Picture the young environmentalist. Sitting in her treehouse as a child, she dreams of being a veterinarian, a park ranger, a marine biologist, a UN worker, spending her life serving the planet and people.
She’s probably not dreaming of business school and life as a CEO.
Why? Because environmental activists and traditional business professionals are often understood to stand on opposites ends of a spectrum, either actively opposed to each other or at least uninterested in the priorities of the other. The narrative goes something like this: environmental activists care about environmental health, social equity, and community development while business professionals care about profit, end of story.
She also may not be thinking about life as a CEO because there is such a small percentage of female role models for her in the world of business.
Either way, it’s time to share some powerful reasons why all aspiring environmentalists, especially women environmentalists, need to make business school a top priority.
Let’s face it...businesses have power.
In order to get a sustainable world, we need healthy businesses. If you’re an environmental activist with a desire to change the world for the better, it’s time to engage with the power of business and use the world of business to create regenerative ripples of growth and health across all sectors and communities.
In a recent piece written for Sustainability: The Journal of Record, Dr. Eban Goodstein, founder of Bard’s MBA in Sustainability, talks about power networks and how they relate to sustainability efforts:
“Alan Atkission says sustainability professionals need to “play with power.” Note his triple meaning: play with power (be creative and have fun in the work you do); play with power (don’t waste your career time or your network building with people who don’t have power); and play with power (bring your own power to the game).”
Chelsea Mozen knew that she had to play with power. She used her capstone project in Bard’s MBA in Sustainabilty to work with Etsy, a major internet retailer, in the development of a new program, Etsy Solar, that uses carbon finance to help their network of 1.6 million sellers, employees, and other stakeholders install solar. Under the new program, Etsy will utilize verified emissions reductions from the solar installations to work toward the goal of net zero emissions.
In order to do this type of work, aspiring environmentalists, like Chelsea, need to understand business fundamentals, like accounting, marketing, finance, operations, and supply chain management. They must be prepared to beat business professionals at the existing game, running or working for businesses that are able to make a profit while directly helping address a social or environmental challenge.
The economy of the future is green.
In an interview with the Harvard Business Review, Doug McMillon, CEO of Walmart, clearly outlined the business case for companies who are ramping up their sustainability effort: “increasing competitive advantage, spurring technological innovation, inspiring brand loyalty, and increasing employee engagement.”
There are clear movements at work in today’s culture that show an increased interest in and awareness of the need for sustainability. Recent survey research from McKinsey & Company indicates that companies are making an effort to align their business practices with the stated values and mission of their brands in order to better serve employees and customers. Millennials in particular are driving changes: a 2015 Nielsen online global survey found that 3 out of 4 millennials are willing to pay more for sustainable offerings.
Aspiring environmentalists are perfectly poised to engage this new, greener economy. The most successful people in the new economy will be those who are able to see business opportunities where the world now sees sustainability challenges. According to Sue Whelan, Leicester City CEO and participant in the Future Economy Project at HBR, “there’s $12 trillion in business opportunities for solving sustainability challenges.”
We need passionate leaders.
As the business community moves toward a more sustainable way of thinking, passionate and compassionate leaders are needed to help inspire the reluctant or unimaginative.
The march toward the green economy of the future is not inevitable. It needs to be led by smart, driven women and men who understand how to look at a sustainability challenge and see a business opportunity, who want to create positive value through business not simply minimize negative impact, who can out-market and out-strategize the traditional business professional but who do it all for the sake of the common good.
Our goal for the future? We want that young girl in her treehouse to dream of being a sustainable CEO, taking organizations by storm, and using her vision and leadership to change the world.
If you were once that young girl, and you’ve thought that your passion for the environment destined you for a life working for a wildlife sanctuary or in community development, don’t rule out the idea of business school because it may sound boring, male-dominated, or old-fashioned. It might be just the thing you need to maximize your impact for the better.
At Bard, we’re here to help train the next generation of sustainable leaders.
To learn more about Bard’s MBA in Sustainability and the career options available for aspiring environmentalists, check out our Career Guide.