What to expect when studying an MBA specialisation in sustainable and inclusive business | TopMBA.com

What to expect when studying an MBA specialisation in sustainable and inclusive business

By Craig OCallaghan

Updated March 6, 2024 Updated March 6, 2024

Sponsored by AGSM @ UNSW Business School 

After successive years of trending growth, the topic of sustainable business has become a key global concern, with employers requiring graduates to be equipped with the skills required to work towards ESG (environmental and social governance) objectives. 

As a result, business schools are adapting their curricula to ensure their students are developing the skills and mindsets required to help global businesses adapt to be more sustainable and inclusive. 

AGSM @ USNW Business School is doing this by introducing a new MBA specialisation in sustainable and inclusive business. To learn more about the specialisation, we spoke with Associate Professor Michele Roberts. 

Why is AGSM introducing these new courses focused on sustainability and inclusivity now?  

Over the last two years, AGSM has been delivering courses in sustainable and inclusive business to our executive education clients and delivering a sell-out MBA course on ‘The Race to Net Zero’, so an MBA in Sustainable and Inclusive Business and a Graduate Certificate were important next steps for us in our mission to develop sustainable business leaders. 

Businesses are a potent driving force for change in our world, and and there’s strong demand from industry clients for graduates with expertise in sustainable business. At the same time, many students are eager to develop their knowledge in this area.  

While this shift has been happening for years now, collectively we’ve just moved past the ‘why be sustainable?’ to grappling with ‘how to do it’. That’s the mission driving us at AGSM to introduce the new sustainability specialisation.  

In these courses, we equip current and future business leaders with the skills and mindsets to navigate this shift, and reshape the relationship between our businesses, society, and environment for the better. 

How does this specialisation provide students with particular skills required by today's employers? 

There are 3 types of skills needed by today’s employers that this specialisation is designed to address: 

The ability to identify and articulate the myriad of sustainability-related challenges facing modern businesses. Our content covers well-established issues such as climate change and social equity, to emerging topics like nature and biodiversity. Our students, having built a solid knowledge foundation of these complex and interlinked challenges, will be able to help businesses manage new types of risks, identify new opportunities, and chart new courses of growth. 

Systemic thinking: Helping businesses become sustainable is hard usually not because of not knowing what to do, but needing to balance the many considerations and trade-offs between profit, planet, and people. 

For example, the water use needed by a new exciting agricultural project might impact water access by the local community, or degrade local water quality. In this course, we encourage student to make connections between these different dimensions of sustainability, and we also have dedicated content to build students’ capabilities in strategic and systemic thinking.  

This allows them to help businesses make well-balanced, holistic decisions that will hold up to the scrutiny of all stakeholders, from consumers to investors to employees. 

Lastly, a practitioner’s toolkit in driving a sustainability transformation: Most businesses today are ‘doing sustainability’ for the first time, and don’t yet have a playbook for ‘sustainable procurement’ as they do for ‘procurement’, or ‘sustainable finance’ as they do for ‘finance’. We’ve decided to address this gap.  

In this course, we’ve made an enormous effort to assemble the most relevant and practical tools for driving an organisational sustainability transformation, like designing a decarbonisation pathway for your business and implementing mechanisms like internal carbon prices.  

At the same time, we’ve incorporated content on sustainable consumer behaviour and decision-making to help students understand how to develop and communicate sustainable products and take consumers on their sustainability journey with them. 

As our goal is to make this course as relevant and applicable as possible to today’s businesses, we’ve designed the course content ‘from the bottom-up’, by listening to the needs of our students and business clients, as well as with the guidance from leading practitioners.  

The course that results is one that is unique in combining the latest theory and tested practical tools, helping our students to stand out in their ability to help businesses navigate the sustainability transition.  

How might career outcomes from this specialisation differ from a more generalist MBA programme? 

Graduates from this specialisation are uniquely positioned to lead in a world that demands businesses and institutions to be sustainable and inclusive. This specialisation not only opens doors to traditional business roles, where graduates will gain a competitive edge by bringing in much needed sustainability capabilities, but also to positions that specifically focus on driving environmental and social change.  

This MBA specialisation and Graduate Certificate will no doubt attract people working in sustainability who want to develop skills, knowledge, and credentials in this field, but it has actually been developed for all business leaders who will increasingly be working towards sustainable goals in their organisations. 

In your opinion, what does it mean for a business to be sustainable and inclusive? 

To me, a sustainable and inclusive business is one that mirrors the diversity of the world it serves and protects the planet it inhabits. It operates at the intersection of environmental stewardship, social equity and economic viability, and it means going beyond short-term gains to consider the long-term relationship between businesses, the planet and society.  

There are many great examples of Australian organisations with leading practices in sustainability, and we will be showcasing these throughout this program. 

How does this specialisation approach the issue of social sustainability in addition to environmental sustainability? 

Environmental sustainability, particularly climate change, is in the spotlight due to the urgency and severity of the environmental crisis. That said, true sustainability encompasses environmental and social sustainability, and our specialisation has a strong emphasis on both.  

We have a unit dedicated to social sustainability, and throughout the course, we explore topics such as ethical supply chain, equitable access to resources, and the creation of inclusive workplaces.  

We highlight positive case studies of businesses that are for example not only driving down carbon emissions but investing in communities and improving employee well-being.  

This dual focus on environmental and social sustainability prepares our students to lead organisations that excel in creating comprehensive, positive impacts. 

What are the advantages of the part-time, flexible course structure for these courses? 

The part-time, flexible course structure is designed to accommodate the diverse needs of our students, recognising that many are working professionals or have other commitments. Students can choose from virtual classes in evening to fully online self-paced learning.  

This flexibility allows students to balance their studies with personal and professional responsibilities, making it feasible to enhance their skills and knowledge without putting their careers on hold.  

Additionally, this structure allows our students to learn today and implement tomorrow, bridging the gap between theory and practice seamlessly. Students could be helping their companies reduce carbon emissions before they even graduate. 

This article was originally published in March 2024 .

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