USA - Climate change has (finally) arrived at business school

The climate crisis is a curriculum item at the most prestigious schools, and MBAs are excited.

There has been a fundamental shift in the way business schools talk about climate change. Where once the topic used to come up only among small groups of passionate MBA students, this year has brought a groundswell of support from high places — including the public commitment to climate research and education by the deans of eight leading European business schools and the blockbuster announcement about the creation of the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability which includes faculty and curriculum from many parts of the the university, including the Graduate School of Business.

As the scale and speed of global action on climate has accelerated, so has the need for business leaders who understand the complexity of climate risks and their implications for C-suites, corporate boards, investors and managers. In a video announcing the formation of Europe’s new Business Schools for Climate Leadership (BS4CL) collaboration, Sue Dopson, interim dean of the Oxford Saïd Business School, stated boldly, "The climate emergency is frankly the biggest threat we face. And we have a responsibility as leaders and indeed as educators to step up to this challenge."

B-schools join the party

It’s taken some time for business schools to recognize the relevance and urgency of climate to business education, but this year has marked a tidal shift — due no doubt in part because of donor interests. Besides Stanford’s $1.1 billion gift from John Doerr, in 2022, Harvard also announced a $200 million gift from the Salata family to create an Institute for Climate and Sustainability.  

Even business schools without headline-making gifts to announce began to make climate more visible in their curriculum in 2022. At Cornell’s SC Johnson Graduate School of Management, nearly half of the faculty are involved in a newly created interdisciplinary theme, "The Business of Sustainability," while here at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, students can enroll in electives such as "Climate Change, Sustainability, and Corporate Governance" and "New Ventures: Climate."  

UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business has created a new Office of Sustainability and Climate Change, which sits within the Dean’s Office, with ambitions to integrate environmental and social impact programs across the school. Haas Dean Ann Harrison has stated in support, "Leadership on sustainability is not just for business leaders who work directly on climate issues or in climate technology. Accountants need to plan for the effects of climate change on valuations and outcomes; real estate developers and financiers will need to consider climate change in forecasting risk; so will consultants and investment bankers. The world is fast coming to a boiling point. Sustainability is mission critical."

Harvard Business School (HBS), which has published teaching notes and cases on climate change for at least a decade, has launched a new project to look at climate and sustainability impacts across the traditional first-year MBA core courses including strategy, operations, accounting and finance. HBS professor Mike Toffel and his colleagues are developing cases and notes that embed climate change challenges into the fundamental lessons taught in core MBA courses. They are also developing a new series of teaching guides that will highlight these and other materials to help faculty at any business school embed climate change into their core curriculum.

Read more.