Studying business as if people and planet matter

21 December 2023

Andrew Crisp draws on data from the soon to be published Tomorrow’s MBA study as sustainability becomes a core activity for business schools.


Studying Economics at school, I read ‘Small is Beautiful’ by EF Schumacher, described on the cover as ‘A study of economics as if people mattered’.  Recent news has seen INSEAD awarded the title of MBA of the year by Poets& Quants for ‘weaving sustainability into its programming across all 14 core courses’ suggesting that the message of Schumacher’s book is alive and well.

Of course, INSEAD is far from the first school to put sustainability at the heart of its offer. Over a decade ago, Exeter set up a partnership with the WWF to run the One Planet MBA.   More recently, Cardiff embraced the idea of the public value business school in its overall school positioning and programme delivery.  Rotterdam School of Management states clearly that it is a force for positive change in the world.  And the Corporate Knights rankings have captured some of the sustainability shift in business education, placing schools as far apart as Griffith in Australia, Donahue in the USA and Centrum in Peru in its top 10 this year.

In last year’s Tomorrow’s MBA study from CarringtonCrisp and EFMD, climate change was identified as the seventh most valuable piece of content to study in an MBA.  In the new report due out in late January, climate change has slipped slightly, but sustainability is in the top 15.  Beyond specific topics, 80% or more want content around responsible management, ethical leadership and diversity, equality and inclusion as themes running through their studies.  Three-quarters of respondents indicate it is very or extremely important that future MBA/EMBA degrees have ‘a focus across wider society not just business and industry’.

Rankings that measure MBA strength are also changing, notably the FT Global MBA ranking which in 2023 added a school carbon footprint rank as part of its overall score for schools and their degrees.  Specifically, the FT gave credit to schools ‘providing a recent public carbon emissions report complying with international standards, and also for setting near-term zero emission targets’.

Some might argue that business schools are engaged in little more than ‘greenwashing’ and that this conversion to putting people and planet alongside profit is too little too late.  However, this is a movement that has been gathering momentum over a number of years and feels as though it is now rather more than a trend, instead being core to the curriculum of any business school.

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