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Some schools are weaving social, environmental and ethical issues into the core curriculum.Cristian Baitg/Getty Images/iStockphoto

When it comes to teaching about sustainability, Canadian business schools are a study in contrasts.

For some, weaving social, environmental and ethical issues into the core curriculum is an explicit priority, with sustainability engrained in course work, research chairs and other initiatives. For others, not so much, according to the 2012 survey of MBA programs by Corporate Knights magazine.

"We're seeing growth in the top half of schools," says Jeremy Runnalls, managing editor of the magazine, which examined programs at 35 schools this year. Others, he says, "are much more interested in larger buildings, getting more big-name professors and pursuing an old-school way of building up their MBA programs."

The survey looks for sustainability topics in course offerings, faculty research and student activities. This year, one-third of MBA programs appear to make no mention of sustainability while only another 31 per cent offered a course on ethics, according to the survey. "That is unacceptable to us," says Mr. Runnalls.

Since the magazine's first survey in 2003, York University's Schulich School of Business has led the pack – and did so again this year.

Starting in the early 1990s, Schulich offered endowed chairs in ethics and business and sustainability, adding one on corporate social responsibility in 2003. Dean Dezso Horvath estimates that three-quarters of his faculty incorporate "triple bottom line" issues of profits, social impact and environmental responsibility in their teaching.

"We call it 'responsible enterprise,' " he says, a term to encompass the disparate concerns facing companies. "Economic issues, in today's world, are not isolated from social, political and environmental issues."

As evidence, he cites the 2008 financial meltdown that emphasized the integrated nature of the global economy and the danger of short-term results that reward the few at the expense of the many.

Changing global circumstances have implications for teaching business, he argues.

"Those schools which are not incorporating it [sustainability] in their curriculum and take it seriously are not training people for the 21st Century," says Dean Horvath. "Increasingly, they are not going to have graduates who are going to be attractive."

In Halifax, with sustainability a campus-wide priority at Saint Mary's University, the Sobey School of Business jumped to ninth spot in the Corporate Knights ranking, up from 20th last year.

"All of the university has made a real commitment [to sustainability]," says Cathy Driscoll, a professor of management at Sobey, citing several administration-led green initiatives. "That, in turn, helps to drive the creation of programs, courses and curriculum that integrate sustainable social and environmental impacts."

Tony Charles, cross-appointed to the business school and the university's environmental science program, is offering a new elective this fall on sustainability management that examines organizational practices.

Prof. Charles anticipates more programs in future. "I expect we will have built up a critical mass of sustainability-oriented faculty in the MBA program, and there will be more integration of sustainability material into the core curriculum, as well as a wider variety of relevant course choices," he says.

Making one of the biggest upward moves in the rankings is the University of Waterloo, whose School of Environment, Enterprise and Development vaulted to second spot this year from 15th in 2011.

Technically speaking, the school's Master of Environment and Business is not an MBA. But the online program for working professionals gets a big nod from Corporate Knights for embedding social and environmental issues in the core curriculum.

"The program is entirely built from the ground up on sustainability," says school director, Neil Craik. He adds, "We are trying to provide business fundamentals and business tools, entirely within the context of sustainability."

The school also offers an executive MBA in social innovation and, last year, introduced a master of development practice for those working overseas for agencies. A master of environmental science in sustainability management is set for 2013.

He sees growing interest in the topic, citing a 2011 survey by MIT Sloan School of Management that found 60 per cent of responding companies had put sustainability on the management agenda in the past six years and that 20 per cent had done so in the previous two years.

Absent from this year's rankings are the University of Calgary's Haskayne School of Business and Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario, which opted out of the survey. Last year, they placed sixth and 19th respectively.

Maura Pare, director of communications and public affairs at Ivey, says the school only participates in two global school rankings – Financial Times and Business Week. She says sustainability issues are "integrated throughout" cases studies and notes that, since 2004, Ivey students take a formal pledge to "act honourably and ethically" as future corporate leaders.

In a statement, Haskayne associate dean Jaydeep Balakrishnan said his school "only participates in rankings where we can make a full detailed submission. Due to the amount of resources involved in drafting an informed submission, Haskayne continues to maintain a focus on rankings that our students find of greatest relevance."

For a complete list of schools, see: