How I used my MBA to support my career change into sustainability

14 March 2023

Distance Learning MBA* alumna, Amy King, explores how she used her dissertation project to explore what businesses could do to act on climate change mitigation.

When starting my MBA, I was determined to use it as an opportunity to make a career change into a sustainable business. I decided to use my dissertation to learn about what businesses could do to act on climate change mitigation. I was exceptionally fortunate that Frederik Dahlmann was available in the WBS faculty to supervise my dissertation because of his expertise and academic focus on sustainable business.

Frederik was very generous with the time and energy he provided in guiding me through the latest academic thinking on sustainable business. I focussed my preliminary research on what were the key actions businesses could take to become more sustainable. At the time, there was very little regulation in place on what UK-incorporated businesses needed to do regarding sustainability. This fact allowed me to design a study where I could assess the extent that businesses voluntarily chose to align themselves with best practices on sustainability governance and disclosure.

I wanted to investigate whether a correlation existed between the chosen sustainable governance structure of a company and the amount and quality of sustainability disclosures that the company made. My logical reasoning was that those companies who lay accountability for sustainability at the most senior level of an organisation (board level) must be more likely to create better quality sustainability disclosures. Sustainability disclosures are primarily designed for all types of stakeholders to read. Therefore, I also wanted to investigate whether certain types of sustainability governance structures resulted in easier-to-read disclosures, designed for the average reading age of the population and not only for professional consumption.

I used the FTSE100 as my sample population and documented the sustainability governance structure for each company. I then reviewed the 2014 sustainability disclosure of each company to see how much it aligned with sustainability disclosure standards and what its readability rating was.

My research found a huge variety of adherence to sustainability best practices within the FTSE100, with both excellent and very poor performers. Interestingly, I found that very few sustainability disclosures were written for an audience with the average reading age of the general population. I concluded that it was likely that many businesses were still treating sustainability disclosures much like their highly regulated financial accounts that were ordinarily consumed by finance professionals. 

Soon after graduating, I joined a boutique sustainability consultancy operating in Jersey that specialised in sustainable finance. As an individual who had demonstrable knowledge of sustainable business from a highly regarded business school, I was able to add value very quickly to my new employer and our clients. Frederik has kindly supported our consultancy by providing insights to Jersey’s next generation of sustainable finance leaders through an initiative we undertook to raise sustainability knowledge within the finance industry.

Using the knowledge I gained from my dissertation, I have been able to advise clients on the best practice for sustainable governance. I have also been able to support clients on the importance of quality sustainability disclosures in ESG appraisals made by investors. As a practice, I believe that sustainable finance is going to be pivotal to helping deliver the UN sustainable development goals and in the transition to a low-carbon economy. However, there is currently an exceptionally large funding gap to deliver the 2030 Agenda and to meet the Paris Agreement targets, which is attributed to systemic barriers within the finance ecosystem.

There have been some recent developments in sustainability disclosures that will overcome some of the systemic barriers in place to allow capital to be directed to sustainable businesses and projects. Notably, the development of one international sustainability disclosure standard by the newly formed International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB).

Due to the introduction of regulation on sustainability and climate change disclosure within the business community today, I imagine performing my dissertation analysis on the FTSE100 would find a much higher standard of sustainability disclosure. I am relieved to see businesses now being much more accountable for their role in solving sustainability issues and measuring their impact.

I now work for a management consultancy, Elixirr. What excites me is working with clients that are using sustainability as a strategic differentiator, managing risks and harnessing innovative opportunities to attract investors, talent and clients.

*Please note that the Distance Learning MBA is now titled Global Online MBA.

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