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MBA & Sustainability Spotlight: Harvard Business School

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We are excited to begin a new series that gives MBA programs the stage to talk about sustainability–how it’s incorporated into their curriculum, related resources for students, and more. To kick off the series, Harvard Business School (HBS) sheds light on their support for sustainability.

Clear Admit: How does the curriculum for full-time MBA students support leadership in sustainability, or how is it evolving to do so?
HBS: During the first year required curriculum (RC), students are exposed to over 20 cases covering environment and sustainability content. In spring 2023, a new required course was added, “The Social Purpose of the Firm,” which explores the role business plays in addressing environmental and societal issues. During their second elective curriculum (EC) year, students may choose from over 14 core and 20 related courses that explore the integration of climate change and environmental issues.

Short Intensive Programs (SIPs) are courses offered during the January term that offer students the opportunity to think about career choices, gain practical skills, and explore different topics. In the last few years several SIPs have been developed around different climate related topics, including Climate Change, Climate Finance, Climate Adaptation, and Accelerating Climate Solutions. In January 2023, a new Immersive Field Course (IFC) was developed on decarbonization and sustainable production in Denmark and the Netherlands, and an additional IFC will be offered in January 2024 on India’s path to net zero.

CA: What additional resources, such as clubs, centers, etc., are available for those who want to pursue careers in sustainability?
HBS: There are numerous sustainability-related resources that students can take advantage of during their time at HBS. The Business and Environment Initiative (BEI) serves as a central resource for both current students and alumni exploring careers in sustainability. At the student activity level, there are student clubs that focus on the link between business and environment, and sustainability and impact, including the Energy and Environment Club, the Sustainability Club, the Food and Agriculture Club, and the Impact Investing Club. Club activities include the annual Climate Symposium, speaker series, treks, and networking events. HBS also has a Student Sustainability Associate program, which hires students to complete sustainability projects and run educational campaigns for their classmates that cover a range of topics, including social equity and environmental justice, energy/climate, transportation, food, and waste.

HBS offers career panels and coaching specifically for students pursuing careers at the intersection of business and environment, impact, and sustainability.  There are also several ways to connect with alumni or practitioners with experience in the field, including the HBS Initiatives Mentor Match Program, i-lab Expert Resources, and Rock Center Entrepreneurs in Residence.  Students are encouraged to pursue opportunities across the University, including the Climate Leaders Program, the Council of Student Sustainability Leaders, and the Student Sustainability Associate Program, as well as engage with other climate centers across the University, including the Salata Institute for Climate and Sustainability, the Digital, Data, and Design Institute – Climate and Sustainability Impact Lab, and the Harvard University Center for the Environment (HUCE). For students pursuing an entrepreneurial path, there are many resources to support students interested in founding or joining a climate start-up, including courses, advising resources, and opportunities to test and develop start-up ideas.

CA: How is your business school embracing sustainable practices in terms of campus life? Are there any environmentally-friendly features you would like to highlight about the facilities?
HBS: HBS uses the campus as a living lab for sustainability solutions and as a model to inspire others to action, including our students who will be the next generation of leaders. The School has made strong progress on a number of sustainability goals including a GHG reduction of 52% and a waste reduction of 58% (2022 vs 2006).

Campus highlights include:

  • 18 LEED certified projects demonstrating sustainable design and construction
  • 1 solar thermal and 9 solar PV* installations
  • 2 cogeneration systems
  • 9 green roofs
  • 4 beehives

A rainwater tank for irrigation at Klarman Hall, lower emissions plant-based food offering Standardized waste sorting stations along with food and furniture donations to reduce waste.

As part of a broader Harvard initiative, HBS is also committed to the avoidance of Harvard’s chemical classes of concern in target building materials including furniture, carpet, and paint. Additional healthier building measures include three on-campus pilots with healthier lighting designed to support our natural circadian rhythms which is linked to both physical and mental wellbeing. HBS also has a staff engagement program with sustainability-themed campaigns on topics such as social equity and environmental justice, energy/climate, health, food and water.

SRECs, representing the environmental benefits, are sold to the Harvard Utility so it can meet its State renewable energy requirements.

CA: Do you have any future plans related to sustainability that you’d like to share?
HBS: Harvard has a new Sustainability Plan with a focus on climate, equity and health. The plan includes Harvard’s fossil fuel neutral goal by 2026 and fossil fuel free goal by 2050. HBS is evaluating strategies such as geothermal, heat pumps and low-temperature hot water to reach these goals. There is also a heavier focus on Scope 3 emissions with reduction goals on embodied carbon for construction materials and food, which HBS has started to work on. Harvard will also be launching updated Sustainable Building Standards and has new diversity goals in design and construction that HBS will be supporting on upcoming projects.

Stay tuned for upcoming content on sustainability at leading MBA programs!

Lauren Wakal
Lauren Wakal has been covering the MBA admissions space for more than a decade, from in-depth business school profiles to weekly breaking news and more.