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Green MBAs seek to balance profit and planet


Business professor John Stayton remembers when eyes would start rolling at the idea of a “green MBA.”

These days, business schools across the country are incorporating the environmental and social costs of doing business into their curricula, and a few, like the program Stayton directs at Dominican University of California, aim for an all-green program.

The goal? How to succeed in business without really frying the planet.

“Essentially we’ve got to change the way we’re doing everything and making everything,” said Stayton.

The program Stayton directs was launched at Santa Rosa’s New College of California North Bay in 2000 as a Master of Arts in the humanities department and transferred to Dominican last spring. It’s one of a handful of such degrees; others include MBAs offered at the Presidio School of Management in San Francisco and the Bainbridge Graduate Institute in Washington state.

The move to balance economy and ecology is showing up all over, said Rich Leimsider, director of the Center for Business Education at The Aspen Institute, a leadership think tank which reports on how Master of Business Administration programs are adding social and environmental issues to their courses in its biennial “Beyond Grey Pinstripes” report.

“It matters what the senior executives of companies do, say and think,” said Leimsider. “If you can change business education to include an appreciation for the social and environmental context you wind up with leaders who are really good at creating value all around.”

Almost all business schools have “at least a beachhead” of environmental and social awareness, said Leimsider, and some are doing much more.

The Stanford Graduate School of Business, ranked No. 1 in the 2005 Aspen report, introduced a joint degree program for MBA students in environment and resources in April. Another initiative teams the business and engineering school for a course in which students use concepts from both disciplines to solve problems. This year, one project involved developing a safe, cheap and easy-to-power LED light for people who don’t have electricity, an alternative to dangerous and relatively expensive kerosene lamps.

On the East Coast, officials at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business plan to launch an initiative with Duke’s environmental school that will study the emerging field of doing business in a sustainable context and the advantages to the business community of coming up with innovative practices.

“What we’re seeing at Duke, and we’re seeing this probably everywhere, is the business community now has reached a point where they recognize that to be globally competitive, you have to have an understanding of the risks and the opportunities that natural environments pose for firms,” said Michael Lenox, associate professor of business. “We’re seeing recruiters and the like asking that of our students: Do they have that knowledge?”

The new programs may be environmentally friendly, but they’re still all-business.

“We want people who graduate from our program to be able to go toe-to-toe with MBAs from Stanford, Harvard … all the other fine business schools,” said Miguel Esteban, director of enrollment, management and marketing at the Bainbridge program. “We would be doing them an injustice if we weren’t giving them those core competencies.”

The result is an executive with an edge, Lenox said, from an investment banker deciding whether or not to recommend acquiring a utility company to a retail supplier making a case that his or her company’s products have a reduced environmental impact.

“This is a huge area of opportunity,” agreed Stayton. “The goal is for our students to be in positions where the more successful they are at advancing their initiatives, the more money they’ll be earning.”

About half of the classes in Dominican’s green MBA cover the fundamentals like marketing and accounting, but there’s an added component. A student learning managerial and environmental accounting would study how to generate and interpret financial data but might also look at the Global Reporting Initiative (, the group which sets out a framework to measure and report organizations’ economic, environmental and social impacts.

“I think it’s more challenging,” said Dominican student Miya Kitahara, who for her final year project is working with GreenHeart Global, an Oakland-based sustainable design firm, to develop recyclable clothes hangers. “You can’t just look at one determinant for your decision. You can’t just look at price; you have to consider so many other factors.”

Even program director Stayton is surprised at how much things have changed over the past decade.

“Green business went from an oxymoron to a mainstream concept,” he said.

On the Net:

Beyond Grey Pinstripes:

Dominican University of California’s Green MBA program:

–Associated Press

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