Over the past several years, many businesses have begun to incorporate sustainable practices and adopt a new triple bottom line: people, profit, and planet. As a result, professional opportunities abound for individuals with an MBA in sustainability. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects job growth rates over 20% for certain analyst positions between 2016 and 2026. Many related sustainability careers boast excellent earning potential, with median annual salaries ranging from around $63,300 to more than $100,000 per year. An MBA in sustainability explores core business practices through the lens of environmental responsibility. Graduates are equipped with fundamental financial and management skills, as well as specialized knowledge related to sustainable processes and resource allocation.
Are you interested in earning a degree that can potentially benefit both your career and the environment? There are many variables to consider as you explore MBA in sustainability programs, including curriculum, program length, course delivery method, and cost. Read on to learn more about program admissions, potential careers, and resources for both students and professionals.
Should I Get an MBA in Sustainability?
As more and more organizations choose to adopt green business practices, individuals who hold an MBA in sustainability gain an edge in the job market. Graduates are equipped with core business competencies and the ability to apply sustainability principles to business operations. A sustainability MBA introduces concepts related to finance, marketing, leadership, the triple bottom line, and corporate social responsibility. Elective opportunities allow students to explore a specific topic in depth, such as statistics or management, and acquire a body of specialized knowledge.
Many institutions offer MBA programs in both online and on-campus formats. On-campus programs often appeal to individuals who have recently completed an undergraduate degree and want to pursue a career that requires an MBA. Working professionals, particularly those considering a career change, may prefer online programs for their flexibility. With a variety of program options to choose from, anyone interested in business, sustainability, and career advancement can easily find an MBA program that fits their needs.
Both online and on-campus graduate programs offer a variety of benefits beyond the classroom. By interacting with peers and faculty, learners build a professional network, and required internships often lead to full-time professional opportunities. Students also gain access to institutional career services, including job placement assistance. Thanks to their versatile knowledge base, MBA holders enjoy a competitive edge over other candidates after graduation.
What Can I Do With an MBA in Sustainability?
Graduates with an MBA in sustainability acquire many broadly-applicable skills from both the business and environmental science spheres. While potential career titles might not specifically include the term sustainability, individuals with a background in sustainability are in high demand as more companies become environmentally responsible. The positions below call for a thorough understanding of analysis, consultation, and management, as well as strong communication, organizational, and critical thinking skills. All require at least a bachelor's degree. However, many organizations prefer to hire candidates with an MBA.
Logisticians coordinate and analyze company supply chains. The supply chain manages product life cycles and directs material allocation, presenting many opportunities to incorporate sustainable principles. While top employers include manufacturing companies and the federal government, these professionals find work in almost every industry.
Median Annual Salary: $74,590*
- Management Analyst
Sometimes referred to as management consultants, these analysts work to improve organizational efficiency by analyzing data and personnel and making informed recommendations. They address many different areas and industries. While around 17% are self-employed, some external employers prefer candidates who hold an MBA.
Median Annual Salary: $82,450*
- Market Research Analyst
By analyzing the marketplace, competitors, and consumer behaviors, market research analysts determine which services and products consumers want and how much they are willing to pay. Because market research is used in almost every field, these analysts enjoy a healthy employment outlook. Some leadership positions may require a master's degree.
Median Annual Salary: $63,230*
- Sustainability Director
These executives help organizations become more environmentally friendly, which may include developing sustainability programs, training initiatives, and energy-saving measures. Directors must be able to work within a budget and calculate sustainability programs' long- and short-term costs. They should also be able to prepare reports, manage others, and work well in teams.
Median Annual Salary: $103,926*
- Operations Research Analyst
One of the top 20 fastest-growing occupations in the country, these analysts help organizations make better decisions and solve problems through identification, data collection, and information analysis. Operations research analysts are found in healthcare, business, and manufacturing settings, and should have strong math, statistics, and problem-solving skills.
Median Annual Salary: $81,390*
Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics and PayScale
How to Choose an MBA in Sustainability Program
There are many factors to consider when choosing an MBA in sustainability program, including curriculum structure. Many MBA degrees center upon a core business curriculum, but allow students to pursue a sustainability specialization. Curriculum structure also impacts the number of credits required, which may in turn influence program length and whether the program can be completed part or full time. In addition, most programs charge per-credit tuition rates, and higher credit requirements may lead to higher expenses. Fortunately, many institutions offer scholarships and fellowships, and most students are eligible to receive federal financial aid.
