There’s Still Room in the MBA Toolbox

It is said, around darkened pub booths and student haunts, that there was a time long ago when jobs were reasonably available. Legend has it an applicant would have a good chance of success if they had a bit of experience, some motivation and the ability to show up to an interview without wearing their pants on their head. The few organizations engaged in environmental business were much more challenged to find candidates who had a good head for business and were also engaged in their cause.

Times have changed. (Yes, thank you, Captain Obvious.)

Photo credit: Robert S. Donovan

If business has changed, then environmental business has seen a renaissance. Stakeholders’ CSR considerations have become more complex, and the tools of the trade have become more complex right along with them. We’ve gone from having the good intentions to reduce our footprint, to having an assortment of tools at our disposal, to now having internationally-recognized standards in place for measurement and reporting.

I’m talking GRI, CDP, LEED, ISO14001, ISO26000, BOMA, etc. as well as a variety of data management and carbon accounting software. Though they each have their own strengths and weaknesses, they are also being adopted with increasing regularity by some of the world’s largest and most influential companies.

With all these new developments, wouldn’t it be great to be a newcomer to this industry? Aren’t those students lucky that they will come out of the gate with that kind of knowledge?

Nope. That’s not to say they’re not lucky to be propelled into the industry at a time when there are daily gains in legitimacy and structure, but rather they probably won’t cover these tools in much depth in the classroom.  At least, that was my experience.

Though this is not something I often emphasize, I earned my MBA in an environmental program in the spring of 2009, a mere two years ago. I had a great experience during my studies, as it immersed me in sustainability business culture and we pored over a wide variety of environmental case studies, strategies and management philosophies, including the bottom-of-the-pyramid and triple bottom line approaches. Again, it’s great stuff, but it’s not as simple as some other MBA-themed posts would suggest since experience in academic clubs and activities can only take you so far. In this buyer’s market, having an MBA, even from a well-recognized and environmentally focused program, will not be enough; you need to know how to use the tools.

I should hope that one’s excitingly expensive piece of paper is not outdated after just two years. For many up-and-comers, it is beyond frustrating that one would graduate into a sluggish economy (though calling the economy ‘sluggish’ in the past couple of years is like calling a dead race horse ‘lazy’), fight tooth and nail for a stepping stone job, only to find oneself unable to move on the next phase because you lack practical experience with these new tools.

“CDP, huh? What page was that on..?”

Should we blame the schools? No. At least, I don’t. Things are such a blur in CSR that when I did my MBA, we used course kits because the text book industry couldn’t keep up. MBA programs serve up a (hopefully) more applied slant on environmental business, but between the constant industry development and an already packed curriculum, there isn’t much of a chance to dig deeply into the nuances of something like writing an A+ GRI report or having a detailed case study about certifying a building LEED Platinum. It would be great to have a course called “Vital Sustainability Topic du Jour” but failing that, students need to take some initiative to create some opportunities. (Actually, at my school, that course was known as an “Independent Study”. If you’re still in school, ask your prof.)

But if you are a graduating student ready to jump into the workforce, or a sustainability professional watching from the sidelines as your dream job gets posted and then filled, what can you do? Here are my suggestions:

  • Independent consulting: Though this term is sometimes synonymous with ‘unemployed’, it is also the perfect way to build your practical experience in the specific tools of the day, which may have only emerged as serious contenders in the past year. That said, if you want to consult, you generally need some expertise to draw from. If you are not set up to independently consult, try to latch into an internship, or do it as a…
  • Side project: For those who are already employed, or need immediate paid employment (that degree wasn’t free, you know), taking on a side project is key. You are reading mine, though there is more to it than just the blogging, which you will see over the next six months. (Oooo! Intrigue!) Naturally, making sure you are getting the actual experience you need is vital here, as is not taking on more than you can do well.
  • Keep developing: Take a bit of time to read new reports and white papers to stay current. Sometimes these things aren’t exactly thrilling, but reading a bit every day or alternating between reading something for your development and something for your own enjoyment can help keep the habit going. Attending courses will also help provide some context to what you are reading and let you meet people interested in the same topics. You may not be eager to head back to school, but there are shorter workshops well suited for this purpose.

I’ve been lucky enough to land somewhere that grants me the flexibility to try new things at work, while still having time for a side project in my personal time. As my bio says, I’m a work in progress, so I intend to continue learning and building out my toolbox.

Oh, and don’t wear your pants on your head.

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About Daniel Caunter

Who is Daniel Caunter? Daniel is a series of contrasts – Environmentalist MBA, anglo Montrealer, landlocked surfer, serious about fun, and creatively practical. He has lofty ideals, but is focused on finding veritable solutions that will work in reality. He is a work in progress, building a career in environmental business with a focus on stakeholder engagement, project management and corporate communications. Daniel can be reached via Twitter (@danielcaunter), or by commenting here on this site. If you’d like a real-time update on this work in progress, he may even be persuaded to come out for a pint or a cuppa. (Please note: the views expressed in Daniel’s posts are his personally - though sometimes satirical - and are not necessarily those of his employer or other affiliations...so don’t be silly.)
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2 Responses to There’s Still Room in the MBA Toolbox

  1. Kara says:

    I completely agree – we weren’t taught specific tools in depth, mostly just introduced to the concepts. The trick now is getting the chance to try them out. Check in on newleafinitiative.org to find a community of people that will form teams to work on various sustainability projects – we’ve only had a few so far, but I think participating in that group would be a good way to get some practical experience and learn from others in the community. The Sustainability Learning Centre workshops look great, too – I haven’t taken any yet, but plan to in the near future. Thanks for the post!

  2. Daniel Caunter says:

    UPDATE: It has come to my attention that some B-schools now have courses dedicated to some of the tools I mentioned in this post, like the GRI. While this is wonderful news and it certainly negates some of the issues I raised in this post, it still comes a little too late for recent alumni. Obviously current students can benefit from these new (and probably constantly developing) courses, but my suggestions at the end of this post remain valid for anyone finding themselves frustrated by job requirements that have not been covered in their academic careers.

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