The Best Online MBA in Sustainability

by TBS Staff
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As businesses and organizations focus on reducing their ecological footprint, the demand for green leaders continues to grow.

An MBA in sustainability prepares business students to help organizations react, adapt, and respond to the world's rapidly growing concerns about sustainability. Most organizations recognize sustainability as integral to their success, and professionals who can develop these initiatives enjoy successful careers.

While many organizations have felt the effects of COVID-19 and related economic downturns, the subsequent digital transformation has also improved sustainability for some businesses. Increased interest in personal health and safety now join the traditional environmental and social concerns of sustainability, pushing the field to greater heights.

Students earning an MBA in sustainability complete traditional business courses and specialized sustainability training, which expands their job prospects. Career opportunities for business management professionals, like sustainability experts, appear strong; the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a faster-than-average 5% growth rate from 2019-2029.

This guide explores sustainability careers in greater detail and ranks the best programs in this field.

Top 10 Online MBA in Sustainability Programs 2021
#1 Oklahoma State University Stillwater, OK
#2 Northeastern University Boston, MA
#3 Concordia University – Wisconsin Mequon, WI
#4 University of Saint Francis – Fort Wayne Fort Wayne, IN
#5 University of Colorado Denver – Anschutz Medical Campus Denver, CO
#6 Western Kentucky University Bowling Green, KY
#7 Franklin Pierce University Rindge, NH
#8 Wilmington University New Castle, DE

Featured Online Schools

The Best Online MBA in Sustainability

Oklahoma State University View School Profile Stillwater, OK Oklahoma State University is regionally accredited from the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). The university’s business school is nationally accredited from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.

Located in Stillwater, Oklahoma State University hosts several online programs, including an online MBA program with a concentration in business sustainability. Offered in partnership with the school’s graduate environmental science department, the sustainability concentration features a 42-credit curriculum. The online program is for part-time students and delivers coursework asynchronously through the Brightspace virtual classroom.

Students pursuing an MBA in sustainability online complete core business classes, such as marketing management and business finance, in addition to coursework in sustainable enterprises and business and social responsibility. Learners complete an additional six credits of electives, choosing from courses such as ethical leadership and organizations, business and nonprofit organizations, and social entrepreneurship. Students can also enroll in a supporting emerging enterprises elective class that features a practicum experience in South Africa; other than this optional course, the program has no in-person requirements.

Applicants to the program must have earned a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0 and recorded competitive GMAT scores. The program prefers applicants with professional experience, although this is not explicitly required. Applicants should also have a basic understanding of calculus and quantitative concepts.

Northeastern University View School Profile Boston, MA Northeastern University is regionally accredited from the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), formerly known as the New England Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on Higher Education (NEASC-CIHE). The university’s business school is nationally accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.

Northeastern University has seen a steady rise in its national profile over the past several years, resulting in a more competitive group of students, a larger endowment, and an extensive slate of online programs. Distance learners from across the nation can earn an online MBA with a concentration in sustainability from Northeastern, without ever needing to visit the school’s main campus in Boston.

The curriculum of this online MBA in sustainability consists of 50 credits, including 13 core business courses and five electives that allow students to focus on sustainability-related issues. Possible electives include sustainability and leadership, sustainability and supply chain management, and sustainability and the business environment. Students can choose to complete a one-week residency on campus to earn three credits, but this is not required. Additionally, learners who complete their first year in good standing, which requires a minimum 3.0 GPA, can complete an international field study residency. Past residencies have occurred in Greece, Chile, Turkey, Peru, China, and Russia. After earning a sustainability MBA online, students have the option to complete four additional courses to earn a dual MBA/MS in finance degree.

Northeastern delivers online MBA coursework asynchronously. Most students in the program continue to work full-time while pursuing their degree, which they can earn within two years. Northeastern’s online MBA admissions committee focuses on professional experience; prospective students must have at least five years of work experience and be full-time employees. Prospective students must also have earned a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA. GRE and GMAT scores are not required for admission.

Concordia University – Wisconsin View School Profile Mequon, WI Concordia University–Wisconsin is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

Concordia University – Wisconsin, a private, Lutheran university established in 1881, enrolls over 7,000 students in undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degree programs. Its offerings include an online MBA in sustainability management and analytics degree program for students seeking to advance careers in sustainability leadership roles.

This 39 credit online MBA sustainability program prepares students to navigate the challenged of sustainability leadership, social responsibility, and environmental consciousness in the shifting global business landscape. Students develop a strong set of knowledge and skills from a blend of core courses in business administration theory and practice, concentration courses in sustainability approaches, and hands-on experience. These experiences help students develop a portfolio of work for jobs in the field.

