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MBA & Sustainability Spotlight: The Wharton School

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We continue our focus on the MBA and sustainability with insights from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Read on for how the leading business school incorporates sustainability into their curriculum, initiatives and more.

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

Wharton: In a 2023 survey, 53% of our MBA students indicated an interest in working in an environmental, social, and governance (ESG) related field, and we are giving them the tools to do so. We are the first major business school to offer an ESG major and concentration. Within this major and concentration, we offer students the option of specializing in ESG for Business; Social and Governance Factors for Business; and Business, Environment, Energy and Sustainability (BEES). In 2023-24, which is the first year of the major, our current estimates suggest that 1 in 8 MBAs will graduate with an ESG major and one of these specializations.

Within the 30+ ESG course offerings available to students, there exists the potential to specialize in topics related to climate finance, green technology, transition strategies, ESG consulting, impact investing, social entrepreneurship, political risk, stakeholder and community affairs, social and racial justice, the governance of stakeholder activism, and business ethics. Courses in the major and concentration are offered by each of the 10 departments in the School.

Exposure to responsible business education for all students is an important metric, and our MBAs will spend about 33 hours, or one course unit on ESG topics. In an important differentiator for prospective students and recruiters, at Wharton, we create an opportunity for students to go deeper and become subject matter experts. Our students are not exploring content retroactively adopted by existing courses. Instead, they have the opportunity to take specialized courses designed by leading researchers in ESG that help them arrive at the frontier of academically rigorous and practically relevant knowledge.

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

Wharton: The goal of the Wharton MBA program is to equip and enable our students to occupy influential positions in organizations as conscientious, globally aware, and effective leaders who create a significant positive impact in the world. To this end, we have created the Wharton Impact Communities. Through these communities, we encourage students who are passionate about the most important issues impacting our global society to engage with each other and explore all that Wharton has to offer.

Beginning with two key topics, Social Equity and Environment, these communities serve as an aggregator of information and offer opportunities ranging from research and academic pursuits to career paths and beyond. They provide a hub to find knowledge and feed curiosity, events to enliven interests, and community to connect with classmates, professors, and organizations. The Environmental Impact Community enables students to help firms achieve sustainability targets, create or join start-ups, finance and invest in such firms and projects, and more. Areas of interest include, among others, the energy transition to renewables, the future of mobility, innovations in agriculture, the decarbonization of industrial sectors, green hydrogen, the design challenges for homes and cities, and carbon sequestration.

The MBA Career Management team includes career advisors focused on several areas where students can find related roles – such as renewable energy, agribusiness, consumer products and retail, startups, ESG/impact investing, etc. – and who provide personalized guidance and support to our students. In addition, through robust data and platforms, the office ensures our students understand the marketplace of relevant roles and resources to help them optimize their candidacy.

CA: Anything else you’d like to add?

Wharton: An additional key part of our Wharton sustainability ecosystem is the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Initiative. The ESG Initiative conducts academically rigorous and practically relevant research across all Wharton departments and with dozens of industry partners to investigate when, where, and how ESG factors impact business value. Informed by research, the Initiative offers 30+ courses that MBA and undergraduate students can assemble into a major or concentration, over a dozen co-curricular experiences, and three executive certificate programs. Housed under the ESG Initiative, the Wharton Climate Center brings together stakeholders from academia, government, communities, and the private sector to conduct research and convene events on topics, including climate change, renewable energy, air and water pollution, waste disposal, biodiversity, and deforestation.

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.