In the business world, sustainability is known as the “triple bottom line” of people, profit and planet. Related terminology includes “corporate social responsibility” (CSR) and “social innovation,” which involve using business as a way to advance social and environmental change. Economic sustainability is vital as well: corporations, institutions of higher education, nonprofits and local and state governments must ensure their long-term financial health and integrity while simultaneously fostering environmental and social well-being. Many corporations are leading the sustainability movement, taking initiative to lower the environmental footprints of their operations, and providing greener and more socially responsible goods and services.
Sustainable business degrees integrate the worlds of business and economics with the environmental, social and cultural aspects of sustainability. Degrees for those interested in this field can be found in sustainability or business with a concentration that integrates these two areas of study (such as a business degree with a concentration in green business); joint business and environmental or sustainability degrees are also offered.
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Popular Sustainable Business Degree Programs
Popular sustainable business degree programs include:
- Bachelor of Science in environmental management
- Bachelor of Science in sustainable business
- Master of Business Administration with a concentration in sustainability or a related concentration (also known as a “Green MBA”)
- Graduate Certificate in sustainable business or corporate responsibility
Sustainable Business Prerequisites and Curriculum
Prerequisites for sustainable business undergraduate degrees typically include a high school diploma or GED, as well as successful completion of high school courses in accounting and communications, as well as in basic sciences (like Earth science), mathematics and English. Most graduate degrees in sustainable business require an undergraduate degree in a related discipline, such as a bachelor’s degree in business administration, finance, economics, environmental studies or environmental sciences.
Undergraduate Sustainable Business Curriculum
Students in undergraduate sustainable business degree programs can expect to take courses in:
- Introductory environmental sciences (such as environmental biology, environmental chemistry and environmental studies).
- Sustainability-related social sciences (such as ethics and ecology of commerce, environmental regulation and environmental policy and economics).
- Mathematics (such as accounting and statistics).
- Business courses (such as financial management, accounting, marketing, microeconomics and communications).
- Interdisciplinary business and sustainability courses (such as sustainable energy systems, sustainability reporting and metrics, international perspectives in sustainable business, building social capital, sustainable business management and industrial ecology).
In addition, students may take courses in areas such as sustainable agriculture and hospitality management, engineering, sociology and more. Many undergraduate programs require a final capstone experience, honors thesis or other culminating experience in which students apply what they’ve learned in the classroom to real-world environmental issues. Internships in sustainable business are also common and are good resume builders. Two examples of undergraduate sustainable business degree programs are Aquinas College‘s Bachelor of Science in sustainable business and St. Petersburg College‘s Bachelor of Applied Science in sustainability management.
Graduate Sustainable Business Curriculum
Common types of graduate programs in sustainable business include Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs with a “green” focus and certificates in sustainable business or corporate responsibility. Few doctorate programs combine business and sustainability; students who want to pursue a doctoral option can apply to a program in a related field such as economics or management. More and more MBA programs are catering to full-time working professionals, and many of these programs are flexible, are offered online or via evening classes and can be completed in one to two years.
Students in an MBA in sustainable business program can expect to take courses in:
- Business (such as managerial economics, organizational theory and behavior, leadership, marketing and management).
- Sustainability (such as natural and human communities, international perspectives in sustainable business, sustainable economics and management, building social capital and industrial ecology).
- Applied research.
Students can also expect to complete internships, hands-on faculty-advised projects and/or electronic portfolios that serve as a capstones to their coursework. Good examples of sustainable MBA programs include those at Humboldt University and Aquinas College.
Careers for Sustainable Business Graduates
Graduates with a degree in sustainable business may work for companies, governmental agencies or institutions of higher education. Positions in sustainability management or analysis often provide points of entry for recent graduates; people in these positions may develop sustainability goals and plans for their employers, then work to implement and evaluate the success of those plans. Sustainability managers might also oversee and work on specific sustainability projects like greenhouse gas emissions inventories, supply chain analysis and “greening,” state and federal environmental regulation compliance and sustainable investing or finance.
General and operations managers across all industries earn an average annual salary of $116,090, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics in May 2013, and the job outlook for sustainability managers continues to be good. A 2011 Green Biz survey found that 86 percent of large companies had at least one full-time employee who spends all of their time working on sustainability, compared to 81 percent in 2010. In addition, 38 percent of the companies surveyed employed a sustainability executive at the vice president level, and another 34 percent employed one at the director level.
Sustainability career paths in more economically focused fields include sustainable investing, environmental economics, environmental accounting and energy efficiencient financing. Such professionals may work in positions that deal with sustainability theory and ideas (such as researchers, professors and government officials), or work in applied positions (including investment advisers, financial specialists, risk mangers and carbon accountants). Bentley University, a business-focused institution, provides a great list of sustainable business careers, from socially responsible investment to community and economic development finance. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not collect data on sustainable finance professionals, the financial analysis field as a whole is expected to grow by 16 percent between 2012 and 2022, and financial analysts earn an average annual salary of $76,950.