Business schools revolve around preparing the next generation of business leaders to meet whatever challenges arise, even unprecedented ones.
"If you ask me what's going to change the world in the next 75 years, it's going to be our collective response to climate change," Columbia Business School Dean Costis Maglaras told Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer on an episode of Influencers (video above). "And it's going to change the energy sector, of course, transportation, food, agriculture, manufacturing, supply chains. Every aspect of our lives is going to be transformed — every industry, every business, etc."
Institutions from governments and banks to consumer-facing companies have started to pivot toward decarbonizing global economies. However, business schools have been criticized for being slow to respond.
That's beginning to change as the top business schools tack on sustainability modules to their curriculum.
It's also leading to the establishment of new schools altogether. In July 2020, Columbia University unveiled the Columbia Climate School, the university's first new school in 25 years. And in May, Stanford University announced that billionaire and venture capitalist John Doerr donated $1.1 billion to establish the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability, which focuses on technological and political solutions to the climate crisis.
Maglaras wants to take Columbia's existing business school in a similar direction, and he highlighted that students are eager to tackle this issue.
"It used to be that there were only 50 students interested in that area, like even half a decade ago," Maglaras said. "Right now, you know, there are hundreds. So we're building up curriculum in the area of climate finance and asset pricing and risk [and] in the area of climate strategy."
Climate is 'going to be pervasive'
A key feature of many climate programs and schools, including the Climate Change and Business Program already offered by Columbia Business School, is interdisciplinarity.
That is partly due to how omnipresent the challenge is. For educators like Maglaras, preparing students for the many scenarios in which they may encounter climate-related issues in their future jobs means leaving no part of the business environment unexamined.
"I think a lot of work will have to do with how do you transition to net zero if you're a company, if you're a state, if you're a country," Maglaras said. "And so, we're working on strategy courses, we're working on consumer behavior, which is important about how you and I think about this issue and change our own decisions and actions. And then analytics, manufacturing, supply chains."
It also involves some degree of hands-on learning and engineering expertise, according to Maglaras, who comes from a background in electrical engineering. In addition to the business school's clean tech course, Maglaras is co-teaching a class with the dean of the engineering school on breakthrough technologies.
Columbia Business School has already produced climate-conscious business leaders: Ethan Brown, the founder of plant-based meat company Beyond Meat, is one notable graduate of the school.
"I actually think that this education will not just be pertinent to the person that starts Beyond Meat, or the next one," Maglaras said. "It will be pertinent to pretty much every single one of our graduates because either they will be investing in these companies or helping transition helping companies transition, or they will work for these companies. So I think it's going to be pervasive the same way technology and being trained to thrive in the digital future is itself pervasive to our students."
Watch the full interview above.
Grace is an assistant editor for Yahoo Finance.