MBA Students are Chasing the New Green

tealtavatarTeal Tigner
Corporate Outreach Specialist
Clean Air-Cool Planet

Ten years ago, the majority of students applying for and enrolling in MBA programs were interested in one thing: the investment banking fast track. That’s not to say that finance has lost its allure. Quite the contrary; it is still the most popular concentration in business school. But it’s taken on some interesting perspectives in the last five to ten years. Business students have caught on to the urgency surrounding environmental issues and are demanding courses relating to carbon finance, founding and running non-profit organizations, corporate social responsibility, and the business impacts of environmental policy.

As a current MBA student at NYU Stern, my specialization is Social Impact and Innovation. What does that mean? Well, essentially it’s the business side of environmental development and responsibility. In courses such as “Energy and The Environment,” “Sustainable Social Entrepreneurship,” “Social Venture Capital,” and “Corporate Social Responsibility,” SII students learn about and analyze how today’s social and environmental problems (will and do) affect modern corporations. And, because we are business students, we then try to construct profitable business models aimed at solving the same issues that Clean Air-Cool Planet tackles every day.

Today’s student organizations are a further testament to this MBA evolution. The student groups I see on campus today have morphed from “those hippies who protest everything” into hybrid organizations of environmentalists, Chief Sustainability Officer hopefuls, and financiers who want to structure the newest version of a cap-and-trade bill. One of these groups, the Social Enterprise Association (SEA – of which I’m a member), was started at Stern’s business school. Together with the NYU community, SEA has sponsored sell-out events featuring the likes of Van Jones discussing “Where the Market Meets the Environment.” These events inevitably include student panels, but what I’ve found especially cool, for lack of a better word, is that the panelists come from all walks: the law school, the school of public policy, the undergraduate college, and Stern.

This should encourage those of us in the struggle to find a solution for global warming. The historic disconnect between the non-profit and for-profit sectors is notorious. The fact that today’s students are meshing the two worlds and exchanging ideas in the quest for a common solution is a very good sign of things to come.

What I have found to be one of the more interesting facets of this new green MBA tract is that “cut-throat” business students are extensively engaging with “crunchy” environmentalists and vice versa. Moreover, they’re starting to understand each other’s perspectives. Today’s MBA students seem to recognize that which Clean Air-Cool Planet has been professing for years: if we’re going to have a real, workable solution to global warming, it needs to be practical. In some instances that means that green profits will impact the corporate bottom line; in others, profits will imply environmental boons. Furthermore, in today’s economy, we need solutions that create jobs and make money while doing good and solving an urgent global problem. Today’s crop of MBAs is doing just that by charging ahead with for-profit, non-profit, sustainable, and innovative solutions to the (business) world’s problem of climate change. And really, at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.

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