Required Curriculum (1st Year) Cases

Environmental opportunities and challenges are embedded in most Required Curriculum courses so that all students understand the importance of the natural environment to their roles as managers and are equipped to make business decisions involving sustainability issues. Cases are set in a variety of industry contexts, including energy, agriculture, transportation, chemicals, and investment. Some of the environment-related cases recently taught in the required curriculum include:

Your First Year

Business, Government and the International Economy

Climate change: Paris, and the road ahead
Key concepts: climate change, industry regulation, business and government relations
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

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.
Project Helios: Harvesting the Sun
Key concepts: return on investment, financial management, financial planning, solar energy
Aware of the impact that modern society was having on the environment, Ashley Telkes had always tried to be cognizant of her own impact on the environment and to take reasonable steps to mitigate her own effects. Having already implemented a number of passive measures to minimize her “carbon footprint,” Telkes must now confront the bigger decision of whether or not to invest in solar panels to generate electricity for her home. Although pre-disposed to pursue environmentally friendly alternatives, the project entailed significant up-front expenses and Telkes could not afford to make a poor financial decision. Telkes must assess the financial merits of the project, as well as understand the regulatory and technological risks associated with going forward or choosing to delay.

Financial Reporting and Control

Accounting for Political Risk at AES
Key concepts: political risk, asset impairment, risk factors, fair value, fair value accounting, financial reporting, financial statements, energy industry
As a global energy generating company, AES frequently faces challenges from political changes and instability. This is exacerbated by the fact that in many instances AES' primary customer is the government, which is also in charge of law-making. For example, AES' management team has encountered expropriation risks in Venezuela, collection problems in the Dominican Republic, and regulatory changes in the United States that have led to asset impairments. More recently, the Bulgarian energy regulator announced its intentions to seek a 30% price reduction on a power purchase agreement signed over ten years ago with AES. Accordingly, AES' management is evaluating whether the renegotiation will lead to any asset impairments and the overall effects on its financial statements.
Measuring True Value at Ambuja Cement
Key concepts: corporate social responsibility, valuation, manufacturing, sustainability
The case study takes place in 2016 and focuses on Ambuja Cement Limited, a subsidiary of the Lafarge Holcim Group that was India's third largest cement manufacturer. Along with impressive financial growth, the company had demonstrated a longstanding commitment to supporting social and environmental initiatives. The Ambuja Cement Foundation, the corporate social responsibility arm of Ambuja, was considered a CSR pioneer in India. Starting in 2012, Ambuja had begun quantifying its social and environmental impact in order to improve its understanding of resource use, climate protection and community engagement. Following the True Value methodology developed in partnership with KPMG, Ambuja identified the social and environmental impact of its activities, classified them as positive or negative, and applied a financial value to these externalities.

Leadership and Corporate Accountability

CEO Activism
Key concepts: non-market strategy, CEO activism, leadership, communication strategy, risk management, social responsibility
This case introduces CEO activism, a phenomenon in which business leaders engage in political or social issues that do not relate directly to their companies. The case uses several examples to describe why business leaders are engaging in CEO activism, and the potential benefits and drawbacks: (1) how Angie's List's CEO responded to the state of Indiana passing a controversial religious freedom law; (2) how Duke Energy's CEO supported pending U.S. legislation addressing climate change, and (3) how Chobani Yogurt's CEO publicly supported refugees. Students are then provided with the situation faced by PayPal CEO Dan Schulman after North Carolina passed House Bill 2, which Schulman perceived as discriminatory against LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) individuals. Students are asked to consider whether Schulman should engage in CEO activism, and if so, how best to approach the situation. The (B) case provides an update on Schulman's decision.


Nike Football: World Cup 2010 South Africa
Key concepts: branding, marketing, sustainability, entrepreneurship, strategy
Nike's Football division needs to devise a strategy to excel at the 2010 World Cup games in South Africa. Nike has gone from a niche player in the market for football apparel and footwear in 1994 to a formidable competitor to Adidas in 2008 (with revenues of over $1 billion for the sport). The case traces how Nike has gone about making this transformation and its activities at each of the World Cups since 1994. Nike plans to launch innovative new boots and engage in corporate responsibility and sustainability initiatives. The case allows students to analyze how a company can best integrate several value propositions into a cohesive plan and how it can best communicate with its chosen target market. It also allows for a rich discussion of the brand image the company needs to portray to leverage success beyond the World Cup event.


