While some of today’s leading business schools are now actively courting sustainability undergraduates, others are helping more traditional MBA candidates to turn “green”.
William Périco Neto is a Brazilian major in economics and international relations, with tourist industry experience at his parents travel agency. The “Early Advantage” MBA programme at Rollins College Crummer Graduate School of Business, specifically for recent college graduates, seemed an obvious launching pad to an entrepreneurial career.
“Before I joined the MBA programme I had no idea of the distinction between entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship,” says Neto, referring to Dr Keith Whittingham’s elective courses in global sustainability and social entrepreneurship. “Social entrepreneurship is not only looking at the profit itself, it looks at how you can contribute to your community and give a return to the environment and to the community, not only financially. That made me realise that, because my long-term goal is to become an entrepreneur, I can now focus on something that is more community orientated.”
Sergio Abril, manager in federal government affairs at Florida Hospital, was attracted to the professional MBA afternoon programme at Rollins to strengthen his credentials in senior management. Environmental sustainability was a personal interest, but not one he expected to encounter within management education. He says: “I graduated with a biochemistry and molecular biology degree as my undergrad, so I love nature and science. I think there is a symbiotic relationship between businesses and the environment. That [the MBA] allowed me the opportunity to explore that and be able to offer practical solutions to real life problems became a big interest.”
Périco Neto explains that in his experience, “most companies don’t care about being environmentally friendly or acting in a more ethical way.” When he was choosing a business school, sustainability was not at the top of his criteria. However, in retrospect he now identifies a latent incentive: “I’ve seen in the countryside of Brazil the degradation that poor business practices can cause – now that just makes me want to learn to do it right.”
However, while the MBA can boost up an individual’s resumé, are the interests of sustainability – from greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprints to closed loop strategies – really the hot issues in the boardrooms of the US right now? Are these the skillsets and knowledge areas that businesses in the real world are looking to hire future leaders for?
“At the end of the day people are not measured on whether GHG emissions have been reduced, it comes down to the bottom line,” says Abril. “It’s a fine line between how you make sure you are doing the best for the environment while keeping the bottom line intact. I think there’s a possibility for the two to go hand in hand, but you need to involve the customer and educate people that this is the right thing to do.”
Périco Neto agrees that the ability to harmonise profit with societal benefit is the ultimate goal. “As this matter gets more complicated and companies realise that customers are actually willing to pay more for products that are environmentally friendly or at least looking to buy products that are doing something to help the environment or reduce waste… companies have no option but to change.” As such, he hopes, “there will be increasing interest from companies to hire people with solutions.”
Abril and Périco Neto form part of a team, headed by Dr Whittingham, shortlisted for the final of this year’s Nespresso MBA Challengefor innovative sustainability solutions.
Abril believes that organisations with the market power to influence the decisions made by its suppliers have a responsibility to do so. “A lot of changes happening in companies right now are more of a reactionary measure. Corporations have been plagued by scandals of child labour and so on – what they are doing is a reactionary measure to avoid bad press. But I think, and from what I see, more and more companies are becoming proactive to address those issues before they become an issue. I think that’s a great thing.”
That the MBA is now able to align his personal interests with his professional ones, is a significant development for Abril: “It’s important to educate young leaders from the very beginning that this is important. To the people who are already in the high ranks, it really doesn’t matter to them. But for us, the ones who are going to be the next generation of leaders – it is an issue that is going to be top of mind 15, 20 years from now.”
Périco Neto believes there is great value in teaching these issues within an MBA “so you can start considering all these questions before you join the workforce. That is what has happened in my case.” He now plans to look for business consultancy work in sustainability and environmental measures. This, he admits, couldn’t have been further from his mind on the day he started his MBA.
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