MBA programs increase focus on sustainable business

by Staff - Original publish date: January 18, 2012

Sustainable energy and green technologies have been placed at the forefront of America Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and the business world has taken notice.  To better facilitate modern professionals' connection with these emerging eco-friendly industries, MBA programs around the world have begun adopting curricula with a sharper focus on going green.

The Aspen Institute Center for Business Education is reporting that the number of colleges requiring MBA students to take courses in ecological business and society issues has more than doubled in the past eight years, from 34 percent in 2001 to 69 percent in 2009.

The move reflects the growing concerns of global climate change, which - despite a recent fact-checking scandal involving misleading studies - continues to shape corporate and federal practice and policy.
"In the past, a lot of efforts to help save the planet have come from government and nongovernmental organizations," Brad Gentry, senior lecturer in sustainable investments at a prominent Ivy League university, tells the Financial Times. "But increasingly, business is playing an important part of those efforts, through innovative technologies, enhanced products and improved management techniques. We know you can get filthy rich destroying the planet, but now we're starting to think about how you can make lots of money saving the planet."

Gentry argues that the focus on green business is no passing fad, either.  Indeed, business programs around the world are attempting to shape the ways future managers and executives understand "the bottom line."  The hope is to lead aspiring business professionals to seek new tactics that will both maximize profits while highlighting environmental and social performance.

The movement has been gaining momentum over the past several years, prompting the World Resources Institute to create the Beyond Grey Pinstripes research survey.  Created in 1999, BGP is a qualitative study that provides an alternate ranking of MBA programs around the world that provide the most complete and natural integration of social and environmental responsibility within a traditional business school curriculum. 

The 2010 edition of the annual study honored 100 full-time MBA programs across 17 countries, with 7 of the top 10 programs residing within the US.

One reason for the continued success of these programs is the participation of local and international businesses.  Corporate sponsors of sustainable degree programs help by providing funding for the university as well as an environment that allows a student to pursue real world work-experience in a functioning company.

Some critics claim that corporate involvement with sustainable MBA programs is superficial at best, a claim that several administrators dismiss as cynical.

"I am sure there's some degree of reputation and image building, but there is also a sincere effort to be connected with a university," says Tom Lyon, director of the ERB institute at the number 2 BGP ranked University of Michigan, in a statement to the Times. "These companies want to be up to speed on the latest thinking, to know what students are thinking and to understand how to get the next generation's best and brightest to come work for them."

Students seeking a sustainable education may consider enrolling in an accredited online university.  In addition to providing an almost entirely paperless education, online MBA programs offer a wide variety of specializations in topics such as ethics, finance and social responsibility, which are not always available through more conventional business programs.

Green businesses are anticipated to lead the country out of the ashes of the prolonged economic recession.  A recent survey entitled Many Shades of Green found that green businesses in California grew 45 percent in number as well 26 percent in employment since 1995 - numbers significantly higher than the 13 percent job growth experienced by the state as a whole.

Since 1999, has been successfully connecting learners to online education, including online degree and certificate programs, specialized career training, and numerous online courses.