100 shades of green


In a video introduction to its most recent Global MBA Ranking, the Financial Times’ Laurent Ortmans was asked to identify the most conspicuous trend from its findings over the past few years. “Strikingly, the schools from Canada are all dropping,” Ortmans said, pointing to lower Canadian salaries for graduates compared to their U.S. counterparts.

Are Canadian business schools dropping the ball, or are they simply being measured on an outdated series of indicators?

Since 2003, Corporate Knights has aimed to rank MBA programs on how holistically they have integrated sustainability into the learning process. At first, only programs within Canada were ranked. Last year, the list was expanded to include institutions from around the world. Using a methodology inspired by the now-suspended Beyond Grey Pinstripes ranking, a comprehensive survey was distributed among schools that wished to participate.

This survey technique allowed for an in-depth assessment of each program, but it also contained several important drawbacks. It was difficult to verify much of the information provided to us, particularly when it came to internal data points such as relevant scholarships and co-op placements. More importantly, it required buy-in from each participating program. While we were able to assemble a list of MBA programs around the world that take sustainability seriously, it also allowed for some schools to opt out of participation.

With these limitations in mind, the ranking was pared down this year to include three key indicators. All data was culled from publicly available sources, eliminating the survey entirely. Rather than approaching schools with an invitation to participate, a decision was made to assess all 100 programs that ranked on the Financial Times (FT) Global MBA Ranking 2013. This has allowed Corporate Knights to judge which of the top MBA programs in the world are prioritizing sustainability education by supporting core curriculum choices, dedicated institutes and centres, and relevant faculty research.

The results for the 2014 Global 100 Sustainable MBA ranking show three Canadian schools leading the pack, with the Schulich School of Business at York University as top performer.

For Dezso Horvath, the long-time dean of the Toronto-based business school, Schulich’s prescient embrace of sustainability issues in the early 1990s helped to build an early competitive advantage. “Students were pointing out that they had not heard a single mention of the environment in their classes, despite the financial, social and legal ramifications of sustainability issues they were likely to encounter in their careers,” says Horvath. A survey of the curriculum at other top schools around the world found this to be a widespread problem. “We made a determination at the time, which I believe has now been borne out by the facts, that the triple-bottom line approach makes good business sense,” he says.

Supportive corporate partners, while initially difficult to find, were brought on board. A concerted effort to blend aspects of the first corporate social responsibility course into the rest of the curriculum was made in the mid-1990s, based on lessons learned a few years prior when integrating issues of business ethics across the board. Schulich continues to push the limits of sustainable business education today, anchored by research hubs such as the Centre of Excellence in Responsible Business and the Institute for Research and Innovation in Sustainability.

Following Schulich on the ranking is the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia, along with the Alberta School of Business at University of Alberta. These Canadian schools were highly competitive due to the high marks they received for curriculum, determined by tallying up core courses fully dedicated to sustainability. Harvard Business School and the Yale School of Management rounded out the Top 5.

While North American schools dominated the top of the list, European schools also fared well. Three programs from the United Kingdom finished in the Top 20, along with two Dutch programs. The top school from Asia, meanwhile, was the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, ranked ninth.

A number of business programs around the world remain interested in how their school would match up against the FT100 list on sustainability metrics. One of these programs, the John Molson School of Business at Concordia University in Montreal, was a top performer in our 2013 ranking. Although it is excluded from this year's research universe, Corporate Knights acknowledges that programs like these remain at the forefront of sustainable business education. With this in mind, we independently benchmarked relevant programs against the 2014 ranking. The John Molson School of Business, for example, finished 11th among ranked programs worldwide, and fourth among ranked Canadian schools.

Corporate Knights' use of the Financial Times universe should not be viewed as an effort to belittle the newspaper’s ranking itself. Both prospective students and the general public remain interested in indicators such as the salary increase for alumni three years after graduation. In addition, certain indicators used by the Financial Times, including female faculty members and other diversity-oriented data points, touch upon issues that Corporate Knights has long advocated for.

Our mission, quite simply, is to build on the FT ranking by determining which of the top schools in the world are focused on the intersection of business and sustainability. On that note, Canadian schools appear to have found an international strength.

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