Behind the sleek glass façade of the University of East Anglia's new central London study centre, the chatter is upbeat, despite the gloomy subject. Can business commit to fighting climate change and adjust to a low-carbon economy? The answer from the students on UEA's part-time MBA in strategic carbon management is an emphatic yes.
There is no confusion here over whether climate change is real or not, despite the recent row surrounding hacked emails from another offshoot of UEA, the world-renowned Climate Research Unit. These eight students believe businesses can and must reduce their carbon emissions, and they share a desire to be in the vanguard of those with the knowledge to navigate the maze of environmental regulations and legislation that lies ahead.
With the Government pledging to reduce greenhouse emissions to 80 per cent of levels in 1990 by 2050, and the commencement this month of the Carbon Reduction Commitment, which requires 20,000 large public and private sector organisations to play a part in the UK's carbon emissions trading scheme, the demand for staff fluent in the language of carbon management is now greater than ever.
"An increasing number of companies are starting to recognise that climate change and the need for a low-carbon lifestyle will be major factors shaping the global economy and society this century," says Dr Gideon Middleton, who became the course director six months ago after 10 years as an environmental and corporate social responsibility manager for companies such as Kingfisher, Network Rail and Orange.
"To many organisations this creates both significant risks to their operations as well as opportunities for new products and services."
Partha Sarthi, 33, a London-based IT consultant for the Indian technology company Wipro, was inspired to join the course because of the direction his employer is taking. The environmental pressure group Greenpeace heaped praise on Wipro in February, calling it "a true leader in greener electronics" for launching a revolutionary computer made entirely of non-toxic substances.
While Partha is funding the £18,000 course himself, Wipro is giving him the time off to do it with no reduction in pay. "I chose to do this because ultimately I want to do more than IT consulting. Wipro is doing so much in the field of low-carbon solutions, introducing food waste-to-energy technology, for example. We advise factories in India on how to reduce their carbon footprint, some of which have workforces of 10,000 people."
Two hours away by train from Liverpool Street station lies the mothership: UEA's Norwich Business School which launched the world's first MBA in strategic carbon management in 2007. The first cohort graduated in December 2008 and took up posts in organisations ranging from the Carbon Trust to an international management consultancy. Others started their own consulting businesses. There are currently 20 people on the full-time course in Norwich.
Recognising the demand for a branch in the capital, UEA opened the Middlesex Street study centre this January to cater for more than 1,000 students it hopes to attract on to specialist programmes, including its Masters in creative entrepreneurship, preparatory courses for international students, and the new part-time version of the carbon MBA that it launched last month.
The students, all of whom work, will come for four days every two months for two years, studying modules including low-carbon technologies and solutions, accounting and carbon finance and the past, present and future of climate change and energy, as well as other core MBA modules. A three-year version is also available.
This flexibility was a major draw for Ali Hendessi, 47, a former BBC World Service journalist and the founder of Kootch Adventure Travel, which specialises in offbeat destinations such as Iran, Georgia and Libya. "I can still run my company and do this part-time," he says. "We have always aimed to operate Kootch on ethical grounds: we try to bring employment to the local people we visit. But the golden age of travel is over. In the next 10 to 15 years it is going to get more and more expensive to fly."
For Christian Sellmeir, 28, a self-employed process consultant from Munich, the course adds another string to his bow. "There is a growing demand for carbon-related consulting as well as traditional process consulting," he says. "This MBA will let me do the two things at once."
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