I teach a few courses in the sustainability track of the MBA program at the University of Oregon, as well as a few undergrad courses. Here are the three main courses and current syllabi here, with some annotation – Clean Energy Finance, Life Cycle Assessment, and Industrial Ecology. (Learn more about the projects my students do for external clients.)
Clean Energy Finance (MBA level) provides a one-quarter overview of emerging technologies, business models, and regulatory issues in the rapidly changing energy space. Perhaps more, than you’d expect, I focus on a few themes that, I think, nicely expose the business opportunities, frailties in the system, and avenues of promising disruptive change:
- Regulation. Wait, isn’t this a business school class? Yes. And the business of energy is overwhelmingly framed or guided by (mainly old and often outdated) regulatory infrastructure. We have to understand where we’ve come from, and the rationale for the regulatory compact over the past century, to understand where we’re going.
- Solar. Yeah sure, you expect solar. But in fact solar is the generation source that is most violently prying open the regulatory compact. We can’t fight climate change if we can’t figure out how to accommodate low-carbon energy onto the grid and into our business models.
- Savvy energy buying. No, not energy consumption itself, but rather, the act of procuring it. A few of my students will go on to the energy sector, but many more will go on to non-energy roles in organizations that use energy, which is…all organizations. So I work hard to raise awareness of the emerging issues in procuring energy. There are great resources out there, like the RE100, trying to put together the pathways and new consciousness in this area.
- Regular supplements for your information diet. There’s tremendous explosion of high-quality analysis and journalism in this space. I hope my students become regular readers of Greentech Media and Bloomberg New Energy Finance, annually refer to Lazard’s LCOE, and generally find habits that bring them back to this material so they can be better energy-oriented change agents, wherever they work.
Life Cycle Assessment (MBA level) provides an overview of LCA as a technical field and a source of information for corporate strategy and environmental claims. Two points:
- Savvy consumers of technical information. Again, a key point: most of my students won’t go on to be producers of LCAs or LCA-style information, but they will very likely be consumers of such information. As a long-time liaison between technical detail and executive-level decision making, my principal goal is to equip my students with the ability to consume that technical information effectively as part of business decision making – asking good questions of consultants, pushing to scope studies appropriately, plugging into other corporate efforts, and drawing on emerging best practices.
- Intuition. The array of examples of LCA and carbon footprinting is built to deliver intuition, i.e., a sense of scale for impacts of different products, energy sources, infrastructure elements, and more. The importance of intuition is that it directs what people bother to pay attention to – in other words, our intuition sets priorities for strategy. My goal is that my students have the intuition necessary to guide strategy well.
Industrial Ecology (MBA level) is currently being revised substantially. In brief, the course has the following goals and elements:
- Solving humanity’s challenges profitably: I buy Andrew Winston’s definition and imperative of the “big pivot” laid out his book of the same name, i.e., that solving the various crises facing humanity profitably must become the core pursuit of business. That imperative then requires that we review and grasp those challenges, so the course examines .
- Corporate frameworks: Inventing from scratch a framework for assessing corporate performance and charting a path to action is a ton of work; fortunately, there’s no reason to do that because the world is full of such frameworks – so we look over a handful of leading ones of different stripes (GRI, CDP, circularity, carbon accounting, etc.). We also look at some examples of company-specific efforts that have such depth and detail that they represent distinct flavors, almost one-off frameworks. In the past, I’ve looked at such careful sustainability planners and communicators as Starbucks, Nestlé, Apple, and Patagonia.
Here is the syllabus for Industrial Ecology in Fall 2020.
Introduction to Sustainable Business (lower-level undergraduate) is an eclectic survey of sustainability issues through the lens of business challenges and business solutions. The course uses Andrew Winston’s The Big Pivot and eclectic supplementary material to give first- and second-year students from a variety of majors an introduction to this field. Deep-dive topics include food, apparel, urban mobility, and more.
This undergraduate course (MGMT 250) lives overwhelmingly on Canvas, the content management system that the University of Oregon uses. You can download a short version of the syllabus from Winter 2021 (PDF); please contact me if you’d like more information.