Business Administration

What Are the Best MBA for Sustainability Programs?

What Are the Best MBA for Sustainability Programs?
Impacting profit, people, and the planet (what's often referred to as the "triple bottom line") isn't limited to large corporations. Image from Unsplash
Mairead Kelly profile
Mairead Kelly June 26, 2020

Mixing the coursework of a conventional business degree with a focus on environmental stewardship, sustainability MBAs are becoming increasingly popular for students who want to put a green spin on their business school experience. But which is best?

MBA Programs You Should Consider

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In recent years, bottom-line business calculations have evolved to include not only financial gains and losses but also environmental impact. Increasingly, businesses are conscious of the need to implement sustainable practices to benefit people and the planet. Across industries, companies are incorporating sustainability into their strategy, governance, and management structures.

Take Nike, for example. The company’s many initiatives include aligning its strategies and operations with universal principles on human rights, labor, environment, and anti-corruption.

Impacting profit, people, and the planet (what’s often referred to as the “triple bottom line”) isn’t limited to large corporations. Businesses of all sizes—from mid-market companies to “microenterprise” startups and even your local corner store—use sustainable practices to meet the needs of the present without compromising future generations’ ability to meet their needs. From the looks of it, the trend is only growing.

As more companies look to become more sustainable, a Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a concentration in sustainability—sometimes called a “green MBA”—may feel particularly relevant. Anyone considering launching a career in a world where natural resource constraints and climate change have increasingly dire consequences might well consider this academic pathway.

Mixing the coursework of a conventional business degree with a focus on environmental stewardship, programs of this type are becoming increasingly popular with students who want to put a green spin on their business school experience. But which is best? We’ll answer that question and others here.

Our guide to the best sustainability MBA programcovers:

  • Why do some MBA students choose sustainability as a specialization?
  • What do students study in sustainability MBA programs?
  • Which schools have the best sustainability MBA programs?
  • Can you get a sustainability MBA degree online?
  • What can you do with an MBA in sustainability?
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Why do some MBA students choose sustainability as a specialization?

The global imperative and consumer demand created by social and environmental issues have pressured businesses to ask fundamental questions about the nature, shape, and impact of what they do. The positive effects of adopting “greener” policies and procedures including boosting consumer loyalty and enhancing employee productivity, morale, and brand reputation. As an added bonus, they can also drive company cost savings.

As sustainability becomes increasingly important to businesses everywhere, prospective students attuned to the climate crisis and contemporary social issues are embracing the sustainability MBA. They want to learn to assess their actions as business leaders on employees, the community, shareholders, and the environment.

Many who pursue this degree came of age in a world where the realities of rising sea levels, extreme poverty, species extinction, and social inequality—among a long list of other global issues—were part of daily dialogue. A sustainability specialization can connect their desire to drive positive change with their goals to get involved with a company whose purpose, brand, and culture they believe in.

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“Should I Get A MBA?”

The National Association of Colleges and Employers predicted an average starting salary for 2019 MBA graduates of $84,580—provided those graduates found jobs in computer science, engineering, science, or business. (source)

Students considering an MBA or graduate business degree can choose from varied career paths, including those focused on financial management, data analytics, market research, healthcare management, and operations management. The analytical skills and problem-solving techniques gained from graduate level business degrees are in high demand across business sectors. (source)

University and Program Name Learn More

What do students study in sustainability MBA programs?

