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Global Network Survey Finds Students More Urgently Focused on Sustainability

The survey, Rising Leaders on Social and Environmental Sustainability, was led by the Yale Center for Business and the Environment.

A cover reading "Rising Leaders on Social and Environmental Sustainability"

A survey of more than 2,000 students in the Global Network for Advanced Management released today finds that business students are increasingly concerned about the climate crisis and want sustainability to be more integrated into their education and their professional lives.

The survey, Rising Leaders on Social and Environmental Sustainability, follows a similar effort in 2015, allowing the authors to track the evolution of student sentiments about sustainability over time. It was led by the Yale Center for Business and the Environment, a joint program of Yale SOM and the Yale School of the Environment (YSE), in collaboration with the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and schools throughout the Global Network. 

Organizations of all kinds are recognizing the importance of confronting the climate crisis, write Dean Kerwin K. Charles of Yale SOM and Dean Ingrid C. Burke of YSE in a foreword. “Our students will soon be at the helms of such impactful organizations, and it is incumbent on us to equip them with the knowledge, the resources, and the networks to pursue positive and ambitious change for society. Our schools should model how leadership decisions must account for impacts on a wide range of stakeholders, including organizations, vulnerable communities, and the environment.”

Among the biggest changes since 2015 is in the percentage of students who consider themselves knowledgeable about environmental sustainability: 41% say they are “very” or “extremely” knowledgeable on the topic, up from 21% in 2015. A majority of students—52%—are very or extremely concerned about the impacts of climate change. 

Students say that business leaders must take an important role in solving environmental problems like the climate crisis. Sixty-one percent of students believe that businesses should share the responsibility for environmental crises equally with government, with another 15% believing business should take a more primary role. But only 20% say that businesses are making the necessary efforts to address the current challenges.

Asked to prioritize topics that business leaders should be knowledgeable about, however, students ranked sustainability below business domains like finance and operations. “In other words,” the authors write, “students seem unlikely to advocate that sustainability concerns become the new top priority for business leaders, but that these concerns be clearly added to the list of existing priorities.”

A graphic of a polluting factory and a solar-powered faculty on a scale

Students want their business schools to put additional emphasis on sustainability. Only 39% of students say that their faculty are as concerned as they are about climate change. Large majorities want more experiential learning focused on sustainability (70%), more case studies on the topic (65%), and better career services focused on sustainability roles (62%). 

Sustainability practices are a priority as students look for post-graduation positions. Fifty-one percent of students are willing to accept a lower salary to work for a company with better environmental practices, and 26% would not accept a job at a company with poor practices (up from 19% in 2015). Eighty-one percent want to help their employers improve their environmental sustainability, and 40% want to pursue a role focused on sustainability. 

“This new research gives an indication of how rising leaders are thinking about the future in a time when society is changing rapidly,” the authors write. “We hope that our updated report can help corporations, business schools, and a new generation of leaders feel emboldened to take action as they step into a future that is demanding that they find ways to keep up with this change.”

Learn more about the survey.