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A Training Ground for Green Jobs

A couple reinvents their life by starting a business school that emphasizes the environment

Starting over is nothing new for Libba and Gifford Pinchot. In the course of their life together, they've had several careers — from organic dairy farmers to corporate consultants. Along the way, they also picked up several graduate degrees.

Ten years ago, the couple combined their love of education and interest in the environment to start a graduate school that integrates a traditional business education with environmental and social responsibility. Located in Washington state, the Bainbridge Graduate Institute trains students in sustainable business practices. We asked the 68-year-olds more about their endeavor.

Q. You've been married for 50 years; how did you first meet?

We met in 1961 when Libba was dating my college roommate. We went our separate ways, but stayed in touch. After 11 years of friendship we became a couple. Our different ways of thinking about the world make us an almost perfect balance.

Q. I understand that a commitment to conservation runs in your family, Gifford.

Yes. I grew up, as they say, sheep dipped in the issue of conservation and it's always been a part of my life. It started with my grandfather, who worked with Teddy Roosevelt to establish the national forest and lands used for national parks. Roosevelt brought the term "conservation" into general use to mean environmental responsibility, and helped set aside millions of acres for parks and national forests.

Q. What motivated you to start an educational program?

We realized that businesses were calling the shots in our society, and yet business leaders were ignoring broader responsibility for the environment and the future. With greater power comes greater responsibility. We saw the need to incorporate environmental responsibility into business education.

Q. Sounds like a huge undertaking. Has it been difficult?

It is almost impossible to start a new business school from scratch without many millions of dollars, which we did not have nor know anyone who did. The alternative could be to create a sustainable business program inside an existing academic institution, but faculty in existing business schools who believe in sustainability warned us to not to try that. Faculty politics, they told us, would kill it. So we attempted the impossible. We had to attract students to a school with no track record, and ultimately to get accredited, which turned out to be a far longer process than we had imagined.

Next: How much does it cost to attend? >>

Q. How did you attract students to your school?

Even in the beginning, we were authorized by the state to give an MBA degree, which is the first step to academic respectability. We were fortunate to have a strong reputation in the business community, from our writing and consulting.

We called up our friends, and they called their friends, looking for people who needed a sustainable business education. People came. Personal trust overcame the newness of our program, and gradually BGI's innovative program attracted more and more people who spread the word to their networks.

See also: Back to College at Midlife

Q. How much does your graduate program cost?

The tuition for the two-year program is $25,980 per year or about $60,000 total, including books and housing.

Q. Where have some of your students found jobs?

One of our graduates is in charge of sustainable development at a major oil company. In the last year alone, she worked on projects that saved a million tons in carbon emissions.

Another one of our graduates led the initiative to bring sustainability into all of Hewlett Packard's materials acquisition. That student went on to work in extending those practices to the entire electronic industry via the industry association.

BGI has several locations and more than 450 graduates worldwide. To learn more about the institute, classes and locations visit their website.

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