Required Curriculum (1st Year) Cases

Environmental challenges are embedded in the Required Curriculum through cases that connect these issues to traditional business disciplines such as strategy, finance, marketing, entrepreneurship, and operations. Cases are set in a variety of industry contexts, including energy, agriculture, transportation, chemicals, and investment.

Every business manager should be educated on the fundamentals of environmental issues and their connection to business management. To that end, the BEI works closely with course heads to identify opportunities to incorporate environmental content. Some of the environment-related cases recently taught in the required curriculum include:

Your First Year

Business, Government and the International Economy

BP's Macondo: Spill and Response
Key concepts: execution, global business, international business, operations management, strategy, technology
This case starts by reporting various factors that may have contributed to the massive Macondo oil spill, noting that BP, its partners, and the government all made decisions that helped cause the accident. It then discusses the response to this spill by BP and the government. This helps provide some context for the decision by the Obama administration to request $20 billion for a fund from BP and for BP's willingness to go along with this request. The case also depicts BP's safety record before this spill, which may also have contributed to the creation of this fund. After this, the case describes the various ways in which the U.S. government is involved in offshore oil, including the leasing of tracts, the regulation of drilling, and the assessment of fines and damages.

Finance I

BASIX (Abridged)
Key concepts: insurance, risk management (climate change)
BASIX, an Indian microfinance corporation, must decide whether to continue to sell weather insurance to its clients. A brand-new financial product, weather insurance pays if measured rainfall during the growing season falls below a pre-specified limit.
International Carbon Finance and EcoSecurities
Key concepts: business and government relations, investment return, cash flow, valuation, risk management
EcoSecurities has to decide whether to undertake a new Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) project in China. The Ventilation Air Methane Project is an opportunity to break into a new sector with large potential, and the economics and risks of the project need to be assessed.
Lighting the Way at the Manor House Hotel
Key concepts: net present value, strategy, investment return
The case examines the purchase and remodeling of a 1930s hotel in Chicago by Andre and Melissa Barmore. Significant refurbishments would be needed in order to realize the Barmores’ goal of repositioning the hotel as a boutique offering that would cater to a high-end clientele. One of the aspects of remodeling involved refitting the common areas with customized lighting. There were three choices of light bulbs: incandescent, CFL, and LED. The Barmores knew that the best choice would be the alternative that offered the lowest cost in present value terms without compromising quality standards.

The Entrepreneurial Manager

Zipcar: Refining the Business Model
Key concepts: entrepreneurship, strategy, technology and innovation
Zipcar is a start-up organized around the idea of “sharing” car usage via a membership organization. This case describes several iterations of the Zipcar business model and financial plan. These iterations include a very early version and a version developed just prior to the launch of the business, as well as data from the first few months of operations.

Leadership and Corporate Accountability

Ilva Steel Taranto: Providing and Polluting
Key concepts: business and government relations, risk management, strategy
Nearly 27,000 people depended on Ilva Steel Taranto, the largest steel-making plant in Europe, for their livelihoods, but the plant's pollution fouled the environment and increased the incidence of tumors, respiratory illnesses and deaths. In July 2012, faced with a court-ordered partial shut-down and a possibly unaffordable remediation plan, the company's newly appointed head must decide what to do next.


Cree Inc.: Introducing the LED Light Bulb
Key concepts: product launch, market entry, technology and innovation
Cree, a North Carolina-based maker of light emitting diodes (LEDs), has just introduced its first consumer product—an LED light bulb. It is designed as an energy efficient replacement for the ubiquitous incandescent light bulb. But given that it is an unfamiliar technology and that it costs ten times what an incandescent bulb costs, there are questions about how best to promote adoption and what sales level might be expected.
The Pepsi Refresh Project: A Thirst for Change
Key concepts: strategy, investment return, risk management
In 2010, for the first time in 23 years, PepsiCo did not invest in Superbowl advertising for its iconic brand. Instead, the company diverted this $20 million to the social media-fueled Pepsi Refresh Project: PepsiCo's innovative cause-marketing program in which consumers submitted ideas for grants for health, environmental, social, educational, and cultural causes. Consumers voted for their favorite ideas, and PepsiCo funded the winners in grants ranging from $5,000 to $250,000. The case highlights the benefits and risks of traditional branding and social media branding, including a discussion of how the Pepsi Refresh Project fits with Pepsi's previous brand positioning.


Tesla Motors
Key concepts: market entry, economies of scale, technology and innovation, leadership, strategy
In mid-2013, Tesla Motors was riding a wave of success: It had launched its first really mass-produced car—the model S—to rave reviews; had recently raised first-year production targets; and had started taking orders for its next car, the Model X. Tesla seemed to be on its way to defying the skeptics and becoming the first US company to enter the car industry with a mass-produced car since WWII and the first to successfully launch a fully electric car. Or was it not?

