Where the MBA Oath Fails: Why Sustainability Demands More from our Business Leaders

Jan 5, 2012 11:00 AM ET

There has been a lot of conversation over the past couple of years around bringing sustainability and accountability into business schools. The MBA Oath for responsible value creation is a good attempt at this – the movement was started by Harvard students in 2009 and has since been adopted by over 250 schools internationally and had been broadly lauded. The oath itself underlines the responsibility of business leaders to act in an ethically responsible fashion that goes beyond compliance and speaks to future generations and building trust within their own organizations and throughout society. I would prefer more specifics on some of the definitions (specifically around sustainability and healthy planet), but I would otherwise happily jump on the bandwagon.

My question to those who take the oath and more pointedly at the schools who are churning out MBA graduates: How do you expect students to uphold the tenants of this oath when they have been explicitly trained otherwise? The underlying assumptions of current economic models are profit maximization and insatiable consumers. Marketing and strategy courses are taught with the assumption that growth is not only desirable, but necessary for survival.

For the most part, our business schools are teaching upcoming leaders how to implement the status quo (see Corporate Knights 2011 Business School Survey). There are few courses, let alone programs, that are questioning the underlying assumptions of how we have built our economy. The recent financial and mortgage crises are not being examined through a lens of clinical economics, but rather through short-term, quick-fix thinking. Ongoing poverty, forced evictions, troubled markets which provide fewer jobs for young people, are all signs that the economy is not going to recover in a consistent way until we realign our businesses with value creation that supplies useful goods and services in a responsible way.

All this to say is that we need more than an oath. We need a new way of doing things and that should start with the way that we are educating future business leaders.

That is why The Natural Step Canada is piloting the MBA Sustainability Leadership Bootcamp this February 22-26 (Reading Break) in Calgary, Alberta. We are currently recruiting current MBA students and recent graduates for a 5-day intense training session in Calgary. We will be adding to the existing MBA toolbelt with concrete tools and skills for gaining support around sustainability initiatives and how to implement them successfully. We will be drawing upon our faculty of sustainability professionals: Bob Willard, Author and Sustainability Coach; Claude Ouimet, Sr. Vice-President and General Manager of Interface Americas; keynote speakers Rob Wesseling, Executive Vice-President and COO of Sovereign General Insurance and Mark Anielski of Genuine Wealth. Pong Leung, Principal Advisor and Anouk Bertner, Emerging Leaders Manager of The Natural Step Canada will be the main facilitators for this session. We will be focussing on using a science-based definition of sustainability as a strategic lever for creating shared value by working with local partners, Cenovus, Suncor, and ENMAX in live case studies that will exemplify the complex challenge of implementing sustainability in the energy sector.

Apply now: http://www.thenaturalstep.org/en/canada/natural-step-canadas-mba-sustainability-leadership-bootcamp. Final deadline is January 9 (commitment fee: $150, bursaries based on need).