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Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

Top 10 Graduate Programs For Environmental Sustainability


Environmental sustainability is important in business. More and more consumers want the companies whose products they buy to be environmentally sustainable. A 2014 Nielsen survey found that 55 percent of global online consumers in 60 countries said they would pay more for products and services from companies committed to positive environmental and social impact.

And environmental sustainability can have an impact on stock performance, as a 2007 report by Goldman Sachs shows: The companies considered leaders in environmental, social and governance policies lead in stock performance by an average of 25 percent.

The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) provides numerous examples of how environmental sustainability benefits companies in its report titled, "The Business Case for the Green Economy.” Here are a few:

  • General Motors saved over $30 million in six years through its resource productivity program while reducing waste volume by 40 percent

  • Grupo Bimbo in Mexico saved about $700,000 and 338,400 cubic meters of water in three years through its water reduction program

  • General Electric’s sales of its Ecomagination products reached $18 billion in 2009

If environmental sustainability is important in business, then it should be important in business school programs, including graduate programs. Net Impact evaluated almost 100 programs and ranked them on their integration of social and environmental themes. Called the Business as UNusual (BAU) guide, it ranked 50 schools for environmental sustainability.

Here is a brief overview of the schools that made the top 10 list:

1. University of California, Santa Barbara, Bren School of Environmental Science and Management

Making the top spot is a school in sunny Santa Barbara, California. Bren School offers a two-year master of environmental science and management (MESM) degree. It features seven areas of specialization that include: corporate environmental management, coastal marine resources management, conservation planning, economics and politics of the environment, energy and climate, pollution prevention and remediation, and water resources management.

2. Presidio Graduate School

Located in San Francisco, the Presidio Graduate School (PGS) offers an MBA in Sustainable Management degree. The program’s curriculum is focused on three concepts: sustainable systems, sustainable leadership and business excellence.

One of the features of the program is applied learning. All students are required to do at least four intensive sustainability projects with companies, and since 2007, PGS students have completed more than 63,000 hours working with over 270 organizations, including Google. Every student completes the program by creating a venture plan for an original social enterprise.

3. Pinchot University, Bainbridge Graduate Institute

Pinchot University’s Bainbridge Graduate Institute in Seattle, Washington, offers students master’s degrees in two different formats. Both are great for busy, working adults.

The university offers an MBA in sustainable systems, which combines online classes with monthly learning intensives offered at its IslandWood campus on Bainbridge Island. And there is also the MBA in sustainable business, which features weekly classes at the Seattle campus. Pinchot graduates have a job placement rate of 82 percent three months after graduation.

4. University of Michigan, Ross School of Business

The Ross School of Business in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has been ranked No. 1 for leadership development for the last five years. Recently, the school was named No. 1 in both sustainability and entrepreneurship. 

BusinessWeek recognized Ross as the No. 1 school for sustainability and green business education in January 2013. Ross is also home to the renowned Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise.

5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sloan School of Management

MIT’s Sloan School of Management in Cambridge, Massachusetts, offers a sustainability certificate within its MBA program. It is designed so that it can work with other concentration areas. The goal of the sustainability certificate is to “build a community of innovators,” the program’s website proclaims.

6. Cornell University, Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management

Located in Ithaca, New York, Cornell’s Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management was ranked No. 2 for sustainable global enterprise, which both designs and manages Johnson’s sustainability curriculum.

One of the focuses of the curriculum is clean-technology commercialization and innovation. Students at Johnson are offered one-on-one coaching and mentorship that is customized and offered through a sustainability counselor at the central career center.

7. Yale University, Yale School of Management

Yale University’s Yale School of Management in New Haven, Connecticut, requires first-year students to take core courses that incorporate social and environmental themes. MBA students have the flexibility to take classes across Yale.

8. Bard College

Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, offers an MBA program that focuses on the business case for sustainability. In its fifth year, it offers a course called NYCLab, which is one of the key parts of its MBA in sustainability program. Students work in teams and participate in consultancies for businesses, government agencies and nonprofit organizations. The projects are eight months long.

9. Pepperdine University, Graziadio School of Business and Management

Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management in Malibu, California, offers a social, ethical, and environmental responsibility (SEER) certificate program as part of its MBA program. The SEER certificate program “prepares students to be future leaders in today’s sustainable business landscape,” according to BAU. Launched in fall 2010, the SEER Certificate was started and created by three students that were Net Impact members.

10. Duquesne University, Donahue Graduate School of Business

Launched in 2007, Duquesne University’s Donahue Graduate School of Business in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has been ranked among the Global Top 25 by the Aspen Institute. Corporate Knights ranked the program in 2013 as No. 1 in the U.S. and eighth in the world for integrating sustainability.

Image credit: Flickr/William Murphy

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

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