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Social Impact or 'Green' MBA Programs Measure Success Differently

The recent financial crisis has prompted MBA students to re-examine their lives and careers. Many have opted to use their degrees to better society and the environment by embarking on green careers, non-profit management, and sustainability investing. Non-profit organizations, business schools, the government, and an increasing number of companies are putting in place programs to facilitate the shift into social impact management.

Nonprofits are highlighting "social impact" MBA programs and placing MBA students in major companies to conduct energy-saving projects. Governments are investing in wind farms, solar panels, and electric cars. Management consultants are advising non-profits, while investors are betting on sustainable companies.

In the Financial Times, John Fernandes, president of The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, which accredits MBA programs, confirms that today's MBA students are more environmentally and socially conscious. "To many of these students the measure of success is not income, it's more holistic," Fernandes says.

"Social Impact" MBA Programs

There are several ways to obtain the education and skills needed to enable successful social impact initiatives. The Aspen Institute ranks 149 MBA programs in 24 countries that encourage students to tackle social, environmental, and ethical issues. Listed on Beyond Grey Pinstripes, top ranked "social impact" MBA programs include:

  • York University, Canada (No. 1 overall and among international schools)
  • The University of Michigan (No. 1 in the United States)
  • The Yale School of Management (No.1 in the use of "social impact" coursework)
  • York University (No.1 in the publication of 'social impact' faculty research)
  • Simmons School of Management, Boston (No. 1 among small schools)

Net Impact--the leading network of business professionals and students focused on achieving global sustainability--also publishes an MBA program guide known as Business as UNusual. To compile the latest guide, Net Impact identified the commitment to corporate responsibility, sustainability, and social entrepreneurship of 95 MBA programs through information received from 3,000 students on business school curricula, activities, career services, alumni and administrative support.

Dual degrees, certificates, continuing education courses, and business simulations, addressing social impact management, are available, as well.

Yale University, the University of Michigan and Duquesne University offer dual MBA and environmental/sustainability degrees, while at the City University of Seattle students may obtain graduate certificates in sustainable business with their MBA degrees. Enrollment in environmental courses at Harvard's extension school has soared 70 percent in two years, according to The New York Times, while at the University of California, Berkeley the number of sustainability courses has gone from five to 60 and the amount of students from 55 to 400 in three years.

The Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of technology, meanwhile, has incorporated a simulator in its business strategy course that allows students to manage a mock version of Silicon Valley's SunPower Corporation. The MBA students could report profit and green gas emissions avoided through solar panel installation.

"Social Impact" MBA Careers

For those interested in green careers, the Environmental Defense Fund offers internship opportunities. In the summer of 2010, the nonprofit placed 51 MBA interns in major companies, where they identified opportunities to avoid 400,000 metric tons of pollution, while saving $350 million. At AT&T in Chicago, Jen Snook, an MBA student from Duke University, calculated that by installing occupancy sensors, the telecommunications company could reduce the use of electricity 80 percent.

An MBA student interested in sustainability investing may consider a firm, such as Zurich-based SAM, involved in the development of the Dow Jones sustainability Indexes. In SAM's site, Senior Portfolio Manager Diego D'Argenio describes investing in sustainability as "a more complete approach." When valuing companies, D'Argenio explains, you must consider environmental and social impact on company fundamentals. "If we didn't do that, we would miss an important part of information."

In 2000, management consulting firm Bain & Co. provided the seed money to open The Bridgespan Group. Nowadays, throngs of MBA students apply to the company focused on non-profit management consulting. A graduate of New York University's Stern School of Business, Cerrone Lundy works in Bridgespan's New York office. Among Lundy's projects, the Financial Times reports, have been improving the efficiency of an organization that works with inner-city kids and identifying entrepreneurs for an entity that specializes in microfinance. Lundy, who reportedly planned to return to advertising after completing his MBA, says he likes working at a non-profit. "I like knowing that what I do has a positive impact on the world."