The General Assembly of the United Nations defines sustainability as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Business leaders play an integral role in sustainability, as they’re the ones who decide which resources to use and how to use them. Issues like climate change and diminishing natural resources affect business processes including raw material sourcing, supply chain operation, and infrastructure construction.
Accordingly, many MBA programs across the country have adapted to include courses on sustainable corporate practices as part of MBA requirements. There are also many MBA programs exclusively focused on sustainability in business.
As businesses grow, top leaders (many who are also MBA grads) are integrating sustainability practices in their companies. Here are some insights for how sustainability concerns are affecting MBA programs and students, as well as a look at some MBA graduates who are now sustainability leaders in business.
How MBA Programs Are Becoming More Focused on Sustainability
Most MBA programs have at least one course focusing on ethics in business. Today, ethics in business includes how business leaders treat the environment. Polluting the planet, depleting it of natural resources and harming communities through dirty business practices are all unethical business issues.
Some colleges are incorporating sustainability topics like these within their ethics courses, while others are creating standalone courses on environmental sustainability and corporate responsibility. There are also several MBA programs focused solely on sustainability practices. Students in these programs learn essential business leadership skills while looking at them through the lens of mindful environmental consideration.
For example, Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco features sustainability topics in every one of its MBA courses. Its MBA in Sustainable Solutions program covers topics including sustainable systems, sustainable leadership, and sustainable business.
The Princeton Review lists a top 10 collection of “Best Green MBA” options, at schools including:
- University of Vermont
- Cornell University
- Yale University
- University of Denver
- Portland State University
- University of Oregon
These programs cover enterprise and entrepreneurship based on issues like the environment, ethics, inequality, and poverty. Courses might include topics such as:
- Sustainable operations
- Sustainability organization management
- Renewable energy product development
- Efficiency in a global economy
- Clean energy
- Global warming
- Energy economics
- Environmental law and policy
There are also several online MBA programs for sustainability, including from schools like Green Mountain College, Anaheim University, University of North Carolina, Franklin Pierce University and Bard College. Programs like the Bard College online MBA require some in-person residencies, during which students are able to hear talks from sustainability leaders. The benefits of green online MBA programs include flexible study schedules for working students and the ability to learn from anywhere in the world.
MBA Grads Become Sustainability Leaders
There are many sustainability leaders around the globe who pursued MBA tracks, some even before green MBAs were offered. Using business knowledge, these professionals evolved their careers in sustainability-focused businesses and nonprofits. Just a few sustainability leaders who have MBAs or who are shaping MBA programs include:
- Karen Janowski, VP of Startup Services and Strategic Programs at Prospect Silicon Valley: Prospect Silicon Valley is a nonprofit focused on cleantech innovations. In her role, Janowski, an MBA graduate from Stanford University, leads the team that recruits select and supports startups that focus on environmentally-friendly technologies.
- Hammad Atassi, CEO of American Sustainable Business Council: The American Sustainable Business Council is a network of businesses and business associations focused on sustainable practices. The council advocates for legislation for sustainable business. Atassi, an MBA grad from George Washington University, spent 15 years as a business leader in the natural product industry before becoming CEO of this council.
- Kevin Cochran, COO of GreenTraks: GreenTraks is cloud-based software that tracks business energy, resource and emissions usage. Cochran, who has an MBA from UC Irvine, also sits on the board of the Sustainability Management Association. This association focuses on using environmental stewardship, social responsibility and economic performance to optimize sustainability management.
- Youngme Moon, Donald K David Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School: Moon, who previously held the position of Chair of the MBA Program at Harvard Business School, is also Vice-Chair and Senior Independent Director of Unilever, a consumer goods company whose products include food and beverages, personal care products and cleaning agents. In October 2018, Unilever announced it will partner with local governments to reduce deforestation and drive sustainable development in its sourcing regions.
- Pamela Gill Alabaster, Senior Advisor at Carol Cone ON PURPOSE: Throughout her career, Alabaster, who holds an MBA from New York University, has focused on sustainable corporate practices in executive roles at brands including Revlon Inc., L’Oréal USA, and Estée Lauder Companies. Carol Cone ON PURPOSE is a consultancy that focuses on integrating social purpose and sustainability capabilities at the center of business and brand strategy.
These are just a few examples of MBA leaders who are making sustainability a priority in thriving businesses. Will you be next?