World’s Biggest Challenge: ‘Ignorance in the Face of Change’ – Paul Hawken

Paul Hawken
Paul Hawken

What is the biggest challenge the world faces today? “It has never varied for thousands of years: ignorance in the face of change.”

When I was looking around for an MBA program about five years ago, it seemed that people were waking up to the fact that the world of business needed to change.

Given the context of climate change, resource depletion, unraveling financial markets and a rapidly expanding global population, “business as usual” seemed like a poor option. Back then, Presidio Graduate School’s MBA in Sustainable Management was the only program that seemed to recognize the need for a new paradigm; both for business and business education. The world needed a sustainable approach, and Presidio touted a program offering, “pragmatic solutions” – I was in.

The quote at the top of this piece came to me via e-mail last week from Paul Hawken, world renowned environmentalist, entrepreneur and author. Hawken, of course, recognized the need to change the way we do business decades ago. He’s founded several companies based on the principles of sustainability, written four books on the subject that have reached the bestseller list – and was voted the number one author on business and the environment by professors in 67 business schools. He’s consulted with countless organizations, appeared on TV and radio, while his writings have graced the pages of the Harvard Business Review, the Boston Globe, and Christian Science Monitor among many others.

On the first of this month, Paul Hawken joined the faculty at Presidio Graduate School; talk about bringing on board someone who knows a thing or two about pragmatic solutions!

Hawken’s addition to the faculty marks a milestone in Presidio’s somewhat brief but rapidly evolving history. Founded in 2003, Presidio set out to redefine how MBA programs should be run, by teaching traditional core MBA subjects but infusing each one with the principles of sustainability; an integrated approach that was unique and indeed radical a decade ago.

Even today, while many established business schools offer elective programs in sustainability, environmentalism, or corporate social responsibility, Presidio remains one of the few that teaches all subjects through the lens of sustainability; no matter whether students are studying economics, accounting or finance.

But rather than marketing Presidio as a “green MBA,” which would have established merely a niche program, the school pursued a bolder mission altogether; to create a new vanguard for business education in general. This was formed around a core founding belief that has remained true; business is not at odds with sustainability principles, rather, when business integrates them, it can be the most potent vehicle for effecting necessary change in the world. Presidio’s addition of the MPA program several years later was an evolution which recognized that public policy, in tandem with business, would enhance the school’s educational offering towards effecting real change leadership.

Presidio’s integrated approach to sustainability and business meshes with Hawken’s own point of view, he told me, “Sustainability is not an appendage to business, something that can be added to the mix. It is a systems approach to life, society, and civilization, which requires each person to choose the techniques and means to express it. That can mean the public sector or private. It can mean a co-op or a corporation. It can be a network or a community. It can be a farm or a factory.”

Such powerful insights from Presidio’s faculty are part of the tradition. From the school’s inception, the school augmented its credentials by counting globally renowned sustainability thought leaders among its ranks. Notable among these was founding faculty member, Hunter Lovins, who helped elevate the profile of Presidio by tirelessly promoting the school at her numerous speaking engagements around the world. From an original cohort of 22 students, today there are 250 current students and alumni numbering over 500 sustainability professionals.

Since Lovins’ departure several years ago, the school continued with its original mission but the announcement of Paul Hawken’s arrival signifies the restoration of a high profile, and globally recognized, sustainability business leader to the school. His appointment will no doubt prove to be an invaluable asset in keeping Presidio at the forefront of sustainable business education; especially as the school pursues ambitious plans for growth over the coming years, amid increasing competition from established business schools.

Compared with the competition, however, Hawken recognizes the advantage Presidio has in setting itself apart from the pack, “What is needed in the world today are informed, caring, literate people who will engage in commerce in order to restore life on earth — its oceans, lands, forests, climate, and biodiversity. To do this requires an education that is beyond the drumbeats of conventional business schools with case studies of growth, sales and market penetration.”

But as important as this prescription, is the enthusiasm he will clearly bring with him when he starts teaching at Presidio, “The magic of the school is the faculty/student combination; the school attracts extraordinary people who want to create a meaningful life. To be able to teach in that environment is an honor.”

I look forward to the next chapter in the school’s history.

Image Credit: Axiom News

Phil Covington holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School. In the past, he spent 16 years in the freight transportation and logistics industry. Today, Phil's writing focuses on transportation, forestry, technology and matters of sustainability in business.

4 responses

    1. GL, thanks. Presidio is indeed a sponsor of 3p, however this article was written outside any advertising deal to coincide with the school’s announcement because we’re excited about the subject – as alums of the school, and as sustainable business people.

  1. I love Paul and the Presidio MBA Program, but what about Bainbridge Graduate Institute and the other deeply ethical MBA programs? Shouldn’t sustainability-oriented MBA programs be cooperating to maximize their impact instead of competing to win market share?

    1. Thanks Tom. I agree. We’re working with more than a half dozen MBA programs right now on various projects (some involving advertising, some not). We’re proud of what all these schools, and many others are doing.

      As far as competing for market share, I’d like to think the case of ethical MBA programs represents a form of “co-opetition” and not just traditional competition. I’ve personally seen lots of cross pollination between Bainbridge, Presidio, Haas, and other schools among both students and faculty.

      Anyway, I can’t speak for any school, but from our perspective we’re eager to work with anyone furthering an ethical and sustainable business education.

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