Socially-Conscious MBA Students Aim to Avoid “The Trap”

Over the past couple of weeks, I have read a number of reviews of the new book, The Trap: Selling Out to Stay Afloat in Winner-Take-All America, by Daniel Brook. The most interesting of these was written by Astra Taylor on
I have not read the book, but Taylor offers a good summary and analysis of its key points. The Trap argues that 20-somethings are now being forced to choose between living by their ideals or making a living. Taylor observes that,

Brook’s primary point will be familiar: Compared with our parents at the same age, we’re working longer hours for less money, reduced job security, slashed benefits and fewer social services… Let your student loans fall into default, rent a cheap, dingy room, go without healthcare, plan on staying childless; that’s the price you pay for following your passion or adhering to your ethics.

Socially-conscious MBA students may beg to differ with Brook that the only options available to young workers today are to be a “sellout” or a “saint”. According to the recent Net Impact survey, “MBA Student Opinions on the Relationship Between Business and Social/Environmental Issues“, 79% of students say they will seek socially responsible employment at some point during their careers; 59% say they will do so immediately following business school.
But…will they find jobs to match these ideals? A Newsweek article posted yesterday reports that graduates of the class of 2007 are finding the job market is receptive to those who want to do good by the environment.

The Net Impact study also reports that:

In terms of general perspectives on business, 81% of students surveyed believe companies should try to work toward the betterment of society, while 18% think most companies are pursuing that goal currently. Nine out of ten respondents say that business leaders should factor social and environmental effects into their business decisions, with 60% believing that this approach can be profitable…Across all demographics, the majority of students tells us that social and environmental issues should be important considerations for business schools, career goals, and the private sector in general. In terms of their MBA education, 78% of those surveyed agree that corporate social responsibility is a topic that should be integrated into core curriculum classes at MBA programs.

The Social Enterprise Reporter offers a brief overview of some of the best MBA schools for social enterprise. San Francisco lawyer Todd Johnson, quoted in a recent NY Times article, confirms that, “Young M.B.A. students are not satisfied with going to work for a normal corporation because they are passionate to do good in the world and do it in business. People of faith want exactly the same thing, and there is a whole generation of people who’ve become extraordinarily wealthy as a result of the technological revolution and are now asking themselves if they can create change in the world.”
Will socially-responsible entrepreneurs have to be content with living a saintly pauper’s existence? The financial success of green and socially-responsible companies like Clif Bar, Patagonia, Seventh Generation and others would seem to indicate that there may be a way to sidestep the saint vs. sellout dilemma. Hundreds of graduating MBA students may soon help to forge a path between these two limiting options.

4 responses

  1. As a graduate of a MBA program, I think that this post and the Newsweek article paint a far rosier picture than reality.
    Sure, there are more green jobs than ever before. I see them inside the major Fortune 50 company in which I work, I see them in my local community, I see them at major green companies like Patagonia. This is definitely positive news, especially as compared to five years ago, when the number of jobs was far fewer.
    But the number of applicants far exceeds the number of positions available for them. Patagonia has over 700 applications for each job that they open. Several recent sustainability jobs in Portland, Oregon each had several hundred applications.
    More than 99% of applicants are not getting the jobs they want. What about the less than 1% that do? Are they able to live by their ideals and make a living? Hardly.
    A recent sustainability job at a for-profit financial company for a data analyst paid less than $15 per hour – less than $30K per year. You won’t be eating a lot of organic food or wearing much sustainably made clothing at those kinds of wages. A comparable job at a Fortune 500 company would probably pay $80K to $100K. So living by your ideals does have a cost – about $50K to $70K per year.
    I agree that the job market for sustainability jobs is improving, especially as compared to five years ago. But even with a green MBA, it is still far more difficult to find a green job than a non-green job, and far more difficult to achieve income parity.

  2. Great post – and proper comment William, but I think the real positive is that just with other refining moments in business (IT, mobile tech, heck even emotional intelligence) a demand is being created not only within the job pool, but by consumers (and smart companies). The current state of affairs will only get better if we continue to raise the conversation and thus increase the demand.

  3. Baby steps. When I graduated form an MBA program 5 years ago, not one person mentioned the concept of sustainability. So I’d say it has come a long way. If all fails, start your own green business, after all one does have to pay $80K for an MBA degree which hopefully provides some green ROI.

  4. I found this article from searching ‘socially conscious’, trying to define it. In the manner I experienced tonight, it most closely meant vegan or vegetarian lifestyle.
    This was new to me, as is a socially conscious MBA, because I normally think of socially more like environmental ‘green’ sustainable architecture. They all mean the same thing to architecture. Some people do it, some don’t. I want to because it is the future. We have to be more conscious of our effects, respectful.
    But I can’t seem to get a job in an architecture firm that LEED certifies buildings or puts green roofs on them. A recent option was with a local non-profit

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