In 2018, Columbia Business School Three Cairns Climate Fellows Kaitlin Butler ’19 and Mucka Gantumur ’19 partnered with the small staff of the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank to create a risk model for funding climate resilience issues across the state.
Facilitated through the School’s Climate Change and Business Program, the partnership put Butler right where she wanted to be to understand what climate finance entailed and to answer questions surrounding ESG (environmental, social, and governance) investing.
“I knew I wanted to move millions — really, billions — of dollars into the fight against global warming,” says Butler. “I wanted to know what those opportunities were and what those career paths could look like.”
Butler met those needs in the Climate Change and Business Program. “The School totally nailed it as far as meeting student needs,” Butler says. Since graduating from CBS, she has gone on to New York State’s Green Bank, where she works today.
According to a May 2021 article published in the Financial Times, since 2019, the number of business school graduates choosing a career in the oil and gas industry has fallen by 16 percent and by 40 percent since 2006. In addition, the data show millennials and Generation Z placing ever-greater focus on climate change as they enter the MBA jobs market, with a 20 percent increase in students recruited into the renewable and environmental industries over the past 15 years.
In a survey conducted by LinkedIn for the Financial Times article, Columbia Business School is among the top schools to graduate MBAs in this space, with more than 1,200 alumni in climate and sustainability professions. Like Butler, these alumni are establishing successful careers at the intersection of climate change and business, sharing with faculty and alumni the goal of mitigating, adapting to, or reversing climate change and its impacts.
More and more graduates in sustainability are necessary to stem the rising tide of climate change, according to Sandra Navalli ’03, managing director of the Tamer Center for Social Enterprise, which houses the Climate Change and Business Program. She derives a sense of hope from Columbia Business students in the program, who demonstrate their passion for solving climate change issues. “The mindset we teach is, ‘OK, it’s a big problem, but let’s break it down,’” she says.
For alumni of the program who want to be connected with like-minded graduates, the Climate Practitioners Network offers special programming, such as the Climate Business and Investment Conference coming up in April. For more information and to stay informed, visit business.columbia.edu/socialenterprise.
Building a Curriculum
Columbia Business School’s climate curriculum has been expanding since 2004, when Geoffrey Heal, faculty leader of the Climate Change and Business Program, and Bruce Usher, the Elizabeth B. Strickler ’86 and Mark T. Gallogly ’86 Faculty Director of the Tamer Center for Social Enterprise at Columbia Business School, introduced the first classes specifically designed around business and climate.
Since then, the School has created and introduced case studies that expose the disruption, challenges, and opportunities due to climate change through distinct topics, such as retail and sustainability, marketing and greenwashing, externalities, and corporate finance and valuation in solar.
The Tamer Center also supports faculty research focused on climate change, with up to $200,000 in funding for six projects awarded last year. “The program is developing knowledge and then putting it into circulation,” says Heal. “The courses are very important because we’re putting out 700 or 800 students a year now who are all conscious of issues related to climate change. We couldn’t do that unless we had faculty who were actively researching in the field and building student exposure.” Today, CBS has committed to integrating climate change and its impact in each MBA core curricular area, including marketing, operations, finance, accounting, and management.
Learn as You Do
Each of the Climate Change and Business Program’s four components — curriculum, experiential learning, research, and outreach and networks — helps prepare students to succeed in professional roles that work on climate change mitigation and adaptation. According to the Association of Climate Change Officers, this preparation requires foundational skills, such as environmental literacy and understanding of the policy landscape; organizational capacity in areas such as decision-making, compliance, and asset management; and strategic execution competencies such as organizational change management, risk mitigation, and external relations.
“Environmental problem solving is infused in everything we do,” says Navalli. “I’m optimistic we will come together as a collective business community to push the needle on getting solutions implemented and scaled. It’s all very doable, but it’s not magic.” It takes MBA courses and faculty such as those in the Climate Change and Business Program to train students to dig deep into the big questions about climate change and think about how best to deploy the business community in the climate call to action.