Applicants to this green MBA program must submit transcripts that show they earned a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution. Applicants must also submit a one-page essay, a resume, and two signed letters of recommendation. The program may be completed in less than two years.

University of Saint Francis – Fort Wayne View School Profile Fort Wayne, IN Concordia University – Wisconsin is regionally accredited from the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). The university’s MBA program is nationally accredited from the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs.

The University of Saint Francis is a Roman Catholic-affiliated liberal arts school that primarily serves students from Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, and Indiana. Distance learners from regions beyond the Midwest can earn an MBA in sustainability online through USF without ever visiting the school’s main campus in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Full-time students can complete the program with 12 months of asynchronous study. However, USF also caters to working professionals, allowing students to enroll part-time.

The online MBA in sustainability consists of 36 credits, including 21 credits of core business courses and 15 concentration-specific credits. Sustainability-related courses include environmental epidemiology, environmental law, and applied statistics for environmental studies. Core requirements include survey courses financial management and managerial accounting. The program does not have any thesis or capstone requirements.

All applicants must have earned a minimum undergraduate GPA of 2.75. Prospective students who do not meet this requirement must also submit their GMAT scores for consideration, unless they have at least five years of professional experience. The program evaluates and accepts transfer credits on a case-by-case basis. USF charges all online graduate students the same per-credit, base tuition.

University of Colorado Denver – Anschutz Medical Campus View School Profile Denver, CO University of Colorado Denver – Anschutz Medical Campus is regionally accredited from the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). The university’s online MBA program is nationally accredited from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.

UC-Denver, a member of the University of Colorado system, is the largest research university in the state and offers multiple distance education programs. UC-Denver awards more graduate degrees than any other school in Colorado, and its MBA program is its most popular graduate program in terms of enrollment. Distance learners nationwide can complete a sustainability MBA online at UC-Denver without ever needing to visit campus.

This program’s curriculum consists of 48 credits, including 30 credits of core courses, 15 credits related to the sustainability concentration, and three credits in international business. Classes in the concentration include green marketing strategy and sustainability and eco-efficiency as sources of competitive advantage. The curriculum does not include a thesis or comprehensive examination. The program features a hands-on curriculum that uses case studies, group projects, and computer simulations to give students practical business experience. Distance learners also gain access to the school’s dedicated experiential learning team, which helps facilitate internship opportunities. UC-Denver delivers all online coursework asynchronously. Out-of-state online students pay a significantly discounted rate compared to out-of-state on-campus students.

Western Kentucky University View School Profile Bowling Green, KY Western Kentucky University is regionally accredited from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). The university’s business school is nationally accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.

Based in Bowling Green, Western Kentucky University extends its influence beyond the commonwealth by offering MBA programs online. Distance learners enrolled in the school’s online MBA program can pursue a graduate certificate in sustainability. WKU designed this program for part-time students, delivering coursework asynchronously through the Blackboard learning management system. Students may take up to six credits per term. Completion times vary, but students who take six credits each term finish in 18 months. The 30-credit curriculum includes core coursework in organizational behavior, microeconomic theory, and managerial finance. Each online course lasts seven weeks.

All applicants to WKU’s sustainability MBA online program must have earned a minimum cumulative undergraduate GPA of 2.75. Applicants should also submit GMAT scores; acceptance into the program requires a minimum overall score of 500 and a minimum written score of 3.5. The program prefers individuals with an academic background in business, although prospective students can complete foundational business coursework or proficiency exams once admitted. The program currently enrolls students for the fall and spring terms. All distance learners pay the same per-credit tuition, even if they reside outside of Kentucky.

Franklin Pierce University View School Profile Rindge, NH Franklin Pierce University is regionally accredited from by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), formerly known as the New England Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on Higher Education (NEASC-CIHE). The university’s business programs are nationally accredited from the International Accreditation Council for Business Education.

Franklin Pierce University is a small liberal arts school based in Rindge, New Jersey. Learners from across the nation can enroll in the university’s online MBA in sustainability and energy program. All coursework is delivered asynchronously, and students can opt to engage in full-time or part-time study. The curriculum consists of 13 courses and features a concentration of sustainability-related coursework. Students complete classes that cover energy economics; building a sustainable enterprise; and the future of energy, business, and society. Learners also participate in leadership and strategic management seminars.

