How Green Is Your School?

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THE HAGUE -- One of the reasons that Layla El Zein, a successful telecommunications engineer in Lebanon, decided to go to business school was that she was interested in turning her charity work into a full-time job.

"I felt that I had much more to give than volunteering," she said. She chose the Rotterdam School of Management at Erasmus University partly because of its M.B.A. program's focus on sustainability. "Their sustainability initiatives are really clear and tough, and they prioritize it," she said.

As a student in the program, she was able to secure an internship with Oxfam in the Netherlands, where she is working to test the feasibility of impact investment.

Whether because of increased student demand or new hiring strategies among employers, business schools are paying greater attention to environmental issues. And while they are integrating sustainability into their curriculums, experts debate how these topics should be best taught, both inside and outside the classroom.

"There are a growing number of programs that say that they train students in sustainability," said Nancy McGaw, deputy director of the Business and Society Program at the Aspen Institute, which until recently published a comprehensive MBA ranking focused on social and environmental impact

The ranking, which Aspen stopped compiling in March, listed the top five as Stanford; York University, in Toronto; IE University, in Madrid; Notre Dame, in Indiana; and Yale. Rotterdam was No.19.

The China Europe International Business School, also known as Ceibs, has been formally integrating sustainability into its curriculum since 2009. Before that, the subject played a part in student extracurriculars, said Lydia Price, a professor of marketing at the school. The curriculum is designed to educate students on the problems faced by business and society.

"We introduce them to some of the problems China has with water and air," Dr. Price said by telephone. "The first goal is to raise awareness."

Teaching practical skills is just as important as awareness, she said, adding that "even if they are aware and well-intentioned, they can end up making decisions that end up hurting the environment."

Ms. El Zein, the Rotterdam student, worries that while sustainability is taught in the classroom, it is not taken as seriously in the real workplace. "Not enough is being done about it after business school," she said.

An awareness of sustainability issues is important for all businesses students, regardless of their field, said Maryke Luijendijk-Steenkamp, M.B.A. marketing and admissions director for the Rotterdam School of Management.

"Even students who are looking at hard-core finance, increasingly they need a business degree that is reflective of the global business landscape," she said.

As part of an optional course, the school takes students to the Bergplaas farm in South Africa, where they spend a week learning about sustainable business.

A problem in teaching sustainability is defining the subject, said Ms. McGaw, whose work at the Aspen Institute includes questions of social, ethical and environmental sustainability.

"How do you figure out where to make decisions that will contribute to the long-term value for all stakeholders?" she said, emphasizing that the stakeholders affected by companies' actions are not only the stockholders.

Although the Aspen Institute has suspended the Beyond Grey Pinstripes ranking, it is maintaining the database of sustainable-business schools.

Ms. McGaw worries about keeping the same level of standards across programs. "How can we be sure that students are getting consistency across their curriculum?" she asked.

Mike Peirce, deputy director at the University of Cambridge Program for Sustainable Leadership, says that despite recent progress, much needs to be done.

"There is quite a long way to go for business schools in general to think about how to integrate in sustainability in M.B.A.'s," Mr. Peirce said.

Mr. Peirce -- whose Cambridge program offers several short-term sustainability leadership courses and a two-year part-time Master of Studies in Sustainable Leadership for senior executives -- said much of the new thinking was aided by the networks formed when businesspeople were given the space to connect in unconventional ways.

"There are still limits in any educational model," he said, "but that doesn't mean you can't take something away from them."

Business schools can show their dedication to the subject by signing the Principles for Responsible Management Education, a U.N.-backed initiative that promotes corporate responsibility and sustainable-business education.

Various rankings, classifications and databases measure how much sustainability education business schools offer, both inside and outside of class.

Student applicants are also a driving force behind the change.

Net Impact is a sustainable-business networking group that was founded 20 years ago by business school students. In the past five years, the program has increased its student chapters by 70 percent. The group, which grades business schools on their sustainability performance, is now a presence on more than 250 campuses worldwide.

According to a study carried out by Net Impact last year, 65 percent of students hope to make a social or environmental impact through their job.

There are other rewards for students with sound sustainability credentials on their records. At the Shanghai business school, for example, one group of students decided to make their campus carbon-neutral as part of a course project.

They commissioned pilot studies to assess the campus's carbon footprint. Plans to replace inefficient air conditioners and retrofit windows to deflect sunlight were put into action. Money was also raised to plant seedlings in Mongolia to offset the carbon pollution that could not be eliminated.

For this project, the students received a prize in 2011 from the Graduate Business Forum, a global network of current and former student leaders from the world's top graduate business programs.

education

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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