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Sustainable Business Schools: It’s up to you

Today, Earth Day, provides an excellent opportunity to pause and consider how the goal that we seek- admission to excellent MBA programs- impacts wider social and environmental change.

Top business schools envision themselves as breeding grounds for the visionary leaders of tomorrow, and as such, they have a tremendous opportunity to instill sustainable values in those who will eventually have the power needed to effect change.

Many have criticized B-Schools for not properly fulfilling this mission. It is tempting to accept such criticism and rely on large-scale, top-down initiatives to correct the problem. But really, that would be abjuring responsibility. Each of us, as applicants, students and consumers, has an opportunity to demand change.

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For a sample critique of B-School sustainability, take a look at this article by University of Edinburgh professor Kenneth Amaeshi. He argues that sustainability is merely an elective and that, in its core curriculum, “Business and management education is about the only academic field that does not prioritise society in its endeavors.” Effectively, Amaeshi is accusing B-schools of having their noses so far into Excel spreadsheets that they neglect the world around them. While that accusation is still unfortunately relevant, many top schools have taken admirable steps to address it, from  the Ross of School of Business’s Erb Institute to the Darden School of Business’s zero waste, carbon neutral vision, to Harvard Business School’s environmental stewardship commitment.  Like most initiatives though, the true power of these programs lies not in their mission statements or sleek websites, but in individuals- the faculty and the students who demand a new way of learning. B-Schools are businesses too, and they must cater to the demands of their consumers. And that is where applicants can truly effect change.

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Imagine, if you will, an information session in which one applicant asks an admissions officials to explain how the school prioritizes sustainability. It might not seem like much, but if another applicant asks that question the next day, another a week later, and so on, admissions officials and the schools they represent will certainly pay attention. And if, when some of those students arrive on campus, they begin engaging professors in a dialogue about social enterprise, or asking their fellow students about the role of sustainability in the corporate world, momentum will grow and theory will suddenly become practice.

Don’t wait for a radical change in how businesses or business schools approach sustainability. Realize that such changes can- must– come from you, the applicant. Ask questions. Propose ideas. Share what you know and ask others what they can offer. You never know what you might start.

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