Tesla Motors: Racing into the Future
Key concepts: market entry, economies of scale, technology and innovation, leadership, strategy, competitive advantage
Tesla Motors and its flamboyant CEO, Elon Musk, had an eventful 2018. The company had been ramping up production of its long-awaited Model 3, even as Musk faced intensifying public scrutiny over his leadership of the firm. Eventful years, however, were not new for the company. In its almost 15 years in existence, Tesla had redefined people’s view of electric cars, in the process making its Model S the best-selling electric car in the world, despite being much more expensive than other electric vehicles (EVs). But by 2018, the company faced its biggest challenge yet. Whereas Tesla had struggled with quality problems while ramping up production for the Model X to about 40,000 units per year, its plans for the Model 3 were much more ambitious: achieving a production volume of 400,000 to 500,000 cars, almost the same global volume as the BMW 3 series, in 2 to 3 years’ time. To do so profitably, the company would have to ramp up its Gigafactory battery plant, drastically reduce the cost of its battery packs, and keep demand high. Could it really succeed on all these fronts? Or was this just a bridge too far?

Technology and Operations Managment

Indigo Agriculture
Key concepts: product development, agribusiness, science-based business, operations
Indigo Agriculture had successfully developed and launched its first commercial product, microbe-enhanced cotton seeds, on an accelerated product development timeline. In late 2016, as the company was about to launch its second product, winter wheat, the management team proposed to again accelerate the development timeline and introduce six new products in four countries within the next 12 months. The CEO and Director of Business Development met to discuss the feasibility of accelerating the timeline, potential bottlenecks in the product development process, resource management, and the potential need for a more formalized development process.
Sustainability at IKEA Group
Key concepts: supply chain, customer value chain, growth and development strategy, consumer products
By 2014, IKEA Group was the largest home furnishing company, with EUR28.5 billion of sales, and planned to reach EUR50 billion by 2020, mainly from emerging markets. At the same time, IKEA Group had adopted in 2012 a new sustainability strategy that focused the company's efforts on its entire value chain from its raw materials sourcing to the lifestyle of its end consumers. The plan especially centered on wood, which represented 60% of IKEA Group's total procurement in volume and constituted a key lever for the company to increase its positive impact on sustainability. IKEA Group Management therefore had to decide how to manage its portfolio of wood sustainability initiatives, especially in the context of the company's aggressive growth plan.


The HBS Boardroom
The Boardroom is a hands-on, day-long exercise designed to simulate leadership challenges faced by executives. It will serve as the Capstone program for the Required Curriculum (RC) year for MBA candidates.
This year, 430+ alumni returned to campus to join 930+ students for the HBS Boardroom, the RC capstone experience that includes first-year student teams presenting case-based management decisions to alumni playing the role of board members. The most recent case taught was X: The Foghorn Decision. Students and alumni grappled with the question of when to invest in a new technology to remove carbon from seawater, given the uncertainties and opportunities posed by 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 2019-2020.

Your Second Year

Core Business & Environment Courses

Investing - Risk, Return, and Impact (Spring 2020)
Shawn Cole and Vikram Gandhi
This is an investing/finance course, designed to build on skills introduced in the RC finance course, but with an emphasis on how and whether investors should incorporate what have traditionally been considered “non-financial” criteria in their decisions: for example, climate risk, environmental sustainability, minority representation on boards, and even the potential to create social good. Covering both public and private markets, the course will present rigorous approaches to business model assessment, valuation, transaction structuring and exits, as well as equity selection and portfolio construction. The course also explores incentives, decision-making, and the crucial problems and opportunities within the industry itself. For the full listing, click here.
Reimagining Capitalism: Business and Big Problems (Spring 2020)
Ethan Rouen and George Serafeim
Free market capitalism is one of the great achievements of mankind, bringing prosperity and economic freedom to billions of people and contributing to a flowering of individual freedom and possibility that would have been unimaginable to our ancestors. Today, however, it faces critical challenges on a wide variety of fronts. For the full listing, click here.
Sustainable Cities and Resilient Infrastructure (Spring 2020)
John Macomber
The world faces challenges including 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 tools and examples that help investors, entrepreneurs, and policy makers understand and address these issues. Students interested in infrastructure, private equity, real estate, business and environment, and social enterprise also will find the course to be useful. For the full listing, click here.  

