The institute’s MBA ranking and survey – Beyond Grey Pinstripes – highlights the best MBA programs for teaching environmental and social sustainability, and has noted a growth in schools delivering such practices. One reason for the increase is the economic crisis, says Judith Samuelson, executive director of the Aspen Institute Business and Society Program.
“The economic crisis exposed the role market leaders played in making it worse and this has stimulated more of a willingness among business schools to teach students to examine the social, environmental and ethical impacts of business decisions,” Samuelson states.
“There has been a sort of disconnect between short-term business thinking and the long-term consequences to society, the environment and the economy. Schools want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem,” she adds.
An MBA program or elective that looks at sustainability will include teachings on corporate and social responsibility, community development and social entrepreneurship, and making socially responsible investments, for example. Business schools from around the world have told TopMBA.com how the economic crisis has stimulated more emphasis on such teachings.
“The financial and the economic crisis has spurred a new look at how businesses should operate,” says Christine Riordan dean of Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver in the USA, ranked 15th by the Aspen Institute.
“More MBA programs are focusing on how to create sustainable enterprises that are based on a business model that takes into account social, cultural and environmental responsibility, as well as profitability,” he adds.
Max Oliva, associate director of social impact management at IE Business School in Spain, which was ranked third by the Aspen Institute, agrees. He says that the recession in 2009 and recent downturn in the west’s economy has promoted more conversation over refocusing business values:
“Faculty, students, companies, we all have to rethink the way we do business. In the next 5, 10, 20 years, we need to reinvent it. We need to take this seriously and invite and challenge one another to play a part in the conversation on sustainability.”
Many schools are stressing that now is the time to act in order to bring about a change. They see an MBA as playing a vital role in sculpting the values of tomorrow’s business leaders.
“I thank many business schools see an opportunity to develop that next generation of business leaders and are developing a focus on sustainability,” says Jessica Thomas, managing director of the Center for Sustainable Enterprise at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School.
“Business leaders see an opportunity for innovative business models that align with the diverse interests of society, the environment and shareholders. As a result of the economic downturn, business is at a critical crossroads of strategic change,” she adds.
The Aspen Institute says its ranking marks the first chance since the economic downturn to identify how far business schools have gone to incorporate elements of sustainability in their programs. Its research found that since the recession in 2009, a higher number of schools are adapting their curricula to focus on responsible decision-making in business, with a marked increase in social, ethical and environmental issues.
Additionally, there has been a year-on-year increase in the number of business school requiring their students to take a course focused on these elements. In the first Beyond Grey Pinstripes survey in 2001, 34% of schools required their students to undertake such courses. In 2007 this increased to 63%. It stood at 69% in 2009 and jumped to 79% in 2011.
Although many would cite the economic downturn as a contributing factor to the rise in sustainability-focused MBAs and electives, other elements have helped boost this figure.
Scott Marshall, associate dean of graduate programs at Portland State University School of Business Administration in the USA says there is a greater awareness around the constraint on natural resources – there is not enough to meet demand.
“Businesses can innovate and develop solutions to these dilemmas,” Marshall concludes.