Bard's definition of sustainability is a simple one: "shared well-being on a healthy planet." However, that reality can't happen without a global dedication to sustainable development.
Traditional ways of thinking about the bottom line, a lack of knowledge about sustainable management, and an emphasis on short-term gains are crippling the business leaders of today.
However, these limitations are also creating boundless opportunities for smart, young, business-savvy, sustainability leaders whose skills are now desperately needed. It's 2023, and the need for innovative sustainability programs has never been greater.
Our passion for sustainability is at the heart of our MBA program and the reason why we have created a cutting-edge, 21st-century program of business education. We understand that the business leaders of the future and the sustainability leaders of the future are one and the same.
In this digital resource, we invite you to consider the current state of sustainability efforts, the role of business in needed social change, and the importance of a new type of business education— one that suits the needs of the 21st century and beyond.
This resource will help you think deeply about how to choose an MBA program, how to think about the relationships between people, planet, and profit, and how an MBA in Sustainability could translate to a successful career in business, non-profit leadership, and much more.
Centuries in the future, historians will look back on our era as the time when sustainability efforts truly began to revolutionize and change the way human beings conduct business, live in community, and interact with the natural environment.
We are on in the midst of a radical transition toward sustainable progress, and yet we are facing significant challenges. Many countries are grappling with far-right, nationalistic movements that oppose a harmonious global order. A rapidly evolving technological landscape is disrupting the modern workforce, causing widespread anxiety and a sense of insecurity. Meanwhile, the rate of climate change is accelerating.
In the United States, an unstable political environment threatens to undo all of the policy work that has already been done.
Why are we hopeful about the future? Because we know that the only thing that can stand in the way of progress toward a better, more sustainable future is a lack of vision and leadership, and we’re confident that those leaders exist because we work with them every day—both our students and faculty are those leaders.
The world needs more people stepping up to be sustainability leaders.
From 2016-2020, the Trump administration halted progress toward social and environmental goals, sowed distrust in science, and helped to widen an already increasingly polarized political divide. Though he lost reelection in 2020, "Trumpism" is here to stay, and his 2024 presidential campaign is already underway.
However, the polarizing political rhetoric of our times and the social upheaval we have experienced as a nation since the election of Trump could provide an opening for the bipartisan growth of a sustainability movement.
The political backlash on both sides of the aisle opens up the possibility of a powerful coalition, led by young, energized, social entrepreneurs, of both liberal and conservative ideology in the future.
Sustainability offers a third way forward for us as a nation. With the dangers and irresponsibility of unrestrained capitalism on one hand and the short-sighted efforts of Trumpian 21st-century tribalism on the other, sustainable thinking provides a vision of human well-being in a just and prosperous economic system that celebrates the local community while caring for the global community.
This political era also makes clear how important business is for social change. The absence of political efforts to advance sustainability priorities means that business leaders and corporations are increasingly internalizing social and environmental purpose into their strategic thinking. Corporate defiance of the past administration has led to a more vocal, more ambitious, more passionate business climate where we see more companies becoming sustainable by the day.
The fierce backlash against Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement is a perfect example of the power and responsibility of businesses and economic leaders during these years.
Companies are realizing that long-term thinking about the social impact of their products and public perception of the company affects their success in the 21st-century economy. While this awareness has been growing for some time, especially as millennials have become a significant part of the world’s workforce and purchasing population, the increased interest in sustainability from mainstream investment firms is a major driving force. In 2016, the Harvard Business Review included for the first time a ranking factor for Environment, Social, and Governance criteria (ESG) in conjunction with traditional financial metrics.
The greatest sustainability challenge we face is the development of a truly circular economy, and this challenge can only be tackled by the business community. In a circular economy, companies make a systemic shift in order to eradicate waste, recycle products and resources, and build social, economic, and natural capital.
A circular economy is one that thinks about long-term sustainability and is restorative and regenerative, providing value at every level of community and society.
We are no longer in an era where environmentalists and business leaders can be understood as opposed forces. While there is a strong need for innovative start-ups, good public policy, and enforcement of anti-trust laws to tackle monopolistic systems, we also need big businesses to lead the charge toward lasting social change. Companies that externalize social and environmental costs increase risk and overlook the opportunity.
It’s not the capitalism of yesterday. In every area of social justice, major businesses are in fact emerging to champion the cause of the oppressed, exploited, and neglected. While there is still a long way to go before good messaging translates to concrete and decisive action, major companies are using their platforms for advocacy and awareness in unprecedented ways.
The best and most public example of this is the evolution of Super Bowl advertising over the last decade. As of 2018, companies are using this massive platform to champion causes that their consumers are passionate about.
Let’s explore some of the areas where businesses have made big statements through advertising in the last few years.
The proliferation of big brands that are willing to contribute to the public conversation around important sustainability themes is encouraging and something to celebrate.
But it can also be a bit discouraging.
If there is so much goodwill and activity around positive messaging, why don’t we see a stronger movement toward a circular economy? Is it all greenwashing, or are there concrete steps being taken toward corporate sustainability goals? Are any organizations even incorporating sustainable business practices?
