whygreenmbaThe growth in new green MBA programs has been remarkable and encouraging. Every time I look on the web, in a paper or magazine I seem to see a new advertisement or write-up about a new program. It might appear that there will not be enough jobs for these newly minted sustainability specialists but the demand is growing and expected to increase rapidly as climate weirdness, resource shortages and economic problems continue to mount. Larger companies will soon all have dedicated sustainability specialists, reporting to a sustainability VP, and departments dedicated to improving the efficiency of operations throughout the value chain, devising more profitable ways of managing and eliminating waste and costly non-renewable materials, and identifying new market opportunities for more sustainable products and services.

How big is the market? In the U.S. alone there are more than a million firms with more than 10 employees, about a half million companies with 20-99 employees, and more than 100,000 with more than 100 employees. In addition, many of the 4 million smaller firms will need sustainability advice, sustainability reporting, and more sustainable management. The global demand is larger and growing even faster as Asia, South America and Europe race ahead of the United States.  International sustainability reporting increased 60% this year.

Training is also seeing increasing demand. On the west coast these programs include the pioneering executive style programs, Bainbridge Graduate Institute, Presidio Graduate School, Marshall Goldsmith School of Management, Dominican University and our on-line Green MBA at Anaheim University.

There are also many green-themed or green-tinted traditional business programs and certificate programs that can provide a better understanding of the issues and opportunities in sustainable management (see the annual review in Sustainable Industries Journal). Specialized training in sustainability reporting under the Global Reporting Initiative (see ISOS Group), International Standards Organization (ISO14000, 26000), Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED-USGBC), ULE880 – Sustainable Manufacturing, Project Management (PMI), Quality Management (SixSigma), Certified financial planner (CFP) and other certifications may also be desirable for many positions.

The challenge as a prospective student is finding a program that fits your interests, timing, and budget. Look closely to see if the program will provide you with the opportunity to learn the skills you need to succeed. This will in most cases include courses in management, finance, leadership, accounting and reporting, innovation and entrepreneurship, and strategy, all emphasizing sustainability. Case studies and projects and teamwork are an integral part of learning how to bring these issues into the workplace. International experience with multicultural teams is also a plus. Look at the faculty to see if their interests and experience, availability for student interaction, and outlook are likely to work for you.

If you are interested in working with non-governmental organizations, for example, does the faculty have experience with NGOs?  If not, they may not cover the special issues that arise in NGOs.  If you wish to work on sustainability of government programs, the Department of Defense has been a leader; look for the same range of experience. Networking is essential for rapid career advancement, so look for faculty and programs that are well linked to practicing professionals.

A word of caution: Many students that are inspired to develop a career in sustainable management are from non-traditional business backgrounds. Their often more holistic perspectives are ideal for understanding the complexity and inter-connectivity of complex systems and creating innovative solutions to complex problems, but if they are not willing to learn the language and skills of business, they may find it hard to convince an employer to give them a chance.

Sustainable management is here to stay. Our lives and livelihood depend on it. And careers in this field are rewarding, positive and soul-affirming. Is a Green Business career for you?

David Bainbridge
Vice-President for Sustainability Emeritus