Sustainability MBA degrees are available in both traditional on-campus and online formats. Students who intend to work as they study may prefer to enroll in an online MBA sustainability program, although some schools also offer hybrid degrees and flexible on-campus programs. Those interested in on-campus programs should carefully consider their prospective school's location, which may affect their cost of living, quality of life, and employment options after graduation.
Accreditation is another factor to keep in mind. Programmatic accreditation ensures that an MBA meets industry standards and imparts accurate, current information. It may also provide advantages in the job market. Many employers prefer candidates who have graduated from accredited programs, as well as those who have gained hands-on skills and in-depth knowledge through practicum and thesis experiences. Prospective MBA students enjoy a wide variety of program options, making it possible to select a degree that aligns with their individual goals.
Programmatic Accreditation for MBA in Sustainability Programs
Attending an accredited institution is crucial to qualify for financial aid and receive a high-quality education. In addition to institutional accreditation, programmatic accreditation ensures that sustainability MBA programs uphold academic and ethical standards, keep up with changes in the field, and remain committed to continuous improvement.
There are several different organizations dedicated to accrediting business programs. The Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs assesses business and accounting programs at over 1,000 colleges and universities. In addition, more than 800 business programs nationwide hold accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, now known as AACSB International. The International Accreditation Council for Business Education accredits over 1,300 business programs, while the Association of MBAs provides accreditation to 240 programs in 70 countries. If your MBA in sustainability is accredited by one of these organizations, you can be sure that you are receiving a comprehensive, relevant education.
MBA in Sustainability Program Admissions
While each MBA program requests slightly different application materials, nearly all ask for a few basic items. Prospective students should provide an application along with a submission fee, official transcripts from all institutions attended, and letters of recommendation. In addition, some institutions require that applicants complete several years of work experience, or GRE or GMAT scores. While online and on-campus programs hold many of the same application requirements, the online admissions process is sometimes more complicated.
Future MBA candidates should consider applying to several programs, including one at which acceptance is likely. Application costs, however, can add up quickly due to transcript fees and other charges. It is also important to note application deadlines and allow yourself plenty of time to submit materials.
- Bachelor's Degree: Most MBA in sustainability programs expect applicants to have earned a bachelor's degree. Some five-year programs allow students to earn dual undergraduate and master's degrees. MBA candidates come from many different academic backgrounds, and most programs do not require that prospective students hold a bachelor's degree in a specific subject.
- Professional Experience: MBA candidates are often expected to hold some work experience; typically two years or less. Some programs may waive standardized test requirements for applicants with significant professional experience.
- Minimum GPA: Most programs require an undergraduate GPA of 3.0, although some expect applicants to have earned a 3.5 GPA. Candidates may be able to offset a lower GPA by presenting strong standardized test scores or extensive work experience.
- Application: An application generally requires basic biographical information, including the applicant's name, address, and educational background. Most applications take around 30 minutes to complete, and essays may usually be submitted at a later time.
- Transcripts: MBA programs typically request official transcripts from every institution an applicant has attended, although some temporarily accept unofficial transcripts. Universities often charge a small fee of around $10 for each official transcript.
- Letters of Recommendation: Most MBA programs require that applicants provide at least two recommendations from former professors or colleagues. Prospective students should give individuals at least two weeks' notice to compose and submit their letters.
- Test Scores: Some institutions request standardized test scores; typically GRE or GMAT exam results. The GMAT is specific to business schools. Minimum score standards vary, and some programs waive testing requirements for students who meet certain GPA guidelines.
- Application Fee: Application fees may run as low as $60 or as much as $275. Alumni, students referred by graduates, or applicants who demonstrate significant financial need may be able to obtain a fee waiver. For more information about waivers, contact your prospective program's financial aid adviser.
What Else Can I Expect From an MBA in Sustainability Program?
Every MBA in sustainability is different, with a unique curriculum, credit requirements, and price tag. Many programs combine core business and management studies with courses in sustainability. Although most programs consist of around 36 credits, some may require almost twice that amount. Read on to learn more about what you can expect from an MBA in sustainability.
Courses in an MBA in Sustainability Program
Many MBA in sustainability programs consist of two main components: a core business curriculum and a concentration curriculum that focuses on sustainability-related concepts. While course offerings vary according to school and program structure, sample classes are listed below.
- People and Organizational Management
In this course, candidates survey organizational and team structures, workplace diversity, and leadership styles, as well as how these variables influence company goals. Some classes also address organizational politics and leadership within a sustainability context, emphasizing sustainable decision-making and improving a company's environmental agenda.
- Customer Marketing
Students examine marketing principles and strategies in relation to customer behavior. Lecture topics include pricing, promotion, and product distribution, as well as international marketing strategies and technology. Learners analyze demographic data to determine which programs, services, and products meet clients' needs.
