Business Schools Increasingly Provide Education in Social and Environmental Issues, Survey Finds

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Business schools are doing a better job of preparing students to navigate social and environmental business issues, in part by offering more courses in ethics, corporate social responsibility, and environmental sustainability, according to survey results that are scheduled to be released today.

Among the institutions surveyed, 54 percent require one or more courses in ethics, corporate social responsibility, sustainability, or business and society — an increase of almost 60 percent since 2001 — according to a report,”Beyond Grey Pinstripes: Preparing M.B.A.’s for Social and Environmental Stewardship.”

The increase is, to some extent, “a response to the marketplace and the corporate scandals,” said Mark B. Milstein, director of business research at the World Resources Institute, a think tank here that does work on environmental issues and was one of the survey’s sponsors.

In addition to the resources institute, the biennial report is being published by the Aspen Institute, which seeks “to foster enlightened leadership and open-minded dialogue.”

Of the 600 M.B.A. programs invited to participate in the survey, 91 responded, including 30 that were selected for being “at the forefront of incorporating issues of social and environmental stewardship into the fabric of their curriculum.” Stanford University’s M.B.A. program was recognized as best in the world for “the comprehensiveness of its courses and faculty research focusing on business ethics and responsible business practices encompassing social and environmental issues.”

Of the 30 elite programs, 12 are outside the United States, including three in the top five.

“It’s an indication that the U.S. doesn’t have a monopoly in this area,” said Mr. Milstein. “Social and environmental issues often resonate a lot more with the average European than with the average American.”

Rounding out the top 10 programs were Esade, a Spanish business-management school with campuses in Barcelona and Madrid; York University’s Schulich School of Business, in Canada; the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, in Mexico; the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame; George Washington University’s School of Business; the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor; the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Cornell University’s Johnson School; and Wake Forest University’s Babcock Graduate School of Management.

“To be competitive, corporations need to recast social and environmental problems as business-growth opportunities,” Jonathan Lash, president of the World Resources Institute, said in a written statement. “These schools are leading the way in providing students with the skills that are becoming increasingly valuable to the bottom lines of businesses.”

Not all the news was good.

Only 4 percent of faculty members who teach at business schools in the survey published research on social and environmental topics during the two-year period covered.

“There is a certain level of cynicism within the broad business-education community about whether or not looking at social and environmental issues is the appropriate use of time,” said Mr. Milstein. Many business educators, he noted, subscribe to the view of Milton Friedman, the Nobel laureate in economics, who famously proclaimed that “the social responsibility of business is to increase its profits.”

Source: Chronicle of Higher Education (link opens in a new window)