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Students urge social impact courses; Higher Ed “gets it’ on ESG education

‘There’s been an explosion of interest from students.’ – Todd Court, lecturer on sustainability at the Yale School of Management.

That’s one of the money quotes in the Jenny Gross New York Times sweeping update on demand for environment/social/governance (ESG) courses at U.S. universities, “Business Schools Respond to a Flood of Interest in E.S.G.”. .

Not incidentally, it also reflects student interest around the world – and not only in schools of business.

Ms. Gross’s report encapsulates a significant change in higher education. Noting the impressive growth of ESG issues among investors, customers and employees, especially in younger age groups, she writes, “this interest reflects an increase in jobs that require knowledge in … E.S.G. topics.”

Many institutions in higher education are trying to catch up with the fast-growing demand for such credentials. Ms. Gross reports that, “PwC has found a … challenge in its recruiting. The company said in June that it would create 100,000 new positions over the next five years, many of which are focused on climate change risks and sustainability.”

In addition to these prospects in the private sector, there are also career opportunities for ESG-savvy graduates in related fields such as non-profit organizations, government and media.


Here’s a pragmatic rationale for the growth of this student “market”:

In 2020, the prestigious Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania re-configured its curriculum to integrate instruction on diversity, inclusion, inequality, climate change and, more broadly, business in society. Dean Erika James explained: “The conversations in the classroom are changing because students are asking for it. Their expectation is that, that’s in our syllabus. We’re going to have coursework and reading material on corporate social responsibility. We have to. If we want to be an attractive choice for business school students, then our curriculum has to reflect what their asking for…”


The global scope of the ESG higher education community is arguably best seen in the global organization Principles For Responsible Education (PRIME).

PRME is a United Nations-supported initiative “to raise the profile of sustainability in schools around the world…. “engag[ing] business and management schools to ensure they provide future leaders with the skills needed to balance economic and sustainability goals while drawing attention to the [UN] Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and aligning academic institutions with the work of the UN Global Compact …

“Business and management schools as well as management and leadership development institutions are among the most influential actors in the world, as they shape the skills and mindset of future leaders.”

PRME’s 800+ signatories worldwide are of two categories: academic institutions publicly recognized as degree-granting; and “corporate universities” whose parent organizations are participants in the UN Global Compact.

In the U.S.

Two examples from the broad spectrum of higher education institutions “tailoring” ESG to theirs mission, framework and values:

Georgetown University

From the Georgetown University Law School website:

“The Denny Center for Democratic Capitalism at Georgetown Law exists to reconcile the benefits of free market capitalism with the values and expectations of a democratic society.

“Over the last 200 years, free market capitalism has proven itself as an unmatched engine for driving economic growth in the United States and around the world, and yet big problems persist, including uneven economic opportunities, degradation of natural resources, and questions of corporate integrity when profits appear to be the sole motivator.

“The Denny Center’s primary work is to evaluate the relative balance of economic performance and societal health and stability. To that end, we will attempt to measure the ‘vital signs’ of both business results and the needs of society, to highlight the tensions present in the existing system, and to search for potential solutions, especially those that consider all stakeholders and favor long-term objectives to measure success. ”

Manhattan College (New York)

[Full disclosure: I am a Manhattan College graduate and author of the book cited here.]

The college has developed an ESG multi-academic approach across the campus:

. School of Business – Graduate School Professor Dr. Poonam Arora teaches the MBA course, “Decision Making for Sustainability”. Syllabus excerpt: “This course … broadens student perspective by taking a systems-based approach … addresses the fundamental question of how organizations and institutions can better integrate social and environmental concerns in to their operations.”

. School of Engineering – Offers M.S or M.E. degrees with this summary of its environment portfolio: “Environmental engineering … prepares you to solve the challenges of providing safe and reliable drinking water, clean air and waterways, proper disposal of solid and hazardous waste, environmental site restoration, and responsible management of our natural resources.”

. School of Liberal Arts – Communication students will present their “take” on ESG in a social issues forum on campus on December 1st. It’s based on research including review of a new free, online book, “Global Public Relations in the Roiling Twenty Twenties/Confronting Disinformation, Serving a Sustainable Society”    home page .

The bottom line

Whether it’s the idealism of smart young people, or the demand/supply matrix of legacy business — or both – higher education now “gets it” on its role in supporting the development of a sustainable society. A keynote:

Dr. Costis Maglaras, dean of the Columbia Business School, on the planet’s truly existential ESG issue:”If you were to ask what will transform businesses in the future, I believe it’s going to be climate change.”