Evans Hall, the headquarters of the Yale School of Management, is a symbol of the age-old struggle between the environment and unabated business development. Although the all-glass façade was designed to signify transparency in the business world, this symbolic gesture has come at the cost of hundreds of birds smashing to their death into the sky-reflecting windows. The irony of a business school that literally kills mother nature is almost too apt for how our current economic systems harm our natural environment.  

Like a fallen bird after striking blindly against the glass, the climate crisis has also tumbled onto the doorstep of our SOM students. Unfortunately, Yale MBAs imitate the building they work within, inadvertently wounding our planet as they enter into their careers. While many SOM students have noble aspirations and best intentions, they simply are not equipped with the tools to avoid perpetuating environmental harm. To prepare MBA students for the growing threat of climate change, it is crucial that our future business leaders receive environmental and climate education as part of their mandatory curriculum. 

SOM’s Core Curriculum teaches the fundamental skills of an effective business leader. The MBA Core covers a broad range of topics from employee management to consumer behavior, but has a distinct lack of sustainability-related learning outcomes. To truly live up to the SOM mission of “Educating leaders for business and society,” MBA students should be prepared to engage with the realities of the natural world as much as they are all taught to understand a balance sheet. 

Yale is particularly suited to lead the pack on sustainability. Out of all the elite business schools, Yale has a reputation for being the MBA program most oriented towards social impact and corporate responsibility. Adding climate topics to The Core can strengthen this distinctive character that draws so many people to the program. In addition to developing MBA students capable of enacting positive environmental change within their organizations, Yale can also inspire other MBA programs to follow suit and update their antiquated approaches to business education. 

Companies want climate-educated leaders. Prominent business schools in Europe have already begun the revolution of corporate climate education. A coalition of schools, including Oxford, Cambridge, London Business School and INSEAD have partnered to create a climate leadership toolkit known as Business Schools for Climate Leadership. This program signals that this eco-knowledge is crucial to achieving corporate sustainability strategies. Additionally, these sustainability skills are increasingly important to employers to be competitive in recruitment at top international organizations to meet consumer demand and the growing number of corporate climate commitments.  

Sustainability brings innovation to old business models. Paul Poleman, the former CEO of Unilever, spoke last semester at the Yale Center for Business and Environment on the crucial need for a new paradigm for MBAs. Poleman spoke strongly of enhancing the MBA curriculum to ensure sustainability and profit are taught more equitably in all business schools, especially in programs with high-impact leaders like Yale SOM. While climate change brings enormous challenges for our society, it also presents incredible opportunities to innovate and redesign our organizations and products in entirely new ways. 

I acknowledge that integrating these topics in The Core won’t be simple. Some students don’t wish to see more content added to the already jam-packed Core programming. Some may note that students can just learn about sustainability tools and strategy as elective courses. However, these topics should not be constrained to self-selected audiences as they impact every industry and department, from finance to operations. 

To ensure the Core sustainability content meets the needs of real-world companies, SOM’s academic affairs should immediately begin engaging students, faculty and firms on what key environmental-related knowledge areas are currently missing in the curriculum. For the SOM administration to supply this important course, a signal of significant demand from key stakeholders is required. To get this change fast-tracked, current students, SOM alumni, donors and even corporate recruiters need to demonstrate that fundamental climate competencies are a competitive advantage for SOM students and will ultimately improve the environmental outcomes of companies around the world.  

CRISTINA BARRERA is a Master of Environmental Management candidate at the Yale School of Environment, specializing in Business and the Environment. Contact her at cristina.barrera@yale.edu