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California Lutheran University has begun formulating a new business track offering for master’s business students in sustainability.

MBA students this fall will be able to choose sustainable business as a professional track, on par with other academic emphases from macroeconomics to marketing. School officials expect that graduates of the track might take up internships and later work at green businesses in the California region, or they could lead efforts at startups and established firms to build a competitive advantage on social and environmental responsibility.

Management lecturer Valeria Makarova heads the effort to build a sustainable business program at CLU.

Makarova, a biophysicist with a Ph.D. in biology who has done fundamental research in renewable energy, earned her own Cal Lutheran MBA in 2008 and stayed on to launch graduate courses in Green Business and Corporate Social Responsibility. She soon began collaborating with faculty and School of Management Dean Chuck Maxey on a program to meet a growing demand in the business community.

“The business community realizes this is not just about being good,” Makarova told CLU writer Kevin Matthews. “It’s a big challenge how to show return on investment for sustainable initiatives, but speaking long-term, it makes perfect sense from the standpoint of brand value and customer loyalty. And as regulations become stricter and stricter, you’re on the safe side if you’re at least a little bit ahead.”

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A native of Russia who has worked in Germany and Korea and at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo., Makarova told Matthews her experience in Colorado working on biohydrogen production, “was a turning point in my life. In that laboratory environment, we also had people addressing what we did in business terms. And I thought, ‘Okay, I need to learn how to do that.’”

In recent years, as interest in sustainable business has grown “exponentially,” Makarova said, the working definition of the idea has changed. Managers and academics alike now speak of a “triple bottom line” used to evaluate a company’s performance in social, environmental and financial terms.

CLU, which is accredited through the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, offers an online MBA comprised of 15 courses totaling 45 credits (12 core courses and three electives). Online MBA courses are eight weeks in length and offered year-round. The program’s aim is to have students complete in two years. MBA students may take online or on-campus courses at any point during their program study.

Students take 36 core credits, then can choose to specialize in one of the following areas: entrepreneurship, international business, management and organizational behavior, or marketing.

–Alanna Stage, @AlannaTweets