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Leading program profile: Presidio Graduate School

Presidio Graduate School is all in on sustainable business education

A small but powerful program completely dedicated to justice and sustainability, Presidio Graduate School (PGS) is located in the Presidio of San Francisco (that's where the name comes from), a national park that looks out over the Financial District skyline and the Golden Gate Bridge. PGS also has a campus in Seattle, Washington. PGS is always at or near the top of the social and environmental impact rankings for business schools. Most courses are online with one in-person weekend of classes a month.

They offer an MBA and MPA program but I will just focus on the MBA. It consists of a 60 credit program with 15 required courses and one elective course. Sustainability is integrated into every course.

“MBA programs traditionally have an accounting track and a finance track and a marketing track, right? And a sustainability track,” says Dwight Collins, associate dean of the MBA program and one of Presidio’s founding faculty members. “It’s like one of a menu of items. For us, the only way to do business on the planet . . . is to have every one of those topics be done sustainably. Our ultimate aspiration is that every MBA program on the planet should look like us.”

There are three thematic areas within the program:

  • Sustainable Systems - a "whole systems" orientation on sustainability basics that weaves sustainability literacy, ethics and social justice into every course and challenges students to apply them in a business context.

  • Leadership - a deep dive into how to work for change, collaborate effectively, and manage diverse relationships

  • Business Foundations - a grounding in economics, innovation, capital management, accounting, etc. with an emphasis on managing sustainable businesses

Presidio claims to be leading a revolution in business education and their commitment is impressive. But they admit to lacking diversity (most students are white, middle to upper class late 20s, early 30s) which is counter to sustainability and they are weak in the fundamentals. If we are to change business, we will need students on Wall Street at Blackrock at Amazon and WalMart who are strong in the fundamentals and hired for that purpose. Smeal takes a different approach: we believe students need greater depth and strength in the fundamentals and that sustainability is a complimentary skillset and mindset. In our experience, students won't be hired if they come on too strong with sustainability. In our experience, business hire for skills in the fundamentals and sustainability is a strategic compliment to these core skills.

We could organized business school engagement with sustainability into three buckets:

Built in - sustainability is woven into every course and is also featured in separate course work just on sustainability concepts, and is the school's brand and core value proposition

Built on - sustainability is added to a traditional business curriculum based on business fundamentals and is featured in every major while also enabling students to go deeper with electives; sustainability is a part of the overall brand and value proposition

Bolted on - sustainability is an afterthought or not considered intentionally in the core curriculum; some courses are offered by interested faculty or concepts touched on by some faculty

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