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At local universities, graduate degrees go green

By Jonnelle Marte
Globe Correspondent / September 14, 2008
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Companies are yearning for people who think green - and not just because it's the color of money.

Because firms are increasingly looking for people who can do more than turn a profit, some universities in Boston and around the country are creating "green" master's in business administration and other graduate programs aimed at training business leaders to think about maximizing energy efficiency and improving workers' conditions in addition to raising the bottom line. Harvard, Brandeis, and Boston universities are among the schools that are offering these business school programs.

"Every major business that I know of is thinking about issues broadly conceived of as social responsibility," said Benjamin Gomes-Casseres, an international business professor and the director of the MBA program at Brandeis International Business School in Waltham. "This is a really hot area for Massachusetts now: clean energy and clean technology."

The new programs come at a time when the demand for green-collar jobs nationally and around the state is on the rise. Last month, state legislators passed a cluster of green measures, including the Green Jobs Act, which sets aside $68 million for a Clean Energy Technology Center to promote the development of and training for jobs in clean-energy fields. In June, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino set aside $250,000 to help people train for green jobs in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and resource conservation.

"It's the wave of the future, and these colleges and universities are going to be able to capitalize on it," said Ian Bowles, secretary of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

Brandeis has created a new branch of its MBA program that allows students to focus on environmental policy, along with economic and social development. Antioch University New England in Keene, N.H., offers an MBA in Organizational and Environmental Sustainability.

Boston University School of Management began offering a course this semester that explores how businesses are adjusting to clean technology and new green markets by discussing legislation, technology, and consumer behavior. And Harvard University Graduate School of Design just introduced a new concentration for master's students called "Sustainable Design," which teaches them to consider climate change and shortage of resources when designing lighting, roofing, and landscaping.

"Within society there's just an interest of going into sustainability. I think for design, as an architect, things are really crucial right now," said Christoph Reinhart, an associate professor of architecture and technology at Harvard who coordinated the master's program. "We have better tools now available to assess the energy efficiency of a building during the design process."

The local college trend reflects a national movement of universities rolling out environmentally focused graduate programs and hiring sustainability specialists. Colorado State University has launched a School of Global Environmental Sustainability. Dominican University of California offers a green MBA that ties together finances, ecological sustainability, and social justice.

"We definitely have been seeing an increase in the number of sustainability focused MBA programs," said Julian Dautremont-Smith, associate director for the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. "I think it's demand on both sides - incoming students are interested in studying sustainability because they know it's a hot topic. Likewise, employers are more interested in hiring" people with those skills.

Boston-based contractor Suffolk Construction Co. already has a position dedicated to making sure its business keeps up with the latest green building standards, but said green business programs could benefit employees.

"Having a knowledge in green building and in green initiatives is really invaluable," said David First, vice president of learning and development for Suffolk Construction. "Even though we have somebody who is dedicated to it, we're finding that everybody needs to have knowledge of it now."

But not all universities are rushing to restructure their curriculums. MIT has faculty members who are specialists in sustainability and environmental issues and the business school incorporates green subjects into its classes, but MIT stops short of offering a green MBA.

David Schmittlein, dean of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management, compared the green MBA trend to a short-lived boom of electronic commerce concentration programs that emerged during the height of the dot-com bubble.

Most of those colleges, he said, have since dropped their programs. "Is it something that will last 25 years?" he said.

Still, some students like the idea of green MBAs.

"Right now, a lot of companies and a lot of organizations are interested in sustainability," said MBA student Elisa Palacios, 25, who is thinking about pursuing the green concentration at Brandeis. "There is a big demand on new graduates that are going to be studying green technologies."

Jonnelle Marte can be reached at jmarte@globe.com.

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