How Michigan Ross MBAs Lead On Climate & Sustainability

The 2024 ClimateCAP Summit will be February 9-10 at University of Michigan Ross School of Business. It organized by four Ross MBAs who are, left to right, Sarah Cohen, Nikhil Khurana, Alex Reid, and Nick Rojas.

On February 9-10, more than 400 MBAs, C-suite executives, B-school deans, young climate professionals, and founders will converge on University of Michigan Ross School of Business for the 2024 ClimateCap Summit, the premier climate-focused B-school event in the United States.

The summit will kick off with a panel discussion with Midwestern leaders on equity and access. Executives from large firms to small startups will talk about the creative, pragmatic, and equitable ways they’re trying to decarbonize. Deans from top business schools will lead a panel on the role of B-schools in preparing leaders for a future that will have to continuously confront a changing climate. The summit will end in Michigan Stadium, The Big House, with closing remarks from Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist II, a UMich Wolverine himself.

Of course, there will be a lot of time built in for networking and “finding your tribe of other climate nerds and professionals around any and all topics,” says Nick Rojas, MBA/MS 2024.

It takes work to convince anyone to travel to Michigan in the middle of winter, but Ross’ 2024 ClimateCap Summit sold out in a matter of hours. And it was all organized by Ross students.

“This has been one of the most challenging and fulfilling endeavors I’ve taken on, not only here at UMich but throughout my life,” says Rojas who is co-chairing the 2024 summit with three Ross classmates, Sarah Cohen, Nikhil Khurana, and Alex Reid.

“Before coming back to graduate school, I often fell victim to shouldering work I only trusted myself to do without taking the time to build systems and relationships that enabled the full team to join. My co-chairs have taught me a ton about enabling and empowering team members to do good work, especially when planning an event at this scale.”

ROSS MBAs TAKE THE LEAD ON CLIMATE & SUSTAINABILITY

ClimateCap is far from the only example of Ross students taking the lead on climate change, social impact and other sustainability issues. The school offers a myriad of ways for students to get involved and take on leadership positions. Some opportunities are well established through sponsored clubs and projects, some are opportunities students have created for themselves.

This past April, six Erb Institute MBA/MS dual degree candidates hosted Ross’ first Climate Week in honor of Earth Month. They organized panels and other activities to empower future leaders to engage with climate from the business perspective.

“There is so much experience, knowledge, and wisdom on campus … Ross Climate Week is an initiative to pool all of these incredible resources and exhibit them to parts of our community that might not otherwise be aware or have the time to run around and do the research on their own,” says Rena Lahn, MBA/MS 2025, who helped organize the event.

Six Michigan Ross Erb Institute MBA/MS dual-degree students organized the university’s first ever Climate Week in April. They are Supreya Kesavan, Celia Bravard, Olivia Rath, Sarah Cole, Rena Lahn, and Jillian Brown. Photo courtesy Michigan Ross

For budding investors and finance professionals, there are two venture funds focused on sustainability. Michigan Climate Venture is the first student-run climate impact group at the university. MBAs and other graduate students from various schools find, vet and invest in early-stage ClimateTech companies with “moonshot” potential for rapid decarbonization. Since its launch in 2021, it has two ventures in its portfolio: ReJoule, an EV battery diagnostic and repurposing company, and SusMaX, a startup built at Drexel University working to convert coal ash to lightweight construction materials.

Similarly, the student-run Social Venture Fund invests in for-profit ventures with potential to achieve positive, measurable impact on society and the environment. Its “Climate Circle” focuses on scalable businesses that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create climate solutions. The fund is part of the Zell Lurie Institute and has about 50 student members including MBAs, undergrads, law students and more. Students lead its investment circles as well as source, research, and screen potential investments.

IMPACT AND ENERGY CLUBS

Ross students can also take leadership roles in clubs focused on sustainability.

The Net Impact Club is for students who want to drive social change through the mission, values, and strategy of their future organizations. It engages in professional development activities such as the annual Impact Symposium, skills building workshops, and networking opportunities with companies and organizations. Its current co-presidents are Ally Ruchman, MBA 2024, and Victoria Jenkins, MBA/MS 2024. It has been recognized with Gold status for impact charters that “go above and beyond in providing their members with opportunities to make an impact in their community, learn and grow as individuals, and engage with the larger Net Impact community,” according to its website.

The mission of the Ross Energy Club is to prepare students to become leaders of the energy transition. It offers career advice and recruitment events, networking with renewable and energy transition companies, and consulting projects. Members can participate in the Ross Renewable Energy Case Competition, the leading such competition in the country, and the Ross Energy Conference. Gursharan Bains, MBA 2024, and Robert O’Gara, MBA 2024, serve as co-presidents.

And, through Ross’ Impact Design Lab, students can work to build their own ventures centered around climate, racial justice, and more.

CLIMATECAP AT ROSS

Rojas wanted to bring the 2024 ClimateCap Summit to Ross after attending the 2022 summit at Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management. He told his classmates Ross needed to host and tell its own story of confronting the intersection between climate and business, both at Ross and the Midwest region. He recruited his co-chairs and they got to work.

Rojas believes business must confront the biggest issues of the day, like climate change, if society has a hope of solving them. In turn, business schools must train future business leaders to confront these challenges.

“A few years back I read this comparison that always stuck with me: business schools failing to prepare their students for climate change in the 2020s is like failing to prepare them for globalization in the 1990s. The debate is over on whether or not climate change is real and being caused by human activities. What we need to discuss is what we do about it,” Rojas tells P&Q.

“Capitalism and the multinational corporations that utilize its principles are the strongest forces on the planet today, stronger than some national governments. Business leaders (including future ones who are current MBAs) need to be part of the conversation in finding solutions.”

As an MBA, Rojas has taken full advantage of the opportunities Ross provides to jump in, get his hands dirty, and lead. He was a member of the inaugural class of ClimateCAP Fellows in 2023, working on a year-long project to access and chronicle organizations and resources available to business students interested in climate work.

He’s also an active member and held leadership roles with the Erb Student Advisory Board, Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Club, Net Impact Club, and Energy Clubs at Ross. For his Multidisciplinary Action Project (MAP), required of all Ross MBAs, he consulted with Schneider Electric and to develop a go-to-market strategy for their microgrid team in the United States. As part of his dual degree with the School for the Environment and Sustainability, he completed a 15 month-long project developing a Scope 3 Greenhouse Gas Framework for the grocery chain Meijer.

“Many of these opportunities are only available to students and MBAs specifically, providing hands-on experience that there is no replacement for. These projects and programs have allowed me to talk to professionals and do the work I’m interested in to understand if it’s what I want to build my career on,” he says.

“You can read about and study the theory behind climate science or building stakeholder value, but it’s something else entirely to work for and navigate firms as you do this work. These opportunities are truly invaluable and I feel incredibly fortunate to be at a program that has provided them for me.”

DON’T MISS: MICHIGAN ROSS DUAL DEGREE STUDENTS PAVING THEIR OWN PATHS and IN PIONEERING VENTURE, MICHIGAN MBA STUDENTS LEAD CLIMATE INVESTMENT FUND

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