Once upon a time, long ago,
people who cared about the environment and sustainable resources
were called “old hippies,” and the term “green
business” was an oxymoron.
Times have changed, and business isn’t done the way it used
to be. One need look no further than the courses and activities
at top business schools to see that corporate America, increasingly,
is adding the promotion of healthy social conditions and community
welfare to its bottom line.
Later this month The University of Texas at Austin McCombs School
of Business will host more than 1,000 MBAs and business leaders
from around the world for the 2003 Net Impact National Conference
to discuss the challenges and future of corporate social responsibility.
A glance over the conference agenda and the crowd of attendees will
re-educate anyone who still thinks that soy-lovers and tree-huggers
are the only face of green business.
The conference includes a keynote address by Reginald Van Lee,
senior vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton and leader of the Harlem
Small Business Initiative, as well as panels moderated by representatives
from business giants such as Hewlett Packard, Intel, Reliant Energy
and Procter & Gamble.
“It’s not just about going out and being an activist,”
says Dr. David Spence, a professor of business law and regulation
who serves as faculty adviser for the McCombs School chapter of
Net Impact, a national network of business leaders who want to leverage
corporate power to create a better world. “Students can go
to well-established companies and work in environmental management
and environmental compliance, and the number of jobs that relate
to renewable and alternative energy is certainly growing. I’ve
had students get jobs at places like Dell and International Paper
that mesh with their desire to protect the environment and benefit
society while they use the strong business training they received
Membership in student organizations such as Net Impact has exploded
over the past few years at a time when American corporations have
themselves begun to place greater emphasis on ethics and social
issues for a mixture of reasons. The demands of sophisticated consumers,
changing regulations, and high-profile business scandals have led
many companies to revamp their operations, adding jobs and products
that address environmental health issues and global social concerns.
Impact, an organization of more than 7,000 MBAs and business
leaders, provides opportunities for members to discuss issues
such as environmental management, corporate responsibility,
business ethics and non-profit management.
“These days, I don’t think there’s a specific
‘type’ of student who’s focusing on socially responsible
corporate behavior and an education in that,” says Lee Zarnikau,
coordinator for sustainable development at ConocoPhillips, McCombs
School alumna and Net Impact member. “When you talk about
sustainability in the business context, for example, you’re
not talking about something outside of business, something
that’s a luxury to know. It’s just a necessary part
of business now, and part of doing well and remaining viable is
paying close attention to environmental and social factors.”
Statistics and studies support Zarnikau’s assertion that
socially responsible behavior may be a necessity if a company wants
In a 1999 Environics survey of 25,000 people in 23 countries on
six continents, half responded that they pay attention to companies’
social behavior, and more than one in five reported having rewarded
or punished a company based on that behavior. A survey by Cone Communications
and Roper Starch Worldwide found that 54 percent of respondents
would pay more for a product that supports a cause they care about;
66 percent said they would switch brands and 62 percent said they
would switch retailers to support socially responsible business
behavior. Yet another study found that nearly 90 percent of consumers
surveyed would be more likely to buy from a company that has the
best reputation for social responsibility.
Studies also reveal that socially screened investment portfolios
in the U.S. rose by more than a third from 1999 to 2001, and retail
ethical funds doubled in size every three years in the United Kingdom
during the 1990s, with some of the funds repeatedly outperforming
the market average.
Because of sophisticated consumers’ demands, changing business
regulations and high-profile business scandals, many companies have
revamped their operations, adding jobs and products that address
environmental health issues and global social concerns. What’s
good for the planet’s health is turning out to be good for
profits as well.
For students interested in coursework that focuses on socially
responsible business practices, the McCombs School offers an outstanding
level of support and opportunities for networking.
“Over the past two or three years the McCombs School has
taken major steps to become a leader in business ethics and socially
responsible business practices,” says Steve Salbu, associate
dean for graduate programs, director of the McCombs School Business
Ethics Program and faculty adviser to the local chapter of Net Impact.
“For instance, we’ve developed the McCombs Business
Ethics Program, which brings in nationally and internationally renowned
guest speakers. That program now has an endowment, thanks to the
generosity of numerous alumni, friends and supporters who understand
that ethics is a central part of good business.”
Salbu also points to the MBA interdisciplinary specialization in
social enterprise as an example of the school’s drive to satisfy
students who want to solve social and environmental problems while
working in a business setting. Career options for MBAs choosing
this specialization range from employment in a company’s environmental
management area to positions in corporate compliance offices or
community relations management.
