinary lens. The pre-event masterclasses allowed students to get to know each other and provided an academic foundation for their collaborative work.

The first session, held on March 20th, featured HEC Paris’ Professors Jeremy Ghez and François Gemenne discussing political polarisation in the United States and Europe. On April 3rd, ESCP’s Professor Aurélien Acquier, along with Professor Thomas Roulet from the University of Cambridge, delved into ecological polarisation, examining it through the perspectives of social sciences and ecology philosophy. The series concluded on April 22nd with ESSEC’s Professor Marwan Sinaceur offering insights into polarisation from a change management standpoint.

Using theatre to create community and tackle polarisation

The divisive debates surrounding ecology are often a blend of reason and emotion. In order to confront this particular challenge, students were encouraged to use alternative, creative forms of expression to discuss the topic and build upon their collective intelligence. All students began the day with a theatre masterclass from Richard Jacobs before breaking into their groups to tackle the major questions related to their “universe”.
They were supported by facilitators who helped them unravel issues of polarisation through topical analysis and theatrical simulations:

  • Academia with Charles Puybasset, Initiator & CEO, We Are One
  • Corporate with Estelle Haas, Public Speaking Coach
  • Family with Jeanne Granger, Facilitator
  • Media with Léa Martel, Founder, Bloom
  • Politics with Valentin Martinie, Sustainability Teacher & Actor

Students worked to formulate strong statements identifying the main root causes of polarisation, how it arises and manifests, and the most relevant strategy for overcoming polarisation in each universe. They then had 10 minutes to present their conclusions using a skit, which illustrated the scenario of polarisation, and a vision board to showcase their chosen strategy to dismantle it.

This public restitution of each scenario was attended by the deans of the three business schools, Léon Laulusa (ESCP), Eloïc Peyrache (HEC Paris), and Vincenzo Vinzi (ESSEC), and the schools’ leadership teams.

Aurélien Acquier, Professor of Strategy & Sustainability at ESCP and one of the event’s co-creators, noted that the topic of sustainability afforded an opportunity to rethink teaching methods.

We know that sustainability topics should involve three dimensions: head (knowledge), hands (doing and engaging personally) and heart (leaving place for emotions). We looked for a format to help our students exchange, get to know each other, and share their emotions. And theatre is a tremendous way to facilitate human exchanges, to make a place for emotions, and to have fun on a serious topic. This was a bet as this was the first time we tested this format in this type of event, but I believe the students (and us!) liked it a lot!

Aurélien AcquierAurélien Acquier
Professor of Strategy & Sustainability
ESCP Business School

Leïlou Daunit, an ESCP student who attended the event found it to be a learning opportunity and a chance to connect with other students and open a dialogue around the complexities of societal polarisation on ecology.

“The work we had to do in groups, the skit and the vision board really opened up the discussion and allowed everyone to work on the rendering they were most comfortable with,” Daunit said. “Overall, it was an enriching experience that helped build relationships and inspired collective action.”


Collaboration for climate action

This event is ideally the first milestone of a long-term collaborative journey between the three schools to collectively exchange and accelerate a healthy production of knowledge, conversations and action in favour of a just ecological transition in higher education and beyond.

By co-designing the initiative and inviting their students to participate and work together, ESCP, ESSEC and HEC seek to foster interdisciplinary cooperation and mutualise their strengths to convert into concrete ideas and action the energy that otherwise might have been lost in silos and rivalry.

“The basic idea and conviction was fairly simple: sustainability transition is an issue around the common good which should bring us to collaborate rather than compete,” Acquier said. “All organisers agreed on this idea and we shared a common desire to do something together. The complex, challenging and exciting part concerned the organisation of the event. We have been interacting over the last 6 months to set up this common day together.”

For students, the event was a fulfilling opportunity to work with peers they might not have otherwise met in a hands-on exercise that fostered cross-disciplinary collaboration and teamwork in a supportive and dynamic environment.

It may seem paradoxical that we chose the theme of ecological polarisation to make our students work together, but we view this trend of polarisation all around us (in our schools and universities, in the medial, in companies, in a family context. And we believe our students have learnt ways to cope with it, if not to solve it.

“I am hopeful that events like this will become more frequent, marking the start of a strong partnership among these three schools. One of the key takeaways from our discussions is the omnipresence of societal polarisation, emphasising the need for collective efforts to combat it. We must remain open to dialogue, embrace diverse perspectives, and raise awareness within our communities. By uniting our schools and collaborating, we are, in a sense, already taking a step towards addressing societal polarisation,” Daunit said.