From ethics to ecology in MBAs

One of the JustMeans tweets last week pointed out a NYTimes story about Harvard MBA students taking a pledge to “serve the greater good” and the recent surge in demand for ethics courses in business schools across the country. This article is now the second most viewed business article online, just below another about new iPhone apps.

It is a nice article and deserves attention but reading it, I can’t help but think about how unimaginative and under-ambitious of responses an ethics course and a pledge to be a ‘better person in a bad world’ are for young business leaders. I took a similar pledge, along with about 2/3 of Vassar undergrads in 2002 and I recently finished an ethics course in my MPA (the public sector MBA) at London Schools of Economics, and rather that considering myself ‘enlightened’, I feel utterly unprepared to confront the global ecological and social dilemmas of business. Now, this arguably wasn’t a Harvard ethics class, but in my opinion any ethics class can only be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to business solutions to world problems. I realize that unfortunately big global issues such as climate change require a whole lot more out of business leaders than ethical propriety (although this is a requisite).

The size and complexity of these global problems that businesses are asked to deal with requires a heavy dose of ecology, geography, and sociology and a pledges to do no harm. This type of stuff is unfortunately hard to find in business schools. But if business is really serious about having a productive place in society, shouldn’t these be standard practice? Until I see an article about these types of changes, I think I will skip it for one about new iPhone apps.