“Students taking the courses we offer in the social enterprise
specialization are more heterogeneous than most people realize,”
says Salbu. “The courses attract students specializing in
areas as diverse as finance and hedge fund management, marketing,
management consulting and entrepreneurship.”
With many of the solutions to environmental and social problems
arriving via the innovative ideas, technologies and products that
smaller companies and entrepreneurs foster, it is crucial that students
familiarize themselves with small business operations as well as
the complexities of the corporate world. Nonprofits offer an excellent
study ground for future entrepreneurs.
Salbu, associate dean for graduate programs in the McCombs
School, is the director of the Business Ethics Program and
faculty adviser to the local chapter of Net Impact.
The Community Development Practicum is a course that gives graduate
students a chance to work as consultants for local nonprofits, drawing
on sound business skills to solve problems the nonprofits face.
In helping their clients, the students refine their communication
skills, cultivate relationships with community leaders and learn
valuable lessons that may be used in any business setting.
“I have serious-minded MBAs in this class, and even if they
end up at a large corporation, they’re going to be able to
draw upon what they absorb from interaction with the nonprofits,”
says Eugene Sepulveda, a marketing lecturer who teaches the practicum.
“They learn how to operate in an environment of scarcity and
maximize resources, and they learn a tremendous amount about being
good managers by seeing how the nonprofits motivate, train and keep
volunteers. It’s also very satisfying for the students that
the nonprofits implement their business solutions.”
Projects offer students the opportunity to work with everything
from community development financial institutions to the film industry
and public radio.
Similar in purpose to the Community Development Practicum but different
in structure, the McCombs School’s Plus Program also includes
a Community Development and Social Enterprise Academy that takes
MBAs out of the classroom and into the nonprofit sector.
The innovative Plus Program divides each semester of an MBA’s
two years into two, six-week modules with a two-week period in between
that allows students to leave the classroom and experience an immersive
professional development opportunity, with topics running the gamut
from business ethics to global entrepreneurship and energy finance.
Through Plus, McCombs MBAs learn about world cultures, for example,
by sampling the cuisine and dancing to the beat of their music as
well as examining their economies.
During a two-week hiatus from regular coursework, the Plus Community
Development and Social Enterprise Academy sends students into the
community to learn how nonprofits resemble and differ from private
sector businesses. They develop project ideas that can turn assets
into revenue streams, evaluate markets for the proposed goods or
services, identify the financial impact of the concept and work
with community social entrepreneurs to investigate the viability
of their solutions.
Sepulveda teaches the McCombs School’s Community Development
Practicum, a course that gives MBAs an opportunity to work
as consultants for Austin-area nonprofits.
“The energy, expertise and perspective of the MBA Plus students
create a special kind of community engagement,” says Deborah
Edward, Executive Director of Greenlights for Nonprofit Success,
a Central Texas nonprofit that coordinates the Plus Program’s
Community Development Academy. “The results this year will
be tactical business plans and financial analysis of ideas that
earn income—and a great beginning for MBA students in their
For business students interested in volunteerism, nonprofit management
and philanthropy, the Lyndon Baines Johnson School of Public Affairs’
RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service recently implemented
a Portfolio Program through which graduate students in several academic
units, including the McCombs School, can research and study the
philanthropic sector. MBAs accepted into the program are required
to complete 12 credit hours of approved courses, 40 hours of volunteer
work and present a scholarly research paper on a relevant topic.
Students receive a certificate upon completion of the Portfolio
“More and more, nonprofits are streamlining their operations
and resembling private sector businesses,” says Moira Foreman,
program coordinator for the RGK Center’s Graduate Portfolio
Program. “And businesses, in turn, are working with nonprofits.
Businesses are more engaged in local communities than ever before,
and it’s highly likely that someone could have a job in a
large company that involves work with nonprofits, so it’s
important to know their operating styles and service needs.”
From serving on a nonprofit’s board to following an entrepreneurial
urge and creating an environment-friendly business of one’s
own, the field is wide open for MBAs eager to change the future
by taking their beliefs to the business arena.
Seth Goldman, chief executive officer of Honest Tea and a keynote
speaker at this year’s Net Impact conference, is happy to
witness this change in the corporate climate and the enthusiasm
that a new breed of MBAs brings to their mission.
“Students who want to be good stewards of the environment
and society can be entrepreneurs, work at nonprofits or go to very
large corporations and be the instigators of change for the better,”
says Goldman. “Consumers and investors are demanding a new
way of doing business, and these graduates are going to be out there
to answer the call. When you have beliefs and you want to live them,
it’s so important to remember your goal, to take control and
shape your path. These students are doing that—they’re
changing the future and pushing the envelope.”