This is a repost from HBS Newsroom, see the original post here.

New Short Intensive Course at Harvard Business School Meets Growing Student Demand for Climate in the MBA Classroom

One might not immediately see the Gospel of Mark, which directly addresses the survivors of the brutal destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, as a rallying cry for action on climate change. But on a recent rainy January night in Cambridge, that’s what Matthew Potts, Harvard Divinity School’s Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church and the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals, posed to first- and second-year Harvard Business School (HBS) MBA students.

When faced with destruction, fear, and grief, do we throw our hands up in despair? Are we paralyzed by the headlines warning of impending climate catastrophes and the very real devastation from wildfires in California, hurricanes in Texas, and flooding in Pakistan? No, Potts argued—it is when we are confronted with such loss that we can respond with the necessary energy and compassion.

“Knowing that something can be lost is how you love it,” said Potts. “When we think about the human cost of climate change, do we tell the truth? I think we need to look right at grief, that thing we’re afraid of losing. Because only when we consider the stakes of that, and the feeling of that loss, will we start to think about what it is to love it and care for it. Then you build the community you need to respond, get to the things that matter, do the things you need to do, and take the risks you need to take to save the things that can still be saved,” said Potts.

Potts’s lecture capped the first day of Accelerating Climate Solutions, a weeklong intensive elective course at HBS (a Short Intensive Program, or SIP) that brought approximately 80 students and more than 40 experts across industry and academia to discuss the policies, innovations, financing, opportunities, and complexities of climate change in the business context. Built collaboratively by the Business and Environment Initiative and the teaching team of HBS faculty Eleanor Laurans, Jim Matheson, and Peter Tufano, the course was a response to the groundswell of interest from MBA students.

"The SIP was intended as a broad foundation in all things climate with a focus on being an entrepreneur in many different environments." - Eleanor Laurans

Eleanor Laurans leads a discussion in Accelerating Climate Solutions. Photo courtesy Hensley Carrasco.

“An intensive elective is an exciting way to expose first year students to climate topics and to allow second year students to sharpen their focus before their last semester,” said BEI director Lynn Schenk. “The BEI’s goal is to provide curricular opportunities so that students can see how the topic of climate integrates into everything here at HBS. We want to ensure that as many students as possible have access to the most up to date perspectives on climate.”

Over the course of four days, the faculty team led discussions with fellow Harvard faculty (HBS’s George Serafeim, Harvard Kennedy School’s (HKS) Joe Aldy, and the College’s Dan Schrag), as well as industry professionals and experts (including Rodi Guidero of Breakthrough Energy, Spencer Glendon from Probable Futures, and Sarah Kearney from Prime Coalition).

Sessions on the broader issues of science and policy acted as a reminder of the scale and ever-changing policy landscape as students dove more deeply into specific solutions with such topics as food and agriculture, carbon capture, finance, the electricity grid, mobility, industrials and materials, and buildings and construction. Pott’s dinner lecture brought the climate fight into the context of history and humanity and sparked deeper conversations with alumni, faculty, and students at each table. Later in the week, visits to Greentown Labs, Autodesk, and Gingko Bioworks offered an active view of current innovations and pioneering research.

“We have students who want to help larger organizations be more climate focused and sustainable, and others who want to be founders, joiners, or investors in earlier stage enterprises. The SIP was intended as a broad foundation in all things climate with a focus on being an entrepreneur in many different environments,” said Laurans.

Offering nearly half of the curricular content of a standard semester in just one week, the course acted as a testbed for future climate-focused course offerings across multiple units—Laurans teaches in Strategy, Matheson in Entrepreneurship, and Tufano in General Management—as well as a central connection point and community for students. “We delivered an amazing amount of content into four days, had thoughtful discussions—and not least, helped students identify their community across Required Curriculum [RC] and Elective Curriculum [EC],” said Tufano.

For Grace Lam (MBA/MPP 2024), an RC exploring entrepreneurial ideas on utilizing carbon finance mechanisms to channel more climate investments into the Global South, it was refreshing to be in a classroom full of students passionate about climate and switch up her required curriculum with different pedagogy and conversations with the wide range of guest speakers. Going forward, she’s eager to expand these climate discussions to the broader HBS and HKS community of students.

“My hope is that not just the climate enthusiasts are discussing these issues. If science tells us that the climate transition will affect every fabric of the economy, how do we communicate the urgency and convince the rest of the community?” said Lam. “I want to continue to build more dialogues across HBS and HKS, as it’s interdisciplinary. How can we bring the two schools together to have more opportunities and conversations so that when the people in the classrooms are the climate leaders of the future, they can leverage the broadest network possible?”

To that end, the excitement and momentum continue with a spring series being currently planned by the BEI and faculty team, and a new What’sApp group is active with SIP students eager to grow their climate connections and conversations.

“The Accelerating Climate Solutions SIP (pdf) was a very special and powerful course for so many reasons,” said Matheson. “We were able to bring together climate-focused students for a very dense (and often intense) set of conversations about climate problems and solutions. It also gave us all a chance to meet many different leaders across the industry and experience the diversity in profiles and solutions. We were particularly excited to have so many RCs in the course as this allows us to start to engage and support them even earlier in their HBS journey. And finally, it gave our group of climate-focused HBS professors from different units an opportunity to collaborate and learn from one another, which has already accelerated our respective and collective research and teaching trajectories.”