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Published on October 6th, 2012 | by Ashley Sheets

Could an MBA Drive Your Ethical Business Forward?

The concept of ‘ethics’ was once a tokenistic add-on to MBA programmes – but not anymore. And whether you take advantage of the new breed of ‘green MBAs’ yourself, or hire an intern studying for the rigorous programme, it can be a real investment for your business

The MBA was once an American buzzword for money and success. The Masters programme emerged from Harvard in 1908 in a response to US industrialisation and the need for new scientific ways to harness profitable companies and establish business leaders. Unsurprisingly, the MBA shine (and attraction of the six figure salary) soon spread throughout the rest of the corporate world. Business schools in many countries now offer tailored (full time, part time and distance learning) MBA programmes.

Perhaps the cash-rich, grey-pinstriped MBA turned off ethical business leaders in the past. Or perhaps there was once no money in having ethics…either way, many MBA programmes were once solely concerned with profit, with ethical business standards thrown in tokenistically.

But this has changed over the last decade. Business schools have embraced green credentials along with the new generation of charity, social enterprise and not-for-profit organisations. As Dr Susan Rose, associate head at the University of Reading’s Henley business school comments:
“It is not a mindset of wanting to make loads of money or to be a rising star – they [the students] have done that and been there. It is more about self-reflection and getting rewards from life in different ways.”

The Green MBA

It is hardly surprising then that there has been a rise in the green MBA which focuses on sustainable business and the triple bottom line. Warwick Business School offers a separate ‘Global Energy MBA’. Yale, perhaps America’s most conventional university, has incorporated partnerships with the Yale Centre for Business and the Environment and the Yale School of Forestry and Environments. Other titles include Green Marketing & Environmental Product Design and Sustainable Enterprise Development and Leadership.

Whether the ethics of your company grew organically from its core or you’ve recently woken up to the true meaning of wellbeing, resilience and corporate responsibility, a green MBA could enhance your company.

It takes commitment, time and money to study for a Masters in Business Administration. Not only will the programme cost between £6,000 (distance learning) and £30,000 for each year of study, it involves a rigorous admission programme including tests, personal essays, work experience, obtaining recommendation letters and attending probing interviews.

An MBA Intern?

Perhaps now is not the time for a personal career break or even for the hours of research needed to compile your business school shortlist. But what about hiring an MBA intern? The internship is a vital part of the MBA course and placements are fiercely fought over. Admittedly a small start up might not attract Wharton, London or Harvard graduates who are used to placements with the big boys, but many green MBA students want to work with companies that make a difference regardless of size and structure. They want to be part of that difference, and work with a management team to implement new projects and strategies.

Usually an internship will be over the summer months and last between 10-12 weeks. Although compensation is not usually the primary concern, it is something that will need addressing. The salary will depend on the school they attend, and the current salary scale within your business.

Do you have a project that could do with some expert assistance? Need a fresh perspective or some new blood? These are not simply university graduates but highly driven and committed individuals that could propel your business forward. It will also involve commitment from you; structuring the internship to include a meaningful management focus with a mentoring and feedback component.

If you are interested in hiring an MBA intern, then take the following first steps:

• Make a short list of 10 schools (and programmes) that you will apply to. Are they simply ‘greenifying’ their existing programme or is sustainability at their core? It should be a harmonious match, so check the MBA ranking sites and think about the size of the opportunity within your business.

• Attend a campus networking event. These will be listed on the business school’s website. Investigate student organisations – Is there a Green Entrepreneurship group that you could give presentation at?

• Write a well crafted internship placement and submit it the relevant business school. Candidates pick their own internships, so light up their fire with dynamic opportunities within your business.

Top UK Green MBAs

Compared with the US and Canada, the UK is severely lacking in MBA programmes with a specifically ethical or green edge. The ‘Beyond Grey Pinstripes‘ list, compiled biennially by the Aspen Institute, ranks MBAs across the globe based on their social and environmental focus. Overall, British MBAs are increasingly offering modules and electives in line with the business concerns of tomorrow; and perhaps there is something more appealing about embedding ethical issues throughout the programme, rather than offering a separate curriculum altogether.

Still, to start with try these three programmes:

  • University of Exeter ‘One Planet MBA: Working in partnership with WWF and 11 major businesses with the aim of ‘producing unique planet-minded business leaders’. The course won a Green Gown award in the Courses category for its innovative and interdisciplinary programme.

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About the Author

Ashley is an American writer now making a life in the UK. She has a passion for exploring ethical actions and mindfulness in all things. Writing about her transcontinental observations and continually learning make her truly happy.



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