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Green MBA? No Longer a Contradiction

     by Patrick Morris

"Green" is a word of many nuances. An inexperienced player is said to be "green" or "Green behind the ears." Someone with a talent for gardening has a "green thumb." An illegal alien is a "green back" while a "greenback" is slang for a dollar. "Green" living, by contrast, is about what is best for the environment. So, what is a "Green MBA?"

Green business isn't just the local farmers' market anymore. It's a factor with a multi-billion dollar impact across a broad range of goods and services. Today's business enterprises need to operate in the present without compromising the future. Having business leaders who can think beyond quarterly profits is the first priority.

An MBA (Master of Business Administration) has traditionally been regarded as the shortest route to acquiring a lot of greenbacks. Because the interests of business are so often at odds with what is best for the environment, the idea of a green, in the sense of pro-environmental, MBA degree at first seems an oxymoron.

But there is a change in the air, and Green MBA programs are popping up from coast to coast like daffodils in the spring. Whether the change reflects a sincere change of course for business or a reaction to the tenor of the times, the result is the same. Many online colleges and universities including online business courses are following the green movement as well since learning from home lessens one's carbon footprint.quiet zone

According to Antioch University New England, business as usual is not sustainable for the planet. Beginning in the Summer of 2007, Antioch looks to change "business as usual" by introducing a different M.B.A. program, where business isn't viewed as only Black or Red, it's also Green.

With its decentralized campuses and programs geared towards people holding full-time jobs, Antioch has a national reputation for its degrees relating to environmental stewardship. Antioch is a six-campus university located in four states. Each campus has its own distinct academic programs, community life, and regional or national identity. With innovative programs and a growing number of on-line courses. Antioch University is founded on principles of rigorous liberal arts education, innovative experiential learning and socially engaged citizenship.

Along with New College, Dominican University (both in the San Francisco Bay area) and the Bainbridge Graduate Institute (Washington State) Antioch is among the first to offer an MBA program that looks past the conventional business curriculum (accounting, finance, marketing, etc.) to incorporate sustainable practices and socially responsible behavior. The concept is simple: Make Green (money) while being Green (environmentally minded).

In the past decade sustainable products and practices have become viable market factors, forcing companies to focus on a multiple bottom line. Success is measured by more than financial health, and now includes the quality of work life, social responsibility, and environmentally conscious development.

Typically, Green MBA curricula include classes on waste management, marketing green products, environmental regulations, and the effect of environmental actions on profit. A January, 2006 article in the New York Times characterized such programs as the "wave of the future." Not everyone shares this opinion, however, and some assert that the programs are potentially myopic and overly idealistic.

Mark Milstien is a business research director at the World Resources Institute in Washington who is quoted by the Times saying "Green MBA programs are providing fundamentals, but they may not be as deep as your traditional MBA."

Matt Cheney, chief executive at Renewable Ventures, disagrees saying he thinks the Green MBA programs service a growing demand: "More and more students are interested in socially responsible business. They want to make a difference, and there is a confidence that business can produce results quickly and significantly.

The real test of value for a Green MBA will be how it perceived by businesses.

Green Mountain Coffee Roasters was recently rated by Business Ethics Magazine as #1 on its list of Top 100 Corporate Citizens and stands as a testament to how financial success and social mission do not have to be mutually exclusive. The company has racked up 12 consecutive quarters of double-digit sales growth. Their fastest growing segment is organic, Fair Trade coffee. Among their social mission achievements:


  • Achieved 100% greenhouse gas neutrality by being more efficient and purchasing carbon offsets.
  • The company has taken 20% of its work force on educational trips to coffee growing cooperatives in Mexico and Guatemala.
  • Donates 5% of pre-tax profits to social and environmental projects.
  • Gives employees paid time off to volunteer for local and international non-profits.

If there is a place one might expect that a "Green MBA" would be rubber-stamped for approval it would be Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. Not necessarily. Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility Michael Dupee, who holds a traditional MBA degree, would want more information before reaching a judgement: "We very much need sustainability, social justice, and environmental consciousness embedded in business curricula, as it currently is not. As with all claims about 'green' or 'eco-friendly' products, I would want to look behind the headline and into the substance. I'd want to understand how the curriculum was evolving to incorporate these considerations before judging whether a 'Green' MBA was a good idea or a bad idea."

Green Mountain's most recent coup has been getting their Newman's Own Organic coffee into 650 McDonalds restaurants. Organic in McDonald's? Maybe it's time to talk to them about hamburgers.


More information about Antioch's program can be found at Antioch.edu. Dominican University has a dedicated site featuring its graduates at greenmba.com. Marlboro College (marlboro.edu) now offers an MBS in "Managing for Sustainability." Green Mountain College offers an online MBA in Sustainable Business (greenmtn.edu).

The Vermont Law School specializes in environmental law and offers both a J.D. and a Masters of Studies in Environmental Law. Info at vermontlaw.edu.

Patrick Morris is a business analyst who works at Conde Nast in New York. He is currently researching MBA programs.

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