Thursday, July 14, 2005

Sustainable MBAs; The Wave of the Future

The recent interview from the June 19th edition of the NYTimes with Jeffrey Garten, retiring dean of the Yale School of Business drew my attention. Mr. Garten believes American business schools are failing in their mission to create innovative thought leaders, that the way business is taught is missing the mark. I remember reading another article earlier in the year with a different retiring dean that echoes these same concerns. Another blogger, pursuing an MBA has some thoughts on this as well.

I agree. I started researching MBA programs over the past year or so, starting with programs listed in Beyond Grey Pinstripes. This site rates MBA programs according to their integration of sustainable business principles in their curricula. Dartmouth, Yale, Michigan, George Washington, York (Canada) are but a few highly ranked in this survey. One program that truly caught my attention, though it is not part of this survey, yet, is that of the Bainbridge Graduate Institute. This is a new educational institution, founded on the premise that sustainable business practices would not be an add on to an existing program, but be integrated and intertwined so as to become inseparable from the program. That caught my attention. It appears to combine my passion for sustainability with my whole-hearted belief that business can, indeed must, be engaged in the process of creating environmentally responsible and restorative markets. It is encouraging to see institutions like BGI working to change the way we learn business, maybe even to change what business is.

An article published on May 16, 2005 in GreenBiz backs up my own perceptions about the working world; people are looking for careers and educational opportunities that have a connection with their values. BGI received three times the number of applications as the previous year, while overall MBA applications dropped 30% as reported by BusinessWeek in July of 2004. Granted these statistics are from different years, but it may still reflect an exciting trend.

Large companies like Timberland, BP, Unilever, DuPont, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, American Electric Power, Florida Power & Light, ConocoPhilips, and most recently and publicly GE among others are venturing into the CSR world, looking to add value to their businesses by engaging stakeholder groups. Nike and Gap's efforts are detailed in this recent article from SocialFunds.com.

Imagine the capital available in this list to tackle sustainable development. Where will it go? Is it a trend? Is it green-washing? Will it fall out of favor or will companies that embrace sustainable business practices gain a competitive advantage in an era of resource depletion?

Imagine contributing to a wholesale change in the fundamental relationship between business and society.

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