Climate change scales the business school curriculum

Given the lack of skills and knowledge needed to achieve global net zero emissions by 2050, many celebrated the news in May that billionaire venture capitalist John Doerr had donated $ 1.1 billion to found a climate change school at the Stanford University.

The new school will focus on a range of disciplines, from research into new technologies to studying climate policy. However, he made no mention of entrepreneurial skills, leaving plenty of room for the world’s business training programs to bridge the gap.

However, according to a group of academics, they haven’t moved fast enough to do so. “Although the evidence of climate change has emerged for more than four decades,” they wrote in the Harvard Business Review in February, “business schools have been lagging behind in recognizing and responding to this urgent and existential problem.”

The authors of the article – professors from the Business Schools for Climate Leadership – are among those who want to change this. BS4CL is a new European coalition of business schools that was launched ahead of last year’s COP26 climate summit in Glasgow and believes that academic collaboration could help bridge the climate change gap in management education.

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“Not all schools have the experience to design courses and some are better placed to tap into skills outside of business schools, so there’s a great deal that can be done by working across institutions,” says Colin. Mayer of the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford, one of eight schools in BS4CL (the others are Cambridge Judge, HEC Paris, IE, IESE, IMD, Insead and LBS).

But lack of experience isn’t the only reason schools struggle to make climate change a focus of business degrees. Another is that business school rankings, including those in the Financial Times, tend to prioritize salaries, although the FT is progressively increasing the emphasis on broader criteria. This can discourage schools from developing courses for students who are more attracted to global challenges, such as climate change, than to make money.

However, the topic of sustainability has become a feature of master’s curricula in recent years. “The number of courses that emerged on this topic was extraordinary,” says Mayer.

The University of Exeter Business School has created an entire program, the One Planet MBA, to help students address global challenges such as climate change.

Bruce Usher, a practice professor at Columbia Business School, sees climate change become a more important part of the curriculum. “It has gone mainstream,” says Usher, who has been teaching climate finance as an elective since 2009. “It is no longer a marginal topic, so much so that we are working to integrate climate topics into our core courses and not just our electives – this it’s a dramatic change. “

However, the problem is that, unlike Columbia and some others, most schools offer climate change topics only as part of elective courses, according to Mayer. “It is increasingly integrated into the core course, but the starting point was that it is an elective course,” she says.

Failure to integrate climate change into courses such as finance, accounting, marketing and operations has long been a cause for complaint among those pushing for management education to focus on climate change.

Between 1998 and 2012, the Aspen Institute’s Beyond Gray Pinstripes ranking, which every two years evaluates the content of sustainability in school curricula, regularly found that environmental topics were treated as separate modules or elective courses but were missing from the programs. Basic MBA.

“Your CFO’s office, legal, accounting, procurement and supply chain departments need to take care of this,” says Mindy Lubber, chief executive officer of Ceres, the sustainable investor network. “No business can achieve its net zero goals if it doesn’t involve all those parts of the business.”

Lubber would also like to see schools offer practical guidance on how companies can achieve these goals. “Now it’s about execution,” he says. “We have a critical mass of companies and investors who have said they will strive to hit net zero, but what does that mean?”

He argues that students need courses on everything from implementing energy efficiency measures in their buildings and ensuring that all vehicle fleets run on clean energy and internal carbon pricing. “We’re not seeing enough,” she says. “They haven’t gotten down to the granular level of what it will take.”

Elizabeth Sturcken, chief executive of the US electoral group Environmental Defense Fund, agrees. “Students need to understand how the economy has to transform in the next 10 years at a high level, so courses that train them in specific areas,” she says. “They need to understand how to transform high-level needs into practical action.”

Mayer hopes the changes can happen quickly. “Economic and financial institutions are understanding this faster than business schools,” he says. “Business schools should be at the forefront of changes, not in the rear.”

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