How Green Is Your School? ; Management Courses Teaching Sustainability, in and outside of Class

Article excerpt

A growing number of graduate-level management courses are teaching sustainability, in and out of the classroom.

One of the reasons that Layla El Zein, a successful telecommunications engineer in Lebanon, decided to go to business school was that she was interested in turning her charity work into a full-time job.

"I felt that I had much more to give than volunteering," she said. She chose the Rotterdam School of Management at Erasmus University partly because of its M.B.A. program's focus on sustainability. "Their sustainability initiatives are really clear and tough, and they prioritize it," she said.

As a student in the program, she was able to secure an internship with Oxfam in the Netherlands, where she is working to test the feasibility of impact investment.

Whether because of increased student demand or new hiring strategies among employers, business schools are paying greater attention to environmental issues. And while they are integrating sustainability into their curriculums, experts debate how these topics should be best taught, both inside and outside the classroom.

"There are a growing number of programs that say that they train students in sustainability," said Nancy McGaw, deputy director of the Business and Society Program at the Aspen Institute, which until recently published a comprehensive MBA ranking focused on social and environmental impact

The ranking, which Aspen stopped compiling in March, listed the top five as Stanford; York University, in Toronto; IE University, in Madrid; Notre Dame, in Indiana; and Yale. Rotterdam was No.19.

The China Europe International Business School, also known as Ceibs, has been formally integrating sustainability into its curriculum since 2009. Before that, the subject played a part in student extracurriculars, said Lydia Price, a professor of marketing at the school. The curriculum is designed to educate students on the problems faced by business and society.

"We introduce them to some of the problems China has with water and air," Dr. Price said by telephone. "The first goal is to raise awareness."

Teaching practical skills is just as important as awareness, she said, adding that "even if they are aware and well-intentioned, they can end up making decisions that end up hurting the environment."

Ms. El Zein, the Rotterdam student, worries that while sustainability is taught in the classroom, it is not taken as seriously in the real workplace. "Not enough is being done about it after business school," she said.

An awareness of sustainability issues is important for all businesses students, regardless of their field, said Maryke Luijendijk-Steenkamp, M.B.A. marketing and admissions director for the Rotterdam School of Management.

"Even students who are looking at hard-core finance, increasingly they need a business degree that is reflective of the global business landscape," she said.

As part of an optional course, the school takes students to the Bergplaas farm in South Africa, where they spend a week learning about sustainable business.

A problem in teaching sustainability is defining the subject, said Ms. …