When Eban Goodstein earned his PhD in economics at the University of Michigan in 1989, sustainability had not yet entered the vocabulary of his field. When Stephanie Schleimer was a young aspiring academic, preparing to teach her first course on corporate strategy, she couldn’t find a single textbook that mentioned values, well-being or sustainability.
Goodstein and Schleimer are both directors of a kind of MBA program that didn’t exist when they were students. The programs they direct – at Bard College, in New York State, and the Griffith Business School, in Queensland, Australia – landed in fourth and first places respectively on this year’s Better World MBA ranking. Members of Goodstein and Schleimer’s generation have witnessed a shift in their discipline that, as the Corporate Knights ranking suggests, more and more business schools are competing to embrace.
This year’s Better World MBA ranking considered 209 business schools across the world – 50 more than last year – and focused on one metric: what proportion of the core (mandatory) curriculum addresses concepts of sustainable development. While the ranking, first conducted in 2010, has historically considered the diversity of faculty and the proportion of its research devoted to sustainability issues, this year’s methodology goes back to basics, asking a simple question: what is being taught? It credits all core content relating to environmental, social and governance performance, with topics ranging from biodiversity to carbon pricing, Indigenous consultation, child labour, corruption reduction and employment equity.
Secondary consideration (for a bonus of up to 10%) was given to the percentage of recent graduates who have landed in impact organizations – defined as non-profits, Corporate Knights Global 100 or Clean 200 companies, and any company deriving the majority of its revenues from sustainable activities.
The results demonstrated consistency among the high achievers. Half of the top 10 schools on this year’s list appeared in last year’s top 10, and the top school, for the fourth year in a row, is Griffith Business School. At the same time, seven entirely new schools joined the top 40 list.
One of these was Bard College, a private liberal arts college located on the Hudson River north of New York City. Goodstein established the MBA in 2012, having joined the Bard faculty three years earlier. He’s proud to say that Bard’s MBA in Sustainability is the only one on offer at Bard; in his view, the “conventional” MBA – that either ignores sustainability or treats it as a nice-to-have elective – belongs in the history books. Ranked fourth in the Corporate Knights list, the Bard program placed first in the Princeton Review’s ranking of Green MBAs in the United States.
Goodstein considers Bard’s approach quite unusual in a country where Milton Friedman’s economic logic – of profits and shareholders first and at all costs – has held sway for so long. “Business for good is a new concept here,” he says. Many still resist the idea that the exploitation of natural and human capital on which capitalism has historically depended is actually a design flaw that needs to be corrected.
Goodstein is proud to say that Bard’s MBA in Sustainability is the only one on offer at Bard; in his view, the “conventional” MBA – that either ignores sustainability or treats it as a nice-to-have elective – belongs in the history books.
The Bard program also wants to upend demographic trends. Some 65% of its students are female, and 35% identify as non-white; scholarships are offered to first-generation Americans. Among its most impressive alumni are Chelsea Mozen, chief sustainability officer at Etsy, who implemented a carbon-neutral delivery program at the e-commerce company, and Emma Jenkins-Long, who entered the program as a public-school teacher in Vermont and is now vice-president of ESG strategy for Deutsche Bank in New York.
The inertia that Goodstein says characterizes mainstream corporate culture in the U.S. stands in contrast to the context described by Tamim Elbasha, director of the MBA program at Audencia Business School in Nantes, in western France. Elbasha, originally an optician from Syria who did his MBA in England and later a PhD in strategic management, considers the Audencia program part of a sweeping transformation. The French Ministry of Education has issued a new competency framework for business schools that emphasizes corporate social responsibility and orientation to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Elbasha says most business schools are following suit.
Audencia’s program rose nine spots on the Corporate Knights ranking, landing in 28th place this year thanks to a nearly quadrupling of its core sustainability courses. These represent a radical rethink of what business really is. One of them is called Gaia, referring to the hypothesis put forward in the 1970s positing that Earth’s living and non-living elements interact to form a balanced whole; it’s the kind of material that, until recently, would have been hard to find outside a faculty of environmental studies.
Elbasha says that one of the biggest challenges facing today’s business students is to accept that – in contrast to the traditional curriculum – “we don’t have all the answers” to many sustainability issues. Students have to learn to accept uncertainty.
For many, reckoning with overwhelming challenges turns into what Schleimer describes as a personal and emotional journey. At Griffith, Schleimer has seen several cohorts of students realize, through the program, that their personal and professional values can be aligned – a revelation that has precipitated many career changes.
Schleimer’s own awakening came when she entered academia to teach innovation strategy and realized, even in the wake of the global financial crisis of 2007/2008, that textbooks on the subject were still promoting the “red ocean thinking” of cutthroat competition, compromised value and low cost. Schleimer opted to teach without textbooks. Now, as director of the MBA in Sustainability – the only MBA on offer at Griffith – she insists that all of its core courses be “values-led.” She ropes in experts from across the university to ensure that students learn to think “outside business.” She has no problem referring applicants who are looking for an “executive, corporate-style” MBA to other programs.
Of course, that breed of student – primarily motivated to do an MBA to boost their salary – still exists. Mike Valente meets them at the Schulich School of Business at York University, where he directs the MBA program and oversees the sustainability courses that make up half the total core courses. But gradually, he sees Schulich’s graduates realizing that the salary raise they’re after may not be at odds with, but rather contingent upon, their understanding of sustainability issues – or that the jobs they find post-graduation are much more rewarding than what they were doing prior.
Schulich’s Valente feels that business schools have a responsibility to shape a new kind of leader and is frustrated by foot-dragging. He sees many approaching sustainability much as large corporations have: first by greenwashing, then by isolating the subject as an elective, then by gradually introducing it into core courses.
