10 Things to Consider When Searching for a Green MBA Program

studentsFor many people who dream about pursuing a career in sustainable business, getting a “green” MBA seems like the right thing to do to make their dream come true. With the growing number of green MBA programs, it seems like choosing one should be easy. But actually, with a greater number of options, the decision-making isn’t getting any easier.

But don’t worry! We’re here to help with 10 things to consider when beginning the search for the ultimate MBA program for you. We hope you find them useful.

1. Search for a program that fits the career path you want

While some might argue that item #6 should be the one to start with, I believe your first step should be to clarify to yourself what your areas of interests are and what you would like to do in 5 or 10 years. So, if you’re into marketing, and this is what you want to do, you should start by identifying schools that excel in marketing. Then you will be looking for the best green MBA programs among these schools.

2. Do a reality check

Now it’s time for a reality check – understanding what really happens in the green business world so you will know exactly what you’re getting into. For example, how many companies do you think added a full-time sustainability manager in 2012? I bet you would be surprised to hear that according to GreenBiz Group’s latest State of the Profession report, the answer is nine.

Now, while it doesn’t mean these figures won’t increase eventually, it’s good to familiarize yourself with the current state of the green market so there won’t be any surprises, whether it is the volume of corporate sustainability jobs, the number of VCs with interest in social entrepreneurship, or how many companies operate in the carbon market.

3. Look forward

If your reality check has left you a bit disappointed, and maybe caused you to start doubting the whole idea is worthwhile – stop right there. Don’t forget that revolutions take time and that you should also think 10-15 years ahead, because in many ways what you see in the job market reflects the past, not the future.

Confused? Let me explain. Let’s say your goal is to become the Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) of a large corporation. Rupert Davis, who heads a boutique search firm specializing solely on high-level sustainability leaders and sustainable business strategy, explains in the State of the Profession report that “a CSO needs to be a trusted internal partner to the C-suite and credibly speak the language of growth, financial opportunity, innovation, entrepreneurship and P&L. Yet, they also need to understand the issues and be credible in the stakeholder universe.”

“At that level of seniority within firms, it is hard to find someone who has all of that, because 20 years ago this wasn’t a defined career path or on the U.S. agenda. This will change in 10 years as the next crop of sustainable MBA talent comes through,” he adds.

4. Research, research, research

At this stage, you should have a rough idea what schools or programs might be a good fit with your general career goals. Now it’s time to check out what they offer from a green point of view. The best places to start are Net Impact’s Business as UNusual Guide and Beyond Grey Pinstripes’ MBA rankings.

Net Impact’s guide highlights over 100 business schools at the forefront of social and environmental innovation. For every school on the guide you can find information on the extent to which sustainability issues are integrated into the curriculum, information on green student activities, top program strengths, reasons to attend and even prominent alumni. Beyond Grey Pinstripes also offers valuable information on the 100 schools included in its rankings. You can find out if the MBA program ‘walk the talk’ of social and environmental impact, a list and description of relevant courses, activities outside the classroom and information on faculty research on green issues.

Don’t limit your research just to these and other guides. Try to talk with alumni and current students to get a better feel of these programs. Net Impact chapters can be of assistance to find ones.

5. Who is teaching?

Faculty is an important part of any learning experience and a green MBA is no different.  Therefore, take the time to check who the teachers are in the programs you’re interested in. You might want to ask how many faculty members have been actively engaged in CSR and sustainability related research? What are their main areas of research areas and expertise? What level of experience in sustainable management faculty members have? Can they assist with mentoring or career networking? You can also check the level of students’ satisfaction with the faculty emphasis on social and environmental themes in their program’s curriculum in the Net Impact guide.

6. Green MBA or MBA with some green focus?

With the growing number of green MBAs*, which MBA programs are integrating sustainability into every course and across the entire curriculum is becoming more relevant. The answer depends on a number of factors, from your level of green interest and what your career goals are, to the strengths of the green MBA programs you’re looking into in terms of curriculum, faculty, extracurricular activities, overall value and so on.

I would suggest creating your own rankings, deciding on the criteria and their relative weight based on the research you have done and comparing the options you find most suitable.

7. Don’t compromise on hands-on experience

Be sure to explore the professional development opportunities the programs offer, such as consulting projects or internships, because this might be one of the most valuable parts of your green business education.

8. Explore school collaborations with other schools or institutes

Collaborations in general are very important and can help students gain more learning and networking opportunities, so check carefully which partnerships the school has inside and outside the university. Try to avoid a school that doesn’t value collaborations.

9. Check where your role models studied

We mentioned that in most cases the people that are now in the positions you’d like to be in the future didn’t attend a green MBA program because there wasn’t one available when they were in school, there are some “young” areas like social entrepreneurship or the sharing economy where it would still be worthwhile checking where those leaders attended school. Do you know where the founders of Warby Parker, Recyclebank, TriplePundit or RelayRides studied?

10. Take it easy

Choosing the right green MBA is a challenging task and you should take it seriously, but at the same time, don’t worry too much. Whatever you’re going to achieve in life is about you, and while your education is part of it, it’s not necessarily the most important part, no matter which green MBA program you choose.

*Please note that throughout the article, we use green MBA as the term to describe MBA programs with all sorts of green focus. Only in item #6 do we use this term to describe only programs integrating sustainability into every course and across the entire curriculum.

[Image credit: oShane Global Language Centres, Flickr Creative Commons]

Raz Godelnik is the co-founder of Eco-Libris and an adjunct faculty at the University of Delaware’s Business School, CUNY SPS and the Parsons The New School for Design, teaching courses in green business, sustainable design and new product development. You can follow Raz on Twitter.

Raz Godelnik

Raz Godelnik is an Assistant Professor and the Co-Director of the MS in Strategic Design & Management program at Parsons School of Design in New York. Currently, his research projects focus on the impact of the sharing economy on traditional business, the sharing economy and cities’ resilience, the future of design thinking, and the integration of sustainability into Millennials’ lifestyles. Raz is the co-founder of two green startups – Hemper Jeans and Eco-Libris and holds an MBA from Tel Aviv University.

7 responses

  1. A “green” MBA program? an MBA program is all about “complete”. Being able to view the world in a complete manner. Be able to see the big picture. It is, afterall, the essence of general management. Saying “green” is like saying “I want to have a degree in accounting that focuses on the Assets part of the balance sheet” or “I want to have a degree in economics that looks only on the demand side”. Its a gimmick and nothing else. Every good MBA program should look at “green” as well as at black and red.

    1. I think that, until very recently, most MBA programs were anything but “complete”. There was very little in business education about environmental or social sustainability and what little there was would have been taught as an elective on the side. The point of “green” is exactly what you’re describing – completeness.

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