- Corporate Finance
Nearly all MBA programs include a corporate finance course, and some require more than one. Coursework introduces business finance theories, qualitative and quantitative financial tools, and competencies needed to take on treasurer positions. Some classes address capital budget basics, accounting data analysis, and financial statement preparation.
- Supply Chain Management and Sustainability
Outlining how to create sustainable supply chains, this course is ideal for future managers and others pursuing leadership roles. Students learn to benefit communities and the environment while maintaining profits and creating quality products. Lectures address environmental performance measurement and supply chain data assessment.
- Corporate Social Responsibility
This course outlines corporate social responsibility (CSR) principles, as well as the associated challenges and potential impacts. Often analyzing concepts through case studies, coursework teaches students to develop their own CSR policies and action plans. Most businesses consider CSR an essential practice, and understanding CSR concepts is crucial.
How Long Does It Take to Get an MBA in Sustainability?
While most MBA in sustainability programs take around two years to complete, numerous factors influence program length, including enrollment status, the number of credits required, and course sequencing and structure. Students who wish to earn their degree quickly may prefer accelerated programs, which often take as little as 18 months to complete. Individuals who plan to work while earning a degree often enroll as part-time students for the sake of convenience, although they typically take longer to graduate.
Program structure also affects degree length. Some MBA programs operate on a cohort model, where students who enter at the same time proceed through the program together until they graduate. Cohort-based MBAs take longer to complete than asynchronous or self-paced programs. Although most programs require around 36 credits, adding a concentration to a sustainability MBA may increase the overall number of required credits. At institutions that charge per-credit tuition, all students pay the same amount, regardless of how many years it takes them to earn their degree. However, they may be charged fees each semester that they are enrolled.
How Much Is an MBA in Sustainability?
Cost is a crucial factor to consider when selecting an MBA in sustainability. While MBA in sustainability programs require a substantial financial commitment, an MBA is a valuable investment. Graduate programs usually charge tuition on a per-credit basis, which means that programs requiring more credits tend to be more expensive. Most MBA curricula consist of around 30 to 60 credits. Cost per credit also varies between institutions. Some charge in-state students roughly $500 per credit, while others may charge more than $1,800 per credit. Many public colleges and universities allow distance learners to pay in-state tuition rates, and some private institutions charge less for online programs. In addition to scholarships and fellowships, many graduate students qualify for federal financial aid.
It is also important to consider costs beyond tuition. Most schools charge various fees each semester. While distance learners often avoid charges related to campus facilities and housing, some institutions charge technology or online course fees. Students must also pay for books and technology, such as a new laptop or headphones. On-campus students who intend to relocate for a program must factor in housing and transportation costs.
MBA in Sustainability Certifications and Licenses
MBA sustainability professionals enjoy several different certification options. Many sustainability certifications focus on professions such as engineering and design. Individual buildings and businesses may also obtain certification. However, professionals who wish to demonstrate their commitment to the field and advance sustainable practices may apply for individual credentials like the examples below.
The International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP) offers two different certifications. The ISSP-SA is awarded to professionals who work in areas such as human resources, purchasing, or facilities management, or those who are new to sustainability. Candidates must pass an exam to become certified, and complete ongoing professional development thereafter. These credentials demonstrate professional commitment, and offer potential advantages in the job market.
- SSC Green Auditors Certification
Strategic Sustainability Consulting (SSC) offers this certification for professionals who want to become green auditors and help organizations develop sustainable practices. Training focuses on offices and organizations with fewer than 1,000 employees, although customized options are available. Certification benefits include green auditing tools, SSC staff support, and website listing. Auditors pay SSC a per-client licensing fee.
Resources for Sustainability Graduate Students
This coalition of social and environmental leaders hosts a career page, which provides information about careers in the field, job research tools, and a searchable job and internship board.
AASHE serves higher education sustainability faculty, students, administrators, and staff. Resources include professional development and a weekly bulletin. Toolkits are available through the Campus Sustainability Hub.
ISSP focuses on advancing sustainability in communities and organizations worldwide. Along with a career center, ISSP offers live lectures, self-study courses, and webinars.
AMBA is committed to raising quality standards for MBA programs around the world. Prospective MBAs can search for programs by location, cost, and delivery method.
Professional Organizations in Sustainability
Professional organizations benefit individuals at every career stage. These associations provide a broad spectrum of resources, including publications, webinars, and live events. Some offer certification or continuing education opportunities, as well as networking events like annual conferences. Many organizations host exclusive job and internship boards that let students pursuing an MBA in sustainability explore their career options.