Key Industry Verticals

Food and Agribusiness (Spring 2020)
Forest Reinhardt
The course will provide a survey of the global food and agribusiness system. While 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. The course may also appeal to students with interests in political economy and business-government relations, since the firm's ability to capture value is affected by regulatory institutions at the national and global levels. For the full listing, click here

Other Related Courses

Business at the Base of the Pyramid (Spring 2020)
Michael Chu
The course provides an understanding of how business can play a significant role in improving the quality of life of low- income individuals and households especially in developing country environments, but also in some developed country situations. Low-income segments in most of the world constitute the majority of the market, in terms of population, but nevertheless remain significantly underserved. This opens the opportunity for innovative models to dramatically expand access while generating profits. The course focuses on the key factors behind the business success and failure of such enterprises and the key drivers of profitability. The course will explore the nature of the challenges and opportunities involved and what strategies enhance business value and societal value at the same time. And if there is a trade-off, under what circumstances is it appropriate. The course is especially relevant for those interested in general management, emerging markets, marketing to lower-income segments, and the interplay of business, government, and civil society. The course is offered in conjunction with Marketing. For a full listing, click here.
Competitive Strategy and Social Impact: Creating Shared Value (Fall 2019)
Mark Kramer
Classical economics taught that the social and environmental impacts of business were externalities to be handled by government regulation, philanthropy or corporate social responsibility. Classical finance went further, arguing that any corporate focus on “social” factors was a misuse of shareholders’ resources. We have since learned, however, that societal problems actually create internal costs and new avenues for improving efficiency, while social needs offer new opportunities for differentiation and growth. Companies that integrate a social purpose into their competitive positions will find opportunities for innovation and profitability that competitors miss. For a full listing, click here.
Creating Value in Business and Government (HKS-HBS Joint Degree Seminar) (Fall 2019)
Herman "Dutch" Leonard
This seminar will bring together students in Year 3 of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government / Harvard Business School joint degree program. Meetings will be held on the HBS campus on ten Mondays in fall term, from 4:15-7:15 PM. This 3.0-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. For a full listing, click here.
Immersive Field Course: Africa; Building Cities (Spring 2020)
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 in the real world 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.
Entrepreneurial Finance (Fall 2019 & Spring 2020)
Visiting Faculty Shai Bernstein and Senior Lecturer Jim Matheson (Fall); Professor Paul A. Gompers (Spring)
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. For the full listing, click here.
Entrepreneurship and Global Capitalism (Fall 2019)
Geoffrey Jones
EGC discusses the history of the modern world through the entrepreneurs who shaped it. It emphasizes the challenging contexts these entrepreneurs faced in their times, the difficult decisions they made, and the legacies they left behind. The course is relevant to all future leaders operating in today’s global context, as it considers the roles of entrepreneurs, CEOs, investors, inventors, philanthropists, and politicians. For a full listing, click here.
Globalization and Emerging Markets (Fall 2019)
Sophus Reinert
This course is designed for students who will be investing, managing a business or nonprofit, or working for a government in an emerging or frontier market. The unit of analysis of the course ranges from countries to multinational and domestic companies in emerging markets. Students are asked to take the perspective of different decision-makers, such as politicians, investors, and managers. For instance, students may have to take the perspective of an analyst at an American company contemplating investment in Nigeria's power industry, a private equity investor in Brazilian tech, a large-cap mining firm in Mongolia, a domestic conglomerate in the Philippines, or a muckracking hedge fund in Russia. Many of the cases are set beyond the so-called BRICs of Brazil, Russia, India, and China, in today's "frontier" markets that are only beginning to attract the attention of mainstream investors. The course should appeal to anyone considering spending part of their career working or investing outside of the major developed markets. For a full listing, click here.
Retailing (Spring 2020)
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). For a full listing, click here.


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.