How MIT Sloan Teaches Sustainability

Jason Jay, director of Sloan's Sustainability Initiative. Courtesy photo

Jason Jay, director of Sloan’s Sustainability Initiative. Courtesy photo

Can you tell us about some of the other notable faculty involved in the Sustainability Initiative?

There’s definitely a powerhouse community of thought leaders around sustainability here at MIT Sloan. John Sterman is one of the founders of the system dynamics field and does extensive research on climate change and doing climate modeling. In fact, his research made it to the front page of the New York Times because of its influence on the Paris climate accords. He’s one of the faculty teaching the S-Lab class and he also teaches the System Dynamics class, which is part of the sustainability certificate.

Peter Senge teaches our leadership and sustainability class. He is a best-selling management author and one of the highest-regarded management thinkers of the last two generations on organizational learning and learning organizations. He’s written extensively on sustainability and is involved with the most advanced networks of companies and NGOs that are driving sustainability strategy.

Tom Kochan teaches a class on managing business for people and profit and is co-director of the MIT Sloan Institute for Work and Employment Research. You’ll always hear him on NPR any time labor issues come up. That’s because, on any labor standards issues, from labor law or union management issues to innovations around creating good jobs, he’s the guy.

Zeynep Ton, who teaches in the operations management group, wrote the book The Good Job Strategy. Her research is about advancing operational innovation that allows companies to be more profitable while paying workers more and creating better jobs. She teaches our Service Operations class, which is all built around the concept of doing well by the people who work for you.

Chris Knittel teaches Energy Policy and is one of the leading scholars on climate policy in both the transportation and the electricity domains. Roberto Rigobon, one of the most esteemed macro economists in the world, teaches courses on the macroeconomics of sustainable development.

The list of faculty I gave are all just Sloan faculty, and then there’s a whole array of other faculty in engineering, political science, and urban studies and planning that our students learn from.

How do those courses fit in with the core competency of MIT Sloan?

Sustainability efforts often come down to a few key disciplines. The first is operations. So much of sustainability in companies comes down to optimizing your factories, optimizing your supply chains, your logistics, figuring out ways to take waste out of all those systems — so if you’re a crack sustainability person, that often means being a crack operations person. MIT Sloan is No. 1 in operations, period.

The second discipline is innovation and entrepreneurship: knowing how to bring new solutions to market. That is also a key strength of MIT Sloan, a reason people come to the school. We have classes on developing Energy Ventures, Waste Ventures, Development Ventures, and my class on Sustainability Oriented Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

The third discipline is finance — we have to mobilize a lot of capital if we want to solve the big challenges. MIT has a superb finance faculty, and we are collaborating with them more and more every year to deliver content on impact investing and related domains.

Furthermore, anyone who wants to do work in sustainable real estate, MIT is tops in urban planning and boasts a Center for Real Estate. MIT is the place for anyone who wants to do work in energy, water, innovation; people who want to do impact investing, particularly impact investing where investors are involved in the innovation process — for example, in early-stage companies that can really scale. Given the capacities of MIT, there’s no better place to be.

What are the options for students to get involved in sustainability activities?

As much as the energy for sustainability comes from the faculty, even more is driven by the students. We have an incredibly vibrant Net Impact chapter here with more than 150 students, and won Net Impact’s chapter of the year, beating out the Kellogg School. Our club is a force! They run a fellowship program in the summers for students doing internships in social impact, the Sloan Social Impact Fellowship (SSIF). The program, along with a school contribution, is subsidized by students who give a day of their salary to help fund social impact fellowships for their peers. We’ve also got a Board Fellowship program where MBA students can work on boards of local nonprofits.

Importantly, Net Impact offers professional events throughout the year to help students navigate careers in social impact and sustainability; we here at the Sustainability Initiative work with the club and students on this effort very closely.

I do want to mention some other clubs that can also be good entry points for people who are thinking about sustainability and impact. For example, there’s club called Sloan Entrepreneurs for International Development that focuses on bottom-of-the-pyramid and international development topics. There are topical clubs like an Energy Club, a Water Club, and Food and Ag Club, all of which are university-wide clubs. The Sloan students have the chance to engage with their colleagues in engineering and urban studies and planning, and other master’s programs and other graduate student programs across MIT. We often see Sloan students as leaders of those clubs because they are natural organizers, but the constituencies and members of those clubs come from across MIT. These connections really allow Sloan students to tap into the magic that happens at MIT. One of the challenges I see our peer schools facing is that their business schools are isolated from the rest of the campus and their sustainability students are a clique within the business school. Instead, we are much more integrated. We’re really proud that our clubs and classes and the Sustainability Initiative itself bring people together from across MIT.

Finally, there’s the MIT Impact Investing Initiative (MI3) that was just launched and that is doing fantastic work. In fact, representatives of MI3 were actually the winners of a national impact competition in May 2016 that was hosted at Wharton.

This impact investing club dovetails with new research and a new course that we are planning at Sloan to be launched this coming year on impact investing, finance, and sustainability. The class doesn’t have an official title, but stay tuned. It will be a hard-core finance class taught by finance faculty with a finance prerequisite so that people really learn the hard skills of impact investing.

That’s our emphasis here at MIT: You get to work on sustainability to the extent that you can bring the core skills of operations, finance, entrepreneurial business development, and strategy to the discipline.

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