Illustrations by Sam Island

Australia’s Griffith Business School leads this year’s Corporate Knights list of the top 40 global business schools that embrace planet-friendly values – doing so without using “sustainability” or “responsible corporate practice” in the name of its Master of Business Administration program.

Of course, when pitching to prospective students, the east-coast Australia school highlights sustainability and responsibility as two core values (the third is its Asia-focused location) in curriculum and research; it just sees no need to attach an adjective to the MBA.

“We have made a conscious decision that we believe every MBA should be a sustainable MBA,” says Stephanie Schleimer, Griffith’s MBA director, thrilled that her school is number one for the first time on the Corporate Knights Better World MBA ranking.

“We don’t call our courses fancy names, either, because we believe a course in strategy should be all about responsible strategy and it should be all about total shared values,” she says. “We teach all these different things that we believe should just be the standard.”

Climbing from fifth place on last year’s Better World MBA ranking, Griffith Business School scored higher on every key measure: content, research publications and citations, as well as gender and racial diversity. The school collaborates with all 16 research centres at Griffith University and has responsibility for half of them.

Other schools that did well in the ranking also enriched their course content, research and hiring practices consistent with the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.

“We have made a conscious decision that we believe every MBA should be
a sustainable MBA.”

–Stephanie Schleimer, Griffith’s MBA director

For example, Duquesne University’s Palumbo-Donahue School of Business jumped to fourth spot this year from 28th in 2019, partly by adding sustainability to more core courses and recording growth in faculty publications and citations. The school offers a full-time MBA in Sustainable Business Practices program alongside a more conventional MBA.

“I really see a deepening of the focus, and every year we are looking to make improvements to adjust the content to make it better and keep it fresh,” says Karen Russo Donovan, the school’s associate dean of graduate programs and executive education. Moreover, she notes, “we have consistently published cutting-edge research on the broad topics of sustainability, as defined by Corporate Knights, in top journals.”

One of Palumbo-Donahue’s widely cited researchers is Robert Sroufe, a professor of sustainability, operations and supply chain management, whose work on sustainable building renovation has informed the school’s multimillion-dollar renewal. “We have monitors and dashboards throughout the building [gathering data on energy conservation, air quality and other measures], and the students can utilize that information as a living lab for analytics and management,” Donovan says.

Research also explains a rise in the ranking for two Canadian schools: the University of Guelph’s Lang School of Business and Economics and Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management placed sixth and eight respectively, up from 18 and 37 respectively in 2019.

Over the past year, Lang added research chairs in the business of food, entrepreneurship and sports management, with others pending in leadership, finance and marketing. Sustainability is not in the chair titles, but sustainable food systems, social enterprise and gender equity are themes of the research agendas, says MBA graduate coordinator Rumina Dhalla.

Lang students send their own message, too, with 70% enrolled in sustainable commerce, one of three MBA program streams.

When the Rogers School cracked the Better World ranking two years ago, faculty took a closer look at where sustainability appears in curriculum and research. “We were already doing it, but we weren’t keeping track of it, and we weren’t writing it down,” says Donna Smith, graduate program director of the MBA program. “That is what led us to capture what we were doing and move it forward.”

This fall, the school introduced a revamped MBA based on “leading for performance and well-being” in diversity, technology, innovation and entrepreneurship, with students taught about ethical corporate governance, socially responsible decision-making and environmental stewardship.

Ozgur Turetken, associate dean of research, says the school has hired about 50 new research-oriented faculty members over the past five years, with sustainable management a possible focus for future hires.

Despite school efforts, student advocates demand deeper commitments.

Business schools “need to talk about things like the triple bottom line, stakeholder capitalism, impact investing and sustainability reporting,” says Gareth Gransaull, past president of Ivey Business School’s student-run Social Impact Club at Western University. “We also need to introduce and have honest conversations about issues that are more controversial,” he adds, citing tax reform, corporate ethics, anti-racism initiatives and “greenwashing.”

Other schools have updated curriculum. Last fall, HEC Montréal added mandatory content on sustainable development in undergraduate and MBA programs, a spokesperson says, adding that the school is now weighing the possibility of a voluntary commitment by professors to embed sustainable development and social responsibility in all courses.

A comprehensive approach has merit, says Melody Tim Yen, a master of science student in supply-chain management at HEC and the former president of Groupe HumaniTerre, an on-campus sustainability advocacy organization.

“It’s the difference between vertical and horizontal markets,” she says. “Sustainability should be a horizontal component found in each vertical [course topic].”

To find out how the top 40 schools ranked, click here.

Correction: An earlier version of this story listed the University of Guelph’s Lang School of Business and Economics and Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management in fifth and sixth place respectively. They ranked sixth and eighth.

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