Corporations are moving slowly in the right direction, but are handicapped by a lack of vision. Even if they are implementing sustainable practices, developing programs to eliminate waste or reduce emissions, and making a concerted effort to improve the quality of life of their employees and community, most corporations do not understand that sustainability isn't something they can attach to their corporate strategy as an afterthought, but something they have to place at the core of their mission.
Committing to sustainability in business is the most responsible and most profitable path forward for companies. The evidence emerging in the last few years suggests that the companies that are thinking long-term and embracing sustainability as a core value are thriving, offering all stakeholders—from shareholders to the planet—a return on investment.
Ultimately, these corporate efforts are limited because of a big knowledge gap and an even larger leadership gap. Traditional ways of thinking about the bottom line, a lack of knowledge about sustainable management, and an emphasis on short-term gains are crippling the business leaders of today and creating boundless opportunities for smart, young, business-savvy, sustainability gurus whose skills are now desperately needed for sustainable leadership.
Responding to rising company and student demand, most business schools have now added a course or two on sustainability, renewable energy finance, or CSR. But ninety percent of what conventional programs teach is still the single-bottom-line approach to business that drives many of the challenges we face. Most programs are just starting to wrap their heads around the evolving needs of the business community.
Across the country, the traditional or average MBA programs offered at universities are dying as students move toward more specialized business master’s degrees where they can walk out with a stronger, specific skill set—and fewer student loans. In fact, in 2022, applications to MBA programs fell 6.5 percent.
Increasingly, MBA students want to see value in their degree—more than ROI: the ability to do something good and meaningful with their master's. Understanding how to incorporate environmental sustainability in business will be the answer for many MBA programs.
Bard’s MBA in Sustainability is the product of a single question we have asked ourselves: how should we be training managers to help run for-profit or non-profit purpose-driven firms?
Based on what we’ve heard from today’s young leaders and what we’ve seen over decades of experience teaching leadership, business, economics, and sustainability, here’s what a cutting-edge, 21st-century MBA program ought to be focused on in order to meet the global challenges we face.
MBA programs ought to be implicitly and explicitly tackling injustice, both in their own admissions and organizational practices and in the content and case studies they present to students. Students are flocking to MBA programs that focus on helping students use business strategies to solve social ills.
At Bard, we are proud to have an MBA program that is more than 50% female, and that includes men and women from a diverse set of ethnicities, geographic and professional backgrounds, and sexual orientations. Because of our radical emphasis on the inseparability of sound business practice and sustainability and social justice, our MBA students are able to explore in conversation, classes, and projects, the multi-faceted types of solutions that are required to do what is profitable by doing what is right for all stakeholders.
At Bard, we are proud to have an MBA program that is more than 50% female, and that includes men and women from a diverse set of ethnicities, geographic and professional backgrounds, and sexual orientations.
In order to meet the pressing need for business leaders that understand how to maximize profit while creating sustainable value, aspiring young leaders need MBA programs that teach in the context of an integrated bottom line. Most business schools now offer a course or two in sustainability, sometimes even as a curricular track. However, in these cases, sustainability principles are “bolted-on, not baked in.” Even in MBA programs with a sustainability concentration, the majority of the classes a student takes will focus on a single-bottom line, with no insight provided on how to apply the tools more broadly to building a mission-driven business.
Bard’s unique integration of sustainability into every class allows our MBA students to develop a holistic understanding of business management that is critical to successfully drive sustainable and profitable outcomes. Our program keeps future business leaders focused on the integrated bottom line: economic success, environmental integrity, and social equity.
One of the many insights that have emerged from recent research about graduate business education is that millennial students are looking for a combination of online and classroom learning but with a significant emphasis on the classroom. Even as advances in technology have made it easier for business schools to deliver content via online platforms, younger students are looking for the connection and experience that are built through the immediacy of human relationships with faculty and fellow students.
Bard’s MBA in Sustainability has been at the forefront of a new wave of programs that offer high-quality hybrid structure, low-residency business education. The hybrid approach makes our programs widely accessible to aspiring green leaders from across the country while creating intense, community-building, experiences over the course of 20 four-day weekends. This commitment we’ve made to an accessible program structure also helps us ensure that our students are coming from a diversity and range of locations and backgrounds which contributes to a rich learning environment.
Innovation in business school curricula is critical to creating leaders who can implement a green environmental strategy and build a sustainable future. The graduate business education industry has faced significant challenges in recent years due in large part to the gap between academic learning and industry experience. MBA programs have been shifting curricula to increase the emphasis on professional development, capstone projects, and experiential learning. They have also been navigating the demand for new types of skills and knowledge, like in the field of data analytics, an area that has grown exponentially in the last few years.
However, most MBA programs still have a core curriculum of 50% or less and do not necessarily ensure coordination among faculty regarding integration around a central vision and desired learning outcomes for their graduate students.
