We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: ensuring a sustainable future for business requires professionals who understand the risks, challenges, and rewards of integrating sustainability into business culture. With a shift toward the idea that success is built on long-term sustainability, there is a growing demand for education programs that link and integrate sustainability into the core business curricula. There’s a demand for programs that can prepare tomorrow’s business leaders to take on the challenges and opportunities that sustainability presents. And schools are responding to that demand. Programs are proliferating, but which ones are the best?

The Better World MBA Rankings

The “clean capitalists” at Corporate Knights, the research company behind the Global 100 (an index of sustainable companies) recently released its annual review of MBA sustainability programs. The “Better World MBA” is the only global ranking evaluating MBA programs on their integration of sustainability the curriculum.  Now in its 14th year, the Better World MBA assesses programs to identify programs that best prepare students to solve business problems centered on major environmental and social issues, such as climate change and inequality.

Using publicly-available data, Corporate Knights assessed programs based on the number of:

  • courses that integrate social and environmental topics
  • relevant research centers a business school has
  • faculty publications insustainability produced in the last three years

So which schools made the 2016 list of the 40 best MBA programs?  Toronto’s York University, Schulich School of Business topped the list, just as it did in 2015, followed closely by the MIT Sloan School of Management.  Many of the usual suspects filled out the top ranks: Harvard Business School, Stanford Graduate School of Business, and McGill ‘s Management School all made the cut.  While most of the programs are based in Canada or Europe, seven U.S. institutions made the top 20 list.

The Top 20:

Other US-based programs that made the Top 40 list include:

  • George Washington University – School of Business
  • University of California at Berkeley – Haas School of Business
  • University of Michigan – Stephen M. Ross School of Business
  • Yale University – Yale School of Management

Toby Heaps, CEO of Corporate Knights said, "Business schools have a major role to play in preparing the leaders of the future to solve the people-planet-prosperity equation. We are pleased to see an increasing number of business schools stepping up to the plate on this front and look forward to continued progress."

Net Impact’s Business as Unusual

There’s no doubt that each of these programs would be an excellent choice for anyone thinking of pursuing an MBA in sustainability. But no single list is comprehensive; there are always some inexplicable absences. And, fortunately, Net Impact produces Business as Unusual, a bi-annual review of graduate programs (which includes MBA programs) at schools with a Net Impact chapter. Last published in 2014 (the 2016 version should be released soon), the review utilizes student surveys and information submitted by chapter leaders. It examines factors regarding the curriculum, career services, and student activities to award points on a 5-point scale. Each program is profiled in detail.

There are unexplained anomalies. For example, Corporate Knights’ top school, the Schulich School of Business, was ranked only 20th (out of 50) by Business as Unusual. Why? Differences in methodologies may produce inconsistent outcomes, but both publications are well worth a thorough review by anyone looking for an MBA program with solid grounding in sustainability.

Online Options Now Available

A final note for anyone who would like to pursue an MBA, but is unable to move to the campus location. Many of these award-winning programs now offer online options. Most of these still have some residential component, but they are usually fairly minor (referred to as “low residence,” requiring only a few weeks on campus to complete capstone projects). Some are now even moving to 100% online, which could make an attractive option for those who do not want to give up a job and relocate to get the degree. The Business as Unusual list identifies 72 MBA online options; it denotes programs with this option by “EMBA.”

And there’s now a resource devoted to highlighting online MBA programs in sustainability. Best College Reviews, a non-profit organization founded as an alternative to U.S. News & World Report, has compiled “The 23 Best Online Programs in Sustainability.”  The factors behind this ranking are Affordability, Flexibility, and overall Academic Reputation.  Because of criteria differences, the results differ dramatically from both Better World and Net Impact’s, but it provides another perspective on the available options.

It’s somewhat reassuring that so many universities are now offering sustainability-focused MBA programs. And what’s really great is there are now plenty of choices to pick from!