These days, being a sustainable business means doing a lot more than just planting a garden or installing a solar panel. There's packaging and building materials to consider, not to mention transportation and the mind-boggling world of supply chain dynamics.
The demand for experts who understand these concepts — who can come in and help streamline a company for sustainability — is exceptionally high. Colleges and universities have picked up on this, and now business schools across the country have begun adding a sustainability concentration to their curriculum. Arizona State University, Tempe, and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, are just two of the major educational institutions that added programs this year aimed at teaching the principles behind running a less wasteful, more cost-effective company.
Small colleges and online degree programs are also catching on. Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vt., offers an online MBA program in sustainable business, and Dominican University in San Rafael, Calif., has a “Green MBA” degree.
“A lot of companies are hiring people now with the title of chief sustainability officer or something similar to that,” said Kevin Dooley, professor of supply chain management at Arizona State. “That's a relatively new phenomenon. I think historically these jobs were split into at least two different areas.”
Matt Tueth, who heads up the sustainable business program at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Mich., stressed that companies need to be committed to change.
“Sure, businesses need to make a profit, and we understand that,” said Tueth. “But if you want an infrastructure that is going to provide goods and services indefinitely, then it needs to be sustainable.”
Aquinas' program is no walk in the park, either. Candidates for the bachelor's degree program in sustainable business, which currently has 63 students, must master courses in physics, biology, chemistry, accounting, marketing, management and environmental science. This helps prepare students for both the scientific and business sides of the field, said Tueth. And since so many different companies are addressing sustainability, from auto makers to hospitals, it also gives them the flexibility to work for a variety of prospective employers — of which there are many, according to Tueth.
“I don't have enough graduates to fill internship requests right now,” he said.