Bridging the gap between planet and profit is at the heart of the Presidio School of Management, one of a handful of US business schools that offer sustainable or “green” MBA programmes.
The Presidio school is small, producing only 56 graduates in its short history. But with concern for global warming suddenly rising and consumers demanding greener and more socially just products and practices, enrolment at Presidio for next fall is nearing 200.
For companies such as Wal-Mart, which are trying to turn over a new, greener leaf, students of Presidio and other small schools such as Seattle’s Bainbridge Graduate Institute could bring sharper sustainability skills than those from more established programmes. “These places are going to serve as laboratories...where smart people are thinking very seriously about how to integrate business and sustainability,” said Rich Leimsider of the Aspen Institute, where he reviews MBAs’ social and environmental components for the “Beyond Grey Pinstripes” ranking.
Unlike top-ranked business schools such as those at Stanford or Yale, which offer courses in sustainability, Presidio puts sustainability at the core of every course. For example, in accounting, students learn traditional practices plus environmental accounting.
“I didn’t want to go to a school where it is an elective. I wanted a school where it is embedded into everything,” said Michelle Mullineaux, a 35-year-old executive from New York City who commutes to San Francisco for the school’s four days of classes, held once a month over two years. Students seem to have the same reasons for pursuing a sustainable MBA: a passion for the environment and the desire to make a difference. Many come after successful corporate careers and the average age is 36, compared with an MBA average of 28-29.
First-year student Shuli Goodman, 49, is a management consultant for global companies who wants to learn how to “transition an economy to a sustainable economy”.
“People are from really different places,” she said. “Some are tree-huggers and others are tree-huggers and business people.”
Presidio provost Ron Nahser says sustainable management is one of the biggest business opportunities to come along in a long time. “There are going to be new opportunities coming up in every firm.”
And companies are going to Presidio for the students’ expertise even before they graduate.