The Social Quotient of Teaching Green at Business Schools

by Aman Singh Das | February 09, 2010

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Much has been written about MBA programs beginning to include sustainability and CSR modules as universities and students increasingly become aware of the increasing importance of socially responsible citizenship at companies. Yesterday, a Financial Times piece--written by Thomas N. Gladwin, the Max McGraw professor of sustainable enterprise and associate director of the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan, and David Berdish, manager of social sustainability at Ford Motor and adjunct professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan--while discussing the latest "Beyond Grey Pinstripes" ranking on the social and environmental component of MBA programs worldwide by Aspen Institute, argues that most of the surveyed programs ignore the "social dimensions of sustainability."

Green MBA

Or, the human side of making your company sustainable. We all tout the business case of adopting a triple bottom line approach, but the more intangible moral and emotional quotient is often (and sometimes deliberately) ignored because it is all about business and profits. The article goes on to discuss three main reasons behind business schools failing in this area, while succeeding in inculcating basics of CSR in their graduates.

These include:

--"Ambivalence from the business world, which transmits itself to business schools." Here is a classic example for this. Over 7,000 companies endorsed the United Nations Global Compact, which includes specific language on human rights. However, most of these companies do not mention efforts in this area in their CSR reports, their annual reports or the public website. The UN Global Compact was introduced with a lot of fanfare by proponents of sustainability. However, the first news you see on their website demonstrates the ineffectiveness of its endorsers: "859 Companies Delisted for Failure to Communicate on Progress."

--"Sustainability has been construed as a matter of attaining harmony with nature, rather than humanity." The article argues that in their effort to push green programs, schools and companies forget the human implication in these activities, leading in many cases, for example, to increased biofuel production but mass displacement of communities. When critics say eco-efficiency will come at a cost, they mostly mean companies' profit margin, not the social margin. And this is largely because CSR proponents keep trying to push their agenda onto corporations by citing the bottom line and making it a safe investment. Remember the oft-repeated motto of the business world? Money talks.

--"The drive to transform management into a "value-free" science, based on market fundamentalism and shareholder value maximization, has divorced business school research and teaching from life-affirming values, collective welfare and ecological limits." While this point doesn't need much deliberation, I will say one thing. For now, in the nascent stage that sustainability still is at most companies, for it to be filtered to the top suites, the bottom line will have to be cited, the investment quotient will have to be touted, and the social humanistic part will have to remain the tangential component. For now. When the industry matures, this fight can resume. Our chiefs can only handle so much.

Filed Under: CSR

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