MBAs Tackling The Biggest Issues: Climate Change & EDGE

Attendees at last year’s ClimateCap event in February

There’s a delicate relationship between politics, social issues, and environmental threat. To navigate the rapidly changing business landscape that’s inseparable from these systems, the faculty of Duke’s Center for Energy, Development, and the Global Environment — EDGE — stress that MBA students must equip themselves with the necessary knowledge and skills to take action.

Daniel Vermeer, EDGE executive director, explains that one of the most urgent issues MBA students face in today’s market is climate change. “Climate change multiplies the force of all of the other problems — not just environmental, but also social,” he tells Poets&Quants. “If you have problems with inequality or racial justice, those problems are exacerbated when the impacts of climate change are more pronounced.”

EDGE, a center that prepares global business leaders for the energy and environmental challenges of the future, recently launched MBA EDGE, an online platform that shares the latest research and resources on current environmental and social issues in a digestible format for MBA students and alumni. The research papers — written by a mix of Duke faculty and students — help to prepare MBAs to respond to climate risks and opportunities. Described by Vermeer as the “connective tissue” between academic research and its translation, all of MBA EDGE’s resources are free, providing anyone access to cutting-edge research.

“Business can’t hide,” says Katie Kross, EDGE’s managing director. “Every MBA student, whether they plan to be an investor, an entrepreneur, a CFO, or a marketer, needs to have some context of what the current environmental and social issues mean for business.”

While business and the environment may traditionally be seen as separate career paths, Kross explains that those who don’t educate themselves on the implications of current issues will be at a disadvantage. “Those who aren’t prepared to respond to climate change are going to fall behind.”

MBA EDGE: HELPING BUILD FUTURE LEADERS

Katie Kross

Created after the paper Climate Change and Business: What Every MBA Needs to Know was published in conjunction with the first EDGE ClimateCAP summit — an annual event in partnership with 18 schools focused on the business implications of climate change — MBA EDGE helps students and alumni make sense of the broader business environment, identify opportunities and risks sooner, and take necessary action to create change.

By making the research papers on the platform short and easily consumable, they plan on teaching skills that are pertinent to MBAs, such as materiality assessment, scenario planning, and sustainability reporting. “We think these are essential tools for leaders who want to employ a bigger lens of stakeholder capitalism and ESG perspective to their work,” says Kross.

This platform is particularly relevant right now; with ESG investor managers like BlackRock asking CFOs about their environmental, social, and governance disclosures, Kross explains that managers and executives are going to have to be well-versed in these topics, regardless of their job titles. “I think we’re going to continue to see more calls for disclosure in the investment community, as well as an increased need for MBAs and business leaders to be informed and act on these issues,” she says.

THE NEED FOR ENVIRONMENTAL FLUENCY

Chris Lazinski

Chris Lazinski, dual MEM and MBA degree student, is currently conducting an  independent study with Vermeer on decarbonized heating and cooling, which will be published on the MBA EDGE platform. “Having information that’s written specifically for the MBA audience is extremely applicable,” he says. “Environmental issues are going to affect different sectors, and it’s important that people have fluency in how it will relate to someone’s specific job and function. This fluency will be a competitive advantage for people if they know how to think about these issues.”

Another dual MEM and MBA degree student Katie Davis describes environmental issues as touching every industry. With quick, easy access to research papers like those published on MBA EDGE, she says we can create smarter consumers and leaders.

“There’s a ripple effect in sharing knowledge, and it’s important that everyone is hyper-aware of what companies are doing and what it means by supporting or working for those companies. It helps you reflect on how you can be that change,” she says.

CHANGING THE WAY WE THINK ABOUT SUSTAINABILITY

In a time where students, managers, and executives alike are paying more attention to their social and environmental impacts, Vermeer stresses the importance of students’ ability to understand the environment’s link to other systems to see issues from a more holistic perspective. “If you want to affect biodiversity in the ocean, you can’t just be setting up protected areas. You actually have to think about how the ocean works. It’s important to get past the discrete problem and solution mindset to an ecological, systems mindset to understand how to intervene and produce more positive outcomes,” he says.

Change in any system affects the others, and Vermeer invites MBA students and alumni to not only think about individual problems with their own individual solutions, but rather how a system is operating as a whole, and what outcomes are being produced.

Fuqua MBA student and VP of Service and Sustainability Anna Epstein had firsthand experience with intervening with a system to create a positive impact as the Nike Global Sustainability Intern. Encouraged to see a company with a large scope take environmental issues seriously, Epstein looked at sustainability at each stage of their processes. She says, “If sustainability is integrated in how numbers are crunched, in the design of products, and in making each business decision, we will move towards a more circular economy.”

“It’s naive to think that when business gets involved that climate change will be solved,” adds Vermeer. “But on the other hand, I don’t see any way that we will make real progress on these problems unless business is an active participant and co-creator of solutions.”

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