Climate change is rising in the curriculum of the business school

Given the shortage of skills and knowledge needed to achieve global net zero emissions by 2050, many celebrated the news in May that venture capital billionaire John Doer had given $ 1.1 billion to set up a school to change climate at Stanford University.

The new school will focus on a range of disciplines, from research into new technologies to climate policy. However, there is no mention of business skills – leaving enough room for global business education programs to fill the gap.

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

The authors of the article – teachers from Business Schools for Climate Leadership – are among those who want to change this. BS4CL is a new coalition for European business schools, launched before last year’s COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, and believes that academic cooperation can help fill the gap on climate change in management education.

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“Not all schools have the necessary experience to design courses, and some are better off leveraging expertise outside of business school, so there are many things that can be done working between institutions,” said Colin Meyer of Saïd Business. School at Oxford University, one of the eight schools in BS4CL (the others are Cambridge Judge, HEC Paris, IE, IESE, IMD, Insead and LBS).

But inexperience is not the only reason schools are struggling to make climate change a central focus of business degrees. Another is that business school rankings, including those of the Financial Times, tend to prioritize salaries – although the FT is gradually increasing the focus on broader criteria. This may prevent schools from developing courses for students who are more attracted to global challenges, such as climate change, than making money.

Nevertheless, the topic of sustainability has become a feature of business master’s curricula in recent years. “The number of courses that have appeared on this topic is exceptional,” says Mayer.

The University of Exeter Business School has created a whole program – One Planet MBA – to help students tackle global challenges such as climate change.

Bruce Usher, a professor of practice at Columbia Business School, sees climate change becoming a more important part of the curriculum. This has become widespread, says Usher, who has been teaching climate finance as an elective since 2009. This is no longer a peripheral topic, so much so that we are working to integrate climate issues into our core courses, not just our electives. objects – this is a dramatic change. “

The problem, however, is that, unlike Colombia and some others, most schools offer climate change topics only as part of optional courses, according to Mayer. “It’s increasingly embedded in the core course, but the starting point is that it’s optional,” he said.

The failure to integrate climate change into courses such as finance, accounting, marketing and operations has long been the subject of complaints among those who push for management training to focus on climate change.

Between 1998 and 2012, the Aspen Institute’s Grayscale Ranking, which assesses the content of sustainability in school curricula every two years, routinely found that environmental topics were covered as separate modules or electives, but were missing from core MBA programs. .

“Your CFO’s office, legal, accounting, supply and supply chain offices have to deal with this,” said Mindy Louber, CEO of Ceres, the Sustainable Investors Network. “No company can achieve its net zero goals without introducing all these parts of the business.”

Lubber would also like schools to offer practical guidance on how companies can achieve these goals. “Now it’s all about the execution,” she said. “We have a certain critical mass of companies and investors who have said they will commit to net zero – but what does that mean?”

She says students need courses on everything from implementing energy efficiency measures in their buildings and ensuring that all vehicles run on clean energy and setting an internal carbon price. “We don’t see enough of that,” she said. “They have not reached the detailed level of what it will take.”

Elizabeth Starken, managing director of the US Environmental Protection Fund’s campaign, agrees. “Students need to understand how the economy needs to be transformed over the next 10 years at a high level, followed by courses that train them in specific areas,” she said. “They need to figure out how to turn high-level needs into practical action.”

Mayer hopes the changes will happen soon. “Business and financial institutions understand this faster than business schools,” he said. “Business schools must be at the forefront of change, not in the back of the head.

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