Four MBA students from Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business sat front and center for the climate talks in Paris (COP 21) that grabbed the world’s attention in December. Now those students are back on campus sharing what they learned with their classmates.
In fact, students from Tuck have attended five of the past seven climate summits—in Copenhagen, Cancún, Doha and Warsaw in addition to Paris’s COP21—with Professor Anant Sundaram. “Honestly, it continues to surprise me that more schools don’t do this,” he says. But to his knowledge, Tuck is alone in having MBA students attend. He suspects part of it is inertia—the United Nations doesn’t make it easy to take part, requiring that those who want to attend formally apply for non-governmental organization (NGO) observer status. Additionally, only a handful of slots are awarded to each NGO, and he suspects that they have gone to students outside of the business schools at places like Harvard, Columbia or Yale.
Sundaram’s own interests propelled him to begin teaching a course back in 2009 on business and climate change, which Tuck says was the first of its kind to be offered at a U.S. business school. Today, many leading business schools offer options for students interested in sustainability, from UNC’s Kenan-Flagler School of Business, which features a sustainability concentration, to Yale School of Management, which offers a joint degree in business and the environment with the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.
Corporations, Not Countries, Produce Emissions
As Sundaram sees it—and argues in his classes—businesses and individuals are the ones that produce emissions that lead to climate change, not countries. Corporations must drive change, he continues, by developing efficiency technologies, shifting to renewable energy sources and implementing carbon capture and sequestration systems. The idea to send students to the climate talks was a natural outgrowth of his classes, he says.
Still, the Tuck students’ presence there surprises many. “People always kind of do a double take and say, ‘What is a business school doing here?’” Sundaram says. “And I say, ‘Who is causing the emissions? Corporations. And who are the people that run those companies? MBAs.’”
As he sees it, the careers of today’s MBA students are going to evolve in a world where two things are true: First, climate change will happen in a far more significant way, and second, there will be a global price on carbon, which will have stunning implications. “For these reasons, it makes complete sense to have business school students attend climate talks,” he says.
Winning Student Essays Snag Spots at Summit
The program that allows Tuck students to do just that is run through the school’s Center for Business & Society. Interested students—there were about 15 this fall—apply to go, each writing an essay about why they should get to take part. The four selected to attend the COP21 in Paris in December were Tuck alumna Christine Hou (MBA ’15) and second-year MBA students Patrick Turevon, Nell Achtmeyer and Kelsey MacEachern. As official observers at the talks, the students got to waltz in and out of breakout sessions, roundtable discussions and press conferences taking place behind the scenes at the headline-making climate negotiations last month.
In one instance, MacEachern and Achtmeyer found themselves with front-row seats to a press conference where former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Bank of England Governor Mike Carney unveiled a new task force charged with developing ways to measure the financial exposure companies have to climate change. “For me, it reinforced how important these issues truly are for all types of business leaders, no matter the industry,” Achtmeyer says. “It was certainly one of the most impactful events I attended.”