Full-time sustainability MBA programs generally take two years. The first year is dedicated to a core curriculum, the second allocated to coursework in the specialization. In most programs, core courses typically focus on building a strong foundation of general business knowledge, allowing students to understand business and management and master skills in leadership, communication, and critical thinking. Common topics include:

  • Accounting
  • Business ethics
  • Data analytics
  • Economics
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Finance
  • Human resources
  • Negotiation
  • Organizational behavior
  • Strategy
  • Supply chain management

By diving into a sustainability MBA concentration, students grow their expertise across topics associated with the energy and sustainability-related challenges that businesses face. These courses often include:

  • Business and social responsibility
  • Policy, law, and ethics of sustainability
  • Risk management
  • Innovation strategy and decision-making
  • Impact investing
  • Strategic development for sustainable enterprise
  • Sustainable brand marketing

Some sustainability MBA programs require students to complete an internship or fellowship. Students work at businesses and organizations across various fields that are moving toward more effective and sustainable uses of natural and human resources while creating value for business and society. The experience usually occurs during the first year of an MBA program. It provides students with the opportunity to participate in multidisciplinary teams that draw upon expertise in business, law, policy, and planning.

Others expect students to complete a capstone project, which requires them to work individually or in small teams to apply what they’ve learned throughout their program in real-world scenarios. Projects may focus on creating a startup (e.g., building a development strategy for a large corporation) or function within the realm of sustainability consulting, portfolio management, or other chosen business subfields.

Which schools have the best sustainability MBA programs?

We’ve identified nine MBA programs—some on-campus, some online, some available in both formats—that feature sustainability studies. When assembling this list, we consulted US News and World Report and Corporate Knights school rankings as well as program-specific websites and resource guides.

Cornell University

Cornell’s full-time, two-year MBA program includes an “immersion learning approach,” allowing students to structure their second-year electives around one or more areas of focus. Students immersed in sustainable global enterprise (SGE) work in multidisciplinary teams on consulting-type assignments with global organizations exploring new business opportunities related to sustainability. This track also features an internship component and opportunities for students to take several sustainability-related electives outside of the SC Johnson College of Business.

Fordham University

Fordham’s Gabelli School of Business offers a global sustainability secondary concentration through a full-time MBA and professional or part-time MBA. As a secondary concentration, students are required to complete three courses related to this area, either at the Gabelli School of Business or other Fordham graduate divisions. Full-time students must complete 60 credits to graduate—and generally can do so in two years. The professional MBA is a 52-credit program; professional MBA students take two courses per trimester and complete their degree in as few as 28 months.

Georgia Institute of Technology (Main Campus)

The MBA with a concentration in strategic sustainability at Georgia Tech’s Scheller College of Business is available for full-time students as well as those enrolled in its part-time or “evening” program. To complete this concentration, students enrolled in both formats must complete a course in business strategies for sustainability, a sustainable business consulting practicum, and an additional sustainability-related course of their choice. Students also have access to a range of resources through the Jones MBA Career Center, including on-campus recruiting events and peer mentoring, and paid internships for full-time MBA students.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The two-year, full-time MBA program at the MIT Sloan School of Management combines the research, innovation, and expert faculty expected from MIT with the flexibility for students to customize their coursework to their career goals. The program includes a focus on sustainability through the option of sustainability certification, which provides a vibrant mix of hands-on learning and conceptual content through two energy-related elective courses. Students also have access to sustainability-focused summer internships sourced by MIT Sloan’s career development office funding (provided to assist with salary requirements).

New York University

NYU’s MBA with a sustainable business and innovation specialization aims to equip students with an understanding of key sustainability challenges and opportunities for modern business. The program focuses on current and emerging business practices. It operates in both a full- and part-time, on-campus format with the option to take up to 25 percent of courses at other NYU graduate schools or international partner institutions. Experiential learning and co-curricular opportunities include Stern Signature Projects (SSPs), case competitions such as the NYU Stern Opportunity Zone Challenge and the annual Patagonia Case Competition, and research fellow placement at the NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business (CSB).

Presidio Graduate School

Presidio Graduate School is a private graduate school in San Francisco, California that offers both a Master of Public Administration (MPA) and an MBA in sustainable development. The school’s MBA track encompasses a 53-credit curriculum and combines traditional classroom instruction with the flexibility of interactive distance-learning. It can be completed in 24 months for full-time students and around three and a half years for those enrolled part-time. Student clubs and organized events are an extension of the students’ learning experience and expression of their diverse professional interests and personal passions. Club-organized events, trips, and projects are planned throughout the semester to allow students to dive deeper into areas of career interest while expanding their professional networks and collaborating with other students.

