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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : May/Jun 2004 : Special Section

Special Section

Making The Grade
More than 100,000 students are pursuing an MBA degree at
colleges and universities across the country. How well are these students being taught the skills that will prepare them for the challenges they are destined to face in the future? A new report—and some students themselves—weigh in on the changing nature and value of today’s business schools.

Special Section

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What schools and faculty are at the forefront of incorporating social and environmental stewardship issues into the fabric of their MBA programs? That was the question answered in a report released last October by The Aspen Institute and the World Resources Institute (WRI), which challenged business schools to better arm graduate business students with skills critical for effective leadership in a changing world.

The report, Beyond Grey Pinstripes 2003: Preparing MBAs for Social and Environmental Stewardship, highlights six cutting-edge schools preparing future executives with a solid training in environmental and social impact management. The report includes data reported from 100 business schools in 20 countries.

“ We’ve seen positive change this year and a lot of innovation taking place in selected schools,” said Judith Samuelson, executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Business and Society Program (Aspen BSP). “But the reality is too many MBA students still graduate without an understanding of social impact and environmental management.”

Recognized in Beyond Grey Pinstripes 2003 as schools with cutting-edge MBA programs are:

• George Washington University’s School of Business and Public Management, Washington, DC
• University of Michigan Business School, Ann Arbor, MI
• University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School, Chapel Hill, NC
• Stanford Graduate School of Business, Stanford, CA
• Yale School of Management, New Haven, CT
• York University’s Schulich School of Business, Toronto, Canada

According to the report, these schools are setting a high standard and are among the few schools that focus on the relationship of social, environmental and financial factors.

“ Cutting-edge programs like these are producing leaders who can change tomorrow’s business landscape,” said Jonathan Lash, president of WRI. “But a gap remains between the skills that are taught today and the challenges business will face tomorrow.”

On average, these six schools offer four times as many courses with this type of content as other schools that participated in the survey. In addition, they report an extensive array of extracurricular activities and have faculty who conduct research on social and environmental topics.

Specifically, Beyond Grey Pinstripes examined what happens inside and outside the classroom and at the content of faculty’s academic research.


1. Compared to the previous survey, the number of core courses with social and environmental content increased, but the improvement is marginal. Infusion of environmental and social impact management into the core curriculum—those courses required of all MBA students—is critical because it ensures that each student examines those issues before graduating.

A higher percentage of schools (45 percent in 2003 versus 34 percent in 2001) require one or more courses in ethics, corporate social responsibility, sustainability or business and society. Integration of social and environmental topics into other required courses—such as accounting, economics, finance, information technology, marketing, operations and strategy—remains limited.

Of the core courses offered by the 100 surveyed schools, only a handful of accounting, economics, marketing, operations and information technology classes incorporate content on social impact and/or environmental management.

2. Experimentation through electives is on the rise. Over 950 elective courses with social and environmental content were reported in the 2003 survey, an increase of nearly 70 percent over the number of qualifying courses reported in the previous survey. This trend bodes well for the future content of core courses; experience suggests that if electives are well received, their content can migrate into the core.

The array of electives at some schools is impressive, with dozens of relevant courses on offer. However, half of the surveyed schools report fewer than five electives with any social or environmental content.

3. Course content featuring a systemic look at the complex interrelationship of financial, social and environmental factors in business—that is, sustainability in its broadest sense—continues to be relatively rare. There is scant coverage of sustainability in core courses. In addition, although the number of electives that focus on sustainability has increased, there are still only 40 in total across 100 surveyed schools. In many instances, students seeking integration of the triple bottom line throughout their MBA programs must opt for a specialized joint degree or concentration or create a customized course of study to suit their needs.

4. Joint degrees and concentrations offer students opportunities to obtain specialized training in social impact and environmental management topics.


1. The presence of institutes and centers dedicated to social and environmental topics also is a key factor in the depth of teaching and research on these issues at business schools. Virtually all of the top performing schools have at least one academic center or institute housed in the business school that focuses research and other activities on social impact management, environmental management or sustainability.

2. Orientation activities, those activities required for all new MBA students, provide an opportunity for schools to highlight the importance of social and environmental stewardship and set the tone for their MBA experience.

3. Survey findings indicate that extracurricular activities and events contribute to a vibrant discussion of topics related to social impact and environmental management. More than 700 conferences, speakers, seminars, or other events were reported, addressing such themes as corporate ethics, sustainability, globalization, and women in business. This total represents a near doubling since the last survey.

4. Consulting and internship opportunities give the students a chance to engage with community organizations and gain valuable experience in companies on pressing social and environmental issues. Half of the participating schools report that their students have opportunities during their MBA programs to work with non-profit organizations and/or small businesses in economically disadvantaged communities. In addition, schools give students the chance to work with managers in corporations who are facing the challenge of integrating social, financial and environmental objectives into their everyday decisions.

5. Loan forgiveness and subsidies are forms of institutionalized financial support and commitment to training leaders for all three sectors—public, private and non-profit.

6. Competitions can serve to build awareness of social and environmental issues and business complexity among students. Of the 100 business schools surveyed, 49 reported case competitions in which students participate. Most of these competitions are organized and operated by the schools themselves building wider support and awareness on campus.

7. Student involvement is a significant driver for activities at schools. The number and influence of student clubs and groups is growing. Net Impact chapters, for example, bring together emerging business leaders who are committed to using the power of business to create a better world.


The Beyond Grey Pinstripes 2003 review of academic literature reveals business faculty’s growing interest in research on social impact and/or environmental management. Classroom teaching is heavily influenced by faculty research interests; thus, this development is a harbinger of increased course content on topics related to social and environmental dimensions of enterprise management. Published research covers a spectrum of relevant topics, including diversity in the workplace, sustainable development, stakeholder theory, globalization and environmental management strategies. Despite the general increase in such research, there remains a dearth of research addressing sustainability as a systemic issue.

Beyond Grey Pinstripes 2003: Preparing MBAs for Social and Environmental Stewardship is the fourth in a series started in 1998. Its companion Web site,, allows prospective MBA students to access a global database of more than 1,000 courses and 800 extracurricular activities at 100 business schools.

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