Technology and Operations Managment

Arcadia Biosciences: Seeds of Change
Key concepts: entrepreneurship, strategy, technology and innovation
Arcadia Biosciences is an entrepreneurial California agricultural biotech company seeking to earn carbon credits by modifying commodity crops for use in China and India. The company had a plan to share carbon credits allocated by the United Nations Clean Development Mechanism Executive Board to China, for use of Arcadia's rice varieties, since they enabled farmers to reduce nitrogen fertilizer use, in turn lowering greenhouse gas emissions. The case provides context on the company; describes advances in crops genetics focused on climate change and associated resource issues of fertilizer use, water use, and soil salinity; and poses strategic choices for a start-up company operating at the intersection of business, agriculture, and climate change.

Elective Curriculum (2nd Year) Courses

In the Elective Curriculum, students may choose from a number of courses that explore the integration of environmental issues and management practices or that address broader issues of sustainable markets.

In their second year, students choose elective courses, many of which focus on or support the understanding of environmental issues as they relate to business. Here are the offerings for 2016-2017.

Your Second Year

Core Business & Environment Courses

Building Sustainable Cities and Infrastructure (Spring 2017)
John Macomber
The world faces challenges stemming from rapid urbanization, increasing pressure on the environment and on basic resources, and the growing difficulty governments face in managing the confluence of these trends. This class will appeal to students who would like to explore the frameworks, models, and examples that help private sector investors, entrepreneurs, NGOs, multinationals, and policy makers address the issues. Students interested in private equity, real estate, business and the environment, social enterprise, and transportation also will find the course to be interesting and useful. For the full listing, click here.
Immersive Field Course: Africa; Building Cities (January 2017)
John Macomber
This course will be of interest to students who would like to investigate business solutions to three of the major problems of our time: rapid and massive urbanization; increasing scarcity of clean water, clean air, clean power, and effective transport; and the apparent inability of federal governments to fully address these problems with their own capabilities and financial resources. Cities are often the right political unit to tackle the impact of these trends, and private investment in public infrastructure is a major tool to address the issues. Students in this course will test these solutions with companies, investors, and city leaders. Students will emerge with significant understanding of urban development, the competitive advantage of regions, and the private finance of public infrastructure. For the full listing, click here.
Reimagining Capitalism: Business and Big Problems (Spring 2017)
Rebecca Henderson and George Serafeim
Growing income inequality, poor or declining educational systems, unequal access to affordable health care and the fear of continuing economic distress are putting stress on political systems worldwide and challenging the credibility of business. At the same time rates of environmental degradation are increasing, sea levels are rising and unchecked emissions of greenhouse gases threaten to destabilize the climate. Robust political responses based on strong social support are crucial to meeting these challenges, but action by the private sector will also be critically important. This course is designed for students who want to explore the idea that at least some of these “big” problems can be effectively addressed by high performing private firms. Historically these kinds of problems have often been considered to be the responsibility of the state. We’ll look at why private firms might be able to play a major role in solving them in today’s world, and we will explore the ways in which accomplishing this may require both changes in how firms and leaders consider their obligations and engage with the issues, as well as changes in the “rules of the game” by which capitalism is structured. For the full listing, click here.  

Key Industry Verticals

Agribusiness (Spring 2017)
David Bell
The course will provide a survey of the global food and agribusiness system. In addition to studying the management problems of farmers, processors, branded consumer goods manufacturers and food retailers, we will consider consumer trends, technological advances, public policy issues, food safety and risk management. The pervasiveness of food and agribusiness makes the course suitable for future consultants and investment bankers in addition to those who have a direct interest in the industry; it may also be of interest as a general management course due to its integrative, cross-functional approach and emphasis on strategy. For the full listing, click here
Innovating in Energy (Fall 2016)
Joseph Lassiter, Forest Reinhardt, Richard Vietor and Martha Crawford
We will look at entrepreneurs trying to solve one of the world's most pressing problems: how to develop clean, secure and carbon-neutral supplies of low-cost, reliable energy all around the world. We will ask how can they finance their embryonic ventures and then how can they bring their innovations to market in economic, cultural and institutional environments as different as rural India Switzerland and Southern California. For the full listing, click here

