July 12, 2013

Weatherhead's Journey into Sustainability

Abraham Weiner
When I was looking at different schools for my MBA, I was focused on two things:
  1. The value of the school--Its reputation and the quality of its education;
  2. A sustainability curriculum--Will I be equipped with the skills needed to transform businesses to become organizations that are solving environmental problems instead of creating them?

Originally I was considering options like Yale SOM/School of Forestry and University of Michigan’s Erb Institute as they are titans in the sustainable business community. When I applied to Weatherhead I knew they had a sustainability curriculum but was unsure of exactly what I would be learning. I was comfortable with their general business education as they had a solid reputation for finance and strategy.

When I visited the school in February of 2012, I was introduced to the school and more of its faculty, including those at the Fowler Center for Sustainable Value. After talking to them I felt like Weatherhead was taking a step in the right direction and that the resources were available if I wanted to utilize them.

Having now finished my first year of the MBA I have learned an immense amount, more than I thought was possible in ten months. I was able to author a sustainable business case study, participate in the design of a Nobel-like prize for sustainable businesses led by the world-renowned design firm IDEO and even work on sustainable business consulting engagements that the Fowler Center conducts with corporate clients like DDR and KeyBank.

However, there is some depth that is lacking when it comes to the sustainability curriculum at Weatherhead. We have a year-long course in Sustainable Value which focuses on high level sustainability initiatives in the business world and a change management method called Appreciative Inquiry. The course is structured as an introduction to sustainability unlike Ross and Yale where you can take more advanced coursework in Industrial Ecology, Sustainable Energy Systems, and Sustainable Finance. 

There are a few reasons why Weatherhead is set up the way it is. Partly, the reason why courses like this aren’t offered here is because of how small our cohort size is and there usually isn’t enough student demand for such courses. In the past we had classes such as Green Finance, Environmental Economics and Sustainable Operations, just not the students to fill them.

When comparing Weatherhead to other schools sustainability programs I also have to point out that both Michigan and Yale have three year dual degree programs whereas Weatherhead has only  a two year MBA, which also makes it difficult for it to consistently offer advanced sustainability electives. I have friends who are participating in both of the other programs and who are enjoying them. They are also committing themselves to three years instead of two so in that instance it is a definite trade off.

There are times when I wished we had a more concrete sustainable course offering but for the most part I have gotten what I needed from Weatherhead: the opportunity to excel. I have been given numerous chances to work with world class practitioners and be a part of Northeast Ohio’s fledgling sustainability journey. 

I have also been equipped with how to learn what I can’t in school. The business education from the first year of my MBA program has allowed me to dive deep into the world of Energy Efficiency Finance that is growing immensely and changing constantly. My ability to use what I learned propelled me into the summer position of my choice: the Environmental Defense Fund's Climate Corps Program. This summer I have been working with the Cleveland Mayor’s Office of Sustainability on how the City of Cleveland can retrofit its 150+ building portfolio--and what dictates that process is how you finance it. Cleveland could do everything from structured leasing, debt and even bonding. To see what progress we make together, check out my next blog post about my summer fellowship!  

Abraham Weiner, MBA '14 - Sustainability Contributor

1 comment:

  1. Nice job, Abe. So that you and prospectives know, there are some environmental/sustainability business courses offered in the undergrad program that are available to MBAs.