How to Choose the Best Sustainable MBA for You

Sustainable MBAs, with their emphasis on producing socially-minded graduates, offer an ideal match for students who want to bring fresh new ideas to the sustainability challenges faced by today’s businesses. The Sustainable MBA is a traditional MBA with a philosophical business focus on combining the needs of the present without compromising quality of life in the future. For the past few decades, and despite the continued pressures of the economic downturn, interest in business ethics and corporate social responsibility (CSR) has grown throughout the MBA world. Green career opportunities have increased, too. Companies have followed the trend toward a green focus, as they have become quickly aware that sustainable practices matter to their customers and employees.

sustainable MBA

What do you need to consider as you choose a sustainable MBA program? The choice to attend any college takes lots of planning, but the sustainability MBA has particular areas on which you should concentrate. Here’s a list of helpful ideas.

Do Practical Research into Sustainable Career Options

Before you do anything else, take time to learn what actually happens in the sustainable business world. You need to know as much as possible about the career you’re choosing and the career options that are available to you within a sustainable MBA. What is the state of the green market? How is it expected to evolve in the next 5-10 years? Be able to anticipate the venture capital interest in social entrepreneurship. What percentage of companies will be expected to operate in the carbon market? What will that look like in actual practice?

What is the area or areas within the green economy and sustainability that interest you the most?  What are your career objectives? There are a great number of specialty areas to consider, such as energy policy and administration, green development, natural and organic resources, or renewable energy. Take your time now to learn about the sustainable business field for your objectives tomorrow.

Follow the Paths of Your Green Business Startup Role Models

Many successful green business owners and managers didn’t attend a sustainable MBA program, because they simply were not available during that previous generation’s educational years. As a result, your green business role models had different career trajectories than you likely will, but it still makes sense to trace how they achieved their current status. Do you know where the founders of Warby Parker, Recyclebank, TriplePundit, or RelayRides studied? How did sustainability visionary Elon Musk achieve his successes? Have you looked into the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Entrepreneurial Mentor Corps (EMC)? It was launched in 2011 to mobilize members of the current generation of successful business owners to mentor and support startups and entrepreneurs to help them become the next generation of great American companies. The criteria for acceptance to this program could be a valuable guiding force for your own green business future.

Anticipate Changes as a Sustainable Market Becomes Commonplace

It’s really important to think 10-15 years ahead to match a sustainable MBA curriculum to your future needs. And don’t let the job postings on today’s online listserves sway you, as most of those positions reflect the past, not the future. For example, natural capital, which are all the resources and ecosystem services companies rely on, such as the cost of water, is currently undervalued by most companies. That will be changing quickly. Companies in the near future will likely also pay more attention to their supply chains, addressing issues such as deforestation, palm oil sourcing, land management by food producers, and human rights. Doing your homework now can position you well later for understanding the direction and trends of the upcoming sustainable marketplace.

Which is Right for You? A Sustainable MBA or a MBA with Some Sustainability Courses?

Two primary types of sustainable MBA programs exist. One offers sustainability integration into every course and across the entire curriculum. The other option is to have the traditional MBA drive the required core courses while you infuse a concentration of sustainability additions. Your choice will likely depend on the type of topics that are relevant to your career objectives, what electives are offered that appeal to you, how well the course content suits your particular strengths and talents, and how frequently the program offers practical on-site training and real life experiences.

As you conduct your research, be a bit wary. Some programs label themselves as sustainable MBA programs but only provide some fundamental, entry-level sustainability instruction within the larger general business framework. Do as many site visits as possible so you can see courses underway and talk to current enrolled students. Try to cull out details about the depth and reach of the sustainability field as essential core instruction.

Narrow Your Choices by Pinpointing What Is Important to You in an Education

If you are a full-time student, a two-year sustainable MBA may work fine for you. But if you’re already situated in the workplace, you may prefer an intensive Saturday program, or even a fully online sustainable MBA. You have to decide if campus life is an important component of your overall graduate school experience, if a part-time connection with campus faculty and support is enough, or if you need the independence that online program offers (and demands).

