The Increasing Appeal of Ethical MBA Careers |

The Increasing Appeal of Ethical MBA Careers

By Tim Dhoul

Updated August 27, 2014 Updated August 27, 2014

Socially responsible companies are of increasing interest to graduates ready to embark on their MBA careers. By way of introduction to’s ‘Five of the Best Socially Responsible Companies to Work for’, we look at this growing aspiration amongst MBA students.

Net Impact is a non-profit group that encourages people to pursue sustainability in their MBA careers. According to its latest study, entitled Business as UNusual 2013, 77% of the 3000+ MBA students surveyed said they would take a 15% pay-cut in order to have a job that seeks to bring about positive social or environmental change.

More than half of those surveyed also revealed their belief that social and environmental issues are ‘essential’ to a business’ long-term success, with a further one-third instead classifying it as being ‘very important.’

Positive contribution now a prerequisite for majority of MBA students says Net Impact CEO

“Making a positive social and environmental impact through business has gone from a ’nice to have’ to a ’must have’ for prospective graduate business students”, says Net Impact’s CEO, Liz Maw.

Not only are businesses increasingly aware of the need to take heed of societal and environmental issues, but the pressure placed on many communities by the recent global downturn has driven the need for large companies in particular to become far more accountable and transparent in their approach to business.

This trend has been gathering pace for more than ten years now. In the US, The Sarbanes–Oxley Act of 2002 (also known as the 'Corporate and Auditing Accountability and Responsibility Act') was passed as a response to a series of corporate or accounting scandals, such as that affecting Enron. Similar laws have subsequently come into force in countries as far afield as India, Germany and Japan, as stricter financial governance of large firms has been sought.

This has in turn dramatically changed the way MBA students view their job choices, as well as their prospective employers. Not only are large firms more disposed to running strong programs of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), but many more companies specifically dealing with social and environmental issues now operate at a level where MBA careers are available.

The two taken together form what we refer to as ‘socially responsible companies’, but even here the term could do with further clarification.

What do we mean by socially responsible companies?

Defining what we mean by ‘socially responsible companies’ can be difficult, as terms like this can often be interpreted in different ways. Here, we use it to mean one of two things. Firstly, an employer who derives a positive outcome from its responsibility towards the company’s actions and the impact that it might have on the environment, consumers, employees or communities (through Corporate Social Responsibility.) Secondly, a company actively engaged in work solely aimed either at creating positive change in the world and/or that places issues of sustainability at its core.

Sustainability, which is available as an MBA specialization, can also have multiple meanings. One popular approach is that afforded by the 1987 Brundtland Report, published by the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) in 1987. It takes sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to fulfill their needs.” An alternative approach is discussed in full here.

So, what MBA careers are to be found that fulfill these criteria? In the Net Impact study referred to above, MBA students cited the top issues they felt businesses must get right within the next ten years. They were: climate & energy, sustainable product development, human rights and conservation.

Socially responsible companies should therefore be seen as those which deal with issues such as these – either through their principal area of work or through an ongoing commitment to CSR. Examples of these themes are listed by industry-type below for ease of reference.

Key sectors offering MBA careers with socially responsible companies:

  • Corporate social responsibility (CSR)
  • Energy and clean technology
  • Impact investing
  • International development
  • Non-profit management
  • Social enterprise

So, if you find yourself drawn towards ethical MBA careers either as the result of your business school experience or as the motivation behind it, the evidence provided by groups such as Net Impact should be seen as highly reassuring that there will be plenty of options available, albeit alongside plenty of healthy competition from other like-minded MBA students.

Find out more about sustainable MBAs

This article was originally published in September 2013 . It was last updated in August 2014

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Written by

Tim is a writer with a background in consumer journalism and charity communications. He trained as a journalist in the UK and holds degrees in history (BA) and Latin American studies (MA).