California State University, Long Beach
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MBA Program Adds Sustainability

Published: November 30, 2012

With change happening all around us, it’s hard to keep up, but CSULB’s Master of Business Administration (MBA) program is working to do just that.

“Sustainability is a hot topic and very relevant to what businesses are doing, especially in this area of the country,” said Ingrid Martin, the chair and a professor of marketing in the College of Business Administration (CBA). “We were looking for ways to update our MBA program and one of the courses we thought would really help do that was to teach sustainability.”

The idea came about a couple of years ago when CBA Dean Mike Solt initiated a summer design for integration workshop and interested faculty members were invited to attend and develop ideas for new courses.

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“We were looking at changing the MBA program, to modify and improve it and make it more innovative,” said Herb Hunt, a professor of accountancy in the CBA. “We developed sample syllabi for courses and over the past year some of those have actually been instituted and this was one of them.”

The course, which took about four months to bring together, is called “Sustainability in the Business Organization.”

The focus of sustainability is one most everyone is aware of and can relate to, whether it pertains to economics or the environment.

“Sustainability is a cross-functional topic,” said Martin. “You can’t just teach sustainability from a marketing perspective or a finance perspective or an economics perspective. It has to bring all those perspectives together to properly cover sustainability for a business organization. We looked at it from the perspective of environmental economics so we have Wade Martin from economics; we have Vicki Scherwin from the Human Resources Department in the management group; we have Herb Hunt from accounting; and then myself from marketing. So the four of us designed this and put it together as an eight-unit course.”

“The success of any sustainability program is based on the extent to which it is truly integrated into the day-to-day practices of an organization,” noted Scherwin. “That is why it is critical that in this course the students learn how to incorporate sustainability not only in an organization’s overall strategy, but also through accounting, marketing, environmental economics, and human resources practices. Having faculty represented from each of these areas enables this type of integration.”

Teaching the course along with Ingrid Martin and Hunt are Wade Martin, chair and professor in economics; and Rod Smith, a professor of accountancy in the CBA, though all four won’t always be in the classroom at the same time.

“I think it’s a matter of what complements the topic as to who teaches in the class that day,” said Wade Martin, “but there will be times when we are all there in the classroom.”

“There will be times when we bring everybody together because it makes sense that we are all there,” added Ingrid Martin, noting that all four faculty are involved in overseeing the projects and dealing with any issues or questions students may have. “There are other times when it might be just one or two of us. We try to design it so it makes sense because having four people in the classroom can be a little overwhelming for 24 students. We want whoever is in the classroom to be contributing to the discussion.”

There are three separate MBA programs at CSULB, one being a state-supported evening part-time program for working MBA students who take classes at their own pace.

The other two are run though the College of Continuing and Professional Education and are cohort based, meaning students begin the program together and go through as a group. The first is a Saturday program which goes for 24 months and is made up of middle managers who are working. The other is an accelerated MBA, aimed at students with little or no work experience, who complete the program in 13 months. The actual knowledge content presented to students in each of the program formats is basically the same.

To receive a MBA at CSULB, a student must complete the 48-unit program. The newest course focusing on sustainability is taken in the second year and is currently offered only through the weekend MBA program, although it will be integrated into the accelerated MBA program this spring.

“This is the second time we’re teaching it and it’s getting to the point now when students come to talk to the director and the program manager they’ve already heard about the sustainability course and are specifically asking about it,” said Ingrid Martin. “No other university in the area offers this kind of integrated course, so we really have a niche here in terms of what we are doing. What we are looking at now is expanding it to our other MBA programs so our goal for next spring is to teach the same sustainability course in our accelerated MBA program.”

The sustainability course is designed for MBA students to work hand-in-hand with real-life clients, all who are doing green projects.

