Better World MBA rankings: striving for sustainability

Each fall, Canada-based clean capitalism magazine Corporate Knights publishes its Better World MBA ranking of the schools leading the charge to prepare the next generation of sustainable business leaders. Fourteen U.S. schools made this year’s global top 40 list. Along with elites like Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management (No. 7) and the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania (No. 11), several smaller programs were recognized for their commitment to sustainability, including Duquesne University’s Palumbo Donahue School of Business (No. 5), which topped the list among American business schools.

The fluctuating scope of the rankings makes them difficult to compare year over year, but one thing has remained relatively consistent since the study first went global in 2013: Stern School of Business isn’t on the list. The school’s only appearance came in 2014, when the ranking expanded to include the top 100. Stern clocked in at No. 81.

As part of its 2017 ranking process, Corporate Knights automatically evaluated every business school listed on the Financial Times Top 100, including Stern, using publicly available data, then reached out to each school for confirmation of its findings. Because of the time and resources involved in managing such requests, which may include detailing years’ worth of research, Stern elected not to respond to Corporate Knights’ request for more information. However, schools that did not respond were still eligible for inclusion on the list.

Despite uncertainty around its current standing, Stern has demonstrated a commitment in recent years to enhancing its sustainability efforts. In early 2016, the NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business (CSB) opened on the eighth floor of the Henry Kaufman Management Center. Citing a three-part mission of education around sustainability issues, thought leadership, and development of a world-class academic center, the CSB continues to expand its influence on campus.

“Environmental and social challenges will define the future of business and society in the decades to come,” said Tensie Whelan, director of the CSB. “Business school students, regardless of career choice, will want to develop a basic literacy in corporate sustainability strategy and issues. Stern offers and is further developing courses and co-curricular opportunities that will help students gain experience and insights into sustainability.”

Core course offerings around sustainability topics were a key factor influencing this year’s Better World MBA ranking. While the CSB is committed to expanding related offerings across campus, dedicated sustainability classes are not yet counted among core coursework for graduate students. Currently, Stern offers electives in this area, including the experiential learning course Sustainability for Competitive Advantage, taught by Whelan, as well as Social Entrepreneurship in Sustainable Food Business.

Compare this to the experience of Jamie Valeriano, an MBA graduate of Duquesne’s business school. “I was always interested in corporate philanthropy, but [my MBA] really opened my eyes to the things businesses can do to support their employees and communities that are mutually beneficial to the company,” Valeriano said. “Sustainability was embedded in most of our courses in some way or another and some courses were ALL about it.”

Across Stern, MBA students continue to make known their appetite for sustainability programs. As reported in Poets and Quants, the CSB’s 2016 survey of Stern MBAs revealed that 90 percent consider sustainability to be “very or moderately important.” Demand is also on the rise for immersive, hands-on learning experiences around green topics, as demonstrated by the popularity of Stern’s “Doing Business in Costa Rica: Sustainable Business in Latin America” course in recent years.

Amanda Bangs, Stern MBA student and co-president of Stern’s Social Enterprise Association (SEA), praised the CSB and Whelan’s accomplishments, as well as the sustainability work of Stern’s Center for Business and Human Rights. She also shared some of the club’s ideas for integrating these topics further. “The biggest academic change we would love to see is better integration of sustainability topics into the core curriculum,” Bangs said. “This doesn’t necessarily have to be an entire course dedicated to sustainability, but rather a deep-dive case or two integrated into Strategy or Leadership in Organizations. We also want to highlight cases where investment in sustainability is a competitive advantage, rather than a risk to be mitigated.”

Within SEA, full-time and Langone membership have increased since 2016. The club has seen an influx of students from diverse backgrounds and interests, including an uptick in students pursuing Impact Investing, which explores the intersection between finance and ESG [environmental, social and governance] issues. “Something we discuss often during SEA events is how to integrate sustainability into every function in a business,” said Bangs, “and that you don’t need to be a CSR [corporate social responsibility] director to have impact. This makes addressing sustainability issues relevant to everyone in every role.”

As sustainability practices grow increasingly central to businesses at all levels, Stern is just beginning to tap into its potential. Today’s changing landscape presents a powerful opportunity for the school to position itself as a leader in this critical space and to satisfy MBA students’ demands for best-in-class preparation to meet the many global challenges that lie ahead.

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