Environmentally conscious M.B.A. students are increasingly looking for more from their education than a patina of financial acumen and a degree that will ratchet up their income. These students have adopted the goal of sustainability; that is, conducting business in a way that keeps the world in good physical shape for future generations.
Over the next decade, M.B.A. programs will increasingly offer courses that consider the social, environmental, and financial impact of every business decision—the "triple bottom line," says Paul Rowland, executive director of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.
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Gabriel Kauper is one of the new wave of students exploring how businesses can develop eco-friendly policies and products while still turning a profit. When researching M.B.A. programs, Kauper consulted the Washington-based Aspen Institute's "Beyond Grey Pinstripes" survey, which ranks b-schools that integrate environmental and social issues into their curricula. The George Washington University School of Business in the nation's capital ranked highly in the think tank's report.
Kauper, 28, from Virginia Beach, applied to GWU and was accepted to the class of 2012. When he took his first course in sustainability, he says, "it was like I had found my tribe—other students and professionals who shared my values."
In fact, Kauper's "tribe" has grown as universities have expanded their green offerings. Currently, a handful of business schools, like Dominican University of California in San Rafael and the Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco, feature programs where every course from marketing to accounting includes an environmental and social impact angle.
[Read more about sustainable M.B.A. programs.]
At Dominican, graduates can receive an M.B.A. in sustainable enterprise, which the school markets as a "GreenMBA." Other institutions are adding sustainability courses as electives or creating combo-degree programs. At the Stanford University Graduate School of Business in Palo Alto, Calif., for example, students can combine an M.B.A. from the business school with a master's in environment and resources from the School of Earth Sciences.
These environmentally enhanced degrees can lead to greater professional opportunities. Of course, nonprofits and federal agencies, like the Environmental Protection Agency, are always hiring. But private employers, including leading consultancies like Booz Allen Hamilton and large companies like Westinghouse and PepsiCo, are also recruiting.
Even graduates with an entrepreneurial bent are capitalizing. For example, in 2005, Atlanta native Jen Boulden, 37, used her M.B.A. in environmental management from GWU to cofound Ideal Bite, a free E-mail newsletter offering eco-friendly tips on how to make a difference in the world.
By 2008, the newsletter had amassed 500,000 subscribers, and Boulden was able to sell the company to Disney for $20 million. She credits her degree with convincing investors that "I was not just a Johnny-come-lately to the green business field. I was an expert."
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Erwann Michel-Kerjan, who teaches a class on environmental sustainability and value creation at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, cautions students that they can't just dream about the environment. They need to show the bottom-line profitability of business decisions to boards of directors. If you master "both sides of the equation, you are very powerful" in the market, he says.
Joel Makower, executive editor of Greenbiz.com, agrees, noting that many businesses still do not actively recruit green M.B.A.s. He suggests students develop critical business skills, like marketing or finance, or learn organizational development, to get hired. Once in the door, they can then find ways to apply their passion for the environment to their job.
Contributing Editor Kerry Hannon is the author of What's Next? Follow Your Passion and Find Your Dream Job (Chronicle Books).