“One of them is actually here at Cal State Long Beach and we are working with Paul Wingco in facilities management on the tri-generation power source project that he has going,” said Ingrid Martin. Another campus-related project involves working with David Salazar, associate vice president of Physical Planning and Facilities Management; and Alternate Transportation Coordinator Elissa Thomas on creating a bike path crossing through the campus that will link it with the city of Long Beach bicycle paths as part of the Bikeshare project. MBA students will focus on coming up with a design and a feasible way to widen everything related to running the bike paths through the campus.

MBA with sustainability
Pictured (l-r) are Wade Martin, Ingrid Martin, Herb Hunt and Rod Smith.

“Our collaborative projects with the CSULB MBA program allow us to work with students on campus sustainability initiatives,” said Wingco, the energy and sustainability manager for Physical Planning and Facilities Management. “This is mutually beneficial because it gives MBA students the opportunity to work on real-world projects and at the same time the campus benefits from creative ideas and solutions that address campus sustainability. MBA student teams are working on two sustainability projects that will enhance the campus bicycle infrastructure and provide solutions and ideas on how to mitigate campus greenhouse gas emissions from campus energy operations.”

“Basically the university projects we have were because Herb and I went to a workshop and we said ‘We’ve got some skilled labor we can bring to this and you don’t need to put this project on hold,’” said Wade Martin. “They were very excited and obviously we can deliver something and hopefully it will open the doors for other projects.”

For the second straight year the Aquarium of the Pacific is serving as a client, and this year’s MBA group is taking it through the steps it needs to do internally to meet ISO 14001 Environmental Management Standard (EMS) certification standards. Another project is to develop the business plan for an entrepreneur developing an aquaculture business for mussels and oysters near Catalina Island.

The sustainability course is set up so students meet their client and secure a work agreement, negotiating exactly what they feel they can realistically do in a 15-week period.

“The client will come up with what they need and the students will define what the deliverables are and the timeframe for those deliverables,” said Ingrid Martin. “We really want the students to work with the client to define the project and define the parameters of what they are going to do and the timeframe for deliverables and everything. They come up with a contract that everybody signs and they work with the client over the course of one semester. They also have the opportunity to extend the project into the second semester if both parties agree, so in essence they could get a project that begins in September and ends in May. These are real consulting projects with real clients.”

Clients must be as committed as well. They must be willing to meet with the students on a Saturday if needed, have to be in attendance for final presentations and there has to be an on-going working relationship and communication to end up with the best results for both parties.

“If the students do a poor job, they get a poor grade and the client gets a poor work product,” said Wade Martin, “but that’s where our intervention as faculty comes in, to make sure the clients are happy with the results. Sometimes it takes some intervention to make sure students stay on track and that they scope it out correctly. You do get some panicky moments because they’re not sure everything is going to come together, but it always does.”

The sustainability course also includes field trips and guest speakers. The class will be going to the Long Beach Airport because it has been redesigned in its effort to become a green airport. Students will also visit the Aquarium of the Pacific to see all of its green building strategies and the Middle Harbor Project at the Port of Long Beach to see the green harbor and everything it is doing. In addition, Wingco will lead a tour pointing out the various sustainability efforts going on campus.

Last semester, three guest speakers were brought in, but Ingrid Martin anticipates more as the sustainability component of the MBA program takes hold. This year, one of those scheduled speakers will be former student Eric Williams, manager of audio engineering for DIRECTV Creative Services, who is slated to return and discuss how he is integrating sustainability into his job.

“The MBA sustainability course at CSULB focuses not only on how sustainable practices help our environment and community, but also how they contribute to a company’s longevity and ultimately their bottom line,” said Williamson. “What I learned at Cal State inspired me to do more, and I now serve as a member of the Campus Remodeling Sustainability Committee. As a member of the committee, I receive regular updates on construction progress and contribute ideas towards the multi-million dollar overhaul of DIRECTV’s headquarters, with sustainability initiatives ranging from basic paper usage reduction strategies to LEED certification. My experience at CSULB not only helped secure my nomination as a committee member, but has helped me to make worthwhile and valuable contributions.”