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
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
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. …