The Green M.B.A.

A new business school model teaches students to look beyond the bottom line

| May / June 2004

What if Dilbert's ruthless corporate bean-counter boss were transformed into a socially responsible exec who cared as much about the environment as he did about the year-end P&L statement? The comic strip might be a lot less funny, but it would reflect an innovative new model in the business world -- the 'green' M.B.A.

According to a recent study by the international nonprofit Aspen Institute, most M.B.A. students care even less about the environmental and social impact of commerce after they graduate from business school than they do before they enter. 'Traditional business schools have been teaching that it is immoral to be moral,' explains Gifford Pinchot, a longtime socially responsible business consultant. 'They teach that protecting the environment or caring for communities -- unless it directly benefits stockholders -- is stealing from stockholders to pursue your personal agenda.'

After years of training executives (many with an M.B.A. from places like Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton) in the basics of socially responsible business, Pinchot and his wife and business partner, Elizabeth, decided to set their sights higher: In 2002 they founded the Bainbridge Graduate Institute (BGI), a school dedicated to teaching business in the context of environmental and social responsibility.

Located a short ferry ride from Seattle on Bainbridge Island, BGI offers an M.B.A. program in sustainable business practice. (The New College of California in Santa Rosa and the San Francisco-based Presidio World College are the only other schools that offer similar degrees.) BGI's curriculum, Pinchot notes, takes a 'triple bottom line' approach to business, teaching students to create organizations that grow social and natural (or ecological) capital as well as financial capital.

'Our grand project is to give people all of the M.B.A. skills that Dilbert makes fun of, while emphasizing the sustainability and entrepreneurship they need to help make a positive impact on people and the planet,' says Rick Bunch, BGI's executive director.

Courses include the core financial and management fundamentals taught at traditional business schools, complemented by offerings such as 'Economics, Sustainability, and Human Welfare,' 'Operations and Industrial Ecology,' and 'Vision, Ethics, and Leadership.'

R. Todd Erkel
10/20/2008 12:25:21 PM

First generation "green MBA" programs lacked the broader perspective of human capital development, ethics and a nuanced understanding of what it would take for CSR to go from the corporate margins to the senior management suite. Duquesne University (8th ranked by Aspen) seems to have taken the green MBA to the next level.

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