Sustainable growth

Published: June 15, 2011

MIT Sloan awards Sustainability Certificate to 19 graduates

On June 3, 2011, MIT Sloan’s David Schmittlein, John C Head III Dean, presided over a small ceremony during which seven MIT Sloan Fellows, 11 MBAs, and one student from the Supply Chain Management program were honored with Sustainability Certificates from MIT Sloan.

First announced in February of 2010, the certificate offers students an opportunity to gain valuable insight into the challenges of sustainability through a series of required courses that include hands-on, real-world experiences.

And as the graduates stood to receive the award it was clear that everyone involved—the students and their families and the professors and deans—were excited for the future of this exciting new initiative.

Rebecca HugesRebecca Hughes, MBA ’11, receives her certificate from Dean David Schmittlein and Professor Richard Locke

A uniquely MIT approach

While there are an increasing number of business schools throughout the world developing programs dedicated to issues of sustainability, MIT Sloan’s program is distinctive in that it offers a comprehensive curriculum in sustainability as a supplement to the MBA curriculum. Open to students from all areas of the School, the certificate attracts students from a wide range of interests and backgrounds, and this, says Jason Jay, director of the MIT Sloan Sustainability Initiative, is one of its greatest strengths. “We see sustainability as a cross-cutting perspective that is relevant to a variety of students. So you can do the finance track, or the entrepreneurship and innovation track, in addition to the Sustainability Certificate.”

Another distinctively MIT Sloan mark on the Sustainability Certificate is its action-learning component. Each year students tackle real-world problems with partner companies or take part in internships focused on sustainability. “The primary vehicle for this is S-Lab),” explains Jay, “but now we also have L-lab, Leading Sustainable Systems, which is taught by Peter Senge and Wanda Orlikowski, and the G-lab courses increasingly have sustainability related projects in their portfolio, and we include those courses as sustainability electives.”

The end result is not only a strong foundation of tools and methods for analyzing problems related to sustainability, but also a systems-based understanding of the enormously complicated nature of these challenges. Says certificate recipient David Alexander Britz, MBA ’11, “The biggest takeaway for me is that sustainability-related issues reach across all aspects of our society and that we have to be educated on what those issues are and be prepared to find ways to address them. The Sustainability Certificate helps with that. You get a sense of where things are interconnected, what you can do, and how you can make sure that you reach your intended consequences without causing any unintended ones.” The certificate curriculum ensures this perspective by requiring System Dynamics as one of the courses.

A community of leaders

As daunting as issues of sustainability can be, Jay says he is encouraged by the excitement surrounding the Sustainability Initiative at MIT Sloan. Anticipating 30 to 40 certificate recipients next year, he hopes the initiative will only continue to grow, and he is already beginning to do some concept development and fund raising for a sustainability center at MIT.

“I think one of the biggest successes of the program is a strong sense of community and cohort. We are starting to build a network of principled, innovative leaders who are going out into the world and making a difference on these issues. My biggest aspiration is that they emerge as effective, critically thinking advocates for sustainability in their companies and organizations.”

Recipient Tara Thomas, MBA ’11, shares his enthusiasm. Standing at the graduation with a certificate in her hand, she smiled hopefully. “Sustainability is such a pressing and critical issue, and although it is really daunting and there is a lot of work to be done, it is encouraging to see the number of people who are interested in tackling these problems and understanding the interconnectedness between the solutions. Every year the crowd in this room gets a little bit bigger and there are more people involved. Just having that frame of reference as we go into our different careers is going to be tremendously valuable.”