Oct. 21, 2003

SBPM on the Cutting Edge

Program Tops Aspen Institute List of Business Schools for Fourth Consecutive Time

By Thomas Kohout

For the fourth consecutive time over a seven year period the Aspen Institute has ranked The George Washington University’s School of Business and Public Management as one of six “schools on the cutting-edge” for environmental and social sustainability MBA programs. Mark Starik, associate professor of strategic management and public policy and director of GW’s Environmental and Social Sustainability Initiative (ESSI), was joined by counterparts from the other cutting-edge schools — University of Michigan; University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Yale University; Stanford University; and York University (Schulich) in Toronto, Canada — for the Beyond Grey Pinstripes awards presentation in New York Oct. 8.

“We’ve seen positive change this year and a lot of innovation taking place in selected schools,” said Judith Samuelson, executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Business and Society Program. “But the reality is too many MBA students still graduate without an understanding of social impact and environmental management.”

The six cutting-edge schools were selected based on their ability to infuse social and environmental content into core courses, and have more extensive faculty research on topics bearing directly on the management of social and environmental impacts. These schools also support more extracurricular and student initiated activities — including conferences, seminars and speakers — that broaden understanding of social and environmental stewardship.

“Cutting-edge programs like these are producing leaders who can change tomorrow’s business landscape,” said Jonathan Lash, president of World Resources Institute, one of the organizations that assessed the programs. “But a gap remains between the skills that are taught today and the challenges business will face tomorrow.”

GW also was cited as one of seven leaders in academic research on social impact and environmental management. According to the Aspen Institute, research conducted at GW and the other six schools — Calgary; University of Michigan; UNC, Chapel Hill; University of Pennsylvania; University of California, Berkeley, and York University — represents 30 percent of all relevant research identified from the 100 schools ranked. Research conducted through the GW initiative is grouped in two areas — peer-reviewed research centering on sustainability issues of business organizations and their stakeholders and scholarly and practitioner-related research.

Since the Aspen Institute began Beyond Grey Pinstripes, the criteria has changed dramatically. The ranking started as a list of business and environmental programs only, then social issues were added as a separate category, next the ranking became biennial, and finally Aspen merged the categories to judge schools on both their social and environmental programs. Because the assessment process has changed so much over the years, several universities have made appearances among the leading schools, only to be dropped in subsequent rankings. Few have had the kind of staying power shown by GW.

“Yale, UNC Chapel Hill and Michigan have been in there with us pretty much all the way,” said Starik.

Starik points to GW’s location in Washington, DC, as key reason why the initiative is so highly regarded.

“It’s happening all around us. We have so many nonprofit government organizations and some business organizations who put into practice some leadership programs in these areas, we’ve drawn on that,” he said.

Last summer, the ESSI partnered with the management consulting practicum, to create a consulting project with the World Resources Institute (WRI).

“A number of different organizations work with them,” explained Starik. “Our students were consulting with WRI trying to figure out if businesses who claim to be sustainability-oriented actually hire employees with sustainability skills. The findings were not anywhere near as good as one might hope. Businesses are starting to walk the talk, but they have a long way to go.”

Beyond Grey Pinstripes ranked more than 100 leading MBA programs, most accredited by either the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business or the European Foundation for Management Development, representing schools from 20 countries. The program seeks to: celebrate innovation in business education; inform students about environmental and social impact management content in business schools; challenge business schools to incorporate social impact and environmental management topics into their curricula; and let corporate recruiters know which business schools are providing training in social and environmental skills.

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