Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) is a relatively new focus of private enterprises. The term implies that private enterprises will profit from a perspective that addresses the long-term probability of success of any strategic initiatives. Some of these involve simultaneously examining financial returns as well as external impacts, such as human health and natural resource degradation. Some potential investors seek quantified ESG scores on a company prior to their decision. Firms are increasingly seeking expertise in their senior staffs to analyze, quantify, and monitor their performance on ESG.
This wave is but one source of increasing attention to the environmental impact of enterprises, both in the private sector, but also in the nonprofit and government sectors.
What knowledge is necessary to be a leader within organizations that attempt to build a broader perspective on their success beyond financial reward?
A growing number of firms seek senior members of the team that can understand what actions assure their sustainability and resilience while protecting the natural environment. The staff they seek are not scientists, by and large, conducting original ecological research. But they must have a deep interdisciplinary understanding of the methods, tools, and data generated by the environmental sciences. They are not traditional management experts, totally focused on building the financial health, market share, and product/service mix of the enterprise. However, they must understand business plans, accounting, macroeconomic influences on the firm, etc.
Such staff hold a variety of job titles – sustainability manager, sustainability innovation project manager, industrial ecologist, or chief sustainability officer. I suspect the variety of titles will increase over time, but the career requires a new blend of knowledge and skills, not common to any existing university degrees. There is much on-the-job learning by someone trained only in business practices or only in environmental science.
A coalition of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the McDonough School of Business, and the Georgetown Environment Initiative has produced a new Masters of Science in Environment and Sustainability Management. The hope is that it will educate a new generation of leaders in this area. The educational objectives of the program are precisely the blend of environments science and business competence that the world needs. Graduates will be able to catalyze the change or behaviors, cultures, and institutional systems required to improve the sustainability of large organizations.
The curriculum of the program has courses in sustainability management, supply chain and marketing management, firm strategy-making, ESG finance and impact investing, earth systems, human and social dimensions of natural resource use, accounting and finance for sustainability management, team leadership for performance. There are two specialty areas that the student can choose: “Climate Change: impact and solutions” and “Energy and Technology.” Many of the courses embed the learning in the context of the ethical framework that guides Georgetown. It is especially pertinent in the context of Laudato si’, the encyclical that defined the moral dimension of protection of the earth system – “The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change.”
The program is achieving what Georgetown is increasingly developing: new combinations of disciplines that package knowledge well-suited to key problems facing the world. In this case, the problem to be solved is ubiquitous in all large organizations. How can organizations continue their activities with greater respect for their impact on the environment and natural resources of the earth?
The new program is a fitting addition to a university devoted to serving others, and we should all be proud that our colleagues fostered its development.