15.992 | Spring 2008 | Graduate

S-Lab: Laboratory for Sustainable Business


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session


How can we translate real-world challenges into future business opportunities? How can individuals, organizations, and society learn and undergo change at the pace needed to stave off worsening problems? Today, organizations of all kinds—traditional manufacturing firms, those that extract resources, a huge variety of new start-ups, services, non-profits, and governmental organizations of all types, among many others—are tackling these very questions. For some, the massive challenges of moving towards sustainability offer real opportunities—opportunities for new products and services, for reinventing old ones, or for solving problems in new ways. Other organizations tackling sustainability are engaged in very real struggles in which the solutions are far from obvious. Alongside our questions about the problems of sustainability and how to reconcile free-market capitalism with the need for more sustainable business practices are real questions about how to move along the path towards sustainability.

This course seeks to address these questions by providing students with:

  1. in-depth knowledge of the various sustainability issues we face today;
  2. a set of analytical tools and frameworks that will help you understand/analyze as well as impact these issues; and
  3. experience working with a firm or organization currently developing new business models (or reforming existing ones) in line with sustainable development.

The course aims to provide participants with access and in-depth exposure to firms that are actively grappling with the sustainability-related issues through cases, readings and guest speakers.

Given the enormous challenges we face as a society and as a species, this course is focused around the question “what can companies do?” Our hope is to explore the wide variety of ways in which commercial firms are already responding to problems like global climate change, environmental degradation and social dislocation in order to support you in crafting a response that is committed both to the reality of “the bottom line” and to the need to sustain the natural and human systems on which we all rely. The course will be taught through a mixture of case studies, readings, class discussion and class visitors. A particularly important feature is the term project — a “live” project during which participants will work in groups of three to four people with an organization that has requested the Sloan School’s help in thinking through an issue related to sustainability. Prior projects have included work with large companies like Disney, Intel and Nike, smaller companies like Good Energies, GoLoCo and Green Fuel Technologies and NGOs like MiBanco.


Class participation and attendance 30%
Project work plan 5%
Intermediate report 20%
Final report 45%

Missing Class

We have designed this class as an integrated whole, and if you miss class it makes it very difficult to maintain a coherent conversation. You’ll miss ideas and concepts — many of them raised by your colleagues — that are not in the readings and you’ll have a more difficult time contributing to the discussion. So if for some reason you are forced to miss class (and we hope that this will be a very rare occurrence!), please let the teaching assistants know in advance. We’ll ask you to write up a “two pager” — a brief response to the discussion questions for the day that you will miss — and we’ll also talk about how to keep you current with the conversation. Should you miss more than one class without alerting us in advance and writing up a “two pager,” you will fail the course.

Course Info

Learning Resource Types
Lecture Notes
Activity Assignments