Five Tips for Choosing a Sustainable Business MBA Program |

Five Tips for Choosing a Sustainable Business MBA Program

By Pavel Kantorek

Updated June 24, 2019 Updated June 24, 2019

This article is sponsored by Amsterdam Business School.

Learn more about its MBA program.


A growing number of MBA candidates are looking for sustainable business MBAs as global business takes on a greener outlook.

A sustainable business is defined broadly as one whose activities meet the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to do likewise. It takes into consideration the planet and people alongside profits.

In today’s planet-conscious climate, vast crops of green, sustainable business opportunities exist – from implementing eco-friendly products to harnessing clean energy.

Contrary to popular belief, being ‘green’ doesn’t have to contradict the traditional definition of ‘business’ – the purchase and sale of goods in an attempt to make a profit. For starters, the average return on green investments for large businesses is 48%, according to a Carbon Trust report.

There are also growing markets for businesses to explore. For instance, demand in the UK for low-carbon goods will grow by £5 billion (around US$8.4 billion) a year to £140 billion (US$236 billion) by 2015, according to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

Sustainable business is big business

Companies that crack the code of sustainable business will become the icons of 21st-century capitalism, according to emeritus professor Stuart Hall of Cornell University – a big claim for big business, and a huge incentive for anyone thinking of embarking along this path.

Furthermore, Michigan University Professor Andrew Hoffman has compared sustainable business to the Renaissance, in terms of its impact on society.

Arno Kourula, assistant professor at University of Amsterdam Business School, agrees: “Certainly, a rethinking is in order at all levels – individual responsibility, organization culture and societal systems.”

“Some foundations will prevail, but much of the old thinking should be thrown in the garbage bin.”

Internationally, governments have been working to influence the shape of sustainable business. Accordingly Arno thinks it’s time to change the consensus: “Government definitely has an important role to play in sustainability and we need to move beyond negative ‘government sucks’ thinking in business schools.”

“While government can build so-called win-win partnerships with businesses, there are also many ‘win-lose’ and ‘lose-lose’ cases. In our MBA program, we aim to learn from all types of cases. However, based on hundreds of studies, we know that it can pay to be green and good.”

An MBA program that teaches tomorrow’s sustainability today

An MBA program should highlight a shift from organizational responsibility to understanding the roles of different actors in systemic sustainability, according to Arno. He also suggests businesses need to go beyond simply measuring activities, and instead integrate the measurement of outcomes into a constant loop of feedback and learning.

“In addition, we need further stakeholder engagement and partnerships as well as giving a voice to those who have not had one before. We tend to look for one-size-fits-all, silver bullet answers – but the future will focus on contextual and often bottom-up solutions.

“An MBA program should incorporate these changes in creating a new style of leadership based on the knowledge of key ideas, approaches and tools. It should impart an understanding and appreciation for both the public and private sector, and the for-profit and non-profit – providing the necessary leadership skills to tackle the tough challenges of today and tomorrow,” he adds.

“Pick an MBA program that is offered by a business school with a strong sustainability track record. For instance, Amsterdam Business School is a global hub for research on business and sustainability issues.”

Five tips to find a sustainable MBA program

Finding the right MBA to nurture sustainable business leadership skills is vital for those who want to make the most of sustainable business opportunities as well as safeguard the planet. Arno offers five tips to consider when looking for a sustainable business MBA program:

  1. Pick a school with a record of sustainability

Currently, more than 30 researchers at ABS are experts in sustainability, with topics ranging from renewable energy to green campaigns using social media. “Sustainability is a large part of the values and culture of the entire University of Amsterdam,” he adds.

  1. Cultivate ethics

MBA candidates should target a program that integrates ethics, responsibility and sustainability in all its teaching, according to Arno. “ABS has an elective business and sustainability course and integrity workshops for all MBAs, and we aim to integrate ethics and sustainability into the topic areas of all core courses.”

  1. Intrinsic company ties

Arno advises potential MBA candidates to choose a program that works in close cooperation with companies. “The Amsterdam Business School MBA includes numerous case studies, visiting executive speakers and events, company projects and a common trip to a destination, such as South Africa or China, to learn about local sustainability challenges,” he adds.

  1. Accreditation and inter-university relations

“Your MBA program choice should have various international linkages, such as strong research and teaching ties with universities around the world, accreditations and official ties to initiatives such as the United Nations Principles for Responsible Management Education (UN PRME), Academy of Business in Society (ABIS) and Network for Business Sustainability (NBS),” says Arno.

  1. Pick the right location – for business and sustainability

Amsterdam is home to the oldest stock exchange in the world – the Amsterdam Stock Index (AEX) – and several international headquarters.

In addition to its business connections, Amsterdam is world-renowned for its liberal philosophy and is a popular destination for travellers from across the globe.

The city has grown its own sustainable green roots by discouraging cars and becoming synonymous with the bicycle – something that has become virtually the compulsory mode of transport.

Amsterdam’s name derives from its humble origins – being a dam for the River Amstel. Blossoming from a small fishing village in the 12th century, the Dutch capital has become one of the world’s major financial and business locations.

This article is sponsored by Amsterdam Business School.

This article was originally published in May 2016 . It was last updated in June 2019

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Written by

Mansoor is a contributor to and former editor of He is a higher and business education specialist, who has been published in media outlets around the world. He studied English literature at BA and MA level and has a background in consumer journalism.


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