I am not an environmentalist.
Don't get me wrong: I love trees,
birds, blue water, and fresh air. But
there are many [many!] people more committed to saving the Earth and her
precious, finite resources than me. My most consistent contribution to the environmental
cause is bringing my own bag to the grocery store (and, of course, judging
those who don't—seriously, get with the program people).
So, it didn't occur to me to check out Sloan's sustainability courses or certificate when I arrived on campus last fall. My battle was with social inequity and economic justice. I thought I’d leave energy and environment for my brilliant classmates to tackle.
Then, one serendipitous evening, I met Jason Jay, the head of Sloan's Sustainability Initiative, at a social enterprise event on campus. It turns out that Jason's reason for being at Sloan, formerly as a Ph.D student and now as faculty, was aligned with mine—we, like many at MIT, fervently believe that Business [note capital B] can do a better job with the resources at its disposal.
The more I learned about “Sustainability” [note capital S] through Jason and others, the more I realized how my provincial definition of the word had kept me from connecting it to my personal and professional goals. You see, Sustainability at Sloan is not just about the saving the environment or reimagining our energy future (both great and necessary things, of course).
It's also about being mindful of our individual and collective consumption habits, creating better working conditions, thinking holistically about supply chains, and considering tricky issues like self-regulation and competitor behavior.
Sustainability in business takes
creativity and, perhaps more important, it takes courage. It means making
the hard decisions that often pit short-term profits against long-term
interests. And it means understanding
the needs of not just your shareholders but all the stakeholders affected by
your decisions as a smart business leader working with diminishing resources.
MIT Sloan is very good at finance and economics (See: Andrew Lo). Likewise, we are known for our thought leadership on system dynamics and operations (See: Zeynep Ton). But what sets us apart from other top schools is that we are considering those important fields in light of the long-term limitations of people and planet (See: John Sterman and his bath tub).
You don’t have to be a tree-hugger to embrace Sustainability. But you do have to be ready to challenge traditional notions of profits and progress. When I look towards the future, I believe there is no other way.
If you aren't sure if/how Sustainability fits into your academic training or business career, look out for more info on Sloan's new Sustainability Lunch Series, kicking off Fall 2013.