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MBA & Sustainability Spotlight: Chicago Booth

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With a closer look at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, we continue to shine the spotlight on the MBA and sustainability. Donna Swinford, Associate Dean for Student Recruitment and Admissions for MBA Programs at Chicago Booth, walks us through the sustainability-related features of the school below.

Clear Admit: How does the curriculum for full-time MBA students support leadership in sustainability, or how is it evolving to do so?

Donna Swinford: Chicago Booth students are increasingly interested in sustainability, climate change, ESG, the use of natural resources, and how we can influence the world around us to make a difference. Accordingly, our course offerings have expanded to challenge Booth students with the issues plaguing our planet today and to better understand how businesses can effectively help.

In fact, we updated our curriculum in 2021 to include Society as a management focus. We brought forward an important area of study that builds critical knowledge of the business environment in which firms operate. Society courses encourage students to think about the role of a firm in today’s world and to look at the broader business environment from an ethics standpoint. These classes focus on leadership, society, the responsibility of corporations, and ethical implications as an underpinning of capitalism.

To zoom in on specific coursework, Navigating the ESG landscape: Sustainability Information and Analysis was motivated by a number of recent trends and debates related to climate change and other environmental, social, and governance issues. The class introduces students to the emerging ESG landscape with a focus on using and analyzing information, disclosure, and sustainability reporting. It provides frameworks and tools to navigate corporate ESG information and make links between that info and performance and firm value.

In Marketing Strategy with Sustainability Simulation, students are placed in a decision-making role as they transform their simulated enterprise from “business as usual” to a business that can thrive in the new sustainable market. Cases are slanted towards topics involving marketing and corporate social responsibility, sustainability, and nonprofits. Corporate Social Responsibility Social Impact Practicum is a popular lab course centering around several live consulting projects that allow students to consider the role of the firm in society by exploring the domains of corporate social responsibility, ESG, sustainability, and more.

And coming at the issue from a different point of view, The Political Economy of Climate Change focuses on the activities and influences of “The State” and various governmental entities rather than the actions of and influences on the firm. While the firm represents a very influential player, this class spends time thinking through other actors, such as policymakers, politicians, lobbyists, the courts, workers, communities, and advocates.

CA: What additional resources, such as clubs, centers, etc., are available for those who want to pursue careers in sustainability?

DS: The Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation is the destination at Chicago Booth for people committed to helping solve complex social and environmental problems. The center provides students with hands-on learning opportunities, innovative courses, mentorship, fellowship, career guidance, cutting-edge research, and more.

Booth students pursuing a career in sustainability will spend a lot of time with the folks at Rustandy. In addition to offering relevant classes in the field, the Rustandy Center puts on events throughout the year and produces research at the forefront of this fast growing space. The center facilitates relationships between students who want real world experience in the social sector and nonprofits seeking pro bono expertise to solve strategic problems and guide decision-making. Designated Executives in Residence work closely with Booth students as mentors and advisors across the fields of sustainability, impact investing, civic impact, philanthropy, social entrepreneurship, and more.

Rustandy also partners with the school’s Career Services team to support professional opportunities and job searches, as well as provides avenues for students to flex their leadership skills in a variety of ways such as managing impact investing funds, participating in competitions, and getting involved in board service.

The Tarrson Impact Investment fund is one of the largest student-managed impact investment funds in the country. It provides critical catalytic capital to early-stage mission-driven companies. And every year, the Social New Venture Challenge helps jump-start new businesses and nonprofits (over 150 to date), which have gone on to raise more than $165 million in philanthropic dollars, grant support, and venture capital funding. For graduating university students or recent alumni who are committed to growing a startup that helps solve a social or environmental problem, the Tarrson Social Venture Fellowship provides $25,000 in funding and other support.

Student-led groups also play a big part in the MBA experience at Chicago Booth. For those interested in sustainability career paths, the Business and Sustainability Club is a must join. In addition to hosting events and special guest speakers, the group engages with recruiters and alumni in the sustainability space. They even work to build relationships with companies not yet affiliated with Chicago Booth in order to expand the pool of sustainability opportunities available to Booth students and graduates.

Another group on campus is Net Impact, which has a mission to support and educate students about civic leadership and social impact-focused careers, including corporate social responsibility, impact investing, and nonprofit work. The club is also part of the national Net Impact organization, a network of leaders committed to using the power of business to positively impact social and environmental concerns.

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?

DS: The University Office of Sustainability has established goals in regards to sustainability and to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprint on campus. The plan includes climate change and energy initiatives, waste reduction, water conservation, high-performance buildings, green space, environmentally preferable procurement, and more.

Booth is not only a partner in achieving these university-wide goals, but would also like to be a leader on campus and beyond. We’re currently updating our lighting control systems to utilize and program lighting for energy efficiency, including sensors for turning lights on and off, and light harvesting in applicable spaces. We are also working with campus dining to come up with options on how to better reduce or compost food waste from our café and catering operations.

We have engaged EF Campus to assist in researching and offering suggestions for additional solutions to implement. For example, putting multi-modal transportation into place to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from commuting by members of our community. And continuing to make it easy for faculty, staff, and students to recycle, reuse, and reduce as much as possible. This year our Admissions office even gave out branded coasters made out of recycled tires.

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.