__ University of Michigan

The Ross Concentration in Business and Sustainability, available through the full-time on-campus program, requires students to complete 12 credits of coursework, including a minimum of three outside of the Ross School of Business. Six credits are committed to foundational courses in such areas as strategy, systems thinking, sustainable operations and supply chain, and environmental law. The other six are comprised of general electives in subjects like social intrapreneurship, environmental finance, energy markets, urban agriculture, natural resources law, and climate change. Students seeking an even deeper dive into sustainability can pursue a dual MBA/MS in Environment and Sustainability through the university’s Erb Institute.

__ University of Tulsa

The Collins College of Business at the University of Tulsa offers an online Energy MBA that focuses on corporate environmental sustainability, technological regulation, energy policy, and evolving markets. The core curriculum includes a course called Energy Policy and Sustainability. While sustainability is not front and center at UT, energy is, and that’s where much of the next wave of sustainability innovations must occur.

University of Vermont

Ranked the top green MBA by the Princeton Review, the one-year sustainable innovation MBA delivers the critical content of an MBA with specialized courses focused on sustainability and innovation. Students are required to complete 45 credit hours, structured across four modules that each comprise multiple online courses taught over a seven- to eight-weeks. The program culminates in a three-month summer practicum project. Courses and other co-curricular experiences are delivered by faculty and thought leaders from the Grossman School of Business, other UVM branches, Vermont Law School, and the local and global business communities.

Can you get a sustainability MBA degree online?

Many of the nation’s top business schools are responding to a call for greater sustainability and environmental awareness by offering innovative online sustainability MBA programs. These programs combine a comprehensive approach to business education with a more accessible and flexible path for working adults to complete their degrees.

Several schools featured in US News and World Report’s list of best online master’s degrees in business administration offer a sustainability concentration. They include:

What can you do with an MBA in sustainability?

From green business development and sustainable manufacturing to corporate citizenship and environmental consulting, graduates of sustainability MBA programs tend to be competitive candidates for most traditional sustainability jobs. These are just a few viable positions, listed alongside their typical job responsibilities and average annual salaries.

Environmental health and safety director

Typical job responsibilities:

  • Inspect and evaluate the environment, equipment, and processes within an organization to ensure compliance with government safety regulations and industry standards
  • Identify potentially hazardous biological, chemical, and radiological materials and collect samples of them for analysis
  • Recommend changes to protect workers, and educate employees on how to prevent health problems through the use of safety training programs
  • Average annual salary: $111,849

Regulatory compliance corporate counsel

Typical job responsibilities:

  • Ensure their organization’s legal adherence with new and evolving regulations at the local, national, and global levels
  • Stay up-to-date on possible changes to the laws made by industry-specific regulatory agencies
  • Investigate all potential issues of noncompliance that may arise and suggest ways to remedy these problems
  • Average annual salary: $118,981

Senior energy consultant

Typical job responsibilities:

  • Lead the delivery of energy projects through phases of feasibility planning, pre-construction and/or construction
  • Ensure organizational accordance with a predefined budget, deadline, and quality requirements
  • Increase product knowledge and engage senior management in product knowledge initiatives
  • Average annual salary: $90,873
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Supply chain manager

Typical job responsibilities:

  • Oversee supply chain and logistics operations to maximize efficiency and minimize the cost of an organization’s product development needs
  • Monitor the product development process to ensure that adequate supplies are on hand
  • Make recommendations that allow an organization to deliver its products in higher quantities or at a faster rate to the market or other manufacturers
  • Average annual salary: $82,803

Questions or feedback? Email editor@noodle.com

About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle. He has been managing editor of the Noodle.com website for over four years.

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MBA Programs You Should Consider

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