State of Green Business 2009: Universities Take Class Actions

State of Green Business 2009: Universities Take Class Actions

[Editor's Note: To celebrate the launch of our second annual State of Green Business Report, every day for the next two weeks, we'll be running through one of the big trends that are shaping the future of the greening of mainstream business. You can download the report for free from GreenBiz.com.]

Colleges and universities around the world have long been reducing their environmental footprints, engaging in the same long list of efficiency, recycling, and source-reduction activities taking place among their corporate counterparts. But the greening of the curriculum has lagged. Indeed, a study by the National Wildlife Foundation found that while campus administrators are ramping up their commitments to reduce their schools' environmental impacts and making significant changes in day-to-day operations, environmental academics haven't kept up, and may have declined since 2001. That dearth of green education is of growing concern to companies seeking to recruit the next generation of leaders who understand the business value of environmental thinking.

That's starting to change, as a number of universities launch sustainability programs. During2008, for example, four Ohio campuses launched an advanced energy master's degree program in a bid to train the next generation of highly skilled, green collar workers. The University of Dayton and Wright State University will award the two-year degrees, while Central State University and Air Force Institute of Technology will offer classes. A new program offered by the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and School of Arts and Sciences is enabling graduate students to earn a dual master of business administration-master of environmental studies degree. The University of Maine Business School launched a Master of Business Administration and Sustainability program. And the first doctoral degree in sustainability was launched at the Rochester Institute of Technology, with the goal of advancing research and education in alternative energy development, sustainable design, green product development, industrial ecology and pollution prevention.

This isn't merely academic. As programs proliferate, so too does competition, along with guides and rating systems that help prospective students figure out which schools move to the head of the class. The venerable Princeton Review debuted green ratings for 600 colleges after it found that 63 percent of college applicants surveyed said they would value having information about a college's commitment to the environment and that such data could affect their choice to apply or attend a school. The Aspen Institute offered a Guide to Socially Responsible MBA Programs, which evaluates and ranks 130 MBA programs based on their business teachings, among other factors. GreenReportCard.org published detailed information on the green and not-so-green aspects of 300colleges and universities; only 15 received the highest grade, an A-minus.

Meanwhile, the greening of campuses themselves continued to receive high marks. The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education launched a rating system, called Sustainability, Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS), on more than 90 college and university campuses, bringing attention to the environmental impacts of everything from buildings to food programs to education, and to developing ways to make campus life more sustainable. At last, the green learning on campus is beginning to take place among maintenance workers, cafeteria staff, facility managers, and landscaping crews -- not just students.

Next: TBD