Other Related Courses

Entrepreneurial Finance (Fall 2016)
William A. Sahlman, Ramana Nanda, Robert White
Entrepreneurial Finance is primarily designed for students who plan to get involved with a new venture at some point in their career -- as a founder, early employee, advisor or investor. However, the course is also appropriate for students interested in gaining a broader view of the financing landscape for young firms, going beyond the basics of venture capital and angel financing to look at venture debt, bank finance, corporate venture capital and receivables financing.
Business at the Base of the Pyramid (Fall 2016 and Spring 2017)
V. Kasturi Rangan in the Fall and Michael Chu in the Spring
Through an analysis of 28 cases, selected readings, and discussions, the course will attempt to identify the principal challenges and opportunities in serving low income markets and the key factors that lead to business success or failure. It is estimated that roughly 4 billion of the world's 6.5 billion people work and live in such markets. The course will examine the conditions under which economic returns are compatible with the creation of social value, and vice versa. In the process, the course will seek to understand the viable models used by commercial and social enterprises to address the needs of those at the base of the socio-economic pyramid and the key factors of success in these markets.
Creating Shared Value and Impact Investing (Fall 2016)
Shawn A. Cole
This course examines two important new developments in the practice of business: Creating Shared Value and Impact Investing. Creating Shared Value, developed by Mark Kramer and Michael Porter, argues that firms can achieve competitive advantage while simultaneously advancing the economic and social conditions in the communities in which they operate. The cases, developed by Kramer and Porter, focus on three primary ways this is achieved: reconceiving products and markets; redefining productivity in the value chain; and enabling local cluster development. Michael Porter will lead a summary lecture and discussion. We define Impact Investing as engaging in the practice of investing with the goal of achieving both high social impact and a return on capital invested. We will examine a wide range of models, from those which seek above-market returns by focusing on creating social value, to those which seek to use the power of financial incentives to unlock innovation and transform the social sector. Most class days of both modules will feature a guest.
Creating Value in Business and Government (HKS-HBS Joint Degree Seminar, Fall 2016)
Herman "Dutch" Leonard
This seminar will bring together students in Year 3 of the joint degree program with Harvard Kennedy School of Goverment. This full-credit course is open only to students in the HBS-HKS Joint Degree Program, and is a required course for all joint degree students in the fall semester of their third year. Its purpose is to integrate on the one hand, the perspectives and analytic tools provided by the HKS core curricula in the MPP or MPA/ID programs, and, on the other, the perspectives and analytic tools provided by the required HBS curriculum in the MBA program. In essence, the course integrates the skills students have learned in their first two years in the joint degree program.The course features a series of integrative modules on specific topics. In this set of modules, pairs of faculty members -- one each from HBS and HKS -- teach as a team, bringing their distinctive perspectives and analytical approaches to bear on a specific subject area. These subject areas may be defined by: policy realms (for example, finance, tax, health, education, environment, or national defense); methods (for example, decision making under uncertainty, project evaluation, performance measurement, or negotiation); or other topics.
Field Course: Social Innovation Lab (Spring 2017)
V. Kasturi Rangan and John J-H Kim
This course provides students an opportunity to address a social enterprise topic with the discipline of business tools and techniques. Most students will work in teams, choosing among three types of projects: a) developing a business plan for your own social enterprise; b) solving a strategic problem for a client organization; c) analyzing and developing policy or strategy guidelines for an industry or a group of organizations/companies. The course emphasizes learning by doing, supported by intensive faculty coaching and field work. A small number of formal class sessions will provide structure to the course, but with a focus on collaborative problem solving. Each student team will work primarily with one faculty member.
Retailing (Spring 2017)
Jose Alvarez
The EC Retailing course focuses on delivery mechanisms for consumer goods and services. The course will primarily concentrate on retail stores but we will also study web and catalog based businesses. "Delivery" encompasses all activities of the company that have direct dealings with the consumer including, but not limited to, buying, storing, merchandising, selling, store siting, expansion strategies and marketing. Since the course considers all aspects of the management of retail companies, it may be viewed as a general management course. The course aims to develop students' understanding of retail strategy, retail operations management, innovation in retail, and the key issues impacting growth in retail firms (including exposure to issues facing retailers in international settings).


HBS students have traditionally been immersed in a case-study method that has encouraged them to think like leaders. Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development (FIELD) gives students meaningful opportunities to act like leaders, translating their ideas into practice. FIELD is a required first-year course that spans a full academic year and is divided into two parts: FIELD Foundations and FIELD Global Immersion.

Many FIELD Global Immersion projects frame environmental problems as business opportunities. For example, students recently worked with a Chinese solid waste recovery and recycling company to develop a service to encourage customers to recycle their cell phones and other electronics. Other students helped a Chinese agribusiness identify opportunities to support smallholder walnut farmers and grow their business. Still others helped a Moroccan company that converts used cooking oil into a cleaner form of biodiesel to start collecting used oil from individual families, in addition to the sectors that have historically supplied them from the catering, restaurant, and food manufacturing sectors.