Business schools and climate change

For quite a few years now I have found myself in front of a class of MBA students at a number of different institutions giving a talk on climate change and the energy transition. Each has their own take on how to tackle the subject. Some leave it up to me but at Harvard University the talk was entitled ‘The Future of Fossil Fuels in the Energy System’ and the session included a presentation from a well placed analyst in the finance sector. One common feature is the high level of interest in the class and the diverse and sometimes difficult range of questions that come my way. As such, the sessions are always enjoyable and something of a highlight of my job.

But another common feature is that my lecture was typically part of a module within the course that is optional and as such often populated by students who may have worked in the energy industry or have a close association with it. At least until recently, I didn’t get the impression that the bulk of the students saw energy and climate as pivotal to their future business success. But that appears to be changing.

In my experience, one of the leading business schools in promoting the climate issue as a much more important component of an MBA course is Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. I am particularly fortunate to have spoken there in person a few times, although more recently it has been a Zoom experience for the students.  Professor Anant K. Sundaram leads in this area for Tuck and he and Robert Hansen are to be commended for elevating the subject further, with the publication in January of The Handbook of Business and Climate Change.

The Handbook is a weighty document, some 560 pages long, and covers a swathe of subjects from decarbonising electricity and managing aviation to carbon pricing, green bonds and ESG investing – to name but a few of the many subjects. Sundaram and Hansen haven’t written the book in entirety themselves, but instead sought out numerous authors to write the various chapters. I was honoured when Professor Sundaram asked me to write one of the opening chapters, helping set the scene for the book.

After some thought, I decided to call the chapter ‘The End of Combustion?’, perhaps to challenge the orthodoxy that is emerging around the future role of fossil fuels throughout society. In the chapter I explore the transition pathways that have appeared in recent years and where they may be taking us and the extent to which fossil fuel use might end by 2050. Regular readers of this blog may notice a few extracts from my posts or should at least recognise some regular themes. Perhaps not surprisingly the chapter raises the issue of natural and engineered carbon sinks and the many challenges society faces in creating a vast industry that few seem to actually want yet many recognise we desperately need.

This may not be a book for everyone and as a university textbook it’s unlikely to appear on the New York Times Best Seller list, but as an aide for business school students it should prove invaluable. Accelerating the energy transition will require all of the skills that a good business school seeks to impart on its students and all of the talented people that graduate as well. ‘Energy and climate change’ is no longer an optional module for the interested, but an essential part of a business background. There isn’t a company in the world that doesn’t use energy in one form or another and there’s unlikely to be a company that isn’t impacted by the transition or climate change or both.

Thanks to Tuck and Dartmouth for leading the way. And in case you missed it above, here is the link to the handbook and here is a Chapter 1 teaser link along with the detailed contents.