Sustainability in the business school curriculum — it’s not just a West Coast thing anymore.
The drive toward greater awareness of social and environmental effects in business has been slow in blossoming. Europe has largely taken the lead: in Corporate Knights’ 2018 “Better World” ranking of global MBA programs, which placed heavy weight on sustainable development themes in the curriculum, four of the top five schools (and seven of the the top 10) were from outside the United States. But U.S. schools have not been idle. Leading schools like UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, Harvard Business School, Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management and others have spent the last few years investing in new programs, new centers, and new models for teaching ESG — environmental, social, and governance programs — and CSR — corporate social responsibility.
Now a new top-25 school is joining the club. Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business will launch an MBA Certificate in Sustainable Business in the spring that seeks to prepare graduates to address urgent environmental and societal challenges that affect companies’ operations and business models. The certificate will be open to both full-time and Flex MBA students, offering students the opportunity to “hone their ability to lead and manage organizations that are both profitable and sustainable through the lens of ESG,” according to a school announcement on Wednesday (December 18).
“Companies understand the need to incorporate sustainability approaches into all business functions in response to changing consumer demand, shifting employee interests, increased volatility in supply chains, greater exposure to public scrutiny, and other factors,” said Vishal Agrawal, Provost’s Distinguished Lapeyre Family associate professor and academic director of the new certificate. “It is imperative that our MBA students understand how to assess and identify these challenges and opportunities as they assume management and leadership positions after graduation.”
‘A HEIGHTENED CURRICULAR FOCUS ON SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS’
Students who elect to enroll in the certificate program will take a 10.5-credit sequence (7.5 overlapping MBA elective credits and 3 overlapping MBA core credits) of integrated courses. The goal: to build understanding of challenges and opportunities related to sustainable business and how to address them. Upon graduation from the MBA program, students will receive a notation on their official university transcript along with a certificate of completion.
Georgetown McDonough developed the interdisciplinary certificate in collaboration with Agrawal and Business for Impact, Georgetown’s initiative to promote “business as a force for good.” Development of the certificate was partially supported by a grant from Georgetown University’s 2019 Laudato Si’ Fund.
“A heightened curricular focus on sustainable business supports Georgetown McDonough’s goal to educate students to be responsible business leaders,” said Paul Almeida, dean and William R. Berkley chair. “The certificate reflects Georgetown McDonough’s focus on educating our students in ways that can help them enhance their own success, help businesses achieve their goals and at the same time make the world a better place.”
CATCHING UP IN THE U.S.
According to a June 2019 story in The Wall Street Journal, the movement on U.S. campuses toward greater sustainability instruction “mirrors the sustainable-investing trend rippling through the financial industry.” WSJ cites the Global Sustainable Investing Alliance to the effect that professionally managed assets invested sustainably in the U.S. “accounted for at least 26% of the market as of 2018, up from 18% in 2014.”
At UC-Berkeley Haas, business as a force for good is no new concept. The school’s Center for Responsible Business organizes a range of sustainability-oriented events and provides resources like fellowships and scholarships for ESG-minded MBAs. Haas also offers elective courses like Social Finance that examine core business topics through the lens of sustainability. Harvard Business School, meanwhile, became one of the first business schools to build research capacity in the ESG space with its Social Enterprise Initiative; and Cornell Johnson publishes relevant research through its Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise, launched in 2003. Cornell also offers a concentration in Sustainable Global Enterprise that features experiential coursework. MIT’s Sloan School of Management boasts a sustainability certificate through its Sustainability Initiative; and Michigan Ross, long a leader in the ESG space, having launched the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise in 1996, gives sustainability-minded students the chance to pursue a dual-degree MBA/Master of Science in partnership with Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment.
But it’s hard to deny that for sustainability studies, Europe has the inside track, with more established programs backed by more dedicated resources. (Among the leaders: Warwick Business School, INSEAD, and Oxford Saïd.) One chief reason: the issue is taken more seriously internationally than in the U.S. According to a survey of global B-school leaders released in May, helping businesses be more sustainable will be the main priority for business school decision makers over the next five years, with 71% of B-school decision makers agreeing that the ability of companies to innovate is an important priority for the next half-decade. A large majority also believes that schools must embrace cleaner and more environmentally friendly technology (67%).
GRADUATES OF GEORGETOWN PROGRAM WILL HELP MAKE BIZ, INDUSTRIES MORE SUSTAINABLE
Georgetown McDonough will have two elective courses that are fundamental to the program: Environmentally Sustainable Operations and Business Models, which takes on a business-oriented perspective by focusing on voluntary or economically motivated sustainability considerations and initiatives; and Corporate Social Responsibility, which focuses on the relationship between business, society, and the environment, and its evolution to ESG in its most current form.
Other faculty teaching in the program include William D. Novelli, distinguished professor of the practice and founder of Business for Impact; Melissa Bradley, adjunct professor; and Leslie Crutchfield, adjunct professor and executive director of Business for Impact.
“Whether students go on to lead a Fortune 500 company, launch a startup, or pursue careers that span all the three sectors – nonprofit, public, and private – students who earn the MBA Certificate in Sustainable Business will be prepared to address sustainability-related challenges and identify opportunities to create value by making their businesses and industries more sustainable,” Georgetown said in its announcement.
MBA students will be able to apply for the program starting January 2, 2020. For more information, visit the program website.