When I took graduate business courses nearly 20 years ago, the word "sustainability" wasn't found in college curriculums. Times have changed--a lot.
Over the last couple of years, universities across the country have been adding courses that consider sustainability, which basically looks at how businesses, governments and individuals can make responsible social and environmental choices that will result in a flourishing economy. Schools may see the need for students to learn about sustainability because more corporations are examining their policies and performance on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, and because more jobs are being created that involve clean energy. Ongoing discussions around the world about how to limit climate change most likely are sparking some schools to offer classes that encourage students to think about what can be done to address such problems.
Surely a major contributor to this trend is that more students are interested in the concept of sustainability than they were a decade ago. In a survey of MBA students released in March, 88% said they think the for-profit sector should play a role in addressing social and environmental issues and 77% said that being responsible leads to corporate profits. Ninety percent blame a focus on short-term results as a contributing factor to the global financial crisis. The study was done by the Aspen Institute Center for Business Education and the global nonprofit Net Impact.
An example of a graduate school that offers courses that consider sustainability is Columbia Business School in New York. Among its MBA courses is one on carbon finance, taught by Bruce Usher, CEO of EcoSecurities Group, one of the world's leading companies in the business of originating, developing and trading carbon credits. Another course looks at private equity and entrepreneurship in Africa. Yet another class, "The Business Of Sustainability," explores the "green/sustainability industry" and requires students to focus on a real-world "green" project.
Last year students at the school formed the Green Business Club, which now includes about 200 members, says its president, Nathaniel McMurry, a second-year graduate student. The club's goals include educating members on economic, social and environmental considerations and how they affect businesses; connecting students with potential employers; and advocating and following sustainable practices, such as recycling, on campus.
McMurry notes Columbia Business School's program stresses "bridging theory and practice," and it also encourages students to work on real-world projects that foster sustainability. Through a student-run consulting program called Pangea Advisors, McMurry worked in Nigeria to help residents in a rural village develop a business plan for a school and a solar power system that would generate electricity for it. He currently is involved in a project with the New York City Economic Development Corporation to help it integrate "green" standards into its real estate projects.
As part of its efforts, the Green Business Club brings events to campus that relate to sustainability. In October, the club is helping organize the school's Social Enterprise Conference 2009 on the 9th, and is sponsoring a lunch on the 13th during which Cary Krosinsky will share his views on sustainable investing. Krosinsky co-edited the book Sustainable Investing: The Art of Long-Term Performance and is a vice president of Trucost Inc., a leading environmental database firm.
And just last month at Columbia Business School, a new alumni group, the Sustainable Business Committee, was organized to help former students "stay current with emerging green trends and put their careers on a sustainable path."
Columbia's program is encouraging, and I'd like to hear about what other universities are offering when it comes to sustainability investing. Feel free to post a comment to this blog or send me an e-mail about your efforts.