MBA Students Say Businesses Should Address Green and Social Issues

MBA Students Say Businesses Should Address Green and Social Issues

The vast majority of business school students think the private sector should be using its position to address environmental and social issues.

Unfortunately, less than a third believe this is actually happening, according to a new survey (PDF) from Net Impact and the Aspen Institute Center for Business Education.

That presents a potential lost opportunity -- 77 percent of MBA students view acting responsibly as a way to increase corporate profits, a figure that has grown since 2006, when 60 percent of students saw the correlation between CSR and profitability in Net Impact's first study.

Net Impact, a nonprofit that works to train future business leaders, and the Aspen Institute, which targets educators, asked 1,850 business school students about their views of their graduate programs and the role of corporate social responsibility in "New Leaders, New Perspectives: A Survey of MBA Student Opinions on the Relationship Between Business and Social/Environmental Issues."

It found that most students view health care costs and energy concerns as significant business issues for U.S. CEOs but their own exposure is lacking. Nearly 80 percent of MBA students are yearning for more sustainability and corporate responsibility content in their graduate programs but there's a disconnect between what students want and what business schools are delivering, according to Net Impact Executive Director Liz Maw.

This represents an opportunity for both businesses and students to take a lead in helping shape MBA curriculum, Maw said.

"Every company that hires MBAs should encourage their top recruiting schools to adapt the curriculum to include the skills they desire but aren't turning up in the applicant pool," Maw said.

She advises MBA students to approach their administrations with clear and compelling arguments for adding these elements, preferably using data. In fact, Maw hopes students will take advantage of Net Impact's research to make the case for CSR training.

There must be resources and assistance available at the faculty level to help them understand how they can incorporate sustainability themes and case studies into their course work. "There is also a need for more PhD students with an interest and focus on sustainability," Maw said, "so that we develop a more robust pipeline of faculty with expertise on these issues."

Other interesting findings: Ninety percent blamed a short-term business approach, rather than a focus on long-term results, as one reason behind the global financial crisis, while 56 percent believe business schools should teach students about financial models that include long-term social impacts.

Fifty-six of MBA students surveyed said achieving a work-life balance was the factor they'll weigh most heavily in their job selection. Maw said companies should take notice and look for ways to align their business practices with the values and needs of this base to attract the top talent and effectively communicate CSR efforts.

"That's important not only if you want to recruit this demographic as employees," she said, "but as future business leaders who will also one day be your clients and peers."

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