All applicants must have earned a cumulative undergraduate GPA of at least 2.8. They must also display skills in computers, statistics, and accounting; these competencies may be demonstrated based on the completion of previous undergraduate coursework or through post-admission assessments. FPU also requires students to submit a brief essay. The admissions committee takes a holistic approach to evaluating applicants, considering the totality of an applicant’s portfolio. Prospective students do not need to submit their GRE or GMAT scores. As a private university, FPU charges all students in the program the same base tuition, regardless of their home state.

Wilmington University View School Profile New Castle, DE Wilmington University is regionally accredited from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE). The university’s MBA program is nationally accredited from the International Accreditation Council for Business Education.

Based in New Castle, Delaware, Wilmington University is a private school best known for its doctoral research. The university also offers many strong distance education programs, including an online MBA in sustainability. WilmU’s MBA program caters to working adults, offering asynchronous learning and options for full-time and part-time students.

The program’s 36-credit curriculum includes seven core courses and five classes focusing on the environmental sustainability concentration. Each course lasts seven weeks. Environmental sustainability concentration courses include economic and financial analysis of environmental issues, environmental regulations and ethical issues, and principles of environmental sustainability. This program does not contain any on-campus requirements. Additionally, students do not undertake any capstone or thesis requirements; instead, the program emphasizes business and environmental theory. Graduates learn how to strategically align the needs of businesses and the environment to promote ecological sustainability.

Applicants must have completed undergraduate coursework in finance, economics, mathematics, and accounting. Students must complete four introductory courses before advancing to degree candidacy status. Online students pay the same tuition, regardless of their state of residence.

Best Online Programs - MBA in Sustainability

Online MBA in Sustainability Programs Ranking Guidelines

We selected the following programs based on their quality, curricula, faculty, rankings, awards, and reputation -- including the school's reputation for effectively providing online degrees.

What Is an Online MBA in Sustainability?

An online MBA in sustainability teaches students to align organizational strategies with long-term sustainability goals. The training examines how businesses can reduce their environmental impacts and incorporate social responsibilities while remaining fiscally sound. These programs are designed for problem-solvers, forward thinkers, and socially conscious business professionals.

In addition to advanced leadership and management courses, an MBA in sustainability delivers focused training in sustainable finance, clean energy, and social innovation. Most MBAs feature 30-45 credits, though some may require up to 70 credits. Learners can usually complete the degrees in less than two years, though accelerated full-time programs and dual degrees can significantly vary in timeline.

Choosing an Online Green MBA

When selecting an online MBA in sustainability, students should consider their unique goals and needs. In addition to available concentrations, they should also consider factors like location, program length, and cost. Online learning can make attending distance programs easier, and out-of-state programs may offer in-state tuition rates for online enrollees.

Learners should closely examine program details, checking course listings and internship options. Since sustainability covers such a vast space, prospective students should identify desired specializations, such as climate change, clean energy, and sustainable investing. Some candidates may choose programs based on prestige, although highly regarded programs often have higher costs and stiffer competition.

Accreditation for Online MBA in Sustainability Programs

All students should check the accreditation status of their prospective schools and programs. Accreditation demonstrates to students, employers, and financial aid organizations that the institution meets rigorous educational standards.

For an online MBA in sustainability, programmatic accreditation may come from one of three major agencies: the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of BusinessAccreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs, and the International Accreditation Council for Business Education.

What Can I Expect in Pursuing an MBA in Sustainability Online?

In many of the best online MBA programs, training covers several essential areas, such as finance, marketing, and economics. The sustainability concentration then delves into niche topics, including sustainability marketing, initiative implementation, and sustainable innovation. The courses below are popular in most curricula in the field.

Common Courses in MBA Online Programs

  • Sustainable Systems: This course examines the relationship between financial gain and ecological practices, preparing students to enter careers in consulting and management. Topics include strategies for reducing carbon emissions, developing community partnerships, and instigating corporate changes that promote sustainability.
  • Economics of Sustainability: Students enrolled in this course learn about principles of sustainability and environmental issues in the business world. This class explores the impacts of human and financial capital on sustainability to prepare students for financial advisory roles. Students also explore issues of consumerism, technological advances, and the ethical use of natural resources.
  • Sustainability and Legal Issues: This course provides an overview of the legal and ethical issues impacting sustainable economics, equipping students for management positions in marketing and consulting. Enrollees explore climate change policies, legal protection of the environment, and local and international laws affecting business strategies.

MBA Joint / Dual Degrees

These combination degrees challenge students to apply advanced business knowledge to other disciplines. The training may require more time and effort than a standard MBA, but a dual MBA degree gives graduates specialized credentials that can set them apart from competitors.

Earning a sustainability MBA dual degree can qualify graduates for many professions, depending on the subject of the second degree. For example, a public administration master's dual degree can lead to careers as political scientists, while a master's in economics can lead to a career as an economist.

