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Sustainability & Social Responsibility

The Whole World's Going Green


RaeAnn Slaybaugh

March/April 2009, eSide Supply Management Vol. 2, No. 2

A Look Inside Green MBA Programs and the Business Drivers Fueling Them

For Arizona State University, December 18, 2008 marked an important date in the advancement of sustainable business initiatives: Brigitte Bavousett became the first graduate of the university's new School of Sustainability.

ASU School of Sustainability
Arizona State University Honors First-Ever Graduate
in Sustainability. Photo credit: Vince Palermo/ASU.
(PRNewsFoto/Global Institute of Sustainability).

Bavousett, a working mother, was among the first to enroll in the School. Upon graduating, she said she felt confident about finding a job despite the struggling economy. "I may have to be creative," she admitted, "but I feel comfortable with the foundation of skill sets and cutting-edge technologies the school has given me."

That was just the beginning of the green MBA trend at ASU: In just a few months, the School's first full class of master's and doctoral students will graduate. "We expect its graduates to transform our country," says Director Charles Redman.

Green: The Next Frontier?

Like Redman, leaders at other well-respected universities are implementing sustainable packaging, transportation and supply chain dynamics skills into their MBA curriculums. In fact, some institutions heeded the call from corporate America a while ago:

  • At London Business School (LBS), MBA students take five relevant courses ranging from carbon-emissions management to social entrepreneurship. This is nothing new at LBS, where MBA students have been required to take business ethics and corporate social responsibility (CSR) courses for more than 10 years.

  • The Yale School of Management has partnered with the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies since 1982. It is regarded as one of the first programs to combine business with environmental studies. To date, the partnership has produced more than 110 graduates.

With multitudes of other green MBA programs emerging across the United States, the curriculums might differ from school to school but follow three common tenets: people, planet and profit. In fact, sustainable practices are now designed to be interwoven into mainstream subjects at the schools, especially supply management, logistics, marketing and finance.

Many green MBA programs assign practicum projects, host venture capital competitions and foster interaction between students and local CEOs and executives. At the University of California, San Diego's Rady School of Management, for example, 2008 graduates engaged in a lab-to-market program which required them to create crude biodiesel without shorting the supply of food in order to supply energy. They also investigated new strains of microalgae as a source.

Meanwhile, at San Rafael, California-based Dominican University, green MBA students master three areas of expertise: entrepreneurship, "intra-preneurship" and consulting. Program director John Stayton defines "intra-preneurship" as preparing students to become change agents within organizations — the individuals who, as he explains, "wear the green-age monikers of chief sustainability officer and director of corporate responsibility."

And, with regard to the consulting aptitudes, Stayton explains that green MBA students at Dominican learn to consult on sustainability issues, both within their organizations or by joining established consulting firms.

What's Driving All This Green

True to Stayton's words, state-by-state legislation has heavily promoted green technology and business practices in the past few years, causing business leaders to prioritize sustainability, as well. Many begin by setting their sights on green professionals to not only lead sustainability initiatives, but also create new profit centers.

Green World Globe

A recent report by Net Impact, a San Francisco-based network of more than 11,000 MBA students and professionals who want to use business to "create a better world," shows a 37-percent increase in publicly posted corporate social responsibility, or CSR, jobs since 2004.

Even traditional MBA programs are becoming more sustainability-focused, according to the 2007-2008 Beyond Grey Pinstripes survey, a biennial ranking of business schools' social and environmental leadership. Experts from World Resources Institute and the Aspen Institute, which teamed up to produce the survey, report that 63 percent of the 112 schools surveyed required students to take a course dedicated to business and society issues — a 29-percent increase since 2001. Moreover, the number of elective courses per school dedicated to social/environmental content increased 20 percent since 2005.

Additionally,, an online collection of CSR-related information and resources, recently reported that two-thirds of Fortune 500 companies now produce sustainability and/or CSR reports. Meanwhile, it states, green building is growing by 50 percent a year, and clean-tech (renewable energy, transportation, water conservation) is one of the largest areas of venture capital.

Personal Perspectives

Beyond rising business demand for sustainability prowess, employees across all sectors have their own basis for their concern, both inside and outside the office. For this reason, consortiums of like-minded professionals have even emerged to cater to passionate green professionals. One such group — — offers MBA holders in the field of sustainability a place to gather and swap ideas. The group also gathers on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Another networking group, the International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP), offers online resources and professional development via its Web site. Bob Willard, author of The Next Sustainability Wave and The Sustainability Advantage, calls the launch of the ISSP portal "a significant milestone on the global journey to sustainability."

"It's the perfect time for sustainability professionals to partner and help each other be more effective and successful sustainability champions," he writes. "Together, we have the knowledge, skills, connections and will to accomplish the necessary acceleration of sustainability strategies in all sectors."

Gaining the Executive Edge

Of course, employees are also cognizant of the executive edge sustainability knowledge offers in the current workforce. According to leaders at the Bainbridge Graduate Institute in Bainbridge Island, Washington — which offers an MBA or a certificate in sustainable business — most workers do not have the knowledge or experience to meet the demand.

"We want people who graduate from our program to be able to go toe-to-toe with [Ivy League] MBAs," says Miguel Esteban, director of enrollment, management and marketing at Bainbridge.

"This is a huge area of opportunity," agrees Dominican University's John Stayton. "The goal is for our students to be in positions where the more successful they are at advancing their initiatives, the more money they'll be earning."

The Consumer Influence

Consumer-driven green initiatives are also behind the recent surge in green MBA programs. The demand on organizations to practice sustainability is a key impetus to make significant operational and product changes.

"In business, the key to profit — sustainable or otherwise — lies in finding out what people really care about, and in helping them attend to what they care about in meaningful and sustaining ways," says Paul Sheldon, professor of sustainable and effective management at San Francisco's Presidio School of Management. "As Wal-Mart and other large corporations are finding, becoming sustainable includes taking care of customers, employees and the surrounding communities within which business is conducted."

Dominican University's John Stayton agrees, predicting that green professionals will enjoy job security well into the future. "The work needed to help heal the planet is going to take a long time," he says. "All MBAs are going to be green MBAs someday."

RaeAnn Slaybaugh is a senior writer for the Institute for Supply Management™. She can be reached by e-mail.

For more articles and resources on sustainability and corporate social responsibility, visit the ISM articles database.

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