The election of President Barack Obama gave hope to U.S. environmental activists that real changes in domestic policy on climate change would occur. It gave hope to the world that the U.S. would take the lead in global climate action. And it personally gave hope to me that once I graduate with an MBA from George Washington University (GW Full-Time MBA Profile) in May 2011, I would be greeted with an abundance of career opportunities that perfectly aligned my passion toward the environment with my business skills, financial knowledge, and background in accounting.
A more carbon-conscious economy would provide exciting new career opportunities for nearly any MBA student, regardless of his concentration. Aspiring consultants would find more opportunities helping organizations to develop strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Finance jockeys could enter a new multibillion-dollar market trading carbon allowances and offset credits. Marketers and operation specialists would find new opportunities greening the supply chain and selling energy-efficient products. Accountants could enter the field of carbon accounting and reporting, while entrepreneurs would find many new innovative technologies that would come with a green revolution.
I subscribe to the theory of responsible capitalism. The best method for accomplishing a goal is when the achievement of that goal results in the generation of profits. When there is money to be made, innovation, efficiencies, and technological achievements are spurred by business. Companies, unlike the government agencies, are in the best position, given the proper incentives, to use their resources, speed, and agility to solve a problem. But first, governments need to adjust the rules to align the generation of profits with furtherance of environmental action. Only when going green results in earning green can we realistically expect the widespread action needed to address the climate crisis in the way called for by climate scientists. This, in a nutshell, is why I believe that putting a price on carbon emissions is essential to generating the solutions we need to address the climate crisis.
Pessimistic About the Politics
Unfortunately, as optimistic as I once was about the passage of climate change legislation in our country, I am now as equally pessimistic. From the bogus Climategate controversy to the failures in Copenhagen and the partisan contentiousness that defined the health-care debate, I think it's becoming less and less likely that Obama will be able to get a carbon price passed in Congress. As a U.S. citizen, this disgusts me. I think a comprehensive climate and energy bill makes sense for so many reasons: national security, energy independence, the eventual depletion of nonrenewable resources that will result in urgent demand for new energy sources, and the desire to be the innovators that develop the technologies that future generations will rely on for their energy needs. But it seems that the short-term nature of the political process and interstate squabbling are derailing a bill that would truly be a benefit to our entire country and our planet.
Despite my pessimism that climate change legislation will be passed, I still believe there are many opportunities for MBA students, like myself, to find employment responding to the challenges of climate change. I still believe renewable energy is poised to be one of the fastest-growing industries over the coming decades; I'm encouraged that many of today's largest companies are incorporating sustainability into the fabric of their mission; and I further believe that even without a price on carbon, there is still an opportunity to make the business case for environmental responsibility, primarily in the area of energy efficiency. While a carbon price will certainly accelerate growth and turn a niche business area into a full-blown industry, there are still opportunities out there today for socially and environmentally minded MBA students to use their business knowledge to make the case for sustainability.
One such opportunity is with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) Climate Corps program. Now in its third year, this program, co-sponsored by Net Impact, is an internship opportunity for MBAs between their first and second year to spend their summer analyzing the energy use of a Fortune 500 company. The summer begins with EDF bringing the selected fellows together for training in energy efficiency, and then ends with the fellows making recommendations to each host company that will reduce the company's energy consumption, save money, and reduce carbon emissions. During the first two years of the program, more than 30 large companies have saved a combined $89 million by taking the suggestions of the MBA students they hosted. After a vigorous application process, I am proud to have been selected for the 2010 class of Climate Corps fellowship, where I will spend my time with host company PHH Arval (PHH)—the premier provider of innovative fleet management, maintenance, and leasing services for corporations and businesses in North America.
At the urging of our Fowler Career Services Center at GW, I began researching and identifying potential internship opportunities last summer before I even stepped on campus. I identified my Plan A, B, and C internship options during my first few weeks of school and knew that this internship was my top choice from the moment I first read about the program on EDF's Innovation Exchange blog. So, with the same steadfast dedication that I employed during the MBA application process, I set my sights on my internship goal. I applied early, completed the internship application essays, conducted an informational interview with EDF during the annual Net Impact Conference in November 2009 in Ithaca, N.Y., and networked with the Net Impact organizers and past fellows during an information session at the same conference. I was selected for a final phone interview, and in early February, upon being notified of my selection, my excitement was shared with equal enthusiasm from our career center and congratulations from fellow students, many of whom were instrumental in helping me prepare and apply for the position.
The internship process went exactly as I had planned. I am incredibly excited about the opportunity ahead of me and eager to begin. As the internship demonstrates, environmental responsibility and profit-generation do not have to be mutually exclusive, and I look forward to a summer in which I am tasked with making suggestions that will have a positive impact on both the planet and a company's bottom line. While my internship opportunity couldn't have worked out better for me, I am still revising my post-MBA career goals. Without a carbon price, my plan to work with companies as they navigate a carbon-constrained economy is in flux. My internship experience will undoubtedly be incredibly beneficial no matter where my career takes me, but I still pine for a future when greenhouse gas emissions will be directly tied to business profitability, and therefore, environmental impact must be considered when making all business decisions.