Other common programs available for MBA joint or dual programs include master of environmental management and master of forestry degrees.

Certification

After completing an MBA in sustainability, graduates can bolster their resumes with professional credentials. Though not usually required for employment in this field, industry certifications can help distinguish students by demonstrating their understanding of sustainable business practices.

ISSP Certified Sustainability Associate or Professional

The International Society of Sustainability Professionals offers two certifications: the sustainability excellence associate credential for new professionals in the field and the sustainability excellence professional for more experienced personnel and sustainable organization stakeholders.

Individuals must renew these credentials every two years. To qualify, candidates must complete a set number of continuing education credits.

Sustainability Management Certified Associate or Professional

The Sustainability Management Association offers three types of certifications for students and professionals looking to gain a competitive advantage in the sustainability field. The association offers a student associate certification for degree-seekers, an associate certification for new graduates, and a professional certification for personnel with at least two years of relevant experience.

Once certified, each professional must maintain the credential by completing 15 hours of continuing education within the three-year certification window.

Green Careers

An MBA in sustainability establishes graduates as experts in providing sustainable business solutions. The training can lead to many of the traditional management occupations, plus some highly specialized and niche opportunities.

While the following sections highlight some of the more popular and direct career pathways, the list is by no means exhaustive. Some of the careers listed may require additional training or certifications.

Sustainability Specialists

These specialists help organizations meet their sustainability goals and requirements by developing, implementing, and maintaining green programs and practices. These professionals ensure that organizations meet industry and legal standards, evaluate current sustainability indicators, and create new policies to keep organizations on track.

Sustainability specialists may work for one organization or they may work independently as advisors or consultants. For employment, these professionals need an in-depth understanding of sustainability laws and requirements, along with knowledge of sustainable processes and technologies. Candidates typically need a bachelor's degree at minimum, along with critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving skills.

Median Annual Salary

$73,570

Projected Growth Rate

5-7%

Natural Sciences Managers

Natural sciences managers oversee teams of scientists and research professionals. They design and direct research activities, maintain labs and facilities, and evaluate and supervise team members and their work. These professionals may develop projects for organizations in manufacturing, product development, or academic research.

Natural sciences managers typically work in research and development facilities, though many also work in manufacturing or with the government. Education requirements vary by field and employer, but often include graduate degrees in management or a science discipline. Along with natural science knowledge and expertise, these managers need communication, problem-solving, and leadership skills.

Median Annual Salary

$129,100

Projected Growth Rate

5-7%

Chief Sustainability Officer

Chief sustainability officers develop and implement sustainability policies within organizations. They set goals and establish measurements to ensure the organization meets them while still staying within operational means and budgets. These professionals may oversee teams or entire departments, and they often control communication on sustainability matters.

Chief sustainability officers often work with large organizations in areas like manufacturing and professional services, but they may also work in healthcare or for the government. Candidates typically need at least a bachelor's degree, though many have master's degrees. They also need sustainability expertise, along with skills in communication, analytics, and leadership.

Median Annual Salary

$184,460

Projected Growth Rate

-1%

Sustainability in Business Professional Organizations

Membership with a professional organization can provide crucial support and guidance. Through a professional organization, MBA students, recent graduates, and experienced professionals can all gain access to valuable resources, programs, and events that can help them advance their careers.

The U.S. Green Chamber of Commerce provides a unified voice for small businesses across the country. Business owners and entrepreneur members join a strong network where they can access sustainability resources, information, and technological solutions.

BSR works with organizations around the world to help meet their sustainability goals. Member organizations enjoy access to sustainability consulting, global network collaboration, and research on emerging sustainability technologies and theories.

ISSP advances sustainability within organizations and public policy. Members can access the professional network for collaboration, information, and insight. ISSP also offers training and professional development programs, along with certifications.

SMA strives to improve the world's sustainability actions and measures by standardizing specialized training and practices. The association offers access to networking opportunities, professional support, training programs, and certifications.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Can You Do With an MBA in Sustainability?

An MBA in sustainability can lead to many business and management careers, both within large companies and in consultant roles. The training equips learners to guide organizations as they implement sustainability initiatives and strategies.

Is a STEM MBA Worth It?

A STEM MBA prepares professionals to operate and lead companies working in technology-forward spaces. These degrees provide enormous value for graduates, allowing them to join the fast-growing technology landscape.

What Is a Career in Sustainability?

Professionals with careers in sustainability typically focus on how people and organizations can thrive while addressing environmental and social needs. They may help organizations seek sustainable solutions to business problems and develop sound environmental policies.

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