Studying an MBA in sustainability at one of the world’s most sustainable universities |

Studying an MBA in sustainability at one of the world’s most sustainable universities

By Laura L

Updated Updated

With growing demand for companies and organisations to play their part in tackling environmental and social issues, sustainable leadership is becoming a major element of the MBA experience.  

Business schools around the globe are enhancing their sustainable focus, offering elective modules, certificates and sustainability tracks that students can opt for.  

In an article for, Karen Greenbaum, president and CEO of the global Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants (AESLC) said “leaders have to come to realise that a sustainable business strategy is not only good for the environment but also beneficial to an organisation’s bottom line.” 

She adds that the AESLC’s research of 1,000 c-suite executives “underscores this trend, finding two-thirds of organisations are focusing on sustainability.”  

Choosing a sustainable institution for business 

At The Wharton School, ranked third in the QS Global MBA Rankings 2023, MBA students can major in business, energy, environment and sustainability, adding in-depth foundations in the complex relationships between business and the natural environment, management of environmental risks and the business and economics of energy.  

As part of the University of Pennsylvania, ranked the eighth most sustainable university in the world, you would expect The Wharton School to be breaking ground in creating a generation of sustainable and conscious leaders. But what’s it really like to train in sustainable management at one of the most sustainable institutions? 

Manuel Gallardo and Nehali Jain are MBA students at Wharton and co-presidents of the school’s sustainable business club. While Manuel and Nehali have different career aspirations, they both chose to specialise in the business, energy, environment and sustainability (BEES) major to develop their leadership skills for good and make real change for the planet.  

For Manuel, whose career goals lie in creating better solutions in the electric vehicle industry, the BEES major presented an opportunity to learn much more about energy systems, marketing green products to consumers, and the complicated supply chains needed to create an electric future. 

“The programme features many classes that are explicitly environmentally-focused, like environmental law or water use, but you can then add relevant classes from other areas of the business school, like corporate diplomacy and marketing for social impact,” said Manuel. 

A shared passion for sustainability across industries and cultures 

Manuel added: “The school brings in quality students who share a passion for sustainability and we all have very different backgrounds. That means we can learn from each other’s cultural and industrial differences. We have people who work in renewable energy, climate investing and ESG frameworks, for example. So learning is shared between us all, as well as through the course content.” 

Nehali hopes to build a career as an investor, furthering climate technologies that help to keep the planet from warming beyond 2° C. She said: “These technologies do not exist today and face the biggest challenge around being capital-intensive to start with. I hope to leverage my education to build business models and gain access to capital for newer decarbonisation technologies at the speed and scale we need.”  

As part of the BEES major, Nehali complemented her specialised classes including climate law and policy, environmental strategy, value creation, and emerging technologies, with an independent project working with non-profit NEST to identify climate impact on artisan communities. For the project, Nehali worked alongside a professor to research climate risk management strategies and gain a deeper understanding of global climate impacts and how small business are starting to adapt. 

She said: “In addition to being one of the best business schools in the world, it was evident that Wharton was taking sustainability seriously and doubling down on its offerings to nurture the next set of environmentally conscious business leaders.  

“This was visible within the course, one of the few schools that provides a track to major in sustainability or ESG, in the institution’s brand, and in the passionate student community engaged in building stronger foundations in climate action.” 

Building a climate community beyond the classroom 

Beyond the programme itself, Manuel and Nehali are involved in many sustainably-focused initiatives including running the MBA sustainable business club as co-presidents, the energy and climate club and the future mobility club, some of the most active and fastest-growing professional clubs at the school. 

“Students at the University of Pennsylvania are building a climate community and one of the areas I’m involved in is Climate Leaders, a club and annual fellowship that brings together students from across the graduate schools to create a climate network,” said Manuel.  

“The club connects students with a passion for climate issues, many pursuing relevant research or work from a variety of disciplines. As a board member, I promote the club’s events and socials and help to organise our year-long fellowship where members of the club work on a sustainability-related capstone project.” 

Outside of Wharton, students can take classes offered by the University of Pennsylvania’s other faculties. Nehali chose to enroll in a leadership course, Power Labs, with the School of Social Policy & Practice. The four-day experiential course mimicked societal structures to understand how different people show up in different circumstances around climate mitigation.  

Nehali said: “It helped me gain a practical understanding of how global power dynamics will be furthered due to climate change and how leaders in countries with the resources to mitigate the impacts of climate change will have to shoulder the responsibility of supporting those facing challenges. Leading through such times requires significant grit, empathy and courage.  

“I think projects like this show that the university is not just doubling down on sustainability offerings but is also integrating these lessons across the curriculum. You get a real sense that you’re studying within a truly sustainable institution, and it makes a difference.”  

Conscious leadership at the core 

Sarah E. Light is associate professor of legal studies and business ethics at The Wharton School, and co-director of the Wharton Climate Center.  

She said: “Both at the university level and at The Wharton School, there is a clear commitment to focusing on sustainability and social impact. The university has embedded its commitments in a climate action plan and the creation of an initiative called the Environmental Innovations Initiative to bring together scholars, students, and the community to focus on these issues. 

“The initiative hosts events like the wildly successful Climate Week, has created new courses, and has provided funds to develop inter-disciplinary research communities to focus on these issues.  The university has also announced a commitment to hire faculty working in this area – on issues surrounding energy, particularly. These are all steps that speak to the school’s commitment to these areas.” 

This article was originally published in . It was last updated in

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