Is a Green MBA Right for You?

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Three years ago, Kate Drane was living in Chicago, working at a law firm as a recruiter and environmental initiatives coordinator.

“I was passionate [about sustainability], but I wasn’t educated enough about it,” Drane says.

While attending a graduate school fair, she happened to stop at the booth for San Francisco’s Presidio Graduate School and learned about their MBA in Sustainable Management, a business degree integrated with environmental principles. Realizing this program was exactly what she needed to help her become a more effective sustainability leader, she applied to the school, and within a few months, moved to California to start her “green MBA.”

Now Drane, who graduated from the Presidio last year, is launching a green business venture with four of her fellow Presidio alums: The Can Van, a mobile beer canning service that aims to bring Bay Area craft beers to a wider audience, while reducing the beverage’s environmental impacts.

Drane is part of a growing number of professionals who pursue a Masters in Business Administration to advance their sustainability careers and hone their skills for implementing environmental programs. Many of these eco-minded individuals are turning to dedicated green MBA programs like the Presidio’s degree or traditional MBAs that offer a strong sustainability or corporate responsibility focus.

The list of dedicated green MBA programs has grown over the last few years – from the Presidio’s program to the Bainbridge Graduate Institute’s MBA in Sustainable Business and Colorado State University’s MBA in Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise. But the number of traditional MBA programs that offer sustainability-related curricula is also on the rise, according to Maggie Davies, deputy director of Net Impact, a network of business professionals and students who want to harness the power of the private sector to achieve global sustainability.

The organization, which publishes an annual guide profiling MBA programs’ commitment to sustainability and corporate responsibility, has seen a 171 percent increase in the number of traditional MBA programs offering sustainability coursework in the five years they’ve published the “Business as UNusual” guide, Davies said.

Green MBAs vs. traditional MBAs: What’s the difference?

So what’s the difference between a dedicated sustainable MBA program and a conventional MBA with a sustainability concentration?

While every degree is different, Jennifer Taylor, chief operations officer at the Presidio Graduate School, sums up the distinction when describing her school’s MBA in Sustainable Management.

“We’re not offering an MBA program with a sustainability concentration. We’re offering an MBA with sustainability woven throughout the entire curriculum – from beginning to end,” she says.

Though Presidio students take classes that sound like they came from the standard MBA course book – Managerial Accounting and Micro- and Macroeconomics – students learn how these topics relate to environmental and social responsibility during their lessons.

More particular to Presidio’s program, the school emphasizes hands-on, experiential learning and requires students to complete four consulting projects during their time at the school. Students are paired with either a company or nonprofit and apply their sustainability and business expertise to real-life projects in the areas of operations, marketing, finance and strategy.

Presidio also offers a dual MBA/Masters in Public Administration (MPA) in Sustainable Management to students interested in both the public and private sectors.

READ: Degrees in Sustainability: Risky or Worth It?

Across the San Francisco Bay, UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business is an example of a top-notch business school that offers coursework and projects in sustainability and corporate responsibility rather than a dedicated green MBA.

“[Students] can tailor their coursework to focus on corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability,” says Jo Mackness, executive director of Haas’ Center for Responsible Business. “They have to take Haas’ core classes, but they can place an emphasis on CSR and sustainability.”

In the Center’s popular Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility and Projects class, teams of students work directly with major firms like Hewlett-Packard, Levi Strauss & Co. and Wells Fargo to address real-life pressing business issues and to plan and implement CSR projects.

Haas also gives its students opportunities to partner with small businesses and budding entrepreneurs at the school’s Lester Center for Entrepreneurship. Through the Center’s Clean Tech to Market program, business students build out the strategy to take the new clean technology, developed at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, to the marketplace.

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