MBA in Sustainability
Issues concerning sustainability and diversity are being given top priority by companies like A.T. Kearney.
A.T. Kearney is one of the world's most famous companies and a well-known provider of MBA jobs and MBA internships, often taking graduates from the top business schools. The company is also taking sustainability and diversity issues seriously.Climate change is happening and this is accepted by all but the most stubborn and isolated voices. While individuals and communities begin to find energy saving and recycling strategies, businesses are having to face their responsibilities in this race against time.
According to A.T. Kearney's Christine Rivera, rising to this challenge is not straightforward: "The call to action is about taking steps to ensure that our current consumption and behaviours will not adversely impact generations to follow. If businesses are to accept the challenge - and many are - they must find a way to seamlessly embed sustainable business practices as part of the normal course of doing business."
Environmental concerns and sustainability issues are compelling businesses to focus on them. These include the demands of savvy consumers and shareholders, pressure from competitors already responding to the challenges, the anticipation of supply chain risks (what happens if you engage in sustainable processes, for example, but your suppliers don't?) and changes in national and transnational legislation. These forces are growing in intensity and it is foreseeable that a company's approach to sustainability will - one day, if not already - contribute to its brand value.
A.T. Kearney's definition of sustainability aligns with the "triple bottom line" concept: the balance between economic development, environmental protection and social well-being. "It's about meeting the needs of the enterprise and its stakeholders while preserving - and possibly enhancing - the human and natural resources that it impacts or draws upon," says Rivera.
The firm has long recognized that sustainability is broader than the green or environmental agenda and believes that this recognition is fundamental to working with clients on these issues. The collaborative model A.T. Kearney employs, working closely alongside clients, allows a direct approach to sustainability issues from within the client business, while calling upon expertise and intellectual capital from the A.T. Kearney sustainability team around the world.
With a longer than 80-year history in strategy and operations consulting, A.T. Kearney is positioned optimally to help clients address these issues. This is by helping them develop and implement comprehensive sustainability strategies, or to more closely align supply chains to clients' sustainability agendas. According to Rivera, "We are striving to embed sustainability into all our practices and how we think about all our engagements. We try to look at assignments now through a "sustainability prism" and ensure that all our recommendations - not just those made as part of a sustainability project - are, in fact, sustainable. Equally, we may try to introduce the concept where it might not have otherwise been considered. It's becoming part of the way we think."
Developing thought leadership through both research and client work is core to the essence of what management consultants do and the sustainability practice is no exception. And the thought required to analyse issues of sustainability can be more complex than at first meets the eye. For example, it serves little purpose for a management consultant to suggest ceasing supply chain production in a far away country that is polluting or globally damaging, for example, simply re-implant it with cleaner processes and fewer transport miles closer to home, only to discover that the true cost would be to decimate an already poor area of the third world. Solutions often need to be more complex, incorporating a holistic global perspective.
Walking the Walk
Indeed, the company feels it should not only lead by thought, but in the case of sustainability, by example. Rivera confirms: "We are a strong believer that credible sustainability consulting requires our own commitment. We are the first "high value" management consultants to make a global commitment to carbon neutral consulting. Specifically, we pledge to be carbon neutral in 2009. This means that through ambitious reductions in our own carbon footprint and offsetting investments in climate protecting projects, we will have a net impact of zero on the environment."
She continues, "It means that when clients hire A.T. Kearney, they will know that our efforts to deliver engagements on their behalf will not serve to increase their own carbon footprints." Some practical examples include limiting internal travel, increasing the use of collaborative technologies, utilising more carbon efficient planes, hotels and rental cars, increasing recycling in all offices, and, where possible, seeking energy efficient locations and providers. Overall, the company is placing a priority on reduction over offsetting and regularly conducts pro-bono work around the world.
The imperative to lead by example has been set from the very top of the organization by chairman and managing officer Paul Laudicina, a committed advocate and author of the book World out of Balance. Local offices and regions are expected to innovate and adopt the most beneficial practices for their surroundings and offer many opportunities for staff involvement at all levels, which is actively encouraged. Initiatives may differ by location but the targets are set globally.
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A.T. Kearney doesn't hire directly into the sustainability practice (or any other), preferring an initial broad exposure across sectors. But this is not to say that new MBA hires cannot get involved. If an individual expresses a strong interest in sustainability, every effort will be made to staff that person on those projects. New hires can get involved with local sustainability affinity teams, which meet on a regular basis and drive both the internal sustainability initiatives and external business development.
There are also opportunities to get involved with the global practice, to contribute to business development and to further the firm's thought leadership, conducting research and publishing articles and white papers. Christine Rivera confirms: "The qualities we look for in the sustainability practice are the same as for the general consulting pool: strong academics with good analytical and communications skills. We look for individuals who are entrepreneurial, take the initiative and have a very collaborative style, as we work alongside our clients. If someone is interested specifically in sustainability, we look for a passion for the subject and a perspective on it balanced between environmental, social and economic interests. Any prior relevant experience would, of course, be a definite added plus."