At Bard’s Graduate Programs in Sustainability, all of our business courses focus on how to build a financially successful business, business unit, or organization that is committed to a social and/or environmental mission. Through our integrated core curriculum, Bard demands stronger mastery of comprehensive business literacy than is found in many conventional MBA programs, which typically have only a handful of required core courses. The reason is that the sources of sustainable business advantage are found not just in operations, strategy, marketing, or in employee engagement, but rather throughout the business.
Bard’s core curriculum also gives unique visibility to the concepts and skills that we teach. Our faculty have worked together to develop Bard’s MBA Toolkit that describes the one-hundred and seventy concepts that students master over the course of the sixty-credit curriculum.
Most MBA programs still have a core curriculum of 50% or less and do not necessarily ensure coordination among faculty regarding integration around a central vision and desired learning outcomes for their graduate students.
In a recent HBR Ideacast from Harvard Business Review, Scott DeRue of the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, spoke at length about the future of MBA education and the importance of experiential learning. DeRue and many other business education leaders, including Bard’s MBA faculty, are identifying a new way of thinking about students’ time in graduate business education.
The future of business education must include experiential learning. With this approach, students are able to absorb business fundamentals, but absorb them more practically and quickly because they are using them in concrete settings to solve real problems. Emphasizing experiential learning in your MBA program accelerates students’ development and provides them with the support of mentorship and coaching as they make real-time decisions.
At Bard, 25% of our MBA curriculum is devoted to experiential learning. In Bard’s experiential NYCLab course, MBA students learn about sustainability consulting through a yearlong professional consultancy in the first year of their business program.
Working in teams, students engage in consultancies for businesses, government agencies, and nonprofits. The course runs two full semesters, from August through May. Teams develop and negotiate project agreements with clients that define the scope of work, project deliverables, deadlines, and expectations for communication and information sharing.
Student teams are assigned clients based on the team members’ interests and skill-sets and are mentored by Laura Gitman, Vice President at BSR, a leading global organization that develops sustainable business strategies and solutions through consulting, research and cross-sector collaboration.
At Bard, 25% of our MBA curriculum is devoted to experiential learning. In Bard’s experiential NYCLab course, MBA students complete a yearlong professional consultancy in the first year of their business program.
Our emphasis on experiential learning is part of our larger focus on career readiness. Today, young people are focused on environmental priorities, but they are also worried about job security, finding meaningful work, and paying off big student loans. MBA programs need to prove their value by staying focused on transitioning graduates into great jobs and meaningful careers.
Students come to the Bard MBA because they seek to transition to meaningful work with a sustainability focus. Our program is uniquely focused on helping graduates build powerful careers in this new world of mission-driven business. Students gain access through avenues including our Sustainable Business Series, our Impact Report podcast, and many guest lecturers.
Bard has more than 200 graduate alumni/ae working in the sustainable business and environmental policy field who are great resources for our graduate students.
Bard students also benefit from an MBA career development program, where they work with a career coach in their final year to ensure a positive transition into their post-graduation career at the intersection of business and making a difference. Students gain increased clarity, confidence and practical tools to produce tangible results in an impact career transition and job search.
Bard’s definition of sustainability is a simple one: “Shared Well-Being on a Healthy Planet.”
Our passion for sustainability is at the heart of our MBA program and the reason why we have created a cutting-edge, 21st century program of business education. We understand that the business leaders of the future and the sustainability leaders of the future are one and the same.
The Bard MBA in Sustainability is one of a select few graduate programs globally that fully integrates sustainability into a core business curriculum. At Bard, students work in collaborative teams learning how to build businesses and not-for-profit organizations that combine economic, environmental, and social objectives into an integrated bottom line that creates not only healthier businesses, but also a more sustainable world. Graduates of the Bard MBA transform existing companies, start their own, and pioneer a new paradigm of doing business that meets human needs, protects and restores the Earth's systems, and treats all stakeholders with justice and respect.
How can I see opportunity where others see environmental and social costs?
How can I engage others
in the vision?
How can I execute
successfully on the
The Bard program is a full 60-credit experience, with the same number of contact hours as a conventional two-year residential program, only better organized. It is not an executive MBA, a certificate in sustainable business, or an “MBA light.” If you’re passionate about becoming a sustainability leader, we offer you full-time and part-time options to participate in our MBA in Sustainability.
The full-time enrollment option allows Bard MBA students to complete their 60-credit M.B.A. degree in the shortest time possible. This two-year option is best suited for students who are employed part-time or less. While all Bard MBA enrollment is hybrid (online + in person coursework), students are encouraged to recognize that the full-time option is a full master’s level course load of 15 credits per semester, requiring adequate time and headspace to complete the homework, classwork, and group projects.
The part-time enrollment option enables Bard MBA students to complete their 60-credit M.B.A. degree while meeting outside work, family, and/or travel requirements. This three-year option is best suited for students who are employed full time, who have family or other personal commitments, or who may be traveling from outside the New York area to complete their MBA degree. The part-time option takes three years to complete and includes two summer courses.