Think at London Business School
Four years ago Tom Gosling and his family made a pledge to cut their carbon emissions in half. Here’s his update, along with some tips
By Tom Gosling
Sami Walter and Elise Hoffmann had never met before they started the MBA course at London Business School, but they were drawn to study there for similar reasons. They shared a desire to pursue a business education while exploring the issues around climate change. And both wanted to do so at an institution with a global student intake in one of the most diverse cities in Europe. Today, the co-presidents of London Business School’s Energy & Environment Club are using the club to harness the knowledge and enthusiasm of students and alumni to tackle the enormous environmental challenges the planet faces.
“London Business School seemed a natural fit for me because I could explore how climate change is being addressed in Europe,” says Sami who grew up in Kansas, previously studied at Princeton University and before moving to London worked in renewable energy, developing solar and storage projects across the U.S.. “I wanted to learn from my London Business School classmates how their countries were thinking about climate change, what solutions they were coming up with, and how those might be scaled elsewhere.”
For Elise, who is originally from rural British Columbia in Canada, it was important to get a broader view of the climate crisis. “There's a lot going on in Canada and the US when it comes to the environment, but it’s a very North American focus,” explains Elise who also has a background in consulting, as well as experience scaling up a Canadian climate tech start-up before she started the MBA course. “The UK and the EU are gateways to the rest of the world. Here, there’s the complexity of having different countries, policies and people, plus all of it connects more to Asia, Africa and other regions. That’s why I wanted to come to London Business School - to do my MBA while gaining a more global perspective on business as well as energy and environmental topics.”
Both women began the MBA programme last year and quickly joined the Energy & Environment Club, with Elise taking on a role organising a trip to Berlin to visit climate tech start-ups. Sami also got involved in club activities early on, planning the CleanTech Challenge, a student pitch competition to find innovative cleantech ideas with business potential, carrying a £20,000 prize.
Photo: London Business School Energy & Environment Club taking part in CleanTech Challenge
London Business School’s strong culture of extracurricular clubs was a big attraction for both students. But support for the Energy & Environment Club has never been stronger. “There’s been a great surge of interest in what the club is doing,” Elise adds.”I’d say half the people involved aren’t from energy-related backgrounds, but are passionate about the topic and keen to move into the space. The other half come from every possible corner of energy and environment.”
Photo: Sami Walters and Elise Hoffmann in the Jordan desert in April 2023 whilst on a MBA24 cohort trek
Alongside arranging treks to climate hubs such as Berlin and Copenhagen and running the CleanTech competition, the Energy & Environment Club hosts a range of business, academic and political speakers, facilitates networking and online events, and holds its annual Global Energy Summit, taking place this year in November in London. Sami and Elise believe their role as co-presidents is to get participants across different disciplines talking about the most pressing environmental issues, with the hope they will bring about change in their future roles, whether in business or policymaking.
“The club is a place where people can connect, learn and find ways to make an impact,” says Sami. “Part of the message is that climate change will affect every area students go into. Whether it’s finance or real estate or consulting, businesses are trying to figure out how to manage climate risk and how to become sustainable. Like digitisation, the climate is something every business leader must have a strategy around to future proof their organisation.”
Elise is keen to emphasise the club seeks to appeal to students old and new and from all backgrounds. She says: ”We want to build a cohesive, longer-lasting community, which is why we’re keen that alumni stay in our club’s communication channels. There‘s also an London Business School alumni energy club and we share a lot of events with them. Alumni post job opportunities and opinions via our channels, and the alumni club is working to create more regional-based cohorts, so people can connect even if they leave London.”
Other clubs at London Business School are also increasingly keen to work alongside the Energy & Environment group. Elise explains: “Whether it’s the consulting club, the infrastructure club, the commodities club, the social impact club – they’re adding programming related to energy and the environment because that’s what their industries are focusing on. One of our roles is to ensure people are talking about the right things and engage effectively on them.”
Discover fresh perspectives and research insights from LBS
"We need to move away from the binary discussion of oil and gas versus renewables"
One event all who are concerned about environmental matters will be watching closely is the forthcoming COP 28 summit being held this year in Dubai. Elise is interested to see how data collated since the Paris agreement in 2015 is interpreted by individual governments and converted into meaningful policy. “If we become the future leaders in renewables and climate tech, those policy changes at country level will be what allows us to gain the funding or regulatory clarity necessary to proceed with the technological breakthroughs we’re working on,” she says. “At this COP, I’d like to see a commitment to more funding for all countries, especially developing nations, to support efforts to mitigate climate change and to make adjustments to their economies, as well as discussion about dealing with the effects already being felt."
Sami also challenges those who question this year’s event taking place in the United Arab Emirates. She adds: “Dubai is an oil-dominated economy, but it's a very interesting place to hold COP because they’re making some very positive investments in the green economy and thinking about their role in that transition. Some of the most progressive countries are those who have benefitted from the oil and gas industry. They can invest in innovation and infrastructure. We need to move away from the binary discussion of oil and gas versus renewables. All parts of the energy industry need to come together. What are the next 30 years going to look like? What does that transition look like? Everyone needs to be part of that conversation.”
"We have a long way to go, but we have no choice but to have hope and employ pragmatic thinking"
It comes as no surprise both Sami and Elise plan to work in the environmental sphere. Sami is interested in unlocking financing for innovative businesses. She says: “Businesses like BlackRock are deploying financial instruments to mobilise new solutions and climate financing. Walmart is another big business doing good work trying to green their supply chain. But they’re able to make these transitions because they have significant capital. It’s the businesses between the Fortune 500 and new start-ups that need help around climate education and financing to green their organisations.”
Photo: London Business School's Energy & Environmental Club
Elise envisages a career helping climate tech start-ups grow and reach their potential. She says: “Post MBA, I hope either to be building companies of my own or supporting fantastic founders in building the next generation advancing climate tech.”
What both Elise and Sami believe is essential is maintaining optimism despite the huge challenge the climate crisis presents. Sami says: “I’m hopeful for the future and it’s an exciting time. I try to focus on my talents and skills and encourage those in the Energy & Environment Club to do the same to work on this problem to give us the best chance of succeeding. The targets set for 2030 and 2050 are within our lifetime and the amount of transformation we can see already and will see within the next ten to 30 years is going to be unprecedented. My hope is we can rise to the challenge and create a world where we live more sustainably, and in an equitable way. We need to make decisions with consideration for the people who may not have a voice in the room, whether that’s island nations or people living in rural places who still lack access to electricity.”
Elise agrees. “We and the generations coming after us must take a mix of pragmatism – holding governments and private citizens accountable and thinking about tangible actions – and optimism, as well as thinking equitably about the human ramifications of it all,” she concludes. “If we don’t think according to those three principles, people are going to live somewhat depressed lives. We have a long way to go, but we have no choice but to have hope and employ pragmatic thinking. Otherwise, nothing will get done.”
Think at London Business School
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