Between the straw policy at Starbucks, water stewardship efforts from The Coca-Cola Company, and Amazon’s donation to Australian wildlife recovery, major sustainability initiatives have become big news — and big business. We’re living in the age of the Triple Bottom Line, where a company’s impact on the planet is just as important as its profit and people.
So who’s going to lead the future of sustainable business practices? Sounds like a job for an MBA.
If you think back to elementary and middle school, you may recall how much time you spent learning about why you should recycle, how the water cycle works, and what goes wrong when you mess with the food chain. From there – at least for me and my public-school education in Tennessee – that educational focus on environmental impact stopped.
Fortunately, I finally picked up where I left off in business school. My MBA program at Georgia Tech’s Scheller College of Business and its peers on the Corporate Knights Better World MBA rankings don’t just make sustainability an elective option; they integrate it into core curriculum and offer specialized coursework and engagement. To me, that’s an exciting value add for my MBA! For others, however, it’s essential.
Maybe you’re the token environmentalist of your friends. Maybe you’re a career pivoter who wants to atone for the ecological sins of their previous employer. Maybe all the melting ice and raging fire is compelling you to do your part to help businesses be better stewards of their resources.
Regardless of what motivates you, here’s how to find a business school, clubs and activities, and post-MBA companies that will help you optimize your own Triple Bottom Line.
FIND YOUR SCHOOL
With overstated claims about “going green” or environmental friendliness, the greenwashing phenomenon has extended from consumer products to business schools. Finding an MBA program that truly values the education and impact of sustainable business practices requires careful investigation. “Searching for a program that focused on sustainability was difficult, as it is currently considered a buzzword for both corporations and schools alike,” my classmate Osama Mikawi told me. So how do you find a genuine gem among a sea of possible imposters?
Research! If you’ve found this website and article, you’re no stranger to MBA rankings and commentary. To find a specialized strength in sustainability, it helps to start with a dedicated organization like the Better MBA rankings or the new Positive Impact Rating for Business Schools and then make your own short list for further review. “When I was researching programs, I was looking for a program that offered more than just a sustainability-focused curriculum,” recalled Osama. “I valued community impact, faculty that focused their research on sustainable business principles, and a credible network of professionals and alumni focused on sustainability,” he added.
FIND YOUR STUDENT IMPACT
Even though business school prepares you for life after the MBA, you can start making a difference while still enrolled as a student. When it’s time for the Club Fair, I want you to march yourself over to the Net Impact table. With more than 400 chapters around the world, Net Impact is the premier organization for students and leaders who want “to build a more just and sustainable world.” The club equips members with skills to scale their individual impacts at their universities and broadens their network at the annual conference, which features a career fair of sustainability-minded employers. My classmate Blais Hickey outlines the importance of this benefit, “Because organizations solely focused on sustainability can be hard to find, it was critical for me to attend the Net Impact conference as a first-year to jump start my MBA internship search.”
Beyond joining a globally-recognized club, seek out opportunities unique to your own program at the college or university level. Solving climate-focused challenges in your future will require collaborative efforts across business units, but you can get early exposure to this cross-functional work by finding interdisciplinary centers on campus like the Scheller College’s Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business.
For those of you who learn best by doing, get your hands dirty! Sign up for client project classes or case competitions geared toward sustainability. “Helping companies directly with their sustainability issues has been my most meaningful experience of my MBA so far,” Blais reflected. “I worked with Cox Automotive to solve a logistics problem as part of the Sustainability Consulting class, and last year our team placed in the Top 10 of Patagonia’s national case competition.”
FIND YOUR CAREER
All MBA students ride the recruiting struggle bus at some point, but it can be an especially difficult journey for those pursuing sustainability roles. Compared to recurring needs for consulting, finance, and strategy candidates, finding a role suited for sustainability skills—especially MBA-level skills—can be nearly impossible. To cope with those odds, both Blais and Osama designed their own search strategies.
“As a career pivoter, I wasn’t sure where I would land,” Blais told me, “so I quickly overwhelmed myself by going to every information session and networking event possible.”
It wasn’t until Blais received the following advice from a Ford Motor Company executive that she refined her search:
- The likelihood of getting a job directly in sustainability is low. Often, you can have a bigger environmental impact in a more traditional role.
- Find what you’re good at or passionate about and bring sustainability into that job.
- Work for a company that shares your values – and don’t compromise on those values.
By following this advice, Blais joined the Global Operations Team at Nike for her internship, and she will be returning full-time after graduation to further her passions for sports, innovation, and sustainable operations.
Similarly, Osama designed a framework to evaluate internship opportunities. He focused on companies with a large footprint on the global economy who had committed publicly to changing how they had historically conducted business. “Nike, Adidas, and Delta Air Lines were all at the top of my target list, as the two sports apparel giants have spearheaded ocean cleanup initiatives while Delta Air Lines has committed to reducing onboard plastic consumption and offsetting carbon emissions.”
After a successful internship with Delta, he will return to Supply Chain Operations after graduation.
FIND YOUR PATH
Like all decisions in the MBA admissions and recruiting journeys, finding the right fit for your sustainability interest is all about defining your own priorities and personal mission. Take care in considering your next steps, as your ultimate actions will help all of us live in a healthier, more sustainable world. We are fortunate to live in an age with MBA programs ready to prepare students for climate-focused business challenges, but we’re even more fortunate that sustainability-minded leaders like you will help shape the future.
Jasmine Howard, a Tennessee native and marketing strategist, is a second-year MBA candidate at Georgia Tech’s Scheller College of Business. Each month, she offers advice, pro tips, and life hacks for the emerging challenges of today’s evolving MBA world.
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