Making a Difference at Work–Is a Green MBA Right for You?

Are you looking around at the world today, wondering how you can make a difference?  Maybe you’ve considered going back to school to get training that will make you an effective change agent at work and in your network?  Are you thinking that more education will help you get a good job that also makes a positive difference in the world?  You might want to consider getting a Green MBA. “MBA? ME?”  I know, that’s what I said, too.  But there is a new breed of MBA programs out there, focused on making Business As Usual a better place for people and planet.  These new, “green” MBA programs teach how  businesses, government and NGOs can re-purpose and restructure to make the world a better place.

One of the misconceptions about Green MBAs is that they are concerned solely with environmental issues. A Green MBA is actually triple-bottom-line focused, measuring organizations by their effectiveness at balancing social justice, environmental sustainability and financial stability (people, planet, profit). This emphasis ideally is carried throughout the “standard” MBA subjects–accounting and finance, marketing, operations, and leadership and organizational development.

“Green MBAs” originated on the West Coast in 2002-03: the Green MBA at Dominican University of California just north of San Francisco, Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco, and Bainbridge Graduate Institute outside Seattle were among the first accredited degree programs that focused on nurturing sustainable business practices.  Since then, many more programs have sprung up, some stand alone, some online, some as tracks in more traditional MBA programs.  With the ensuing “green rush” there are now dozens of programs across the country and around the world.

Full disclosure: In the “bloom” of middle age, I quit my work in arts marketing and entered the Green MBA program at Dominican, from which I graduated in 2008.  The experience was exciting, stimulating, and life changing, so I am definitely writing from a biased point of view. It will take thought and research to see which, if any, Green MBA is right for you–and here are some questions that might help:

Curriculum — Does the program provide you with the tools to make a difference in the workplace? In particular, I recommend checking to see if some variant of systems thinking is included. Systems thinking is the the discipline that helps people delineate options and take action in the face of complex issues. And no one can doubt that we’re facing complex issues in today’s financial, social and environmental challenges.

— What is the average class size?  Are classes small enough for close interaction within small groups and with the faculty? Or maybe you’d prefer larger classes or more varied offerings?

Faculty — Do the teachers have real-world experience that interests or excites you and that is relevant to what you would like to learn?  How much interaction would you have with faculty members while in the program?

Student body — What is the ‘typical’ student profile? Is there diversity, in terms of past education, work history, geography, age and life experience? Does the program require a certain amount of work experience before attending? Is there a mentoring system in place?

Commitment to sustainability
— Is sustainability embedded in every class at its foundation, or tacked on in separate classes?  Is the campus/university committed to sustainability initiatives? Does the commitment apply to the individual student’s learning and life balance? Does the program encourage personal growth and self awareness? 

Experiential learning – A Green MBA training is not something you can gain just by reading a bunch of books.  Does the program include multiple real-life interactions with companies and organizations through student projects or internships?  For instance, at the Green MBA, we were required to do waste audits of local businesses in our first semester.  I’ll never forget spending one Sunday afternoon digging through the dumpster (with their permission) of a local coffee shop, thinking to myself, “I didn’t do THIS while I was getting my master’s in literature!”.  My report helped that small business change its waste operations and save money and the environment, while  I discovered that nurturing positive change in organizations brings immense personal satisfaction.

Good Fit? Does the class schedule and work load match your life demands?  For instance, will you be able to keep your current job or arrange for child care while in the program?

A Green MBA is not for everyone.  See if these questions strike a chord with you:

  • Am I ready to do the personal work necessary to lead change in a challenging world?
  • Do I want to help business change for the better and still be financially sustainable?
  • How can my work make a positive difference for people and planet?

These are the questions that resonated with me; I hope others will share share experiences with other programs below in the Comments section.

Learn more:
An excellent resource is Net Impact, an international nonprofit that strives to inspire, educate, and equip individuals to use the power of business to create a more socially and environmentally sustainable world. They issue Business as UNusual, the Student Guide to Graduate Programs for those searching for triple-bottom-line programs.

The Aspen Institute issues Beyond Grey Pinstripes, a biennial survey of MBA programs that integrate social and environmental research into their curricula.

Photo: iStockphoto


Ellinor S.
Ellinor S7 years ago

thank you

Chhiv Leng Koeu
Chhiv -7 years ago

Sounds interesting.

Mary Latela
Mary Latela8 years ago

I would love to work for a Green MBA. Can the green ($$$) be kept out of it? Free green education would be super!

Jos� Mar�a Olmos Sant
Jose Maria O8 years ago


Jos� Mar�a Olmos Sant
Jose Maria O8 years ago


poepiesnoepie k.
Past Member 8 years ago

Interesting!.. this could be a cool try... it is solely committed to environmental issues...

Lenee Lirette
Lenee Lirette8 years ago

very nice photograph, and interesting information! Kudos

Gaby Micallef-trigona

At my age, though eager to learn more, especaially about anything concerning the environment and nature, I fear I would not be up to the mark for exams!!!!! Just the thought of an exam would probably cause great harm to my heart condition.

Alicia Nuszloch
Alicia N8 years ago

thanks for the info. was very informative.

Astrid M.
Astrid M8 years ago

LOL this article made me realize I'm not alone.
At 38 I quit my job and started my Green MBA. Not regretting it one bit. In Mexico there's an option too: ITESM-CEM The MBA is MSc MDS.
Way to go!