The Importance Of Teaching Impact Of Climate Change To MBAs

World's future business leaders show high demand for courses on the impact of climate change

With the Paris climate accord due to come into effect, now is seemingly a good time for business schools to look at their climate change curriculum. Climate change impacts businesses in many ways — higher raw material and transportation costs from flood and drought risk, for example.

The world’s future leaders are showing high demand for climate change courses — many of the companies they wish to work for are paying closer attention to their impact on the environment and society. One recent study found that many business school students would refuse a job at a company with poor environmental practices — no matter what the salary.  

Professor Mark Milstein is director of the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise at Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management. Below, he explains the importance of climate change on the business school syllabus.  

Q. Studies suggest many business school students would refuse a job at a company with poor environmental practices — no matter what the salary. Is student demand for climate change growing?

Today’s students arrive on campus very well educated about environmental and social issues, including climate change. They are also looking to have meaningful careers that address society’s biggest challenges, because that is where tomorrow’s business opportunities are going to be. For business students, climate change means growth opportunities for low carbon and unconventional energy companies. Concern about climate change is a way for students to identify companies that align with their values.

Q. Do you think employers want their recruits to understand the impact of climate change on their businesses? 

Companies want their employees to understand the impact of climate change on their business because that impact represents new business opportunities as well as costs. Reducing carbon emissions has become a key business goal – one that requires leaders throughout the organization.

Q. How is climate change affecting businesses? 

Climate change can impact a business indirectly through increased costs in the supply chain – higher raw material and transportation costs from risks associated with weather variability such as droughts and floods. Climate change can also impact a business directly by impacting the demand for a given company’s products and services. Demand for low carbon products and services puts downward pressure on demand for high carbon products and services.

Q. Is climate-change teaching strongest at university business schools, where management academics can collaborate with other departments? 

Private, standalone business schools can offer classes that may address climate change, but will lack the depth of knowledge that a campus with experts from numerous fields provides.

Q. With the Paris climate accord due to come into effect, is now a good time for business schools to be looking at their climate change curriculum? 

Climate change as a business topic has been building for nearly two decades. If a business school doesn’t cover climate change and its relationship to business, it is doing a disservice to its students because it is ignoring or overlooking what will be one of the most critical issues of their students’ lifetimes and careers.

The Paris agreement is unique in its approach: it allows countries to approach climate change mitigation and adaptation on terms that best fit a given country’s specific political, technical, social, cultural, and economic climate. Any business school that covers climate change and doesn’t help their students understand how the Paris Agreement is aligned with innovation in the private sector definitely needs to review its curriculum!

Q. How are you teaching your MBA students about this? 

At Cornell, we have multiple courses that cover climate change and business in a variety of ways – from issues of policy and compliance to how climate change presents unique opportunities through product, service, and business model innovation.

Our unique College of Business allows students to gain broad exposure to the issue, and to dive deeply into several areas of expertise - including economic policy, agriculture, hospitality, tourism, and general management.

Additionally, students have the option of taking more traditional, case-based courses that look at climate change and business; lecture courses in which leaders from the private, public, and non-profit sector discuss their approaches to climate change; and even experiential learning-based practicum courses in which students work closely with companies to develop strategies to real climate change-related challenges and business opportunities.

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