Poulomi Sengupta, who graduated from Schulich’s International MBA program in 2021, grew up in Kolkata and studied geology before joining British Gas. There, she realized that she would be better positioned to “do the least harm to the environment” if she understood the financial underpinnings of the industry. Her employer recommended the Schulich program, with its specialization in global mining management.
Now 38 and based in Toronto, Sengupta describes the degree as the perfect bridge to a career that interests her much more. Conducting ESG research for Morningstar Sustainalytics, she is learning how to quantify non-financial factors across multiple industries. She feels the position offers a “bird’s eye perspective” of the economy that had been a black box to her as a geologist.
At 13th place, Schulich’s program landed first among Canadian schools in the Corporate Knights ranking, as it did in the inaugural 2010 ranking. Valente feels that business schools have a responsibility to shape a new kind of leader and is frustrated by foot-dragging. He sees many approaching sustainability much as large corporations have: first by greenwashing, then by isolating the subject as an elective, then by gradually introducing it into core courses.
In the sustainability course he teaches, Valente asks students to simulate the most “egregious” corporate behaviour imaginable – practising the kind of greed evident in the opioid crisis, grocery chain collusion and Volkswagen’s “Emissionsgate.” It’s an exercise in reflection. He encourages students to apply a critical lens to all facets of the degree.
There is no question that business schools are reorienting themselves. But there’s still a ways to go. This year, for the first time, Corporate Knights applied a social-purpose lens to the programs under consideration (see ‘Are MBA programs teaching social purpose?’). Going beyond the traditional pillars of sustainable performance, social purpose cuts to the heart of a company, to its raison d’être. The somewhat radical proposition puts purpose, rather than profit, at the centre of all decision-making. Not surprisingly, the notion has not yet entered the curricula of most business schools. But given the ambition of the top runners, it is just a matter of time.
|2023 rank||2022 rank||University||Country||Sustainable curriculum
|Final weighted score|
|1||1||Griffith Business School||Australia||100%||53%||100%*|
|2||6||Duquesne University – Palumbo-Donahue School of Business||US||93%||53%||100%|
|3||3||Maastricht University – School of Business and Economics||Netherlands||86%||45%||100%|
|5||9||University of Vermont – Grossman School of Business||US||76%||48%||93%|
|6||10||Centrum PUCP Business School||Peru||78%||0%||87%|
|7||20||Colorado State University – College of Business||US||71%||18%||82%|
|8||59||TIAS School for Business and Society||Netherlands||58%||19%||68%|
|9||14||University of Exeter Business School||UK||52%||27%||62%|
|10||25||Durham University Business School||UK||53%||15%||61%|
|11||2||Warwick Business School||UK||53%||3%||59%|
|12||17||University of Winchester Business School||UK||53%||59%|
|13||16||York University – Schulich School of Business||Canada||50%||11%||57%|
|15||11||University of Victoria – Peter B. Gustavson School of Business||Canada||44%||27%||54%|
|16||75||University of British Columbia, Sauder School of Business||Canada||46%||13%||54%|
|17||4||La Trobe Business School||Australia||36%||68%||50%|
|18||19||EADA Business School||Spain||41%||16%||48%|
|19||5||University of Guelph – Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics||Canada||35%||41%||46%|
|20||8||Toronto Metropolitan University – Ted Rogers School of Management||Canada||39%||13%||46%|
|21||New||King’s College London||UK||41%||45%|
|22||38||McGill University – Desautels Faculty of Management||Canada||39%||12%||45%|
|23||77||University of California at Berkeley – Haas School of Business||US||36%||14%||42%|
|24||33||Newcastle University Business School||UK||37%||3%||41%|
|26||12||University of Edinburgh Business School||UK||36%||40%|
|27||69||University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business||South Africa||36%||40%|
|28||37||Audencia Business School||France||32%||17%||38%|
|29||18||Glasgow Caledonian University – Glasgow School for Business & Society||UK||32%||14%||38%|
|30||New||Frankfurt School of Finance and Management||Germany||31%||16%||38%|
|31||39||Rotterdam School of Management – Erasmus University||Netherlands||28%||18%||35%|
|32||New||Kedge Business School||France||31%||35%|
|33||29||Nottingham University Business School||UK||28%||11%||33%|
|34*||New||Henley Business School||UK||29%||32%|
|34*||79||Queen’s Business School||UK||29%||32%|
|36||44||Simon Fraser University – Beedie School of Business||Canada||24%||9%||28%|
|37||New||Solvay Lifelong Learning||Belgium||20%||31%||28%|
|38||New||Iscte Business School||Portugal||25%||28%|
|39||57||University of North Carolina – Kenan-Flagler||US||23%||26%|
|40||76||City University of London – Bayes Business School||UK||23%||1%||26%|
*As scores are normalized against the top five, the top schools are tied. We used pre-normalized scores for ranking purposes.
The 2023 Corporate Knights Better World MBA top-40 ranking examines the performances of 209 business schools, drawn from the most recent Financial Times list of the top-100 global MBA programs; the Princeton Review Best Green MBA list; the schools that made the 2022 Corporate Knights Better World top-40 roster; and business schools accredited by the Association of MBAs, AACSB (the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) or the EFMD (European Foundation for Management Development) Quality Improvement System (EQUIS) and also signatories to the United Nations Principles for Responsible Management Education that opt in for evaluation. Based on publicly disclosed information on their websites, schools are evaluated on the sustainability content of their core courses and can review and request revisions to the analysis. Additionally, schools may voluntarily provide the number of recent alumni employed with impact organizations for up to a 10% bonus to their overall score. For the complete methodology, visit our resources page.