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UA’s Eller College of Management to ride tailwind of green MBA trend

By Mae Lee Sun
Inside Tucson Business
Published on Friday, September 05, 2008

The Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona will be adding “green” coursework to its MBA curriculm.

Paul Portney, dean of the Eller College, unofficially made that announcement at a presentation he gave recently to the Sunbelt World Trade Association.

Paul Portney, Thomas Venklasen photo


MBA programs across the United States have been doing something similar for about the past five years to accommodate students who have an interest in integrating environmentally “green” principles into the way businesses are run.

The UA offering will only be one class – a three-unit elective – to be offered for the first time in the fall 2009 semester.

“It’s enough for now,” Portney said in an interview. “Right now we’re in the process of raising money to support the development of the one class.”

He said he is meeting with faculty to determine who is interested in pursuing the green coursework and how it will be developed.

“If it’s successful, it is conceivable that we’d also offer it at the undergraduate level as well,” Portney said, adding that as long as he is dean, Eller won’t be offering a separate green MBA track as other schools have done although he admits the idea to add the course was driven by student interest.

Pioneering green schools, such as Bainbridge Graduate Institute, on Bainbridge Island across Puget Sound from Seattle, Wash., and Dominican University, in San Rafael, Calif., have pioneered full-on green MBA programs, offering such courses as eco-commerce, environmental accounting and social justice and business.

Portney envisions the one course in the Eller College to have a distinct focus – one which will help use existing projects and prospective projects at the UA as case studies for MBA students to help administrators make difficult financial decisions.

As examples, there may be environmental reasons for the UA to install photovoltaic panels on rooftops, or develop a water conservation plan, or green transportation. The MBA students will be given the opportunity to work in cross-disciplines with like-minded students in other UA programs, such as the school of engineering, Portney said.

Some would argue the one class isn’t much of a step.

Gifford Pinchot, president and co-founder of the Bainbridge Graduate Institute, says traditional MBA programs who offer one or two courses on sustainability will essentially contradict themselves because the core of the curriculum ignores social impact on community and the environment.

Pinchot, whose book “Intraprenuering” has been used in the curriculum of business schools across the country, feels students need to be shown how to integrate social and environmental issues into all of their decisions and make a profit while being applicable to the “real world.” It’s not a matter of either/or, it’s innovation in all respects.

“Students from Bainbridge and places like Presidio are skyrocketing up the career ladder because there is a hunger out there for people who have a firm grasp on how to think clearly about business and sustainability at the same time,” Pinchot said. “This is not solely about being a tree-hugger. It’s about what also makes a company a lot of money.”

A good example he says is when Trillium, an asset management firm, hired three interns for the summer. Two were from Ivy League schools and one was from Bainbridge. The one from Bainbridge was the only one who was hired because Pinchot says “he got it.”

Like the UA’s Portney, Eric Orts, professor and director of Initiative For Global Environmental Leadership at Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, remains a skeptic.

“I think it would be a mistake to say that it doesn’t matter where you go to school. I think you could make more of a difference by having a connection to a school like Harvard, Cornell or Michigan because some of the best people doing the research are at these schools,” Orts said. “There might be a role for students who go in that direction but I am skeptical of the long-term benefit.

“Forget about the green side,” he said. “First you need to understand how a business operates and what the real problems are. We don’t have things like an Ethics MBA even though that is an issue in business, so why a green MBA? I think these programs lack a tough-mindedness.”

And while Pinchot agrees that traditional MBAs have their place if your orientation is “one ahead of all others and ignore social responsibility,” he said green MBA programs will tend to be criticized because other schools haven’t figured out how to do it yet.

What he is finding is that faculty at MIT, Harvard, Stanford, Duke and others who come to teach business at his school are taking back the knowledge they are learning from both students and other faculty and beginning to teach differently at their own schools.

Graduates, Pinchot says, also seem to have little problem cashing in on their education and are finding themselves employed in top executive positions in places like mining, the oil industry, engineering and the public sector. And he asserts, “These typically aren’t students who would have applied to business school.”

As of this year, there are a number of MBA programs across the United States offering coursework in sustainability. The Aspen Institute Guide to Socially Responsible MBA Programs 2008-2009 ranks 130 business schools. Among those at the top are Stanford, University of Colorado at Boulder and University of California at San Diego.

Written by maeleesun

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