How MBA Programs Can Plant the Seed of Sustainable Entrepreneurship

How MBA Programs Can Plant the Seed of Sustainable Entrepreneurship

Classroom - CC license by velkr0 (Flickr)

 Increasingly, MBAs who desire to be entrepreneurs have chosen programs that go beyond the traditional economics, finance, accounting and marketing curriculum. They are looking ahead to those disciplines that will give them the edge in the real word and benefit their enterprise. We are seeing an increasing number of graduate students who want to pursue a career that aligns with their own personal values, but at the same time are entrepreneurial in nature with a desire to be their own boss.

According to a story on MSBNC, “for reasons ranging from the economy to a change in attitudes, many students today are pursuing business school degrees with a view toward working with non-profits, or launching socially responsible businesses. There are several possible reasons for the growing interest in social enterprise programs, including the economic meltdown that eliminated tens of thousands of jobs from the financial sector and darkened the reputation of the banking industry.”

To meet this need, Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management has developed a new program, Certificate in Socially, Environmentally and Ethically Responsible (SEER) Business Practice. Our desire is to teach students how to forge a value system into the DNA of their company.

The SEER framework emphasizes a commitment to the environment and corporate social responsibility as well as strong financials as integral elements of the product or service. SEER goes a step beyond the triple bottom line of people, planet and profits. It teaches that the delivery of a quality product or service that incorporates environmental concerns, social issues, and strong financials is essential for a long-term, sustainable competitive advantage.

There are real bottom line benefits to making strategic decisions through the SEER lens. Valuation of the company is higher, as are long-term profits. People want quality products that they believe in. They also want businesses that are transparent in their dealings and are good corporate citizens. Organizations that take into consideration the impact they have on the communities in which they operate are likely to develop brand loyalty and return customers.

Developing a company that has the SEER principles ingrained in the organizational DNA is not just for artisans and outdoor enthusiasts. Developing an integrated approach to sustainability will help a company manage risks as they grow. For example, Interface, a global carpet manufacturer, reduced the energy used to manufacture carpet by 43 percent since 1996. They limited their greenhouse gas emissions by 44 percent since 1996 and during the same time period, the company grew net sales by 27 percent. By limiting their exposure to fluctuating energy prices, Interface has limited risk while increasing profits. Creating a sustainable company is not about trading profits for environmental stewardship; they go hand in hand.

Historically, success in business has been singularly defined by maximizing profits for the owners of an entity. However, the business community is championing a value system that puts sustainability on par with profits. This, combined with a prevailing desire among workers to achieve meaning and significance in their profession, has inspired everyone from corporate giants to small entrepreneurs to rethink the way they conduct business.

Research has shown that when employees are aligned with the values of an organization and they believe an organization is professing those values, job satisfaction increases. Increased employee satisfaction leads to better productivity and having an organization that is working towards sustainability will attract the best and brightest workforce.

Patagonia is an example of how passion and social responsibility can build a successful corporation. The key to Patagonia’s success was ensuring that the core principles of the company were implemented into every product. Patagonia’s business plan was predicated on customers sharing those values; a collective value system was the foundation of the company and what makes it so successful.

Many business schools have developed curriculum that allow students to build the skills to run a successful business. At the same time, business schools offer students access to the tools needed to make their business idea a reality. While some students have taken their product to market, other students’ ideas are still in the making.

Current Graziadio School student Tracy Liu is a perfect example.

“Starting my own business is something I’ve always wanted to do,” Liu said. “But I don’t want to start just any business. I want to use the skills I am learning at Pepperdine for the greater good. I’m working with the faculty at Pepperdine to bring my idea of designing stores that refill plastic bottles with detergents and other household products to market. Creating an eco-friendly business is important to me and I’m hopeful my prospective company will provide real value to customers in the future.”

As more people become aware of their impact on the environment around them they become more conscious consumers. Tracy is able to use this trend to market her products to a growing pool of environmentally-conscious consumers.

As business practices evolve so must business school programs and teaching trends. There is a growing market of SEER-minded entrepreneurs that are just waiting to unlock their creativity and desire to create a better business world. As a professor there is nothing more exciting than helping students realize their dream.


Classroom - CC license by velkr0 (Flickr)