How to evaluate sustainable business programs

Social impact careers are on the rise and business schools are offering an array of credentials for students who want to work in the field. From a sustainable or “green” MBA to certificates and sustainability majors, there are more options than ever before.

Even if you aren’t driven to have “sustainability” in your job title, social responsibility is relevant to every student in a business school. Energy efficient facilities and waste reduction initiatives are important and readily talked about inside offices. But supply shortages, employee retention and racial and gender injustice are social challenges that businesses need to address, as well. No matter what job you land, social challenges will affect the organization that you work for.

Organizations are also starting to take a broader definition of sustainability. They are looking towards the one laid out by the United Nations (U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. The principles of the U.N. initiative recognize that businesses do not exist in a vacuum, that they are subject to the same environmental, social and political forces that affect society at large and that businesses can help solve them. Concepts such as reducing poverty, improving health and well-being, providing decent work and economic growth, and encouraging responsible consumption and production are all relevant issues that need to be addressed by organizations today. Traditional occupations in accounting, marketing, accounting, management, human resources, logistics and operations all allow for tremendous opportunity to address this broader definition of sustainability.

The demand is growing for social impact careers. Turing to an academic credential is a great way in. But what should you look for in a program? A lot of that depends on your goals, but there is a recipe for what makes up the best, most highly reputable programs. Here are a few ways to evaluate if a program is up to snuff.

Check out the alumni

Job placement is important to every business school. The last thing you want is to work hard to earn your degree and then have a hard time finding a job. Before you even decide which program to attend, find people who have the job you want. Where did they go to school? What credentials do they have? Use their path as inspiration for your own.

In any strong program, there should be so many opportunities that you actually can’t do everything.

Check out the faculty and curriculum

The social impact space is constantly changing. For example, with the pivotal nature of the death of George Floyd and violent acts towards minorities by police officers, corporations became expected to address racial and social justice in their organization and practices. The curriculum that faculty taught two years ago might need an update so make sure what they’re teaching in the classroom is current by looking at course topics and descriptions. Key indicators of a cutting-edge program are research faculty making an impact in their field and society and working professionals  infused into the curriculum. Speaker series, experiential-based projects and advisory boards are all ways to make sure what you are learning is relevant right now.

Check out the extracurricular programs

In any strong program, there should be so many opportunities that you actually can’t do everything. Look for professional organizations such as Enactus and Net Impact, as well as business model and case competitions. You should have the opportunity to work on research projects that enhance your critical thinking skills while also contributing to new knowledge to other already in the working world, and there should be opportunities for you to engage in research that connects with the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.

And of course, no matter which program you choose, it’s important to keep your finger on the pulse of research and society outside the classroom. Become a connoisseur of the latest research and media and keep an eye on announcements from sector leaders . One of the most exciting aspects of a social impact career is that you’re constantly learning something new.

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