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New Business School Sustainably Programs Push Social Impact

Imperial College course launch marks focus by schools on developing students to lead climate change and sustainability initiatives.

By  Seb Murray

Tue Jul 28 2015

The launch by Imperial College Business School this month of a master’s program focused on climate change underscores the drive by academic institutions to produce leaders who can make a difference in society.

The MSc in Climate Change, Management & Finance will equip managers with the skills to develop environmentally sustainable companies and to tackle the business challenges caused by climate change.

It follows major sustainability initiatives launched recently by business schools INSEAD and NYU Stern.

“The program will help to build a new generation of business leaders who possess the innovative mind-set and expertise to come up with solutions to real world problems,” said Professor G Anandalingam, dean of Imperial College Business School.

Businesses are increasingly concerned about the practical challenges posed by a changing climate, as well as the need to reduce their carbon footprint and develop more sustainable ways of operating.

Imperial’s program aims to open the doors to a wide range of careers in areas such as carbon finance, risk management, sustainability consulting, energy and green technology.

“Climate change is a global threat and businesses need to respond to that. But moving to a low-carbon economy also creates opportunities,” said Professor Anandalingam.

This represents a shift in the career aspirations of MBA graduates. “Graduates are looking for meaningful careers — not just jobs in which they merely get a paycheck,” said Jennifer Griffin, professor in the Public Policy Department at GWU School of Business.

There is a need for specialist training programs because creating sustainable operating models is challenging for businesses, which must balance short-term goals.

“Business schools have a pivotal role to play in promoting sustainable business practices,” said Frank Wijen of Sustainable RSM, the sustainability initiative at Rotterdam School of Management.

Tima Bansal, Canada research chair in business sustainability at Ivey Business School, said: “Business schools are educating tomorrow’s business leaders, and sustainability must be part of that future.”

Imperial’s launch rides the coattails of a global climate change push by business and government.  

A ground-breaking United Nations climate change deal is being ironed out by the world’s major economies, and more than 1,000 firms including BlackRock, BHP Billiton and British Airways have backed a carbon tax.

Career opportunities may abound, particularly in the areas of green technology and renewables.

Renewables are now cost competitive with hydrocarbon fuels, and investment is on the rise. “We are starting to get a level playing field in terms of competition between fossil fuel and renewable energy prices,” said David Elmes, head of the Global Energy MBA at Warwick Business School.

Sustainability is also a growing focus for supply chain managers.

Kevin Lyons at the Rutgers Business School Department of Supply Chain Management, said: “Sustainability is now becoming part of an effective business strategy that can reduce risk, improve and enhance innovation, resilience, as well as the financial bottom line.”

In the past few years, several business schools have launched specialist MBA concentrations and programs focused on sustainability, including Boston and Brunel Universities and Penn State Smeal.

In June, INSEAD launched the Leading the Business of Sustainability Program, aimed at helping senior executives better understand the environmental and social paradigms of business.

Just a few days later, NYU Stern announced it signed up the president of the Rainforest Alliance, Tensie Whelan, to lead the Center for Sustainable Business, set to open in January 2016.

NYU Stern’s centre joins the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise at Michigan Ross, and the Center for Sustainable Enterprise at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School.