Bard MBA

Foundations of Sustainable Business

Fall, 2012
3 Credits

The key learning objectives for the course are:
  • Investigating how leading companies are making CSR core to their business strategy
  • Identifying the roles and influences of different stakeholders on businesses—including shareholders, communities, customers, employees, NGOs, government and business partners
  • Examining why stakeholders are becoming the brand managers for businesses today.
  • Identifying where to find sustainability information related to a corporation’s business practices
  • Understanding the new types of information that must be captured and analyzed to address sustainability issues and opportunities
  • Identifying the sustainability issues that are critical to different industries
  • Understanding why business collaboration with external partners is an essential part of sustainability
  • Examining the evolving standards and reporting requirements in sustainability
  • Examining the new decisions and tradeoffs businesses face in balancing social and environmental outcomes against profits
Student Outcomes:
The class is designed to help students understand the evolving role of business in society. It will focus on why sustainability is an essential strategic issue for businesses today and in the future.

  • Esty, Daniel, and Winston Andrew, Green to Gold, Yale University Press, 2006.
  • Hart, Stuart A. Capitalism at the Crossroads: Aligning Business, Earth, and Humanity, Prentice Hall, 2007.
  • Hittner, Jeff and George Pohle, “Attaining sustainable growth through CSR,” IBM Institute for Business Value, 2008.
  • Erickson, Gary and Lois Lorentzne, Raising the Bar, Jossey-Bass, 2004.
  • Lovins, Hunter, Climate Capitalism. Hill and Wang, 2011.
  • McDonaugh, William and Michael Bruengart, Cradle to Cradle. North Point Press, 2002.
  • Russo, Mike, Companies on a Mission: Entrepreneurial Strategies for Growing Sustainably, Responsibly, and Profitably, Stanford University Press, 2010.
  • Additional readings TBD including selections from:
    • Wankel, Charles and James Stoner, Management Education for Global Sustainability, Information Age Publishers, 2009.
    •,,, Sustainability: The Journal of Record.
The course will be a combination of lectures, group discussions, videos, and student presentations. Active participation in class discussions will be essential. Grading will be determined by participation in in-class exercises, cases, group work, completion of homework, final exam and group presentations.

Course Outline:
The Bard MBA curriculum is modular, with each module topic corresponding to a residency. The outline below provides the Foundations of Sustainable Business set of topics for each of the semester’s modules, with each set of topics corresponding to three to four weeks of conventional instruction.

Module Topics
Orienting The sustainability paradigm: This session explores the historical, scientific and ethical basis of sustainability as a critical normative compass for individuals, for society and for business.
Foundations The business case for sustainability. We first develop the vision that can align profitability with a focus on reduction in environmental impact and engagement with stakeholders. What does it mean to run a sustainable business? How does sustainability differ from social entrepreneurship?
Stakeholders and Communication Stakeholders and sustainability. We explore here the six foundations of the business case for sustainability: resource efficiency; design from nature; continuous innovation; employee productivity; partner synergies; customer engagement. These in turn arise from productive relations with nature, customers, employees, suppliers, investors, and business, NGO and state partners.
Frames for Decision Making Topic deep-dives: water, carbon / energy, human rights, the built environment. How can business engage in solving local and global sustainability challenges? We will see the importance of good science as a basis for solutions, explore the ways in which businesses have found opportunities to meet critical human needs with a radically reduced footprint, and consider how companies can alter the frame through which customers and other stakeholders relate to the business. 
The New Information Landscape Sustainability information. Here the focus is on the explosion of new types of information being monitored in the sustainability space. We will look at CSR reporting, trade-offs in strategic decision making, and the development of metrics and standards.