Climate change is rising in the business school curriculum

Given the lack of skills and knowledge needed to achieve zero net emissions by 2050, many celebrated in May that multimillion-dollar venture capitalist John Doerr had given $ 1.1 billion to set up a climate change school at Stanford University.

The new school will focus on a variety of disciplines, from new technology research to climate policy research. However, he did not mention business skills, leaving a lot of room for the world’s business education programs to fill the gap.

However, according to an academic team, they are not moving fast enough to do so. “Although evidence of climate change has been around for more than four decades,” Harvard Business Review wrote in February, “business schools are late in recognizing and responding to this urgent and existential problem.”

The authors of the article – Professors of Climate Leadership Business Schools – are among those who want to change this. BS4CL is a European business school coalition launched before the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow last year, and believes that academic collaboration can help fill the gap in climate change in management education.

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“Not all schools have the specialization needed to design courses and some are better off taking advantage of out-of-school business specialization, so a lot can be done in all organizations,” says Colin Mayer of Saïd Business School at Oxford University. One of the eight BS4CL schools (including Cambridge Judge, HEC Paris, IE, IESE, IMD, Insead and LBS).

But a lack of specialization is not the only reason schools are struggling to make climate change the main focus of their business degrees. Another is that business school rankings, including those in the Financial Times, tend to prioritize salaries, although the FT is gradually increasing its emphasis on broader criteria. This can prevent schools from developing courses that attract students to global challenges (such as climate change) rather than making money.

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

Exeter Business School has created a comprehensive program – One Planet MBA – to help students meet global challenges such as climate change.

Bruce Usher, an intern at Columbia Business School, sees climate change as a more prominent part of the curriculum. “It’s become a staple,” says Usher, who has taught climate finance since 2009 as an elective. “It’s no longer a marginal issue to include climate issues in our core courses and not just in electives. That’s a tremendous change.”

The problem, however, is that unlike Columbia and others, most schools only offer climate change topics within optional courses, according to Mayer. “It’s getting more and more embedded in the core course, but the starting point has been that this is optional,” he says.

Failure to include climate change in courses such as finance, accounting, marketing, and operations has long been a reason for complaints among those who encourage management education to focus on climate change.

Between 1998 and 2012, the Bepen Gray Pinstripes ranking at the Aspen Institute, which evaluates the sustainability content of school curricula every two years, found that environmental issues were treated as separate modules or elective courses, but were lacking in basic MBA programs.

“Your CFO’s offices, legal, accounting, procurement and supply chain offices have to deal with that,” says Mindy Lubber, CEO of Ceres ’permanent investor network. “A company cannot meet its zero net goals if it does not include all of these parts of the business.”

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

He says students need courses to implement energy efficiency measures in their buildings and to ensure that all vehicle fleets run on clean energy and to set an internal price for carbon. “We don’t see that enough,” he says. “They’re not getting to the exact level of what they should be.”

Elizabeth Sturcken, managing director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Fund campaign team, agrees. “Students need to understand how the economy needs to be transformed in the next 10 years at a high level, then the courses they train in specific areas,” he says. “They need to understand how to turn high-level needs into practical action.”

Mayer hopes that change can happen quickly. “Businesses and financial institutions understand this faster than business schools,” he says. “Business schools should be at the forefront of the changes that are taking place, not the rear guard.”

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