An efficient way to decide what study sequence works best for you is to Compare 20 MBA Programs in Sustainability. Immersing yourself in a search through different schools and a comparative process may be a bit overwhelming but is necessary. Often, being able to sort programs into terms of curriculum, faculty, extracurricular activities, overall value, and location helps you to zoom into particulars like the time on task you’ll need to devote to complete a sustainable MBA.

Factor in the University’s Sustainable MBA Reputation and Ranking

It is important to remember that the reputation of a traditional MBA might not necessarily transfer to the specialized sustainable MBA. A sustainable MBA requires specific coursework, experience, and application. One way to know if the program is valued is to learn how others in sustainable business and professional communities view it.

School ranking, which helps to brand a university in excellence, serves the interests of its students as well as that of the institution. Rankings give you a way to assess the quality of the MBA programs you are evaluating, exposes you to the type of schools that recruiters prefer, and confers particular meanings when hiring managers consider your educational background.

Regionally recognized schools do have a lot to offer, but you need to understand how and if the wider recognition of a sustainable MBA may have later relevance. For example, will you be relying on it to help you to get a new job in another part of the country or the world where the school may be relatively unknown?

Familiarize Yourself with an Institution’s Faculty

It is wise to solicit information about how many faculty members have actively engage in CSR and sustainability related research. Do they have white papers that you can read? If so, there’s really no better way to determine a faculty member’s particular area of interest and whether that will be a good fit for you.

Another important consideration is the level of faculty experience in sustainable management, as that is a keen factor in the ability to mentor and lend a hand with career networking. Sometimes students’ satisfaction surveys are available online in aggregate and can help to answer questions about faculty emphasis on social and environmental themes in their program’s curriculum.

How Much Will the Sustainable MBA Program Cost You?

MBA programs are a considerable financial investment, and sustainable MBA programs are no exception. Will this costly MBA provide you with a level of expertise commensurate with career salary?  Moreover, make sure that you can manage the program fees, living expenses, travel costs, and books, among other expenses. Yes, it’s typical to borrow through a college loan program, but read the fine print to know exactly what you’ll have to repay and when these installments will be due. Most universities have dedicated personnel to help aspiring graduate students to figure out these types of financial questions.

Balance Opportunities for Field Experiences with Classroom Instruction

Sustainable MBA programs will offer different types professional development opportunities, such as consulting projects or internships, because university/ private sector collaborations enhance overall learning. They can help students access networking opportunities, too, so look into the types of partnerships each graduate program you’re considering has within and outside the university.

Johns Hopkins offers a valuable list of internships consistent with a sustainable MBA that you might want to review.

Look at The  Program’s Placement Stats

A university’s placement statistics speak to the level of post-graduate school assistance a particular institution provides. Look for names of particular companies and industry leaders that have alliances and partnering relationships with each school on your list. Who endorses your potential university enough to associate its name and logo with their sustainable MBA program? Where have alumni found jobs? Has the sustainable MBA program established itself enough to garner outside interest and influence?

Social media reference points like Linkedin can help you acquire these answers.

Could a Sustainability Certificate Program Work for You?

Several colleges and universities are starting to make their way into the sustainability world by providing a certificate rather than a sustainable MBA. For example, individuals who already hold a MBA yet who want the sustainability endorsement might find this way to “green” their credentials. Or the duration and cost of a sustainable MBA program might be too much for you right now, but you still want to add another dimension to your undergraduate degree and resume.  

The International Association of Sustainability Professionals offers a sustainability process for interested individuals. You might like this route, which allows you to become an instructor for future sustainability professionals.  You’d bring cohesion and definition to the emerging profession of sustainability by providing credibility for employers and assurance of a standard level of competency of the sustainability professional. You’d impart practitioners in the field evidence of competency, furthering their credibility, influence, and career advancement opportunities. You’d offer clear guidance and direction to educators and organizations who create sustainability courses, training programs, and ongoing professional development opportunities for sustainability practitioners.


Regardless of the direction you go in pursuing a sustainable MBA, you’ll be joining a network of people who feel strongly that business can work to protect the environment and their workforce through targeted training, experiential learning, and networking opportunities. Moreover, you’ll have that important piece of paper after you finish that endorses your commitment to a sustainable world through practical education and application.

Photo credit: Jeremy Levine Design via / CC BY


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top