Sustainable ventures: Exeter MBA considers the green bottom line

One Planet course to introduce students to 'big issues' of resource depletion. Hannah Fearn writes

May 19, 2011

Students on a new MBA course are to be taught by green experts from the wildlife charity WWF as part of a degree dedicated to sustainable business.

The University of Exeter is scrapping its traditional MBA and replacing it with the "One Planet" degree.

Modules will cover such topics as responsible investment, marketing for behavioural change and triple bottom-line accounting, which measures social and environmental success alongside profit and loss.

Graduates will be expected to have obtained all the usual business skills on which MBAs are based, but also to have gained an "entrepreneurial approach to sustainability".

Malcolm Kirkup, director of the course, which is due to start in September, said he believed the traditional MBA was "flawed".

"Those students are not really introduced to the big issues we're facing in terms of resource depletion. The traditional MBA does this as an add-on, right at the end. As the students are leaving the classroom, it says: 'Don't forget to switch the lights off,'" he said.

In contrast, sustainability is the first module studied on the One Planet MBA and the theme is built into every element of the course.

"When we're teaching accounting and finance, it's within the context of those (social and environmental) challenges that managers and business leaders will face. We are looking at every business discipline through that lens," Dr Kirkup said.

Three modules are to be taught by lecturers working for WWF, including eco-literacy and biomimetics, which asks what business can learn from nature. They will also provide students with links to the charity's expansive corporate network.

Jean-Paul Jeanrenaud, director of corporate relations at WWF International, said the charity was involved in the degree because it accepted that the private sector, while causing many environmental problems, "can also be a major part of the solution".

A pilot of the course, with 40 students studying some of the green modules alongside core MBA material, has been running since September 2010 for one academic year. Dr Kirkup said it had attracted a different type of student: 55 per cent were female compared with "80 per cent alpha male" on the traditional MBA.

There were 600 applicants for the pilot and application rates have remained steady for 2011-12 entry into the full programme, he added.

Steve Venton, a 43-year old student who is taking part in the pilot, said he considered himself "very lucky to find the course".

"I wanted to do something to promote my own career (in sustainability). I don't want to throw away my previous business experience, but to understand more about how businesses can be sustainable," he said.

One Planet follows a similar development at Marbella University, an institution established in 2009. It offers a Green MBA also focusing on sustainability.

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