Jobs Are Out There for Sustainable MBA Grads if They're Will

by Vault Education Editors | March 11, 2010

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In a recent blog post, Vault's own Aman Singh addressed the growing sustainable MBA trend and noted that employers did not consider sustainability one of their chief interests. Sustainable business education is "growing indeed, but only as a 'theme' or the idea of doing good. Because when these students face recruiters, there aren't many takers."

So we asked Vault users: What do you think of the trend towards MBA degrees with a focus on sustainable business practices? While the poll is still open online, I thought I'd give you a snapshot of the responses so far.

Vault Sustainable MBA Poll Results_March 11

It seems to be a pretty even split, with 52 percent saying the sustainable MBA trend is going to die down or out and 48 percent saying that sustainability business education is here to stay. There's no doubt that MBA students love it and want to pursue sustainability and the green movement as a career. But is that realistic? What will their employment prospects look like?

MBA Podcaster recently published a podcast called Career Opportunities for Green MBAs: Generating Green $$ from the Green Movement that addresses this question. They brought together a few industry insiders and sustainable MBAs to discuss different opportunities.

Katie Kross is associate director of Duke University's Corporate Sustainability Initiative, and Nicola Acutt is associate dean of the Presidio Graduate School:. They argue that sustainability is going to be a bigger and bigger part of businesses moving forward.

Kross: Sustainability is really the hot topic in the business press these days. Companies in all the different kinds of industries, whether that's Wal-Mart and its supply chain partners or whether that's renewable energy companies and Cleantech Venture capital firms or whether that's the investment community looking at new ways to incorporate environmental and social issues and to investment evaluation. So the interest comes from a lot of different industry sectors and it's growing across a lot of different types of organization and fields of interests.

Acutt: I have observed a significant shift from what I would call the pioneer stage with the early adopter companies, you know, the Cliff Bars and those types of organizations to really seeing more and more traditional companies showing an interest in our students, and for example Clorox and Travelocity recently posted positions. We see the categories of employers, of our students ranging from consulting firms like Saachi and Saachi or Domani Sustainability Consulting who are building targeted client services and new sustainability then across a range of other sectors like government, nonprofit, education and in public service or public sector organizations from PG&E to Blue Shield, Kaiser, the City of Berkley, EPA, Goodwill, University of California. It's really across all sectors.

But what happens if you can't get hired after graduation? Many newly-minted sustainable MBAs are going the entrepreneurial route. Says Acutt: "We have, just in our short history, had 12 startups launched and, five of them in the last two years securing over a million dollars in initial funding."

If you're not ready to go into business for yourself just yet, there is still hope. Michael Callahan an MBA and co-founder of Powermundo says that although employers aren't interested in the degree, itself, they are very interested in "what you do with it." On getting jobs, he says: "It was because the combination of skills and not just the green MBA. The green MBA was a help, but it's still being defined, you know, what is a green MBA? You still have to have strong finance skills, marketing, accounting. You still have to have all of that."

I'm sure "diversify" and "be creative" are pieces of advice that career centers are throwing around a lot these days. But for sustainable MBAs, they ring particularly true. Consider your sustainable skills as a part of a larger whole that includes all your other MBA skills and work experience. In addition, because sustainability is still new to many companies, you may have to create the job before you can fill it. Here's how to make that happen:

Kross: There were two things that kept coming up over and over again about their job search. The first is the power of informational interviews. So many of those practitioners got their jobs as a direct result of informational interviews, which I know sounds sort of mundane but actually this field of practice is so new and so small that having good relationships with people in the industry can really go a long way towards finding a job opportunity, and many of these positions are not posted anywhere publicly. They're not on the websites. They're not doing on-campus recruiting. They are positions that job candidates are essentially writing for themselves based on their relationships and their experience. And the second thing that came up over and over again is how many of these practitioners got their job as a direct result of a project that they worked on while they were a student. So whether that's a class project or an internship or an independent study research project or some other kind of practical project that they worked on while they were a student, they leverage that directly into a job for themselves.

Good luck!

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