Apr 11, 2024 - Energy & Environment

Top MBA students push to tackle climate head-on in boardrooms

Illustration of a graduation cap with a round top colored like the earth.

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Students at leading U.S. and European MBA programs are pushing the next generation of business leaders to integrate sustainability into the core of their careers.

Driving the news: The Climate Legacy Commitment was launched last month by two University of Cambridge MBA candidates and has since been signed onto by students at each of the top programs in the "Magic Seven" elite business schools in the U.S.

Why it matters: The campus push arrives as corporate leaders worldwide are on the defensive over incorporating climate and sustainability goals into their business models.

Zoom in: The Cambridge Judge Business School is a foundational sponsor of the initiative.

  • U.S. schools participating include Columbia Business School, Harvard, MIT, Stanford, and Northwestern University, among others.
  • More than 45% of the Cambridge MBA cohort has now signed the pledge, according to its creators, Collin G. Janich and Peter Golding.

How it works: Signers of the commitment recognize the scientific evidence of climate change, and the conclusions of the U.N. climate summit in Dubai late last year.

  • "While acknowledging the pivotal role our current energy systems have played in advancing humanity, we align with the global consensus on the necessity to 'transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems in a just, orderly, and equitable manner'," the commitment states, echoing Dubai's consensus.
  • It rejects business as usual, stating: "Success in this new era must be marked not just by profits, but by pioneering technologies, transformative financing mechanisms, and a holistic reshaping of our consumption and production ethos."
  • Signing the commitment comes with benefits, too. MBA students gain "exclusive access" to a network of corporate leaders, mentors and peers relevant to achieving a net-zero emissions future, ranging from the mobility sector to finance.

Yes, but: Signers of the pledge only commit to broad goals, such as "championing sustainable initiatives, practices, and solutions, leveraging our influence to transition our businesses, communities, and networks towards a net-zero future."

  • It also contains references to lifelong learning about climate solutions and protecting vulnerable communities.
  • Along this theme, organizers are planning an "MBA COP" in a European city in August, drawing parallels with a UN climate summit.

Between the lines: The pledge marks the start of a movement to more deeply integrate sustainability, and specifically the curbing of greenhouse gas emissions, into the corporate boardrooms of tomorrow.

  • It also offers signs of a pushback within elite business schools against the anti-ESG movement, which has focused on the arguments that businesses should pursue what's best for the bottom line and maximizing shareholder value, while paying less attention to environmental goals.

What they're saying: "While existing climate pledges focus on governments, corporations, and NGOs, they neglect the critical role that future business leaders will play," Janich and Golding told Axios via email.

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